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How did games become so expensive to make and why does it take longer to develop?

DR3AM

Member
First of all, I have zero knowledge of game development.
Before, a game would take about 2-3 years to finish and when it released , the whole game was there.
These days it takes about 4,5, or even 6 years to develop and when it comes out, half the content is missing and they just release more content over the years.
Also, aren’t game engines like Unreal supposed to make development easier and cheaper?
How much does covid have to do with this?
I feel like this is happening to AAA a lot more and not every game is like this.
 
I am not a developer but just looking at games being made today and games being made 20 years ago, the differences are huge in regards to world size and level of detail, systems in place, etc.

Look at GTA3, Vice City, and San Andreas, and compare them to GTAV. Everything about GTAV is bigger and more detailed and complex, not just 2x so or even 3x so, but orders of magnitudes more.
 
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theHFIC

Member
Because the expectations of AAA (and newly created AAAA:messenger_tears_of_joy:) games are through the roof to take advantage of what the current generation of consoles and PC's have to offer. Having an engine in place like Unreal or Unity is only part of the equation. Assets still have to be made, motion capture sessions have to be done, a script needs to be in place that include all possible options that turn out to be thicker than a bible. All of this being done by a global team in a lot of cases to distribute the work over a full 24 hour workday or just working an individual studio into the ground until the development gets affected by the end of production through burnout and employee churn.

Getting a fully remote from work pipeline up and running isn't as easy as flipping a switch in a lot of cases so the infrastructure has to be created which we have been going through the past 2 years or so and that seems to be finally smoothing out for the studios that do choose to go remote.

Edit: I also believe Unreal Engine is making a lot of inroads with the work like random placement of objects while still making it look natural along with random NPC generation but a lot of the procedural stuff looks obvious when it doesn't work which lowers the immersion and experience of the game. Also there are a lot of other subsystems in play like online and platform specific integration features. Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure!
 
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StreetsofBeige

Gold Member
Bigger games and tons of artists, audio/scripts/actors.

Are games really that more complex in terms of gameplay and online? Maybe for some games. But I dont see the average physics, AI or online gaming quality any different than the 360 days.

But what I do see is tons of meticulous textures and hair and cutscenes. You get a lot higher quality audio tracks and script acting than back in the day when it seemed like the people doing voice work were amateur hour actors getting paid $5 per page.

Some of those old games with dialogue, I dont even think they hired actors. It could be so bad, it seemed like the programmers doubled doing voice work.
 
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You make a low budget game and odds are you'll be lost amongst a sea of competitors, you do a proper AAA game with insane production value and you won't even have competition because only a few studios can afford that at this point. You'll inevitably get compared to what is out there.

This is more evident in the single player space but I guess it's true for multiplayer games as well and is starting to become true even for indie games. You think Kena or Stray would get as much visibility if they didn't look great?
 
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AllBizness

Banned
Better technology needs to be created to develop high quality games and assets for games faster. UE5 is a start, it cuts down on dev time since the devs dont have to create the same assets over and over again with different camera or viewing angles.
 

lukilladog

Member
Did they?. I´m seeing lots of games made with very low budgets... as for some of the so called AAA games, of course they are gonna become more expensive when you start to hire professional actors and spend hundreds of millions in marketing, not to mention that they tend to speak half truths to justify more expensive games.
 
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Guilty_AI

Member
There's a number of reasons that could be pointed out, however when you consider stuff like Death Stranding apparently got made in 3 years with a team of 80 devs, i start to think the reason behind a lot of these high development times is down to poor direction and mismanagement.
 
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BossLackey

Gold Member
Technology improves:

Better technology means better graphics and the ability to process more things on screen and a larger world. Better graphics means higher fidelity assets. Higher fidelity assets means longer development time to create assets and more people to do it.

The industry grows:

As time moves on, expectations for AAA increases and more people are playing games all the time. More complex, graphically intensive games are significantly more laborious to produce than, say, an NES game was in the 80s.
 

