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Video Game Production Budgets – Indie vs. AAA [2019]

September 13, 2019


Are you looking for more video game production
budgets? We had such a great response to our video
on how much it costs to make games, that we decided to turn this topic into a set of videos. In this series we’ll be going over real
examples of how much it cost game developers to make and release their games. Each video in the series can be viewed as
a standalone episode, so don’t worry if you haven’t seen part 1. Without further ado… We are Ask Gamedev these are 5 more real examples
of video game production budgets. Welcome back! If you’re new to Ask Gamedev, we make videos
to help you learn about the gaming industry so that you can elevate your games and inspire
others. If you’re on a gamedev journey yourself,
consider subscribing. We’d love to help you along the way! And if you’d like to continue the conversation,
join our Discord server. Check out the description for an invite link. 1. Dustforce by Hitbox Team First up on the list is 2D platformer, Dustforce. In Dustforce you play as a janitor on a quest
to sweep the world clean of dust and debris! While the title was still a prototype, Valve
approached the team about releasing the full game on Steam. Keep in mind, this was before Steam Direct,
back when Steam was still curated -so this was a big deal! Excited about the offer, the team decided
to find the money to fund their operation. Luckily, everything seemed to fall into place
right when it needed to. Soon after the offer from valve, Dustforce
won an IndiePub Competition and was awarded a prize of $100,000, which would act as their
startup capital. The original duo that created the prototype
joined up with two other friends and thus Hitbox Team was born. The developer followed a simple but very accurate
formula for determining the cost of developing a game: The minimum cost to make a game equals the
cost of living multiplied by the amount of time needed to make the game, multiplied by
the number of team members. Simple enough. No real salaries or extravagant expenses or
marketing budget to figure out here – just a team of four friends and a pool of money
for them to live off of. The $100,000 would go towards existing bills,
traveling and of course the 4 basics: food, water, shelter, and internet. They estimated that, living frugally, it would
cost around $20k per person per year. With one of the members of Hitbox Team living
off of savings, the capital gave the team of four roughly 1 and a half years to complete
the game. Fast forward 15 months later – Dustforce is
finished! Thankfully, the team had managed to stretch
their bare-necessity-based budget a bit, and now it was all up to the sales to see whether
or not they could fund the future of their indie studio. They determined that to keep existing as a
studio, and develop their next game, they would need to earn around USD $300-400k. So what happened? Deservedly so, in exactly one year, Hitbox
Team made USD $668,000 in revenue! After platform fees, they took home $489,000! Finally, after legal, accounting, server costs,
software licenses, travelling expenses, and personal income taxes, the team was left with
around $295k! Looks like Dustforce really cleaned up. 2. The Witcher 3 by CD Projekt RED The Witcher series is one of the most lauded
Triple A releases in recent memory. With three critically acclaimed installments
and an upcoming Netflix show based upon it, It’s easy to understand why this franchise
has a massive following. How much does it cost to make a hit? The budget of the Witcher 3 was 306 million
Polish złoty, the equivalent of roughly 80 million US dollars. This information comes to us from CD PROJEKT
Group’s 2015 half-yearly performance conference, as posted on their YouTube channel. The entire video is worth a watch in itself! The budget included a dev team of 240 people,
working for 3 and a half years. There were also additional people working
on the title like its 500 voice actors. All in all, there were 1500 people involved
in the project globally. For marketing, they ran 40 marketing campaigns
in parallel, each hyper targeted to specific markets, and 1 massive global marketing campaign. The title did extremely well at launch, moving
6 million copies in the first 6 weeks! And the rest is history! 3. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Ninja Theory Hellblade – Senua’s Sacrifice is a dark-fantasy
action adventure title released in 2017 by UK based developer Ninja Theory. This is an awesome example for our list as
it’s sort of a David vs Goliath story. You see, with Hellblade, the team wanted to
make a AAA title, with a not-so AAA budget. The team had experience working on AAA titles
in the past, and they found that budgets of games at the scale and quality were traditionally
a bit too extravagant. They thought there had to be a different approach! According to development manager Dominic Matthews,
Ninja Theory wanted “to see if there (was)… a more streamlined way, to create amazing
quality (games) on a smaller budget.” As we’ve seen, some large scale AAA titles
can have budgets reaching well over 100 million dollars, while some indie titles have budgets
that provide less than minimum wage for the team members involved. To make Hellblade, the team of 20 set a budget
of about $10 million, and set a sales goal of 300,000 copies. This was the amount that they needed to sell
to break even. In order to keep under budget, but still hit
their quality bar, the team cut costs in innovative ways:
For motion capture the team skipped on the usual practice of flying out to high-end MoCap
studios in North America or New Zealand. Instead, they filmed all live action and motion
capture scenes from the game right in their own boardroom. To build their motion capture set, they used
Amazon lights and IKEA wardrobe poles. They also made as much use of the resources
they had on hand. For example, when Senua hears voices in the
