Game development costs will likely increase even further for the next generation of consoles. Given that so-called "AAA development" is already pretty dang expensive and risky, this may prove troublesome. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has recently proposed one solution: releasing "pilot episodes" of games to test the waters before plunging fully into development.
"It's possible to make many things more realistic, but that doesn't mean you should," Kojima told Edge. "You have to prioritize, and that is what's going to separate the teams that succeed from the teams that don't. A very deep, 20-30 hour game might need a bigger team and take three or four years."
"I think there's a different way of tackling this problem: something similar to a TV series, where you can use pilot episodes to test the waters before you jump completely into the project," Kojima offered. "It can be distributed via download channels, so the player can try it out before production continues. Something like that wouldn't take that long to create, maybe a year, and if it's successful, you can continue."
A year of development is still a huge commitment, mind. And creating a slice of a game is no mean feat if you want a "pilot episode" with the level of polish we see in television pilots: you'd need release-quality art; UI; script; sound; and levels of not-being-all-buggy. All the same, it could stop companies from dumping too much money into projects which aren't working out, then shoving them out the door in an attempt to recoup any of the costs. With next-gen budgets, that could go from painful to disastrous.
An even cheaper alternative is to ship lighter, more prototype-y games, with placeholder assets and their core systems in reasonable shape to test the ideas. Goodness knows too many people already struggle to understand that an unfinished game is not finished, though. And if a game is story-driven or open-world--like Kojima's own upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes--it may struggle to shine in prototype form.
Double Fine Productions recently experimented with pitching 23 games to the public, letting people vote on which prototypes they'd like to see made, and paying in return for getting to play them. This lets the studio discover what people want in the first place, then get feedback on how they turn out.
Kojima can see next-gen consoles encouraging "a social aspect" to development, he told Edge. "You'll get user feedback, and I think there'll be this back-and-forth between users and creators."
Anyway. Complicated times in the industry, huh? Companies funding video games will need to be a lot more careful with their money, not going hog-wild chasing 'realism.' Boy, those video games!