SlimySnake

Member
Just looking at Sony studios. They used to make 8-10 hour games in the PS3 era. Now they make 30-40 hour campaigns with another 20-30 hours of side content. I have no idea why TLOU2, GOW and Ghost had to have 30 hour campaigns. It makes no sense. It destroys the pacing. TLOU and Uncharted 4 already felt long at 15 hours. Even RPGs back then were around 20 hours with maybe 10 hours of side content. Now RDR2 which isnt even an RPG had a 50 hour story campaign. I love that game but they couldve easily shaved off 20 hours from that campaign.

And thats pretty much it. When the campaign alone takes 3x as long, the game development will take 3x longer. Couple that with everything becoming open world and GaaS and there is just more to make than they were back then.

It also doesnt help that they are still working on last gen games with shitty dated last gen engines. Remember, the Schreier articles on how it took Bungie 8 hours just to change one loot box location in Patrol? Well, most game studios nowadays are still designing their games using last gen engines instead of new technologies like Lumens and Nanite which drastically speed up the development process. Instead they literally have to downgrade the assets several times to ensure they have several different LOD versions of every single asset and manually light each scene instead of letting the new realtime GI solutions automatically light the scene for them.

It's ironic that greedy publishers chasing more dollars by making games cross gen have ended up making their game development times longer, and thus more costly. Personally, I love me some comeuppance.
 

kyliethicc

Member
People are the main dev cost factor.

Time comes down to complexity and necessary quality.

Less people would lower cost but add time.

Lower complexity would lower time but also lower quality.
 

Punished Miku

Gold Member
Just looking at Sony studios. They used to make 8-10 hour games in the PS3 era. Now they make 30-40 hour campaigns with another 20-30 hours of side content. I have no idea why TLOU2, GOW and Ghost had to have 30 hour campaigns. It makes no sense. It destroys the pacing. TLOU and Uncharted 4 already felt long at 15 hours. Even RPGs back then were around 20 hours with maybe 10 hours of side content. Now RDR2 which isnt even an RPG had a 50 hour story campaign. I love that game but they couldve easily shaved off 20 hours from that campaign.
I remember quite well during the 360/PS3 era how reviews went. Basically it was the era of Skyrim. First thing you'd ask is how long it is. Anything under 10 hrs was kind of a joke. Lots of games tried to keep this length by adding on tacked on multiplayer and other modes. Eventually everyone just went all in on making games huge.

I think it was driven by consumers. Also probably an attempt to battle used games since physical sales were basically 95% at that time. Now they're chasing micro-transactions and engagement hours.

I think Uncharted in particular was not even close in sales to what ND games are now because they used to be a bit of a hard sell at that price point with how short they were.
 
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StreetsofBeige

Gold Member
Just looking at Sony studios. They used to make 8-10 hour games in the PS3 era. Now they make 30-40 hour campaigns with another 20-30 hours of side content. I have no idea why TLOU2, GOW and Ghost had to have 30 hour campaigns. It makes no sense. It destroys the pacing. TLOU and Uncharted 4 already felt long at 15 hours. Even RPGs back then were around 20 hours with maybe 10 hours of side content. Now RDR2 which isnt even an RPG had a 50 hour story campaign. I love that game but they couldve easily shaved off 20 hours from that campaign.
Probably because the big studios compare games and content. Thats my guess.

If Bethesda, R*, UBI, and COD have lots of content and replayability, Sony probably looked at their games and required them to have more content to stretch it out. Because if those other games can be 40 hour games, Sony SP narratives were probably pushed to be stretch out from 12 to 25 hours so it's close enough.

Like most things in life, bigger is better (at least from an image stand point). Its rare a game maker that makes big games suddenly says their world and hours of gameplay are smaller than last game. So the benchmark is always creeping bigger and bigger.
 
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SlimeGooGoo

Party Gooper
Too much emphasis on realism.
The more realistic something is, the more specific it has to be, and the more detail you have to add to make it realistic.

And so, you have thousands of recorded voices, motion capture for realistic animations, photorealistic rendering, realistic physics, high polygon models, very complex shaders and materials, and so on.
It's a losing battle, but marketing likes it.
 
Are they more expensive though?

1993 circular:



$59.99 is $122 in todays money.
 

