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How Much Does It Cost to Make a Game? The Ultimate Guide (2023)

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Game? The Ultimate Guide (2023)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Estimating costs is a dire matter when it comes to artistic projects. Games as an artistic phenomenon and a more complex entity, make this process even harder. Not only it is complex in its fabrics, but it’s an ever-changing thing as well, thus estimating anything about it is absolutely a nightmare. But today we are going to face our fears and break down the costs step by step.

So let’s see how much we need to start a game project and how much we need for its progression.

DISCLAIMER: All the prices which are listed in this article are approximate and take them with a grain of salt. No absolute number can be given for any of the listed fields and it’s impossible to make a definitive price list for game projects, but I have tried to estimate them as real as they could be. All the listed prices are in US Dollars.

Costs of Main Processes of Making a Game

There are various steps in process of developing a game and each of them has its costs. Following are the steps which are critical and you should take into account when calculating the costs:

Game Design

Game Design takes the cake as the most fundamental step in any game development process. Any game, no matter how big or small, starts its tangible development journey from this step. You have to consider a good amount of budget for this critical step or your project will surely fail.

A considerable chunk of your budget will be devoured by game design and resistance is futile, it’s indeed inevitable. So, considering a strategic approach toward adopting a well-thought choice can save you and your project is a must.

If you manage to save in this step, you are going to save a lot of budgets as the nature of game design is to be so demanding as it was said.

The average salary you have to pay to a game designer starts around 24$ per hour to 50$ per hour, depending on how good and experienced they are. These numbers mean nothing if you don’t want to hire a team.

If you want to outsource your project, costs switch to project-based. Any project which is done properly can cost from 300$ to 200,000$ for an indie to casual games. High-budget games which go after outsourcing their game designers should expect much higher figures, sometimes up to half a million dollars for a single project.

Codes and Programming

Codes are how your game reacts to your end-user inputs. Your product is as fluent as your codes are and you can’t compromise as it will fail if it fails here. So, you should consider a good team of programmers, no matter how big or small your project is.
You know that a project can mean nothing if the execution feels buggy and sluggish; even if all the other sections have done perfectly.
The average hourly pay for a game programmer starts at around 35$ and goes up to 60$ per hour. A technical director usually demands 67$ per hour and this number kicks off to higher extents with more experienced ones.

Sound

Your game should sound good and without a decent game audio engineer that’s not going to happen. A sound engineer has a lot to do with your project and plays a critical role in your development process.

Sound engineer creates and assigns sound effects for your game. Also they can create and/or choose accordable sound tracks and music tracks for cut scenes and games in general.

If you want to hire an engineer, you should pay around 15$ per hour to 75$ per hour. But outsourcing a project may not be a bad idea when it comes to sound engineering.
Freelancers get 100$-30,000$ per project if they are working on an indie game. If we are talking about a professional casual game, figures morph to 2,000$-200,000$ per project. For a AAA game, you should consider a 10,000$-250,000$ budget for this portion of the development.

Art

Maybe the most difficult part to estimate is your game art. Art is subjective and so is game art. As your roster of characters and levels grow, the cost of the game art services grows as well. Even your aspect of choosing a style can change the costs dramatically.
2D games are mainly cheaper than 3D ones. If your characters and/or objects are 2D and your backgrounds are 3D, the whole project takes a new path to develop artistically. Real-time rendered or pre-rendered backgrounds and characters are whole different matters when it comes to estimating a price.
But if we want to be precise, 2D arts are way more complex to estimate than their 3D counterparts. When it comes to 2-dimensional art, designers can give you any number. Even for a single project, you can get different numbers that differ drastically.
3D is not as complex though; because there is an almost stable base for 3D art prices. A 3D artist has to deliver what she/he is given in the best way possible, but 2D artists are very dependable on their touch and style.
If you tell a 2D artist their work is very similar to a famous game, they wouldn’t be so happy; on the other hand, if you tell a 3D artist their outcome is similar to the works of a famous developer, they will be proud and thrilled.
Let’s check the base hourly salaries which can be found on online entries. Game artists and animators demand 27$ per hour to 40$ per hour for their services. Lead artists and tech artists want 35$-50$ per hour based on their expertise. Art directors’ applications start around 53$ per hour.

