The last generation of gaming ended with a bang. In the last year of the PS4's life cycle (ignoring this current cross-gen grace period), Sony pelted us with 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 want to specifically focus on the Sony selection for now. The point is we were going into a new generation with hope in our hearts, but that might have just imploded.
Sony announced that with the launch of the PS5 would come a bump in video game pricing, with triple-A games now launching at $70. It was met with criticisms and grumblings, but it also seemed like there was a sense of acceptance. 2,000 people worked on The Last of Us Part 2, and it was in development for six years – that's an expensive endeavour. When what comes out the other end is a critically acclaimed masterpiece, then hey, only fair that we pay more, right? The flaws of this strategy have been painfully exposed this year, even for those utterly desperate never to see them.
Is $70 a fair price for The Last of Us Part 2, or the hypothetically just-as-good The Last of Us Part 3? I think that's a difficult question to answer. TLOU is a best in class product that only exists in the manner that 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 some people are going to hold their nose and pay it. Except that's not what it costs to make a great video game – only to make a big one.
So far, the triple-A scene has given us one bona fide great in Elden Ring. My personal distaste for the game aside, that should cost the going 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 those last two will have been made with massive budgets – they're huge IPs made by experienced studios. They also were in development for a long time. They tick every box The Last of Us does, they're just not any good. So, should they cost $70?
Obviously 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 gaming is unsustainable – development costs and cycles have typically doubled between generations, and that would mean TLOU3 would take 12 years to get here; maybe more when you consider 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 whether we'd see a more diverse generation of games being delivered on time by happier developers, but sometimes the problem is it's just not worth it.
No one sets out to make a bad game on purpose. Nobody making 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 sort of the point. These games are expensive to make and they take a long time, which means lots of people want to butt in to check on their investment, and others leave meaning ideas are abandoned. In trying to be worth $70, Gotham Knights ensures it never can be. It's not just these minor triple-As suffering either. Remember the launch of Cyberpunk 2077?
2022 is going to end with God of War Ragnarok, which more than likely will 'justify' its price (however much one can), and we'll all forget about it. It's worth remembering though that budget is not the only indicator – Hades is just as acclaimed and successful as TLOU2, and it retailed at $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 going to hit breaking point. It's not usually the behemoths like God of War we need to worry about though so much as the chasing pack of Gotham Knights trying to keep up, succeeding only in overcharging and underdelivering.
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