Video games are too expensive to be this disappointing

Video games are too expensive to be this disappointing

The last generation of games ended with a bang. In the last year of the PS4’s life cycle (which ignores this current cross-generational grace period), Sony threw us The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Miles Morales, while we also had Doom Eternal , THPS 1+2, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Crash Bandicoot 4 and Persona 5 Royal, plus a host of others. The indie scene gave us Ori, Bugsnax, and Hades, while the Switch delivered with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but I’ll specifically focus on the Sony lineup for now. The point is, we were going into a new generation with hope in our hearts, but it might just have imploded.

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Sony announced that with the launch of the PS5, there would be a crash in video game prices, with triple-A games now launching at $70. It was met with criticism and grumbling, but there also seemed to be a sense of acceptance. 2,000 people worked on The Last of Us Part 2, and it was in development for six years – it’s an expensive effort. When what comes out the other end is a critically acclaimed masterpiece, then hey, only fair we pay more, right? The flaws in this strategy have been painfully exposed this year, even to those who are absolutely desperate never to see them.

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Is $70 a fair price for The Last of Us Part 2, or the hypothetically equally good The Last of Us Part 3? I think that is a difficult question to answer. TLOU is a best-in-class product that only exists the way it does because of the extreme development styles of Naughty Dog and Sony. If that’s how much it costs to make a great video game, and we all want great video games, then someone is going to hold their nose and pay for it. Except that’s not what it costs to make a great video game – just to make a great one.

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So far, the triple-A scene has given us good faith in Elden Ring. Aside from my personal distaste for the game, it should cost the regular price of a great video game. But our other offerings are the distinctly average Horizon Forbidden West (some decent fun on its own, but not industry-defining like Elden Ring or TLOU2), and the downright bad Saints Row and Gotham Knights. Both of the last two will have been made with huge budgets – they are huge IPs made by experienced studios. They were also under development for a long time. They tick every box The Last of Us does, they’re just not good. So, should they cost $70?

Of course, you vote with your wallet, and if you don’t want them for $70, you just don’t buy them, but I feel as a critic I should advocate beyond individual action. I’ve written before that I feel modern games aren’t sustainable – development costs and cycles have typically doubled between generations, and that would mean TLOU3 would take 12 years to get here; perhaps more when you consider the generations themselves are usually only eight years long. I usually bring this up when games are delayed, questioning if games were more refined, less bloated, and less concerned with engagement time and endless content if we’d see a more diverse generation of games delivered on time by happier developers, but sometimes the problem is that it’s just not worth it.

No one sets out to make a bad game on purpose. No one who did Gotham Knights suggested “what if the gameplay was really repetitive and slow.” Games are very hard to make, often harder when there’s studio interference and by-committee design, but that’s kind of the point. These games are expensive to make and they take a long time, which means many people want to go in to check their investments, and others leave, which means ideas are abandoned. In its quest to be worth $70, Gotham Knights ensures that it never can be. It’s not just these minor triple-A ailments either. Remember the launch of Cyberpunk 2077?

2022 is going to end with God of War Ragnarok, which will more than likely “justify” the price (as much as one can) and we’ll all forget about it. However, it’s worth remembering that budget isn’t the only indicator – Hades is just as acclaimed and successful as TLOU2, and it cost $25 at launch. It was made in less time and with a much smaller studio to boot. Games are more expensive and take longer these days, and it feels like we’re reaching breaking point. It’s not usually the behemoths like God of War that we need to worry about, although the chasing pack of Gotham Knights tries to keep up, only succeeding in overloading and under-delivering.

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