Test, Marketing, Distribution

These steps are really no estimable matter. Each one of them could cost variably and are dependable on the nature of the project. You can test your game with professionals who demand a high rate of salary to play-test your product or you can leave it to your current staff to minimize the costs.
Marketing can make a world of difference to your result and sales figures. But how much are you willing to pay to advertise your product? Is it reasonable to save money to hire better developers or you should go through a heavy-advertisement path? The answers to the questions are for you to come up with.
Selling your game idea, distribution, and publishing demand their article to tend to. You can publish your game via a professional company or just crowdfund your project. Hence, there is no tangible estimation for any of them to list here; but you should consider these on your own and take them to account when crunching those numbers.

Downsides of Hired Staff

Having a stable and on-demand staff could be a huge advantage. You are always in contact with your executive force and that can save you a lot of time. The pace is an important factor in the current climate of the industry, but let’s see what are the downsides of this choice.

Financial Matters

First of all, when we are talking about human resources you should know that every person is different and you should handle them with care. You should provide a safe and relaxing work environment for them; consider the price of insurance and that on its own can act as a scary factor for any hiring company.

All these points aside, having a hired staff demands a sturdy budget to provide their monthly salary. You can’t compromise on this subject and you should consider how much does it cost to make a game with all these people wanting their well-deserved money on a fixed periodical time. You can also read about how long it takes to make a game.

Limits

Imagine you have a very capable artist, but even the mightiest of them have limits. A 2D artist can’t perform in every style you want and deliver a good outcome in every situation. The same goes for every position you are considering for your staff.

In the following headlines, we are going to tell you how is it possible to save on each criteria. Hope it comes off as helpful as it may be.

How to make a game on a budget?

In order to mitigate your costs, there are many factors you can change throughout your game art pipeline. Let us provide some samples and paths you can consider in the following headers:

Game Design and Programming Costs

When we talk about cost reduction regarding these aspects, we should be very careful; as paying a little more to a professional can alternate the future of your project. But if you want to really save bucks here, you can consider these options:

Copy a Successful Design

There is no shame to copy a popular design when you are working in such a busy and crowded industry. Even big names do that and recycle great ideas for their newer games. But be wary that you are sacrificing the originality of your game.
Although when using such a form of design, you can be assured that they have stood the test of time and are already tested; and more importantly, you are mitigating a lot of budgets.

Using Ready-to-use Codes

There are a million lines of codes lying around on the internet you can use for your game. Some of them are even free of charge and royalty-free and can be used by anyone. For each different engine, you can find a lot of ready-to-use projects; for example, if you are applying your idea to Unity, you can easily find many codes online. But when it comes to this, consider the quality and the trade-off you are doing.

Mitigating Art-related Costs

Game art is the soul of your project. These shapes and colors form what your end-user ends up collocating with and if they are not promising, your project can not be successful. There are some options you can take into account to reduce the needed budget for your game:

Using Stock Designs and Sounds

When you are looking for ideas for your art designs, you come up with numerous sites with stock photos and concepts. They are not there only for that purpose though; you can use them as primary assets of your game as well.
Using these kinds of designs leads to losing having your own ideas and that may be a huge deal in many cases. Some successful games of late years are successful because of their art style and you are losing that edge by choosing this route.
You can apply the same approach toward sound effects and music for your game. Just be sure the sample works are bought or are loyalty-free in case of commercial use or you can end up with a lawsuit instead of a game!

Outsourcing

The most reasonable and budget-friendly way of approaching art-related matters for your project is to use outsourced services which can be easily provided via capable studios. There are many reasons you should consider this one as your first approach:

  • They have it all: Art studios provide a wide variety of services for your project. They have different artists which are experts in their own field and can get your job done in the way you want. Also, it is hard for you to assign UI/UX design. Concept art, storyboards, etc. to one or two staff; but these studios have enough manpower which can do them all in the right way. They can make your mobile game UI, 3D production pipeline, game art with 2D or 3D art style3D model riggingvideo game artgame story designs, character designGDD template and all other services.
  • Originality: You can have whatever you want in this approach. They are adaptable and deliver what you want from them. Just give them the right idea, or even ask them for it, and they will give you an original design shaped around your project.
  • Valuable Prices: As they just charge you for the product and you can save the hassle of facing the challenges of having fixed staff, their prices are way more desirable for you.