Redneckerz

Those long posts don't cover that red neck boy
First of all, I have zero knowledge of game development.
Before, a game would take about 2-3 years to finish and when it released , the whole game was there.
These days it takes about 4,5, or even 6 years to develop and when it comes out, half the content is missing and they just release more content over the years.
Also, aren’t game engines like Unreal supposed to make development easier and cheaper?
Universal engines like Unreal and Unity greatly improve workflow, meaning its easier to create stuff, which is apparent in the onslaught of indie games using both of these engines.

At the same time, authoring assets and their complexity has increased as years go by. Where artists in the PS360 era had access to fancy shader effects, things like lighting were baked and/or approximated. In other words: The asset pipeline was based on approximations based on the artist.

In the PBR (Physically Based Rendering) era, the pipeline changed: Gone was the hand-tuned, artist-approximated approach in favor of a workflow based on real life properties of materials, like diffuse, albedo, roughness, and so on. Because there was a reference spec, assets could be produced that matched this spec, using photogrammetry (Photographing assets and through the PBR workflow creating almost a 1 to 1 true to life asset)

However, asset size increased linearly aswell, leading to algorithmic and procedural solutions to be developed. Procedural generation defines a text stating how an orange looks like, and then generates it based on the definition. This is in contrast to non-procedural solutions: An asset of an orange is a model shaped like an orange.

As a model is exponentially larger in asset size than a text definition defining how an orange looks like, procedural generation is great for keeping sizes small. No Man's Sky uses this to extensive degree to generate a huge world based on definitions and parameters.

How much does covid have to do with this?
Not much in terms of workflow. As assets get larger and need more data, so does it cost more rendering power to achieve it.

What COVID did was forcing developers to continue development at home, using office PC's instead of workstations. Alongside the reduced computing power, tools at work aren't always available at home.

Then there is the human deficit: Artists have families, families who will distract you when working from home. All that combined leads to a reduction in effectivity and thus a prolonged development cycle.

Outliers also exists, such as GSC Game World and (Previously) 4A Games. They developed their games in a time of unrest/war. 4A has had a story around this from 2013. Its a fascinating insight in a developer who shows the hard passion for developing games in the face of upcoming disturbance.
I feel like this is happening to AAA a lot more and not every game is like this.
 

Astral Dog

Member
More complex gameplay systems, Voice Acting, higher resolution assets, longer 'optimization' process, more content in some cases (even if its just filler) movies/cutscenes take longer to create/animate. AAA games become more of a risk so marketing/market research also takes longer

Wich all involves hiring more developers to finish a project thus more time wasted on managment.

And other factors
 
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SlimySnake

Member
I remember quite well during the 360/PS3 era how reviews went. Basically it was the era of Skyrim. First thing you'd ask is how long it is. Anything under 10 hrs was kind of a joke. Lots of games tried to keep this length by adding on tacked on multiplayer and other modes. Eventually everyone just went all in on making games huge.

I think it was driven by consumers. Also probably an attempt to battle used games since physical sales were basically 95% at that time. Now they're chasing micro-transactions and engagement hours.

I think Uncharted in particular was not even close in sales to what ND games are now because they used to be a bit of a hard sell at that price point with how short they were.
Yeah, I remember that too, but back then Sony exclusives didnt have the pedigree they do now. They were still earning goodwill at the time, and the PS3 sales werent as good as the PS4. They immediately saw higher sales numbers for KZSF (2.1 million in 6 weeks), Infamous Second Son (1 million in 9 days) and DriveClub (2 million in 8 months). It was because all the xbox 360 hardcore gamers moved to the PS4 that gen. They really didnt need to make these games any longer. Spiderman is a 10 hour game with maybe 10 hours of side content and its their best selling first party game.

I dont think i heard anyone complain about TLOU's length or even inquire about the length of GoW and TLOU2. People went out and spent $200-300 million on that game in the first weekend without caring about how long they were. A 15 hour TLOU2 wouldve sold just as much.
Probably because the big studios compare games and content. Thats my guess.

If Bethesda, R*, UBI, and COD have lots of content and replayability, Sony probably looked at their games and required them to have more content to stretch it out. Because if those other games can be 40 hour games, Sony SP narratives were probably pushed to be stretch out from 12 to 25 hours so it's close enough.