Sea of Corpses area, the voices heard are actually just the voices of the entire studio,
recorded during a company meeting. Well, in the end, the team succeeded in their
goal of building a great game with a reasonable budget . Hellblade was incredibly well received
by the public when it was initially released for Playstation 4 and PC, earning a rating
of 9/10 from IGN, and an 8.5/10 from Polygon. It was eventually ported to the Nintendo Switch,
and a VR edition was also created. Within a year of its initial release Hellblade
had sold over 1 million copies, earning back significantly more than the $10 million budget
that the team had originally worked with. While it might have seemed like a longshot
at first, Ninja Theory definitely proved their point about high quality games not requiring
enormous budgets (relatively speaking). Hopefully their work ends up inspiring small
and large gamedevs alike to create incredible works of art that might have previously seemed
prohibitively expensive. 4. SkullGirls – Lab Zero Games Created by Lab Zero productions, Skullgirls,
is an interesting entry onto this list. It isn’t the cost of the entire game that
stood out to us as worth talking about, but rather a 2013 Indiegogo campaign held to raise
money to simply add one character to the 2D fighting game. It might surprise you to hear that when the
team behind Skullgirls decided to pursue adding in a playable character to their fighting
game, they created a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of USD $150,000! However, once the cost of making and implementing
a new character into the game is actually broken down, it turns out that this is actually
a reasonable cost. Because they were crowdfunding, Lab Zero Games
was completely transparent about the cost involved in adding the new character, Squigly,
to the roster. The projected costs were as follows: $48,000 dollars towards the core development
staff.This was crew of staff members who are absolutely necessary for the creation of Squigly. This money would cover the basic cost of living
for each member. In total it was a team of 8 people who would
work for 10 total weeks. Each person agreed to take a pay cut, all
in the pursuit of adding Squigly into the game! $30,000 would go to animation
$4,000 towards voice recording $2000 towards creating hitboxes – which as
anyone deep into any fighting game community can tell you, is absolutely crucial. $5,000 for audio contracting
$20,000 for QA Testing $10,000 for preparing and going through 1st
party certification and $10,500 to IndieGoGo and PayPal fees. The remaining $20,500 was set aside for making
and shipping physical rewards to donors. In the end, the community absolutely crushed
the funding goal, and ended up donating over USD $828,000 dollars. With all of the extra funds raised, the team
was able to add not just Squigly, but even more characters and stages as a part of their
stretch goals. Before we get to the final entry on our list,
it’s time for another inspiring Ask GameDev Community Member Game of the Week! This week’s game is Cryogear by Polarity Flow. Cryogear is a Metroidvania inspired pixel
art platformer, set in an open sci-fi world. It was made by a core team of 4, and went
from a prototype to a release version in about 15 months. The team used Gamemaker Studio 2. You can pick up Cryogear today on Nintendo
Switch. 5. Thimbleweed Park – Terrible Toybox Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure
game developed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick that was released in March of 2017. It’s currently available for Mac, PC and Linux
on Steam, as well as on iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. Following the cult success of the pairs previous
games, 1987’s Maniac Mansion and 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island, in 2014 the two developers
created a kickstarter campaign with the goal of creating Thimbleweed Park. The game would be a modern spiritual successor
to their previous titles that retained the feel of the point-and-click genre that defined
that era. Setting an initial financing goal of $375,000,
the project quickly surpassed that amount. The campaign gave the developers an initial
sum of about $564,000 (after paying $57,000 in fees to Kickstarter and Amazon), with which
to create the project. In a blog post talking about the budget of
the game, Gilbert says that seeing over half a million dollars in your bank account can
make you cocky but that it’s crucial to treat that sum as if it were only $500. This is because every cent counts when it
comes to game development. According to the initial budget laid out in
a spreadsheet shared in the same blogpost, the average monthly cost of the project was
projected to be roughly between $20,000 and 30,000, with the periods of initial testing
and marketing bumping the number up to as high as $72,000. Overall, the team planned to spend about $408,000
within the 12 month period between the start of production and the final release. When planning their budget, costs that some
people might not immediately take into consideration were painstakingly thought over. This included things like the cost of going
to events like PAX and E3, the cost of porting to mobile platforms, and localizations costs
for selling the game in international markets. The team’s frugality ended up paying off,
as the game was released in March of 2017, many months after the planned release date
of September 2016. Their foresight gave them a cushion of dev
time, and allowed the team to really stretch their budget towards the end. At launch Thimbleweed Park was met with massive
critical acclaim across the board. The title landed at an 84% on metactic, was
nominated for a handful of prestigious gaming awards, and won the award for “Best Ending”
from Game Informer’s 2017 Game of the Year awards. Thanks for watching! For more Ask Gamedev check out our first video
on video game production budgets, or this playlist on video game production.

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