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Thursday, September 19, 2013

GTA V — A Danger to the Industry

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - How many more As can we add to AAA?

It has been revealed that Grand Theft Auto V has made over $800 million in revenue in 24 hours. Do you know what that means? That means that, at $60 per copy, GTA V has ALREADY sold more than 13.33 million copies. In 24 hours. That's about 154 copies per second over 24 hours. For comparison, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's first-day record back in 2011 was "only" more than 6.5 million copies and over $400 million in revenue. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said,
"We believe the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the biggest entertainment launch of all time in any medium"
Yeah, not anymore! Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive one-upped you, Bobby. Maybe if you didn't do annualized releases more people would buy each Call of Duty?

So here is the huge problem. Look how much Grand Theft Auto V cost to make. $266 million. That's the most costliest game to develop in the history of the industry. It's taken almost the whole generation to make (last-generation, anyway). Five years!

Many other developers simply cannot afford making these AAA games. This is redefining what the term "AAA" means. Grand Theft Auto 4 had a budget of $100 million back in 2008, and that was something other "AAA" developers looked up to. As a result, expectations by gamers were shaped by these massive budgets, and we have this divide in the industry between "indie developers" and "AAA publishers". There's really nothing in-between now. The big companies are trying to crowd the small companies out of the market with these ridiculous splurges of money. It's not healthy for the market. After all, you don't want every company releasing only one game every five years, do you?

And what do you get out of it? Now you can smoke marijuana in a videogame! And everything is rendered in pain-staking detail. And for all that money, do we really get anything that different for the actual experience? From what I can tell, the driving mechanics are still dumb and on the level of the motorcycle from No More Heroes. So compare Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City from 2002. Over a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars difference here. What is there to show for it?

One reason (the main reason) I liked the 2DS upon announcement was that it provided an opportunity for developers to cut on the 3D effects for 3DS games, because that adds a bit to the graphics budget and therefore the cost of making games. Nintendo is shaping the expectations for both developers and consumers. Already we can see the results of their efforts for Pokémon X/Y, where 3D effects are disabled in the overworld. Nintendo is using their second-party developer Game Freak as a sort of emissary telling others, "It's okay to lower your budgets!" That's why it's good the Wii was a standard-definition system. That's why it's good the Wii U is cheaper to develop for than the other next-gen systems. Nintendo doesn't want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and neither should anyone else!

Game developers say all the time that restrictions or limitations help develop creativity. That's definitely true. Grand Theft Auto V is the wicked result when game designers have no self-restraint when it comes to developing scope in the game design documents. It's like a boy eating the entire aisle in a candy store. You're going to quickly become a dying diabetic piece of shit.

I don't want our industry to be diagnosed with diabetes. Do you? We already had a sugar crash in 1983... Now 20 years later...?

Ludwig is a game developer and knows what he's talking about. He co-made Trayvon Tyson's Punch-Out!! for free and had a clear sense of scope when beginning the project. Follow Ludwig on Miiverse at NNID PrinceOfKoopas, where he recently posed the question, "What if Super Smash Bros. 4 had a $266 million dollar budget?"


  1. Your points are well argued, and while I agree with you in principle - "from what I can tell"? I really hope you've bought and played through GTA V; if you're going to speak in opposition to something, it sort of behooves people in the conversation to know what they're talking about. I mean, we wouldn't credit critics if they talked about movies they hadn't seen, or showed up but walked out before the credits rolled.

    (Also, I'm a diabetic. Too soon man, too soon!)

    1. Well, this was kind of written at least 24 hours after it came out, so no, I haven't played through it when I wrote this.

      I also haven't bought it even now. And I probably never will.

      However, this article (unlike its companion article my colleague wrote: ) doesn't approach GTA V from a game design perspective. It approaches the game from an economics perspective, in which case I really DON'T need to have played the game to judge the game.

      I can tell, without playing the game, that the monumental amount of money spent on the game really hasn't improved it by a proportional amount. Graphical intricacies are something I and many other people don't care about.

      (As a diabetic, you should know how bad diabetes is. You don't want gaming to be that bad, do you?)

    2. So you were bias already. Haven't bought the game and don't plan to.

      I thought GTA 4 was trash, picked up GTA 5 on a gamble. The missions are a blast and rockstar actually built a great open world that's fun to drive around in and cause chaos. GTA 4 was such a huge boring let down. I can't believe they actually came through and developed a great game.

      The graphics suck too, not sure why you're even mentioning that. They're pretty average but sub 30fps (dips to 15ish) and crappy 720p resolution make the game look awful. But it's an insanely fun game surprisingly. You should try it out for yourself before blindly shunning it.

    3. I like to think that Rockstar was trying to make them look good!

  2. I think you mean 30 years later, not 20.

  3. It seems rather silly to A) comment on a game you haven't played, and B) use one aspect of the gameplay to write off the entire experience as not worth it. You could make a similar argument about Zelda: OoT and Skyward Sword. "Oh, there are dungeons in both games? Certainly there hasn't been substantial enhancement of the gameplay." Show me in Vice City where you organize heists. Show me the online component. Show me the companion iPad app. Show me where I can swap between three main characters that are up to their own shenanigans at any given time. You don't care about that stuff? Fine, but others do.

    Grand Theft Auto is the ultimate sandbox game. It's supposed to be about freedom to do what you want. It's refreshing after iterations of the same old Call of Duty "Run to point A and mash the X button to win!" It's a massively open world that feels alive. The attention to detail is unmatched by any other experience. It cost a lot to make, but the money was well spent.

