Developing a game with talented developers isn’t going to be cheap, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cost-effective. We frequently get asked to detail a game development budget breakdown; so we’ve brought together a comprehensive guide so you can better plan and deliver your game development projects.
So what can you expect from a game development budget breakdown? Well, unfortunately, it isn’t a straightforward answer as it can vary depending on the type of game you are developing. It can range from anywhere between $1- $265 million! A significant gap, right? It is not a simple answer due to many factors we’ll detail in this article.
Some game development projects require a big team of professionals that work all hours of the day to produce the incredible visuals and fantastic gameplay we receive. Not only that, it requires massive amounts of marketing to launch all your hard work.
That being said, the costs can add up quickly, which is why we are here to break it down so you can understand it a bit better. If you are thinking of developing a game, then get in touch today for a consultation to ensure you fit within your game development budget.
How do you make a game?
Before diving into the full game development cost breakdown, we need to quickly touch on how to make a game. We won’t go into too much detail in this blog, as that’s a whole other article in itself! Still, it is essential to have a basic understanding to be able to see why game development can be costly.
To start, there is the making of the game; code, art, sound, design etc. However, there is a cost before we even get to these stages. This could include demos, pitching to publishers and going to trade shows.
For VR games, you will need a 3D games computer graphics engine such as Unreal Engine 4/5 or Unity.
There is a lot to consider when making a game, as it isn’t as simple as coming up with an idea and making it come alive. So to be able to work out the cost of developing your game, keep on reading.
Different types of video games development
There are several different types of games that all incur different costs. Therefore, to get the best game development budget breakdown for you, we need to consider which game you are developing. Each tier has a different cost attached.
The four tiers are:
- Indie game indie stands for independent game development. They are usually made by one person or a small team.
- AAA Game This is the top-tier game development budget. When you think of the big games in the industry, they are usually AAA. Pronounced’ Triple A’.
- Double A’ Game Somewhere in between, Triple’ A’ are smaller than Indie games but not quite as big as AAA games. These are also sometimes referred to as double A games.
How much does it cost to make an indie game?
As mentioned above, indie games are usually made by one or a few people. As they don’t have the backing from AAA publishers, indie games are typically crowdfunded or self-funded projects.
Therefore you can understand why making an indie game can be relatively expensive due to the lack of funding available for them. However, despite high game development costs, indie game developers still make lots of money when done right as you will read in our how to make a profitable mobile game blog.
A big reason that people make indie games is the autonomy they get to create something entirely of their own. They don’t have the control of the AAA publishers guiding their creative decisions, allowing the indie game developers to control every aspect and work to their unique budgets.
Successful indie games
There has been a rise of successful indie games in the last 2 decades that have built an enormous fanbase. And rightly so, with years of funding and hard work, many indie games are doing extremely well.
Some of the most successful indie titles are:
- Shovel Knight
- Angry Birds
The game development budget breakdown for an indie game is exceptionally challenging. However, it has still created some of the best games in the industry, which started as indie games, such as Angry Birds and Minecraft.
Given that games can start as Indie and spiral into something much much bigger, a game development budget breakdown can vary depending upon time and popularity.
How much does it cost to make a AAA game?
So now, this is where the large game development budgets come into play. As stated earlier, AAA games are in the top range of game development. They are backed by publishers, making it easier to access money.
Therefore, if publishers back your game, you will most likely have a higher budget and a bigger team of developers over a more extended time period. An AAA’s game development budget breakdown can be as much as $265 Million and upwards!
Examples of successful AAA games
There are many successful AAA games. Still, today we will talk about the three with the most significant development budgets.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V cost $265 million! Released in 2013, it is the most expensive video game to date. However, not only did it cost a lot to develop, it soon got that money back by having 1 billion dollars worth of sales in 3 days.
So it was not only the most expensive game, but it also broke a record for the fastest-selling game ever! Super cool and super expensive! You will find that this is a trend with the top AAA games.
A more recent AAA game, Cyberpunk 2077, was released in 2020. The game development budget breakdown was $121 million and a whopping $209 million on marketing alone. Despite its many glitches, it still sold 13 million copies in 2 weeks.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
The sixth instalment of the iconic Call of Duty was released in 2009. Activision published it, and its game development costs were $50 million and $200 million on marketing. It was the former most expensive game budget before Grand Theft Auto V.
