The Price You Pay – Costs of a Game Project Revealed

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I am often faced with an undeniably important question: why are game projects so expensive? The question can relate to a news article about a recently released AAA title citing its development budget or a casual conversation about the budget of another creative entertainment product, like the new Moomin animation. Sometimes the question comes from our very own customer to whom we want to make the very best quality while being mindful of the project budget. Because creative work can sometimes be a bit of a mystery, let me try to reveal some of the factors that affect the costs of a game project.

We are solution providers and problem solvers. We help our clients by improving their line of work with our skills and knowledge. Our mission is to save the world with games and we honestly believe in our mission. It is a bold mission that oftentimes comes with a price. Creating a game – any game – takes time and money, and creating a game as a solution is by no means a cheap endeavour. So, before you sign in on a game project, it may be worthwhile to consider the costs involved. This is not to scare you away from a game as a solution to your problem but rather to shed light on how and why costs are accumulated.

Digital games are sophisticated software systems that include a substantial amount of audiovisual material. All the amazing features and aesthetically pleasing visuals do not just magically appear from thin air. Game development is labour-intensive artisan and expert work where there is little room for automation. Every line of code and every graphical pixel is carefully crafted by hand by a talented team who have worked for years to hone their craft. It then makes sense that these talented professionals get rewarded for their hard work and effort in creating a game solution that fixes problems.

Planning session
Well begun is half done – excellent design and clearly mapping out the production are crucial building blocks to success.

Unlike their more task-oriented software tool siblings, games emphasise the fun factor, especially in terms of user experience. Because games challenge players while also rewarding them for overcoming said challenges after a fair amount of struggle, it makes for a highly subjective experience. Therefore, it is difficult to pre-design and specify a game experience in a detailed way. This means that many game projects rely on trial and error iterations where the game is constantly tested, modified and tested again. This cycle is repeated until the desired experience is achieved. Making the whole thing happen requires time and money.

Also, there is the question of quality. At what point do we stop the cycle from starting another round? Many serious games are blamed for their seemingly low-quality look and feel. While there are many explanations to the cheapish outcomes, I think the most critical issue is budgeting. Entertainment games are developed with budgets of millions or even tens of millions of euros, so it is pretty harsh to compare their quality with something that has been developed with a budget that might match a percent of that. If you are prepared to invest more resources to the project, you get a more polished version of the game. Having said that, you can do quite amazing things with a small budget, too. We have several entertainment indie titles to testify the case and also many serious game examples that show the importance of innovative game design over bells and whistles.

At  the end it all comes down to requirements, must-haves, nice-to-haves and dreams. Generally speaking, the more features and content you need, the more expensive the game project becomes. Furthermore, complexity in terms of game mechanics, simulation and context tend to drive the costs upwards. But do not worry, we are here to help. We love to make games and we want other people to find the magic of games as a way to solve problems, too. If you are pondering about the potential costs of your game solution, just give us some background and details, and we are happy to calculate you an estimate. After all, it is not rocket science!

Tony Manninen is the CEO and Co-Founder of LudoCraft. For Tony games and play are not only a profession, they are a way of life. According to Tony’s worldview, life is a game. You can peek into Tony’s mind at his Pelitohtori site.