Longer Game Development Times Aren’t Inevitable, and They Might Be Destroying Gaming

Bigger isn’t always better.

key art from The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

It’s no secret that video game development is getting harder and taking longer with each generation, and there’s no sign of that trend abating. That fact is so obvious that Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa even called increasing development times “inevitable” in a recent interview. But what some call an inevitability is just as much a choice, and one that’s a danger to the entire industry.

Furukawa’s comments come from an interview in Famitsu, translated by GamesRadar. He points to studio acquisitions as one solution for the “inevitable” lengthening development timelines, as large publishers could incorporate smaller, already established development teams to work on their games.

Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa is right about the current state of game development, but not its future.


The timing of that statement couldn’t be worse. Earlier this week, Microsoft closed Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin, two acclaimed studios behind award-winning games, which it acquired when it purchased parent company ZeniMax Media in 2021, which also owns Fallout developer Bethesda. In the same round of cuts, the somewhat lesser-known Alpha Dog Games was closed and Roundhouse Games was merged into ZeniMax.

Even before that announcement, mergers and acquisitions have become harbingers of layoffs and signs that publishers have grown too big for their own good — and even worse for their employees. As Furukawa suggests, part of the reason behind this consolidation is the sheer time and cost of game development. More studios under one roof mean their parent company has more money to shuffle around, more games to bank on if one fails, and more projects they can undertake at once. That’s more important than ever as both production timelines and budgets balloon, meaning a lone studio could easily go under in the time it takes to make one game.

What Furukawa and many other gaming executives don’t seem to be considering is whether this has to be the case at all. Just because games are getting bigger doesn’t mean they have to, and the failure to question that orthodoxy has had devastating consequences. Much like the film industry, where major studios are chasing ever growing revenues no matter the cost, gaming’s biggest publishers outright refuse to make smaller games at sustainable budgets for more modest profits.

Even stunning successes like Hi-Fi Rush are swept aside in the pursuit of growth.


A big part of the problem is, predictably, capitalism. Publishers need to turn a profit at the end of the day, and at least for publicly traded companies, the demand isn’t for sustainability but the impossible goal of infinite growth. Just as shareholders demand bigger profits, publishers demand bigger games, assuming that one leads to the other.

Sometimes it works out, as massively expensive games like Breath of the Wild also become massively popular ones, but the infinite growth mindset refuses to acknowledge that there can be any other way even in the face of proof. Just a day after Microsoft axed the developer of Hi-Fi Rush — a smaller game that gave the company prestige and awards — Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty told employees in a town hall, “We need smaller games that give us prestige and awards.”

Players and game marketing also unconsciously conspire to push the narrative that bigger games are not just inevitable but innately desirable. Open world games pitch themselves by noting how many square miles their maps are, and publishers like EA brag about how many animations they’ve stuffed into their latest sports sims. These become the de facto metrics that players judge games by, and any major release that dares to have fewer voice lines, shorter campaigns, or less of any other arbitrary element than the last big thing is deemed a downgrade.

Huge budgets and long development times can produce some beautiful results, but put their publishers at risk.

Square Enix

We in the media industry bear a lot of the blame as well. Though we shouldn’t be, critics are often as awed by spectacle as anyone else, holding technological achievements like near-photorealistic graphics and obsessively detailed animations as marks of quality without considering the human cost of implementing them. When a new game in a series leaves out features from its predecessors or takes place in a smaller environment, we call it a step back, and that’s implicitly understood to be a bad thing. Smaller games get less coverage, in the form of lower word counts for stories about indie games and fewer pieces overall for titles outside the current zeitgeist.

Each of these reasons is a choice, not an inevitability, and usually a choice made by distant executives rather than the people doing work on the ground. That makes what should be a simple decision — stop doing the thing that’s hurting people and destroying the industry — frustratingly out of reach until the impossible happens and executives start thinking about anything other than short-term gain. As blockbuster game development increasingly looks like a bubble about to burst, maybe the best thing we can do is pay more attention to the absolute deluge of great indie games coming out lately to see that smaller is very often better.

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