Jun 29, 2023 - Technology

PlayStation games cost as much as movie blockbusters to make, exposed budgets show

Horizon Forbidden West. Screenshot: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony’s 2022 PS4 and PS5 blockbuster Horizon Forbidden West cost $212 million to develop over a five-year period, and its 2020 hit The Last Of Us Part II cost around $220 million to make.

What's happening: Those normally closely held figures came to light via a poorly redacted legal filing that’s part of the FTC’s lawsuit to block Microsoft’s bid for Activision.

Why it matters: Development budgets, which are typically industry secrets, are generally said to be skyrocketing for marquee games — and these numbers confirm the trend toward massive Hollywood-style spending.

The intrigue: The veil of secrecy applied to a declaration from Sony PlayStation chief Jim Ryan in the FTC case wasn’t sufficiently opaque.

  • Some words and stats in the declaration were redacted by what appeared to be marker, leaving the underlying text somewhat readable.

Details: The Sony filing also included unsuccessful redactions of the Horizon game’s development timeframe (five years) and number of full-time staff (over 300).

Between the lines: Both games are sure to have been profitable, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter and Cowen’s Doug Creutz tell Axios.

  • Pachter pegs Sony’s profit on each at close to $300 million.
  • His math includes cuts for marketing and physical retailers.
  • It also helps that these are Sony-made games for a Sony console, so the game maker here doesn’t need to give the standard 30% cut to the platform holder. Economics for blockbusters, in other words, favor first-party games.

The big picture: Blockbuster game budgets rival production costs for Hollywood films, which can run $200 million, both analysts say.

  • Within gaming, the increasing costs have triggered some anxiety about the risks that surround such expensive projects.
  • Former PlayStation studios chief Shawn Layden said in 2020 that rising development costs are not sustainable for the size of the market.
  • Layden has called for, among other things, shorter big-budget games that cost less to make.

The intrigue: It’s not clear who to blame (or thank) for the poor redaction work that led to this rare moment of game industry transparency.

  • While the declaration — and requests to the court to seal (read: redact) part of it — came from Sony, the file had been entered into the case by Microsoft.

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