How much does it cost to make a game?

Hey there! It’s been a while, but now I found some time to write about “Treasure Monkeys” again. I promised to write about how much the game does cost (still around 100.000 €). I will write about details later. Today, I start with an article about my overall learnings about money and development costs during my preparations in the last months.

How much does it cost to make a game? I was thinking about this question since I started working on “Treasure Monkeys”. I think I found the answer now, which is: *drum roll* – It depends! There is no universal price tag for game projects, although the player might think there is one, because similar games have similar price tags in the store.

So, on what does it depend then? Roughly said, it depends on three big cost pools:

  • Cost of the developers (e.g. their wages or fees, insurances, travel expenses)
  • Cost of the place where they work (e.g. the rent and other running costs, insurances, free coffee)
  • Cost of the equipment which the developers need to make the game (e.g. computers, servers, other devices, software licences)

Take the sum of this number and multiply it with the time of the development. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But the exact numbers are varying strongly.

I am writing about the situation in Germany, because I live here and did my research here.

The cost of the developers

There is a huge range between the enthusiastic unpaid trainee and the top level programmer. Not only in the money they receive, but also in the time they need to develop a certain feature. An excellent but costly staff member can cause less development costs than a cheap but not-so-good one. Just because they have their work done faster and not having to rework it all over and over again.

It makes a difference if your staff is a bunch of freelancers who only work when their work is needed or if you have a department of employed 3d artists sitting around and “burning” your money because there is not enough work for them to do at the moment.

A programmer in Russia does not cost as much as a programmer in Germany. (That’s why outsourcing happens.) Not only the currency translation from one country to antoher plays a role here, but also the cost of living in certain countries and cities. And, at least in germany, a health insurance is compulsory and the employer has to pay half of the cost for their employee.

In some cases, people move from their country to yours, which requires a relocation service.

And do not only think of people who are working directly on the project. You will perhaps need people who clean the office, maintain the IT infrastructure or pay the employees.

The cost of the working place

Where are the developers located? An open plan office in Munich? A shared office in Berlin? Is it an apartment in Hintertupfingen?

The location of the studio affect not only the rent, it affects also the culture in which the developers live and socialize. It affects from how many developers you can choose. Because there are more delevopers living (and willing to live) in Berlin or Munich than in Hintertupfingen.

And of course the people do not have to work all in one place. If everyone works remote, you only need to rent a meeting room once a week or once a month.

Some studios offer their employees free healthy food, free parking lots, pay for their public transport tickets, fitness club membership, child care and so on.

Oh and last but not least: a highspeed internet connection is not guaranteed everywhere!

The cost of the equipment

Hardware is costly, especially if you plan to develop games which rely on high end graphic cards and are supposed run on the next gen consoles. Software can be costly too, especially graphic programs like Indesign, Photoshop or 3ds max. There are some pretty good free or low priced alternatives, though. Blender for example, is pretty powerful by now. And the well known engine “Unreal” became free not long ago. Free software pops up every day and it seems as if Jens Ihlenfeld was right when he wrote “soon, nobody will pay anymore for software” in 2013. Software is not the product anymore. It comes with the product. Also, leasing of hardware and software becomes more and more common.

But free stuff is not always the best solution. Some software is so uncomfortable to use, full of bugs or has other downsides, that it is the wiser solution to invest in costly, but stable programs. And although one has to pay for an apple developer account, the money is invested well, because a paid app only makes significant money in the app store.

So far from my side. I strongly recommend to read the blog post of the amazing Ron Gilbert about budget.

Also have a look on those two pages: numbeo and expatistan, where you can learn about the costs of living in different places.

Oh and… marketing!

Although marketing is not the development of the software itself, it is part of the game’s development as a product. There is the rule of thumb which advises to take the whole development cost sum and put it again into marketing. Personally, I have no experience with marketing, which is why I just can tell you this.

You can make a game without marketing, but you surely can not sell a game without it. So do not underestimate the cost to place the game in an attractive way beneath thousands of other attractive games.


This blog is about learning game design and game development. Please do not steal my pictures or other content. If you want to use something, ask me!

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