    That doesn't mean every game has to be like GTA. The market is big enough to support multiple genres. If companies only want to focus on trying to replicate old successes by reskinning the same game instead of innovating, that's their fault, but GTA does not fit in that category. GTA V is a legitimate step forward in almost every imaginable way. Does it share attributes of its predecessors? Absolutely, it's a sequel. Rockstar isn't going to make a space flight sim and called it Grand Theft Auto. But that doesn't mean they have to reinvent the wheel for the game, or go crazy Saints Row style.

    This reeks of someone trying to justify a "this game isn't for me" opinion. That's fine, don't buy it. But don't try to support it with fallacious arguments and decry the state of an entire industry because you're not interested in its biggest game ever. Lots of people find the game to be a lot of fun, and that's what games are all about.

    1. (I deleted your repeat comment 'cause...repeat.)

      It's absolutely not silly to comment about games I haven't played, especially when the complaint I have (absolutely superfluous budget) could be applied to any project, not just GTA V.

      No game should be costing that much to make. It's INSANE.

      Is Rockstar going to make a next-gen sequel? Is it going to be $450 million?

      But yes, game companies have incentive to try to replicate old successes. Games are a business. LOOK AT THOSE SALES RECORDS. That doesn't mean they'll make a GTA clone, but it does mean they might implement some parts of the GTA V project into their own games. Whether that means superfluous free-roaming elements or superfluous attention to detail...

      (By the way, this blog likes the Saints Row style a lot more.)

      It could be Smash Brothers 4 being $266 million and I'd be concerned. Not that I have any idea how much Brawl cost to make, but I assume it's not anywhere near that. And Brawl had like, arguably the most content out of any game last gen.

      Obviously Rockstar needs to raise the bar to appear impressive for every new sequel. Keep in mind that by virtue of it being a new system, GTA6 for the PS4 and Xbone are going to be even MORE expensive to develop than GTA5.

      Is there no cost control? Keep in mind, I'm writing this article from the perspective of a game designer more than as a consumer (hence the footer). Scope and budget are important concepts to me, especially since my background is in business. I feel very uncomfortable if GTA V-like budgets become the new standard. That's where my issue comes from.

  4. By what criteria do you judge a budget to be superfluous though? Is a 20 million dollar budget ok, but a 21 million dollar budget superfluous? Surely it's not just a dollar figure alone, that would be absurd. A budget should be determined based on return on investment. If getting Tom Cruise to be a voice actor is 90% of your $250 million budget, you would have a point. But if that budget is being used to float a 5 year development period in order to create a magnificent open world with dozens of gameplay modes that are new, thoughtful, polished and fun? I don't have a problem with that. And it's NOT the new industry standard. GTA games don't come out every week, nor are publishers trying to copy its formula for success. There may be free-roaming games out there, but nobody is spending over 200 million on trying to beat GTA at its own game.

    You keep calling elements of GTA superfluous. The attention to detail and free roaming elements are obviously not superfluous to the experiences of those actually playing it because they are the very reasons it is garnering so much praise. This goes back to you judging a product you haven't even played. How do you get to dismiss it without sitting down and playing it? Each one of those details that people are enjoying so much costs money to add to the game. I was driving up the virtual PCH the other day and veered onto the rumble strips on the side of the road, so I corrected myself...then I thought, whoa! They even programmed rumble strips! Somebody had to work on that detail, test it, refine it...that costs money, but I appreciate the detail. It adds to the immersion. It's obviously not your thing, but that's ok: the gaming market can support GTA games that push the envelop in their own way, as well as indie games that try new things and push the envelop in other ways. I support and enjoy both ends of the spectrum.

    I'm a business owner as well, and I think one of the most stifling things to a business are the four words "we can't afford it." Obviously costs need to be controlled, but I don't give a damn what something costs if the payback is worth it. GTA cost exactly what it needed to cost in order to be the game its designers wanted it to be. That doesn't mean every game is going to cost that much (i.e. the new standard you are seemingly worried about), and it doesn't mean every game should try to replicate that level of success. I'm not going to try to break into the cell phone market because Apple is making a killing on iPhones. I'm doing my thing and getting success doing what I do, but I don't resent or worry about people spending big bucks in order to get big bucks in their area of expertise. Let Rock Star do their thing, and buy or develop the games you like as well. There's room for everyone.

    1. I understand your point, but as I'll write about later on KoopaTV, the loss of mid-size companies is really scary.

      ...Anyway, as for superfluous...

      (I really don't care for the differences there but that's obviously just me.)

      They can individually render stuff all they want, but the game has frames per second issues because of it.

      I'm the type of person who would much, much rather have 60 frames per second than graphical detail, and obviously GTA V doesn't aim for 60 (aims for 30) but I've read it sometimes dips below that. Like, that's what I'd want this massive budget to be spent on.

      But yes, this game has a massive scope. I'm fine with unneeded features seeing as how Masahiro Sakurai is my favourite game developer, but features contradictory to the core of the game?

      (See my colleague's article on GTA V with his point on the stock market.

      Obviously developers aren't trying to copy GTA V now (because it... just came out and stuff) but when GTA was first popular, you betcha a bunch of GTA-clones appeared. And they're gonna wanna clone more than just the gameplay, but also the scope.


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