The development budgets for The Last of Us Part 2 and Horizon Forbidden West have been revealed in a badly-redacted document, presented during the ongoing FTC investigation into Microsoft’s planned purchase of Activision Blizzard. The information was delivered as a means to exhibit the cost and scale of AAA game development to FTC judges, to highlight the stakes at play in Microsoft’s ambitions.
But as journalist Tom Warren discovered, the public-facing submission, which has been partially ‘redacted’, had its primary figures blocked out with some form of pen – which became see-through when the documents were scanned in and published online.
The private figures, which pertain to the development of Sony’s largest franchises, can be clearly seen. From this document, it’s been revealed that Horizon Forbidden West cost around US $212 million to make, with around 300 employees working on the game for five years.
The Last of Us Part 2 was developed under similar circumstances, although it was slightly more costly, at US $220 million. Around 200 people worked on the game for five years.
The scale of these budgets is enormous and while the information is not strictly meant to be public, the details are fascinating. Information about AAA game production has previously leaked, but it’s rare to get such clear insight on modern games – or to get such an understanding of just how much budgets have grown in recent times.
As noted by VGC, this document also reveals more about a recent pushback against big-budget blockbuster video games, which have been described by former PlayStation boss Shawn Layden as ‘unsustainable’.
‘The problem with that model is it’s just not sustainable,’ Layden said of these games in a 2020 GameLab Live panel. ‘I don’t think that, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and think that you can grow.’
Spending US $200 million per blockbuster game, and attempting to recoup these costs after a five-year development cycle, is frankly mind-boggling. It’s a number that’s difficult to grasp. While the fruits borne of Horizon Forbidden West and The Last of Us Part 2 are impressive, Layden’s comments have a certain ring of truth to them. As budgets grow, concerns about sustainability will grow alongside them.