Unredacted Court Documents Reveal Sony’s Triple-A Budgets Are Unsustainable

The funniest moment in the FTC case came via Sharpie. The case examines whether Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard would be bad enough for the competitiveness of the console market to be blocked, and includes many unsealed emails, many redacted documents and, in one case, a heavily redacted document.



The rhythm of the case has been pretty simple so far: a prominent figure from Xbox or PlayStation gets sued, the Xbox people punch each other in the face talking about how bad things are for the poor old Xbox, the PlayStation people criticize the Xbox for running absolutely the same playbook that PlayStation has been using for a decade, but then we see a sheet of paper with mostly black text. It wasn’t until yesterday that things didn’t go according to plan.

Related: Ten years ago, The Last Of Us changed everything

One of the aforementioned documents that was leaked to the public had key information crossed out in Sharpie, only this particular pen had to be dry because the redaction didn’t quite stand still. The document in question referred to Horizon Forbidden West and The Last of Us Part 2, failing to conceal that Horizon Forbidden West cost $212 million to develop over five years with 300 employees, while The Last Of Us Part 2 costing $220 million with about 200 employees. It was a very embarrassing moment for the court, as all the evidence was immediately removed from the record and returned with much darker corrections, including the previous evidence for the Xbox, where the company’s recently revealed attempts, to get different studios, have many names. passed out.

A promotional image from Horizon Forbidden West showing Alow looking off into the distance in a tropical setting with a robotic dinosaur-like creature in the background.

These numbers are high, but when you consider the profit generated by gaming (especially with the live streaming services planned by both Horizon and TLOU in the future), it adds up. Business gaming is at the level of movies. The Flash cost $190 million. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 cost $250 million, as did The Little Mermaid. Fast X had a budget of $340 million, while Star Wars: The Force Awakens, officially the most expensive movie ever made, cost $447 million. But the future of gaming is causing problems.

A lot of major movies are having a bad summer. Asteroid City, No Hard Feelings and Across the Spider-Verse, all significantly cheaper, ousted The Flash, while the $295m budget Indiana Jones 5 is also expected to take a beating. But these studios will recover. Hits M3GAN and Smile could turn to high-concept, while No Hard Feelings , which hits the ground running, could mean more star projects, especially if Barbie (a combination of the two) enjoys the hot girl summer ahead of her . Superhero movies may fade and become more spaced out, while blockbusters may tighten the reins, but overall, movie studios will take the hits and keep trucking.

no offense jennifer lawrence in red dress

This is because movies can be produced with a much faster turnaround than games. If the movie misses, there’s always the next one. There may be board reshuffling and belt-tightening, but if the next one is successful, all is well again. Video games take a lot longer to make, so big budgets are a lot riskier because there won’t be another one around the corner to catch you. The failure of The Flash will hardly matter if Blue Beetle can make a paltry $400-500 million from its $120 million budget. Games don’t have that luxury.

There’s also the matter that game development cycles and costs have traditionally doubled between console generations. Using napkin math, this suggests that the next Horizon game will cost $424 million and take ten years to make. And if it fails, it’s a burnt decade. We already live in this reality – Gotham Knights was almost six years in development and can anyone tell me it was worth it?

abby pointing a gun in the back part 2
via Naughty Dog

The botched redactions are a minor embarrassment, but Sony has openly discussed eight-figure sums for development costs, so the fact that HFW and TLOU are a $200 million game isn’t much of a surprise, although Naughty Dog seems to have spent those dollars a bit more . The problem is that these development costs continue to spiral out of control and mean that every triple-A game is a huge risk with huge money. Modern gaming is intolerable, and every shred of evidence from this trial has only highlighted that.

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