Why do games cost so much to make?

The video game industry, part of the tertiary and quaternary sectors of the entertainment industry, is involved in the development, marketing, distribution, monetization, and gathering of consumer feedback on video games. This industry has grown exponentially, and with it, the investment required to produce games has appeared.

So, the question is: how much does it cost to make a video game? And why does making a game cost so much?

Why do games cost so much to make

While some AAA titles may reach astronomical video game budgets of over $1 billion, the average mobile game can cost around $5 million, which is still a significant investment. Knowing these figures helps developers strategize and allocate resources efficiently, potentially saving costs without compromising the quality of the game. Games are so expensive to develop, but why so?

Making the game: What does it cost per stage?

Developing games is a hard and costly process. First, you’ll have to be prepared that your first game will make $0. Unless you work for a big company and are in charge of a new game, it’ll be like that. When making a game, you spend money at each stage of the process, which includes figuring out what the game needs, designing it, drawing stuff, building the game, and then taking care of it after it’s out. You’ll need to consider some factors. Inflation is one of them. Inflation hits everything, not only the gaming market, but it should be one of the reasons why does making a game costs this much. So, how much does it cost to develop a video game now?

How much does it cost to make a video game in 2024
  • 1

    Figuring out what the game needs

    • Cost: $1,000 - $4,500
    • Time: 3 days to 2 weeks
    • This step includes figuring out what the game should be like and looking at what other similar games are doing.
  • 2

    Research and Designing the game

    • Cost: $3,000 - $25,000
    • Time: 2 weeks to 3 months

    Here, you dive deep into planning the game's look and how it will work. This takes a few weeks to a few months.

  • 3

    Art and design production

    • Cost: $10,000 - $40,000
    • Time: 1.5 months to 5 months

    This part is about creating the game's art, like what characters and the world look like, and starts making the game feel real. This can take from several weeks to several months.

  • 4

    Building the Game

    • Cost: $25,000 - $250,000
    • Time: 3 months to 2 years

    This is the heavy lifting part where you actually create games and make sure everything works without any glitches. It's a big job that can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

  • 5

    Releasing and Taking Care of the Game

    • Cost: $2,000 - $5,000 (plus any fees for putting the game in stores, like $100 for Steam)
    • Time: 4 days to 3 weeks (plus waiting for the store to approve it, which could take up to a week)

The more complex the game, the more it costs. Fancy features like high-quality graphics and multiplayer options take a lot of time and work to create. Skilled workers like artists, programmers, and designers are key to making a game, and their salaries can be a big part of the video game budget. 

Process of video game developing, video game budget

Which genres are really expensive?

Why does making a game so expensive? Maybe it’s costly because you picked the most difficult to create game genre? Costs can vary widely depending on the genre of the game. Each genre has its own set of requirements that affect how much money will go into both developing the game and creating the art for it. Here’s a breakdown of some common game genres, arranged from the most to the least expensive based on development and art costs:

How much does it cost to make a role playing game, RPG video game budget

RPG (Role-Playing Games):

  • Dev Costs: $120,000 – $300,000 | 1-2 years
  • Art Costs: $40,000 – $100,000 | 6-12 months

The most money goes to this genre. RPGs are often the most expensive because they require a lot of story elements, character development, and a big, detailed world for players to explore.

How much does it cost to make a real time strategy game, RTS video game budget

RTS (Real-Time Strategy):

  • Dev Costs: $100,000 – $250,000 | 1-2 years
  • Art Costs: $60,000 – $120,000 | 8-12 months

These games need smart enemies and lots of different units and environments, which increases games cost.

How much does it cost to make a survival game, survival video game budget

Survival Games:

  • Dev Costs: $90,000 – $250,000 | 1-2 years
  • Art Costs: $50,000 – $100,000 | 7-12 months

Why do games in the survival genre cost much? hWith features like crafting, realistic AI, and large open worlds, survival games are complex and take a lot of resources to create.

How much does it cost to make a city building game, city building video game budget

City Builders:

  • Dev Costs: $85,000 – $300,000 | 1-2 years
  • Art Costs: $35,000 – $80,000 | 6-12 months

City builders have intricate gameplay mechanics and need lots of art for buildings and landscapes, so they’re on the pricier side.

How much does it cost to make a tower defense game, tower defense video game budget

Tower Defense:

  • Dev Costs: $65,000 – $90,000 | 9-12 months
  • Art Costs: $25,000 – $50,000 | 3-6 months

These games focus on strategy and level design, so they’re not as expensive as the most complex genres but still require a significant investment.

How much does it cost to make a platformer game, platformer video game budget

Platformers:

  • Dev Costs: $45,000 – $80,000 | 6-12 months
  • Art Costs: $20,000 – $40,000 | 3-5 months

Platformers can be less complex than games like RPGs, so they’re usually not as costly to make.

