As the market for video games expands tremendously, an increasing number of businesses and independent experts are focusing their efforts on this area. But how much does developing a game cost? It could be one of the most challenging questions in the game industry. Why? Because there are so many factors influencing the cost of game creation. In this article, we will explore different types of games and the cost of game development. So, let’s get started!
Types of Video Games
What makes a game and the expenditures associated with its development span a wide range. For our purposes, it’s preferable to investigate that spectrum by breaking down the various tiers of games and the expenditures that they often incur at each level. Following are the three discrete types:
- Indie Game: Games created by a solo developer or a small team and distributed on Steam or a similar storefront are known as indie games. Examples of such games include Dark Future: Blood Red States and Mars Horizon, developed by Auroch Digital.
- AAA Game: AAA games are high-profile, high-budget games generally developed and released by well-known studios and publishers. Due to their enormous popularity, these games frequently rank as “blockbusters.” Some examples include FIFA and Battlefield, developed by EA, and Final Fantasy and Tomb Raider, developed by Square Enix.
- Triple ‘i’ game: This type falls between the two categories mentioned above. Therefore, it is a more extensive effort than a small indie but not as large as a massive AAA game. Some examples are Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey.
Cost of making an indie game
The total cost of developing an indie video game ranges widely. While others estimate the expenses to be millions of dollars, indie studio Auroch Digital placed it somewhere between $50,000 and $750,000.
According to Auroch Digital, the lower $50k figure represents the overall expense for a lone game developer to work on a project for a whole year. Cost increases with the addition of more people.
Most indie publishers estimate games to cost between $250k and $500k to develop, so think of the higher figure as a team of five people working on a game for two years. The publisher may then invest another $250k (bringing the total to $750k) when they spend money on what they believe is required to make a successful game (testing, marketing, PR, etc.). The publisher cost will vary based on how many platforms the game is released on, whether it has multiplayer, what the marketing strategy is, and so on.
Cost of making a AAA game
The average cost of developing a AAA game is in the tens of millions of dollars. Teams of a few hundred individuals who work for two or more years on most AAA games. Multi-billion-dollar publishers, such as Square Enix and Activision, fund these games.
While some AAA series, like Halo and Final Fantasy, have more spaced-out releases, some AAA franchises enjoy yearly releases (even if their players don’t always love them). AAA games can cost tens of millions of dollars to develop due to the scale of many of these titles.
To satisfy holiday deadlines years in advance, a series like Call of Duty involves numerous production studios working on several games simultaneously. Each studio needs millions of dollars to conduct its daily operations, pay its employees, and sell the finished product.
Cost of making a triple ‘i’ game
These games often cost more than $1 million but less than $10 million, placing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, an example title in this category, well within this price range. However, there will also be expenditure on marketing and promoting the game, and the amount will depend on whether it is self-published or through a publisher.
Cost of making a mobile game
Although developing mobile games are less expensive than desktop or console games, some may cost more than some hit indie game titles. Niantic invested up to $600,000 in developing the mobile blockbuster Pokémon Go, which they have handsomely recovered since its release in 2016. Even the simple, high-scoring Angry Birds game cost a princely $140,000 to create.
However, not all mobile games are this expensive. The viral game “Wordle” was created for next to nothing by one individual before being purchased by the New York Times for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.
The most expensive games ever developed
- Square Enix spent $45 million developing the renowned JRPG Final Fantasy VII in 1997. We can probably all agree that it was well worth every money.
- Modern Warfare 2 (Call of Duty) (the 2009 version) cost a then-record $50 million to produce and is well known for its controversial “No Russian” campaign and excellent multiplayer maps.
- Tomb Raider (2013) cost approximately $100 million to develop.
- The cost of developing Destiny (first published in 2014) was approximately $500 million.
- Other games are less costly. Pokémon Go, which appeared to be an overnight sensation, was 20 years in development and could have cost up to $600,000 to create.
- In 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 became the costliest game ever launched. Its development expenditures totaled $174 million, with a $142 million marketing expenditure. However, its publisher, CD Projekt (CDP), has some regrets. Due to a short production cycle, the game had some glitches, bugs, and graphical flaws when released. Refund demands alone cost the company approximately $50 million, and CDP share prices plunged 73%.
- Star Citizen has received almost $500 million in crowdfunding. It is not released yet, but if it does, it will dethrone Cyberpunk as the costliest game ever produced.
What is the dependency of game development cost and sales?
It is crucial to remember that the development cost of a video game does not necessarily reflect how well it will sell. Minecraft was extraordinarily cheap to produce, yet its developer, Markus Persson, sold it to Microsoft for $2.5 billion years later.
However, if we look at recent indie hits like Vampire Survivors, it turns out that the developer, Luca Galante, spent around $1500 by the time of the game’s release on Steam Early Access. It is incredible, given that it has already received 93K reviews on Steam, which roughly accounts for 4.5M units sold.
Why is it expensive to develop a video game?
Most of the game’s production costs go to pay employees, including developers, testers, and marketers. It takes a lot of people, a lot of time, a lot of creativity, and a lot of problem-solving to create and sell games, which is a highly skilled endeavor. However, we believe that they were worth the money and time. So, in a nutshell, that is how much it costs to create a game.
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Last Modified: November 27, 2023 at 11:30 am