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Former PS boss calls for shorter games with worse graphics

As the expectation for games to become bigger and more visually striking grows, former PlayStation president Shawn Layden says the industry should pivot to shorter games with less emphasis on realism to cut development costs.

I’ll hazard an early guess that this suggestion probably won’t go down too well on Reddit.

Recently talking at length with GamesIndustryBiz about the state of gaming and the issues facing AAA development, ex-PlayStation boss Shawn Layden suggested that studios are spending ‘unsustainable’ amounts on making games and are narrowing profit margins.

Having warned in 2020 that the chase for constant technological improvement would lead to the gaming industry’s downfall, Layden believes we’re now closer to that eventuality. Once again, the old Sony CEO is sounding the alarm.

‘Sadly, it does my heart no good that I think I was right. And it wasn’t any great prediction. It was watching trend lines of over 25 years of gaming. The numbers only go in one direction. Games don’t get any cheaper; they don’t get shorter, they get more complex, and they become more costly,’ Layden said.

Referencing blockbuster releases that require anywhere between $150m and $250m to create – such as Elden Ring, Starfield, GTA V, and God of War Ragnarok – Layden suggested that ballooning budgets will make game development too unforgiving for smaller or Indie studios to survive in the long-run.

While many of the points Layden made were valid and well-articulated, however, his solution to protect gaming’s future is a little barmy. He believes that developers need to A, create games that are markedly shorter, and B, less graphically impressive than recent standards.

As the completion percentages for achievements and trophies show on Xbox and PlayStation, the majority of gamers tend to fall short of finishing a AAA game’s entire 80-plus hour campaign.

Layden posits, then, that perhaps developers would be better served taking half the time to create games with a far shorter run-time. In particular, the CEO-turned-industry adviser hates arbitrary ‘grinding’ gameplay. I’m getting flashbacks to Diablo IV.

‘What does three years and a 15-hour game look like? What would be the cost around that? Is that a full-throated experience? Personally, as an older gamer, I would welcome a return to the 12-to-15-hour [AAA] game,’ he said.

On the second major point, he stated that modern pre-requisites for advanced ray-tracing and 60 to 120 FPS need ousting. ‘We’re in the realm of differences that only dogs can hear,’ he said. ‘Maybe that’s not where the emphasis should be anymore.’

Conceding that companies probably shouldn’t ‘say the quiet part out loud’ regarding making shorter and more technologically conservative games, Layden suggested that a central focus on building great characters, fun activities, and a riveting story will save companies money while better satisfying gamers.

The constant layoffs in gaming as well as studios going under off the back of a single AAA title flop shows that the industry is as volatile as ever, but Layden’s pathway to a more equitable future seems somewhat pie in the sky – especially, when you’re aware of gaming communities and the general online discourse.

A precedent has ultimately been set. You may be able to introduce fresh IPs that utilise this approach, but any drop off in technological quality or bang-for-buck from existing properties will go down like a lead balloon.

Flicking a switch just isn’t feasible considering Microsoft has decided to roll out a feast of AAA first-party titles on Game Pass over the next 18 months. The expectations of what constitutes ‘value for money’ is about to change again, as folk don’t have to pay $70 at launch to enjoy blockbuster experiences.

Context aside, a publisher or developer should always strive to create fresh, exciting, and polished experiences. If a game is good at its core and its studio is able to read the room, it will succeed on merit and therefore financially.

The suggestion that a baseline for the modern AAA game is to have boundary-pushing graphics and provide 100 hours of riveting gameplay is, in my opinion, grossly exaggerated. Just look at Doom Eternal.

Besides, presiding over a slew of remakes and remasters for the same game over the last decade (at full price) hardly bolsters the argument. The market is challenging, but the shout for an industry-wide reckoning has a touch of sour grapes about it.