Like most things in life, bigger is better (at least from an image stand point). Its rare a game maker that makes big games suddenly says their world and hours of gameplay are smaller than last game. So the benchmark is always creeping bigger and bigger.
Yeah, that makes sense. I just think it's the wrong approach. The sales of those games were higher because they were multiplatform. Not because they were hundreds of hours long. Sony just chased the wrong trends and found themselves struggling with the same issues third party studios were running into. Only problem is that Sony studios are far smaller and didnt have the multiplatform userbase to make back the extra money they spent taking 3x as long to make the game. probably why they are going multiplatform now.
 

StreetsofBeige

Gold Member
First of all, I have zero knowledge of game development.
Before, a game would take about 2-3 years to finish and when it released , the whole game was there.
These days it takes about 4,5, or even 6 years to develop and when it comes out, half the content is missing and they just release more content over the years.
Also, aren’t game engines like Unreal supposed to make development easier and cheaper?
How much does covid have to do with this?
I feel like this is happening to AAA a lot more and not every game is like this.
If you gamed in the 80s and 90s, sequels could be annually.

Ya, the core engine was probably the same with small improvements, but somehow the artists and script writers could churn out tons new monsters and graphics and lots of dialogue in just one year. Those guys must had been working OT everyday to pump out content that fast.

Or perhaps making monsters with some basic pixel/sprite animations isnt as hard as I think and good artists can draw and program that stuff quick.
 
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I remember the creator of Gran Turismo talking about this. Don't remember the exact figures but he basically said back in the ps1 days one person could program a car in a day. Now it takes a whole team of programmers like a month.
 

StreetsofBeige

Gold Member
Are they more expensive though?

1993 circular:



$59.99 is $122 in todays money.
Side topic: Vegas Stakes wasnt a bad casino game. Like many back in the day, a bad slow UI is the worst thing for a casino game. And it kind of had that. But for what it was it was decent. The intro to the game is pure degeneracy. A bunch of people speeding off to get to a casino ASAP.
 

SlimySnake

Member
If you gamed in the 80s and 90s, sequels could be annually.

Ya, the core engine was probably the same with small improvements, but somehow the artists and script writers could churn out tons new monsters and graphics and lots of dialogue in just one year. Those guys must had been working OT everyday to pump out content that fast.

Or perhaps making monsters with some basic pixel/sprite animations isnt as hard as I think and good artists can draw and program that stuff quick.
Yeah, looking at how quickly From Software is able to churn out Souls games with 20 new monster designs and boss battles in every game, it's obvious that the GAME portion of the game doesn't really take that long.

It's pretty impressive how Capcom has been able to consistently release RE games every other year since 2017. They keep the scope small, but are able to create new boss battles, new campaigns, and new levels and setpieces.

5 games in 6 years if RE4 comes out in 2023.

Meanwhile GG, Nintendo EAD, Sucker Punch, CD Project, 343 and SSM took 5-6 years to make one game. lol. Moral of the story? Dont waste your time on 50-100 hour open world games.
 

Croatoan

They/Them A-10 Warthog
Middle Management and constant redesigns to meet CEO/shareholders desires. Devs rarely get to dev freely anymore. Also isn't like 50% of an AAA game's budget spent on marketing?

Assets have gotten more complex but the tools to make them have gotten so good that the time to create 3d worlds hasn't ballooned out that much over the last decade. Things like Nanite will shorten dev time even more as you don't have to really worry about creating low poly meshes from high poly sculpts anymore.

Yall would be surprised how many times a game gets rebooted in dev, not because it is bad, but because some suit thinks it will sell better with "insert other popular game's mechanic". Then they say, "make this happen on the original timeline," because they are fucks that just want money and don't care about how the devs make that impossible mission possible.
 
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Sakura

Member
First of all, I have zero knowledge of game development.
Before, a game would take about 2-3 years to finish and when it released , the whole game was there.
These days it takes about 4,5, or even 6 years to develop and when it comes out, half the content is missing and they just release more content over the years.
Also, aren’t game engines like Unreal supposed to make development easier and cheaper?
How much does covid have to do with this?
I feel like this is happening to AAA a lot more and not every game is like this.
It's mostly asset creation, I think.
Imagine 8bit, 16bit, 32bit, 64bit, etc 2D character sprites. The more pixels, the more time (and skill) required to create the sprites.
It's generally the same for modern 3D games. A more complex character model, is going to take longer to make, for example.