How much does it cost to make a slot game, slot video game budget

Slots:

  • Dev Costs: $15,000 – $40,000 | 3-6 months
  • Art Costs: $10,000 – $50,000 | 2-4 months

Slot games need fancy art for the reels and icons but aren’t as hard to develop as other game types.

How much does it cost to make a match-3 game, match-3 video game budget

Match-3:

  • Dev Costs: $20,000 – $50,000 | 3-6 months
  • Art Costs: $7,000 – $30,000 | 1-3 months

These are simpler games in terms of design and gameplay, so they’re less expensive than more complex genres.

How much does it cost to make a hypercasual game, hypercasual video game budget

Hybrid and Hyper Casual Games:

  • Dev Costs: $5,000 – $20,000 | 2 weeks – 1.5 months
  • Art Costs: $2,500 – $4,000 | 1-2 weeks

The least expensive to develop, these games are all about easy-to-understand mechanics and quick, fun gameplay.

There are so many different types of games that fall into various genres and categories, each with unique features that determine the cost of developing a video game. For instance, simulation games can take the form of life simulations like The Sims, or racing simulations like Need for Speed. Similarly, sports games cover a range of sports, each with its own mechanics and design needs. 

When you look at role-playing games, there’s a wide array from action RPGs like the Yakuza series to massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, to roguelike RPGs like Hades. These are one of those genres that make the most money. The complexity of building an in-game economy for a strategy game or developing different fighting styles for a fighting game adds layers of cost as well.

Behind the cost of game development: Staff wages

Is developer salaries a thing you need to seriously consider while planning the budget? Of course. The average game budget is influenced by how much you pay staff wages. The key roles and how they factor into the cost of game development:

  1. Programmers can be among the highest-paid members of the development team, especially those who specialize in complex game engines or systems. 
  2. Game designers must be both creative and technical, often requiring a mix of skills that include level design, narrative development, and mechanics implementation. 
  3. As gaming graphics become increasingly sophisticated, the demand for highly skilled 3D artists and animators grows, which can drive up their wages.
  4. While QA testers may not command the same high salaries as programmers or senior artists, their contribution to the development process can significantly affect the overall timeline and quality of the game.

 

Even if you decided to make a simple 3-Match game, which doesn’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make, the combined salaries of the staff are a substantial portion of the game budget. The wages for these roles can vary based on factors like geographic location, level of experience, and the complexity of the game being developed. 

Game developer average salary in 2024

Price depends on game time

The price of developing a video game can vary depending on the amount of gameplay time the final product is intended to offer. 

  • 1

    Demo or Prototype (Gameplay up to 30 minutes):

    • Cost: $500 - $1,300
    • Time to develop: 2-4 days

    These are early versions of a game, used to show an idea or concept. They are short, not feature-complete, and are used to give a taste of what the game could become. 

  • 2

    Simple Mobile Game (Gameplay 2-5 hours):

    • Cost: $6,000 - $19,000
    • Time to develop: 1 - 2 months

    Simple mobile games are designed to be played in short bursts, often on the go. These games usually have fewer mechanics and simpler designs.

  • 3

    Midcore Project (Gameplay 10-25 hours):

    • Cost: $10,000 - $40,000
    • Time: 1.5 months to 5 months

    This part is about creating the game's art, like what characters and the world look like, and starts making the game feel real. This can take from several weeks to several months.

  • 4

    AAA Projects (Gameplay 40-60+ hours):

    • Cost: $250,000 - $2.5 million
    • Time to develop: 10 months - 2 years

    AAA games feature deep storylines, complex mechanics, and highly polished production values.

The video game development costs associated with each category reflect the amount of work that goes into creating content that is engaging for the specified gameplay duration.

Price of developing a video game vary depending on the amount of gameplay time

Cross-platform game development costs

Making a game that works on all devices can be tricky because they’re all different. A game controller has buttons and sticks, but on a phone, you use your fingers on the screen. Also, games have to look good and run smoothly, which is harder to do on phones because they aren’t as powerful as computers or consoles. So, game makers have to change the game a bit for each type of device. The costs of game dev can vary, not only between mobile, PC, and console platforms but also within each platform based on the type and complexity of the game. 

Mobile Games:

  • Simple 2D game: for a basic game with simple graphics and gameplay, like a puzzle or a card game, the cost could range from $5,000 to $30,000. An example would be a match-3 game on Android.
  • Advanced 3D game: a game with high-quality 3D graphics and complex gameplay could cost significantly more, likely between $100,000 and $300,000.
The cost of Cross-Platform Game Development: Simple, Indie, Advanced, Mid-tier, AAA Console Games
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Console Games:

  • Indie game: smaller indie titles for consoles like the Nintendo Switch might be developed for between $15,000 and $50,000. 
  • AAA game: big-budget AAA games for consoles such as PlayStation or Xbox can easily cost from $250,000 to several million dollars.