How much does it cost to make a ‘Triple A’ game?
So Triple i game development budget breakdown is between an indie game and an AAA game. They average anywhere between $ 1 million to $10 million. An excellent example of a triple i game is hell blade: Senua’s sacrifice.
Marketing is where the hidden costs are usually, as the game is nothing without a good marketing strategy. So like the other games, the marketing cost will be similar depending if it is self-published or through a publisher.
Triple i, or double a games is where Redux specialises in and have worked with developers to meet their budget and publish successfully.
Game Development Cost Breakdown
So, we have looked at all the different types of games you can develop, but let’s break down the budget further. It is not simple, and lots of work goes into game development. The cost expanded further than just the initial game cost. Let me explain.
So when looking at the game development budget breakdown, it is more than just designing a game. To start, there is the game development equipment and software purchase.
Then you have all the technical details such as intellectual property (IP) and character rights. Then one of the highest costs is paying your fantastic development team. Anywhere from managers to artists to musicians!
Get in touch for a quote today to help with developing your games; we would love to help out.
We have touched on the fact that marketing costs are a big part of the game’s budget. You don’t want to spend hours and millions of dollars developing a game for it to flop when it hits the marketing.
Therefore it is clear to see that some games spend more on marketing than game development itself. You need to create hype before the launch to reach the widest audience.
There are several avenues to promote your game after development, such as:
- Print & Billboards
- Paid advertising on digital channels- Facebook, YouTube, Google
- Game events and conventions.
- A Launch party
This will be incorporated into the game’s development budget breakdown to ensure the best success of the game.
Manufacturing & Distribution Costs
Many games are still put onto disks, with associated manufacturing and distribution costs. There are several channels the games have to go through before it reaches the consumer.
Games have increasingly moved away from this model, which is seen in Steam’s 120 million monthly active users (backlinko). While there are less manufacturing costs with this model, the service platform will take a cut.
Manufacturing & distribution costs need to be considered when looking at game development budget breakdown.
Emotional and social costs
Yes, you read that right, emotional and social costs. Game development is not all fun and games and big budgets. It can also take a massive toll on the developer’s emotional and social life.
Not only is there a risk of financial loss when developing a game causing stress, but it takes an enormous toll on your emotions. The feeling of being on edge until your idea comes alive and performs well on the market can cause stress and nervousness.
It doesn’t happen overnight, and game development can take over your life. That’s why we are here to help take some stress off and make the development process a little bit less draining. So get in touch with us today to eliminate the process from becoming too complicated.
We know there is personal, customer and press pressure to finish your game in time.
Now while it might not be inherently part of the game development budget breakdown, the time it takes away from your social life, in our eyes, does cost.
For indie games, especially, the time it takes away from your social life with friends, family and your partner is hard. Most of your hours will be spent grinding away on the game, taking all the energy you could be spending with loved ones.
This becomes even more important when the success of the game development is on your shoulders.
The overall costs
We have looked at the broad sections of the game development budget breakdown, so now let’s put some figures to them. Of course, these are only ballpark figures and can range depending on your own game budget.
Let’s start with the most expensive area first, the salaries. If you want the best in the industry, you need to be paying for them. So, on average, each expert’s wages will be:
- Game programmer: $5,420 a month
- Game Artist: $4,833 a month
- Game Designer: $5,500 a month
- Game developer: $7000 a month
- Audio Engineer: $4,417 a month
- Game Animator $4,583 a month
So, if you can do the maths, that equals a lot. Next, you must factor in how long the game will take from start to finish and work out if you can afford the team you want, for the period you need.
To read more about game developer salaries and how they vary across the globe, check out this article from Code Academy.
Rent and Internet
This might not be as relevant today due to remote and hybrid working becoming the new norm. However, the rent of a space for your development team could be required.
Not only that, but your employees will need a super fast internet connection and equipment (as we’ll cover below). You could be looking at around $505 per person here alone. The Internet is a cheaper part of the budget breakdown at approximately $60.
If you have Internet and rent, you will also need a lot of equipment. Laptops at the standard you will need won’t be cheap, coming in at on average $1500+ per unit.
