Ninja Theory realizes there’s no money in exclusivity

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Did you feel that wind on your face just now? No, your bedroom window isn’t open. No, I’m not on acid making completely random non sequiturs. That was Captain Obvious flying by.

Ninja Theory, the studio behind 2007’s Heavenly Sword, talked to earlier today, and explained why their next title, Enslaved, will not be a PS3 exclusive like Heavenly Sword was. Not surprisingly, the answer had to do with money.

“Heavenly Sword came out pretty early on the PS3, and we sold, I think, a million and a half copies, and that’s still not enough as an independent studio to break even. The publisher potentially breaks even at that point, but the developers don’t. It’s just that when so many people have Xbox – I mean over half the market or more has Xbox 360s – why limit yourself to one platform?” explained the co-founder of Ninja Theory, Tameem Antoniades.

When I first read this, I had two reactions. The first was “Yeah, no shit.” Welcome to the 21st century of gaming, where there is no real reason to limit your game to one console unless you’re being bankrolled by the console producer.

But what really puzzled me was the snippet about breaking even. According to Antoniades, selling 1.5 million copies of a full-priced retail video game is not enough for a developer to break even these days. Really? Just to be hypothetical, let’s say that a million of the copies sold at full retail price, and the other half million sold after a price reduction, somewhere between $20-40, for an average of $30. That is $75 million. Retail shops make close to nothing from new game sales, and I know the publisher keeps the majority of the profit, but I still find it hard to believe that that isn’t enough for the developer to make a living wage, much less not even break even. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling Ninja Theory out on this, I take them at their word, but if moving one and a half million copies of your game isn’t enough to break even anymore, the gaming industry is in a worse place than I imagined.

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