AAA games generally try to have top class visuals. They want tons of original assets. Large open worlds. Etc etc.
A town in a AAA PS5 RPG is going to take a lot more work and time to create, compared to a town in an N64 RPG. Even if the the PS5 game doesn't necessarily have any more content, or is any more fun to play.

Game engines do make development easier and cheaper. But you have to compare apples to apples. If you are making a game with the same complexity and scope as a game from 20 years ago, then yes you would be able to do it in a shorter amount of time and with less staff than otherwise. A single indie game dev today could probably remake the original Super Mario Bros in a week if he knew what he was doing.

As for cost, this comes from longer development times, and marketing.
If a game takes 5 years to develop, then that is 5 years you are paying your employees before the game comes out, when before it might've been 2 or 3. And you probably have more employees now.
And because your game is so expensive and took so long to make, you want to make sure it sells at least X amount of copies, so you spend a shit ton of money on marketing.
 
*Expensive to make
Do we even have any good examples of older budgets to compare? Would also be interesting to calculate a cost per employee to see if costs scale linearly or exponentially, since the games simply take so many more people today.

To use an example since wikipedia has all the details, Donkey Kong Country apparently cost $1 million, was developed over 18 months, and had 12 people working on it. ~$2 million (2022 money) divided by 12 people times .6666 = ~$111000 a year per person to make the game. No clue how that would compare today.

Star Fox had a marketing budget of $15 million, so $30 million today money - seems about average for a low or mid AAA equivalent game?
 

JOEVIAL

Has a voluptuous plastic labia
Can easily be explained. Market trends and consumer demand have well... demanded increased amounts of assets and increased quality of those assets. Higher LOD (explained below). This has been the trend in gaming since the mid 90's. Games are getting more and expensive to make and take longer to make because of this.

New game engines make things easier, but it's a catch 22 because it's an ever evolving and advancing world. Once one "thing" is made better, then the other "thing" has to look/feel better... but sometimes the engine can't catch up with what designers want to do in order to accomplish that. And sometimes the designers lag behind the capabilities of the ever evolving engine.

I have experience 3D modeling. An industry term we use is called Level of Detail or LOD. The image below provides a basic explanation for LOD.
Games and the consumers demand higher and higher LOD. In the most basic explanation, the higher the LOD... the more time it takes to model. Especially when you're trying to achieve realism.

I speak from experience, realism is very time consuming from a 3D modeling/texture work standpoint.
 

MiguelItUp

Member
They get more and more complex in pretty much every way. Graphics, mechanics, everything.
Exactly, and such intricate work means a larger team, and a larger team means more money, etc. Add internal workflows, roadmaps, etc. to the mix, and it becomes a much larger and longer project.
 
So many developers are trying to make AAA, gigantic, endless worlds with high production values, amazing graphics and phenomenal voice acting like a huge budget movie with the obligatory hundreds of hours. I wouldn’t mind if they scale back to create smaller, more ficused games. I really don’t need every game to be 100+ hours and feel that it’s even detrimental to certain game companies.

One problem is, most modern gamers want and expect these huge games with ridiculous playtime length and the developers feel obligated to give them that. Not helping that games are more complicated and expensive to make now.
 

Leyasu

Banned
If a studio costs say 20m a year to run and you make the game in 3yrs then your game costs 60m

But if the same studio is working on a game for 5yrs, then that game will have cost 100m to make.

Chuck in the costs of the soundtrack and marketing too. But basically, the length of the project dictates a massice part of the cost.
 
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I honestly wish they’d go back to 8-10 hour games with a more linear approach like uncharted 2/3.

Now-a-days they think everyone wants a game that takes them hundreds of hours to complete and have to put in endless side missions and filler content. I don’t want filler, I want a short but memorable experience that will have a lasting impression and also be fun to replay from time to time.
 

Shifty1897

Member
Moving to HD was rough on devs, and GaaS requires a game with tons and tons of content to keep players playing (and spending) in your game and not someone else's.
 