PC Games:

  • Mid-tier game: a PC game with mid-level complexity, perhaps a strategy or simulation game, could have development costs ranging from $50,000 to $300,000. This might include a game with modding capabilities and community features.
  • High-end games: high-end PC games with advanced features, multiplayer capabilities, and cutting-edge graphics could have costs that go into the millions. For instance, a competitive first-person shooter with a large player base, real-time updates, and e-sports considerations could be particularly costly to develop.

AR/VR Games:

VR indie title: developing an indie game for virtual reality platforms might start at around $100,000. An VR puzzle game that requires interaction with the environment could be in this category. The cost of creating a game with VR experience varies greatly depending on the complexity and features of the project. We’ve described this in our article.

Live Multiplayer Games:

Online multiplayer game: a game with real-time multiplayer functionality, even on mobile, could have development costs starting at $100,000. This could include a battle royale game with a persistent online world that requires continuous server management and content updates.

How much does cross-platform game development cost

Marketing and distribution

Even the most innovative and engaging game can struggle to reach its audience without effective marketing strategies and distribution channels. Marketing builds anticipation, engages potential players, and establishes a brand identity. With thousands of games waiting for attention, a strong marketing campaign can make the difference between a hit and a miss. It helps to identify and target the right audience, communicate the game’s unique selling points. Effective strategies can include game social media marketing, influencer partnerships, press releases, and attending gaming conventions to show the game.

The choice of distribution platforms affects a game’s visibility and accessibility. Popular platforms like Steam for PC games, the App Store for iOS, and Google Play for Android have their own set of fees and revenue-sharing models. For example, Steam charges game developers to pay a $100 fee per game and then typically takes a 30% cut of sales. Console games have their own distribution channels, like PlayStation Network or Xbox Live, with similar revenue-sharing arrangements.

The rise of digital distribution has lowered the barrier to entry for many developers, eliminating the need for physical production and logistics. However, being featured on a platform can still come at a cost, including platform-specific requirements for compatibility and content, which might necessitate additional development work.

Promotional materials are essential tools in a game’s marketing toolkit. High-quality images, engaging videos, captivating texts, and even playable demos can significantly boost a game’s appeal. These materials can be used across various platforms, from social media to press kits, and require a mix of creativity and marketing savvy to produce.

Infographics of the most popular social media platforms for gamers in US

Rising expectations from gamers

There are gambling industry trends where gamers now expect AAA titles to offer cinematic quality visuals, deep narrative experiences, and fluid mechanics that were once considered cutting-edge. To meet these expectations, development teams must invest in the latest technology, tools, and talent, which can increase production costs, even when we look at mobile gaming trends. High-fidelity graphics require more detailed art assets and animations, leading to longer development times and larger teams. 

As graphics hardware continues to improve, the gaming industry is reaching a point of diminishing returns on improvements in graphics hardware, where each new upgrade results in smaller visible enhancements. Innovation is a key driver of success in the gaming industry, but it’s also a significant factor in development costs. 

Mobile gaming trends, gamers expectations from game development studios

Unexpected challenges in development

Making video games often comes with delays. These can happen if it takes longer to do something than expected, if there are surprise problems with the technology, or if they decide to change or add new features during the process. For example, adding a new feature to the game might bring up unexpected challenges that make everything take longer. 

Games can also have bugs, which are like little mistakes or problems in the game. Some bugs are small and don’t cause too many issues, but others can be big and make the game not work right. The more complicated a game is, the more likely it is to have bugs. 

To fix these issues, game developers might use a variety of strategies, including iterative design processes that allow for continual testing, feedback, and refinement. But none of this is possible without outsource companies who can help you with any stage of the development. One of the most important part is to create a vision of what your game will look like – art concepts, 3D models, so on. With this, and with much more, we can help.

Unexpected challenges in video game development, game bugs and mistakes

FAQ

Due to higher quality expectations from players, the use of advanced technologies like VR and AR, larger development teams needed for complex game creation, and the costs associated with marketing and post-launch support.

Game development is expensive because it requires skilled professionals (leading to high labor costs), depending on different game genres it requires more or less sophisticated technology and tools, and a lot of time to handle the complexity of modern games.

The cost of mobile game development varies:

  • Simple 2D Games: $5,000 to $30,000 for basic graphics and gameplay.
  • Casual 2D Games: $20,000 to $80,000, including more polished features and possibly in-app purchases.
  • Advanced 2D/3D Games: $50,000 to $150,000 for high-quality graphics and complex gameplay.
  • Advanced 3D Games: Over $100,000 for top-notch graphics and deep mechanics.
  • Cross-Platform Games: Costs 1.5x to 2x more than single-platform games due to compatibility and testing needs.

Need help? Consider full cycle game development outsourcing, which will speed up your game production.