If you want the best quality game and highest efficiency, you need to invest in good equipment, so this could be a lot more, particuarly with newer models and developers who prefer a combination of equipment.
If you’re unsure of the investment into buying new equipment, think of the time your developers will save by having the set-up they need to maximise productivity.
Game development software
Adding to the game development budget breakdown is the game development software. Again, some software is free; however, if you want the pro versions, it will cost around $150 per user per month.
We can help out with the cost of game development software as we already have a lot of the software ourselves and specialise in Unreal Engine 4/5 and Unity – giving you plenty of options for your outsourced game development.
As touched on before, selling games on Steam comes with fees. It takes around 30% of the game’s sales and an initial £139 upfront cost. It is a hidden cost but an important one as it takes the distribution stress away.
Total game development costs
So, with all these costs combined, you are looking at an average of $430,000 per year. Obviously, there are ways to make things more efficient and make them more expensive if you want to supercharge sales.
Start-up Budgeting Tips
If you are reading this as aspiring to develop a game yourself, you’ll know by now it is not easy. However, we have some top budgeting tips to get you started with doing your own game development budget breakdown.
You need to brainstorm and get all of your ideas down on paper. Storyboards about who the characters are, the genre, and your target audience.
These are the starting points of the whole game development process that need to be solidified first. Once you have this, you need to make a prototype to test your idea before investing in a team of developers.
If this goes well, you can call to action crowdfunding to start the process.
You need timelines and milestones when planning your game development budget breakdown. Nothing is worse than not having a clear plan on what your developers should do.
Get in touch with us today so we can work together on your game development plan.
We have given you an estimated breakdown of how much game development costs. You must ensure you include every little cost, such as the Internet, all the way up to the salary costs.
This is super important when looking at developing your game as it can help you keep on track throughout and understand the scale at which you are developing.
A rule we like is the 50/50 rule. As stated, the marketing costs can be just as much, if not more, than the game development itself. Therefore if you estimate that marketing costs will be the same as your development costs, it can help you work out your outgoings.
If you are developing an indie game, you may self-fund or fundraise for your game development budget. This has been successfully done by the likes of Minecraft and Angry Birds through campaigns such as Indiegogo.
Or you could go the investment route and get an angel investor to invest in your game development for a return of stakes in the game. This is a bit more technical as you have to create a business plan and present it to potential investors.
Most game development budget breakdowns equal millions of dollars. So if we have learnt anything, it is definitely not cheap and not easy.
This is one of the reasons that having the right experience on your team will go a long way to hitting your budget and revenue targets.
Investing in the best developers, creating an excellent marketing strategy, and renting a space to work from as well as all the intricate details add up when put together.
We understand more than anyone the stress, time and effort of creating a masterpiece. That’s why we are here to help with all your development needs. So get in touch with us today for a quote on how we can help you with your game development.
Game Development FAQs
What’s the budget for a AAA game?
AAA games have the biggest budgets in the industry. This is due to having access to larger studios and publishers who fund the games. As a result, the Average AAA game costs $80 million or upwards. But, of course, this all depends on the magnitude and difficulty of the project.
What costs the most in game development?
The most expensive cost in the game development process is the salary. Depending on the size of the team, the salaries alone can cost millions of dollars. However, the most expensive cost will be the marketing strategy to run alongside the game.
How Much Does it Cost to Run a game development studio?
With rent, salaries, equipment and rent required, running a game development studio costs a lot. In the UK, you could pay salaries between £25k- £150k a year for one employee. We can give you a quote today to help with your gaming development.
Can 1 person make a AAA game?
What makes AAA games so elite is the masses of people working on each individual game. Therefore, one person working on an AAA game would be near to impossible. That being said, the closest thing to it is the creation of Bright Memory, which had only one developer in the team.
How Long Do AAA Games Take to Make?
It depends on the size and complexity of the game, but on average, 2-3 years. That’s if you had a massive team of 150-200 people. However, this is a rule of thumb, and some games can take longer. Some indie games can only take a year to make!
What is an AA game?
An AA game is a mid-market game. So it is not quite indie or triple i, but not the same standard as AAA. They usually have professional development, but not in the same studios as the high-end AAA games.