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Industry vet: The $50 million video game must go

Mark Cerny, a video-game industry veteran, says developers could easily save millions of dollars when creating blockbuster games.

The time has come for developers to slash and burn the budgets of multimillion-dollar games, an industry vet says.

Mark Cerny, who has worked on everything from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to MLB 08: The Show, spoke yesterday at the Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain (DICE) Summit in Las Vegas.

Mark Cerny Via DICE site

"Frankly, the economics of the $50 million game are looking a little shaky," Cerny said, according to a transcript from GamesIndustry.Biz. "By contrast, with a $20 million game, I'm pretty sure I can make that money back--multiplatform, international distribution. But that raises the question: 'Can we make the $20 million game?'"

Cerny, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years and now runs consulting firm Cerny Games, said that a steady influx of cash has steered the industry away from saving and toward unnecessary expenses.

"We had no specialization whatsoever in 1994," Cerny said, according to GamesIndustry.Biz. "In 2011, we have the creative director, the game director, the director of actors, stunt coordinator, the guy who makes the plywood props, the audio scripter, the lighting designer, and the most recent of creations--the combat designer."

Video games are more realistic and movie-like than ever, and blockbuster franchises, like Call of Duty, perform extremely well. Activision Blizzard's latest Call of Duty entrant, Black Ops, generated $650 million in its first five days of availability, helping it become the biggest entertainment launch in history. It scored $1 billion in revenue in just six weeks.

But such success shouldn't prompt developers to spend more, Cerny said. He pointed out that developers will be working with the current generation of consoles--the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii--for the foreseeable future. And since development for those consoles has been going on for years, developers at this point should know how to reduce waste and get what they want from the hardware without breaking the bank.

"And that means we can take our time and to learn our craft," Cerny said. "To learn what is important to spend money on, and get out of the spiral where we spend $5 million more every year making that next title."