Roufianos

Member
We could do with more games in the mold of Miles Morales. I'd take shorter games any day if it meant less of a drought like the one we're in now.

Some of my favourite games over recent years are Witcher 3, Death Stranding, RDR2 and Elden Ring and I haven't seen 100% of any of them. Games are far too big these days.
 
Can easily be explained. Market trends and consumer demand have well... demanded increased amounts of assets and increased quality of those assets. Higher LOD (explained below). This has been the trend in gaming since the mid 90's. Games are getting more and expensive to make and take longer to make because of this.

New game engines make things easier, but it's a catch 22 because it's an ever evolving and advancing world. Once one "thing" is made better, then the other "thing" has to look/feel better... but sometimes the engine can't catch up with what designers want to do in order to accomplish that. And sometimes the designers lag behind the capabilities of the ever evolving engine.

I have experience 3D modeling. An industry term we use is called Level of Detail or LOD. The image below provides a basic explanation for LOD.
Games and the consumers demand higher and higher LOD. In the most basic explanation, the higher the LOD... the more time it takes to model. Especially when you're trying to achieve realism.

I speak from experience, realism is very time consuming from a 3D modeling/texture work standpoint.
LOD is a system for optimization at a distance. Either you've got your terms mixed up or explaining it wrong.
 
First of all, I have zero knowledge of game development.
Before, a game would take about 2-3 years to finish and when it released , the whole game was there.
These days it takes about 4,5, or even 6 years to develop and when it comes out, half the content is missing and they just release more content over the years.
Also, aren’t game engines like Unreal supposed to make development easier and cheaper?
How much does covid have to do with this?
I feel like this is happening to AAA a lot more and not every game is like this.

Game development budgets were always in continuous growth. AAA budgets didn't just suddenly explode over night. It didn't become an issue until around the previous two generations when the size and scope became exponentially too "big" for its own good. Its probably a number of factors like:
  • Consumers/Gamers have a continuously growing appetite for more, faster and better improvements - they want all the bells and whistles "plus extra" - otherwise they'll deem it "bad" or something like that
  • Overhead for new advanced tech increased from generation to generation - the budget increases upon the prior generation's size to match the new scope
  • Stakeholders/dividends set higher performance expectations - they invest in the industry to grow its reach and profitability
  • Aside from the usual elements like salary and operating expenses - bigger budgets leads to longer development cycles due to:
    • undergoing meticulous user testing - to make sure the end product reaches the desired target and has the desired response
    • market analysis
    • assure an "acceptable" degree of quality prior to release
    • ensure its a proven product with a significantly decreased risk margin and that it qualifies for a satisfactory ROI
    • establish a back up plan (fx.: microtransactions/DLC/battlepasses)
    • prototyping and iterating - might even possibly account for a set of reboots of a given project
    • miscellaneous costs and processes
  • COVID probably did play a role in recent years, but that is more of an unanticipated anomaly if anything
Stuff like Unreal 5 substitutes the expenses of developing an in-house engine, but that shit isn't free at all. EPIC isn't some sugar daddy giving out that engine out of their own good will. Studios/publishers still have to pay royalties and license fees to EPIC for utilizing their engine during development in the first place.

Things have come a long way since game development was a just couple of dudes in a garage doing their thing on a Macintosh with the budget of a greasy pizza.
 
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Scope and bloat.

Just ask yourself... Would videogame rentals even make sense these days? In terms of game length todays action adventures are often longer than RPGs used to be.

Does everyone remember the reselling "crisis" we had back in the PS3/360 days where everyone started to suddenly include online passes and the like to keep people from people buying, finishing and then reselling the games? Well, what we have today is just a consequence of that as it seems the pubs found out that making the games longer and more bloated is the better solution to the problem of reselling. And there you go.

I honestly doubt that any developer is really happy with this situation. How could one prefer sitting on a project for 6+ years before moving on to something else instead of 2-3? And then it's often just a sequel. Also, teams are bigger and hence it's much less personal.

I do understand where this came from and that reselling indeed became a big problem with the internet explosion in the 00s though. If there is a reason for going away with actual disc drives to downloads only than it's to make people stop reselling the games and shorter games making a comeback. But by now I don't think it would happen even if disc drives become a thing of the past.
 
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