How Much Does it Cost to Make an Indie Game?

Indie games and their independent nature of them lets the game maker to save money on some aspects which can’t be mitigated during the process of producing a triple A game.

The main resource of these games are the brilliant ideas behind them. Also their art style can be anything and yet accepted as long as it has a solid gameplay and/or story within. They can be developed with a little budget from 500$-2500$; but there are always some exceptions in every case.

How Much Does it Cost to Make a AAA Game?

You might ask yourself how much does it cost to make a game like GTA V? But let us start with smaller cases; though even small in this scope of measurements is huge in comparison to other formats of video games.

A triple A game costs something like $90 millions and games like GTA V or Cyberpunk had approximately a $400 millions budget.

How Much Does it Cost to Make a Mobile Game?

The mobile games are bigger than ever and their market takes the cake as the greatest market among any video game genres. But they are not the priciest to develop.
A mobile game can be developed by $3000-$25,000 budget but in some cases the prices can spike up to $80,000.

Alternate Ways for Making Your Game with Minimum Budget

Game development studios

There are also alternate routes you can take on this journey. You don’t have to go full throttle for your first project. Consider these options:

Start Small

Your first game doesn’t need to (and most likely won’t) be Red Dead Redemption. First projects are the ones that mostly fail but are needed to embark on a journey in this line of work. Start small and consider making a compact game for your first experience.
It sounds anti-climactic, but the truth is a hard-to-swallow pill that we have to take. The smaller the game, the more concentrated the end product is. Game development has a formula: Smaller the project, the fewer the costs.

Partnership

It’s always a good idea to start your project with a partner in crime. Consider laying the foundation of your career with a helping hand. Someone you can trust can guide you in the right way and vice-versa.
A Jack of all trades and master of none is no good for making a game; you need an expert in each field and it’s not humanly possible for you to be perfect in every aspect of game development. So, put your trust in a trustworthy partner and pick up this heavy goal with her/him.

Can You Make a Game for Free?

If you want the short answer, it’s a solid no. Even if you are a jack of all trades and can handle designing, coding, programming, creating art assets, sound engineering, testing, marketing, and distribution by yourself, there are a lot of other things you should consider as “cost”.
The time that you spend, the rent you pay while you stay at a working place, or even the food you consume to work are considered costs when you are working on a game. Even if you get the codes for free, the internet that you use is being paid for.
So, you are paying with your time and pocket money for making the game after all. Although it is hard to be good at all those things at once and make a big game solo in the first place.

If Your Are Looking for a Capable Outsourcing Force, Pixune Studios is Your Best Choice

We at Pixune Studios are ready to do your project with reasonable prices and great quality. Do you seek a game art studio? Just get a free quote here from us and let’s talk about your project.

Final Words

Costs are subjective and hard to estimate, but we tried to shed some light on the matter for you. Again. Don’t forget all these prices have been taken into account approximately and do not take them for granted.
All of them are there to give you an insight into making a game and its financial challenges. So, good luck on your journey and I hope to experience your ideas as a game in the future.

FAQ

Big budget games with huge team of developers, like GTA V or Cyberpunk, had approximately a $400 millions budget. Although we can assume half of them are marketing costs.

A simple 3D game can cost between 4000$-30,000$ but more complex ones can go up to 100$ millions.

A triple A game costs something like $90 millions and they can go up to $200 millions.

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Author

  • Hosein Tavakkoli

    As a musician, gamer (video and board games), literature and mythology lover, writer, and content creator, you can say he is all about creation. His motto is: 'I create, therefore I am!' He has been active in journalism and copy-writing for more than 15 years and doesn't want to stop!

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