The Last of Us Part II and Horizon Forbidden West each cost over $200 million (about Rs. 1,640 crore) to develop. A set of court documents from Sony, which feature inadequate and washed-out redaction, revealed the headcount and budget for both games, as the PlayStation parent tries to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The documentation showed that the highly polarising The Last of Us Part II had roughly 200 full-time employees working on it and was budgeted at $220 million (about Rs. 1,805 crore). Development on it took longer than 70 months, starting in 2014 and ending in 2020 i.e., the launch year. Meanwhile, another first-party PlayStation release, Horizon Forbidden West, cost $212 million (about Rs. 1,739 crore) to make, with a developer headcount of over 300. Not to mention, it received a DLC called Burning Shores, earlier this year, which would have cost more.
Sony submitted these documents at the ongoing trial involving Microsoft and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), making a case for the importance of AAA gaming, as they seek Call of Duty’s presence on its consoles — even going into next-gen in 2028. PlayStation argues that if it does not have access to high-quality games, and if they’re only available on Xbox, it would cause its player base/ consumers to jump ship over to Team Green. Video game development is largely shrouded in secrecy, in order to avoid leaks before launch and capitalise on hype, but these documents offer a rare insight into AAA development. The time and money investment can often be disheartening if the game struggles to perform as expected. Expectations are very high and it’s only going to get more complex as we move away from standard technical features like ray tracing. In Sony’s case, however, both first-party PlayStation titles, seem to have paid off, with Horizon Forbidden West confirmed to have sold 8.4 million units, as of early May.
Turns out, the documents were pulled from the evidence list due to bad redaction, though it’s unclear if the numbers consider the marketing costs as well. Not to mention, game studios are often known for outsourcing some of their work to other developers, which would balloon the budget a bit more. Such high costs cause game companies to take lesser risks and largely rely on expanding on existing IP, be it through sequels, remakes or adaptations to other forms of media. “Highly successful AAA games also create deep and ongoing engagement with players,” the document from Sony reads. “Many players will invest hundreds of hours per year in playing their favourite AAA games.” An IGN report adds that Sony sees Call of Duty as a “critical component of PlayStation’s competitiveness,” as the title is played by tens of millions of users. Robust multiplayer is also a key component of the franchise.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also appeared on the witness stand, claiming that if things were up to him, he would get rid of console exclusives altogether. However, the “dominant player,” as he refers to Sony PlayStation, has defined a market competition using exclusives — such as God of War, Spider-Man, and The Last of Us — which prevents him from changing the status. “I grew up in a company that always believed that software should run on as many platforms as possible,” Nadella said, disagreeing that Xbox would have exclusive access to Call of Duty. “It makes no economic sense and no strategic sense.” Xbox previously agreed to license CoD to its rivals, via a 10-year contract, which Sony refused to respond to.