LittleBigResistance: Delay of Sackboy
LittleBigResistance: Delay of Sackboy

The recent controversy surrounding Sony’s decision to delay the release of LittleBigPlanet, over a Qur’an reference made in one of the tracks, has many gamers flexing their memory muscle in an attempt to illustrate a double standard.

The belief is that Sony’s 2006 decision to essentially ignore the Church of England’s request asking for the removal of the Manchester Cathedral from their Resistance: Fall of man game, paired with the company’s recent willingness to comply to the perceived wishes of a Muslim community, demonstrates favoritism.

Several prime examples appear as comments appended to Kotaku’s recent post regarding the recall. Here are excerpts from a few of my favorites:

“Where’s the balls you had when it came to standing up to the Church of England, Sony?? Fuck you and your double standard, you bastards.” – Lachoy

“Sony, clearly, not willing to lift a finger to defend Western values or preserve our sensibilities, but willing to bend over backward to appease Islamic twits. They take our market for granted.” – rateoforange

To all those bringing up the Church of Manchester incident as a valid analogy: where the fuck have you been for the past 15 years? Stop thinking in absolute terms: “Christians are OK with it, so Muslims should be too.” Yes, there is a double standard here, and no, it’s not the end of the world. – Antiterra

This got me thinking about the two scenarios from a pure business standpoint. Armed with only an opinion, my belief is that Sony isn’t demonstrating favoritism, rather they are making what they believe to be sound business decisions based on a bottom line mentality.

While opinions are nice, I realized that any level of convincing was going to require more than a hunch. I needed proof that the cost of a potential Cathedral replacement would drastically exceed those associated with the recent LittleBigPlanet delay.

Our own Dan Landis, who followed the 2006 Cathedral incident closer than I, was quick to point out one glaring difference: the Church’s complaint was brought to the attention of Sony after the game had already been released for several months. However, for the sake of illustrating my point, we’ll assume both concerns were voiced prior to each game’s release.

The first thing I wanted to figure out was how much it would cost for a team of developers, in terms of salary, to make a new level to replace the Cathedral, had Sony decided to pull it from the game. In order to do that, I needed a rough development time frame. The best answer I found appeared in a June 2006 GameSpot interview with Insomniac CEO, Ted Price.

GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?

Ted Price: We’ve been in production on Resistance: Fall of Man for several months now and were in preproduction for a long time before that. How’s that for a vague answer?

Alright Ted, I’ll go with it. Let’s assume “several months” adds up to six, and “a long time before that” represents about two years. Combine those numbers with the six months time separating the interview and the game’s release and you get three years.

Next, I needed to get some gaming related salary information. I came across a website which outlined ballpark salaries for the most common gaming industry positions utilizing data submitted via a Game Makers Salary Survey. Insomniac’s official site lists the company at one hundred and eighty plus employees strong, so I took a reasonable chunk of that head count and created decent sized team with the basic structure and pay scale outlined in the survey.

The estimate I reached for one month of development time, from a pure salary perspective, totaled $250,000. Taking that number and multiplying it by three years time adds up to $9 million in total cost. Whether this number is accurate or not, it is in line with the quote given by Epic VP, Mark Rein, in a 2007 Wired Game|Life interview regarding the estimated cost to produce Gears of War.

“We spent less than $10 million to make Gears of War. Somewhere between nine and ten million dollars.”

Granted, this may be a low estimate, but it will serve its purpose. Compiling everything I gathered, the hypothetical Resistance replacement level would cost $500,000 with a two month cap on development time.

Assuming the Cathedral itself took about the same time to create, that would be a total loss of $1 million to appease the Church of England. Therefore, had the request been made one week prior to the game’s release, it’s my belief, based on the business reality outlined above, that the change would not have been made.

LittleBigPlanet’s delay consists of an audio track modification, recalled product, and a reprint of the game. Using a baseline of one million copies, at a printing rate of 10 cents per unit (estimated and discounted based on a rate offered to consumers for a similar service), brings the total cost for reprinting to $100,000. Adding a generous amount for product recall and audio rework yields a result less than one-fifth the amount predicted for Resistance.

So while the LittleBigPlanet delay is complex in its own right, I hope the information provided here helps at least a few gamers consider business logic, not favoritism, as a deciding factor.

Afterthought: Do you think that Sony is at fault for playing favorites here, or do you think the entire thing is getting blow out of proportion? Does the game’s delay effect your decision to buy/not buy the game? Share your thoughts below.