The serious business of making games

Sorry to hear that, Menzo! What’s your typical role? I’ll keep an eye out for opportunities.

Interesting email from the Microsoft leak from March 2020 by Phil Spencer on the AAA games future being unsustainable for new IP.

I definitely see the point, but I don’t know if gamepass is the panacea theat he thinks that it is.

Subscription services certainly do help with the steadiness of income, but I think that the dysfunction at the studio level is beyond that.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the industrys (or a certain part of it, at least) infatuation with subscriptions services quite weird. I mean, for us as consumers - it’s kinda great (at least at first). Heavy gamers gain access to a never-ending stream of games at a much lower price than they’d normally do, and people like myself who game more infrequently can just unsubscribe whenever. I just don’t see how it benefits anyone else other than the owners of those services - and in the long run (as the subscription model drives a certain type of gameplay) - I’m not sure it benefits them either.

Maybe not, but if Microsoft is offering guaranteed money for a game to go onto Game pass than that’s a pretty hard thing to say no to vs all of the unknowns of relying on regular sales.

Depending on the specific deal, budget etc… for, say, medium sized indie games, GamePass can take them half the way to profitability.

And there are enough people outside of GP and/or in other platforms that you don’t lose too many sales.

For certain games it’s a no brained.

Swapping from the Immortals of Aveum thread… One that confuses me is why Immortals of Aveum has been called an AAA game. The studio had 80 to 100 people during development, according to sources in a Kotaku article. Their CEO says “Together we’ve created a new AAA studio…” But, uh, doesn’t AAA start closer to 200? I bring it up because going into a game expecting it to be an AAA release when it isn’t, mucks with expectations.

From an IGN article citing the UK’s CMA:

According to the report, AAA games that are greenlit now with potential releases in 2024 or 2025 typically receive development budgets of $200 million or higher — Call of Duty has already surpassed $300 million in development costs alone, and the next Grand Theft Auto title will likely require a development budget of $250 million or more. When considering marketing costs, this number can jump to over $1 billion across a franchise, with one large studio reporting that a major franchise’s development cost $660 million and marketing cost nearly $550 million.

These costs demonstrate a significant increase from five years ago, when most AAA games had budgets between $50 and $150 million.

My napkin math says I could hire 200 development staff for about four years for a $200 million budget.

I wish Ascendant Studios had been more successful. I want to see more AA studios succeed, like several Japanese developers have managed in the last decade. It’s a sweet spot for me regarding detail, completeness, and experimentation.

It really depends on what you are building and how much co-dev and outsourcing you are doing. A core team of 80-100 working for a few years could very easily be AAA. You could also have a much, much larger team internally. AAA to me really indicates expected asset quality and scope of the game, not necessarily budget/size of team.

I always thought AAA described how much money they planned to charge for the game, not how much effort went into it. :P

Most probably they were 100 devs in the studio… and another 100-150 from outsourcing companies.

Oh, I can understand why companies might take a deal where they get up front money easily enough. And taking a loss to gain market share is a time-honored game at this point. I’m just not convinced it’s a particularly more viable business model in the long run than the one that already exists.

I heard on the radio this morning that the actor’s union approved the strike on video game acting in games. They were mentioning motion captured actors not wanting to be replaced by AI and other tech.

Now, for movies and TV, I’m all for that, it’s always been an actor’s medium. But for games that seems weird, because it seems like such a recent development that games even started using real actors to motion capture animations, and that too for triple-A games basically. I’m trying to think back to how recent this is. Did any games in the PS2/Xbox/Dreamcast era use actor motion capture? Maybe for the Tony Hawk and Dave Mirra games?

I don’t see what the union’s leverage here is. Can’t game devs just use overseas actors and ignore the actor’s union?

Generated mocap replacements are obviously more convienient for developers. If we can produce something which has quality that matches up to real mocap we should be able to replace it.

Motion capture has been used at least since the PS2 era, although back then a lot less because the tech for getting the captured animation into a game-usable state was really painful.

I haven’t been following but I’m curious what criteria they think they can use to protect motion capture. That data is almost never used verbatim in games, it typically has to be edited, sometimes a lot. It’s not like voice acting where regardless of what FX you put on it, the lines are what they are. You can’t move around some bones and end up with a different line. But you can do that and end up with a significantly different animation and being able to do so is pretty important.

Why does timing matter?

The top tier of digital performance involves the voice actors themselves doing the motion capture and facial capture performance in a single, integrated performance. It’s not super common yet, and may never be typical, but it’s how you get world class results. The actor is a vital piece of the final result.

If the publishers want to have big name actors (even just big name voice actors like a Nolan North) in their games, they have to sign an agreement with SAG to use SAG actors.

Sometimes motion capture is just motion capture, but in a lot of contexts these days, it’s voice and facial capture as well. See my comment above.

And in films, an editing cut can end up with a line of dialogue being matched up with a shot where it was never even spoken, modifying the performance. It’s not that different, it’s just that the tools in digital are more powerful. You can account for clean-up, editing, and modification in the agreements.

Heh, you can definitely do this with VO these days, and it’s usually not noticeable provided the line is short and you’ve got a good sample set. Not even with AI or anything, just talented people and powerful tools.

Right sure, if you are capturing someone’s voice and facial movements that could work very well, and should be protected from simulation / generative reproduction.

But there’s a lot of other scenarios that are less about inserting a specific performance into the game. With improvements in technology I don’t see the same need for actors there.

And even with voice/facial movements, there will be a desire to generate it for more generic interactions. I think that’s fine as long as it’s not trying to imitate the style of specific actor.

I don’t think those would be areas where a studio would hire a SAG actor for the motion capture.

ADDENDUM: I should clarify–I don’t think that’s a role for SAG actors. As in, I don’t think SAG-AFTRA would be looking to protect the people who do that work. (In my experience, it’s usually done by developers themselves, like animators or designers.)

Sure, maybe I’ve misunderstood what the issue is about. This is helpful, thanks.

Yeah, that is exactly what the union’s leverage is. If you use non union actors, you don’t get to ever use union ones. And the big names are all union actors.

For mo-cap though, at least when I was in college that wasn’t all union work. There was/is a games studio in town that often would visit local colleges to get students in acting classes to do mocap work.

Though, I wonder if that was more of an “internship” thing that is exempted. Or “background” work. Could have also been mocap training for the people in the studio, or just to get generic motions.

I don’t know. “Mo-cap” has been going on forever. The original prince of persia was rotoscoping a Jordan Mechner’s younger brother doing the stunts, a sort of early motion capture.