In the past few years, both the power of home platforms and high-end gaming rigs and the cost of making cutting-edge games have gone up.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, making video games was much cheaper than it is now. But as the capabilities of home consoles and high-end gaming systems have grown, so have the costs of making games. Most current games now cost tens of millions of dollars to make. Some, on the other hand, can cost a lot more.
In the last ten years or so, the amount of games that cost more than $50 million to make has grown a lot, and that’s not even counting the costs of marketing and advertising. Most of these games do make money, but some of the numbers are really mind-boggling and show how big the games business is and how competitive it is.
Final Fantasy 7 – $40m+
The move to 3D was always going to cost more, but few people could have guessed how much it would change things. Final Fantasy 7 was the first Final Fantasy game to move into the third dimension. It is said to have cost Square about $40 million to make, and another $40 million or so was spent to sell the game in the West.
But Square’s bold marketing plan paid off, and Final Fantasy 7 was the first JRPG to really become popular outside of Japan. Most people think it’s one of the best Final Fantasy games ever, and it still has an effect on the series and the genre. It may be one of the most pricey games ever made, but it’s also one of the most popular.
Dead Space 2 – $60m
Many people think that Dead Space 2 is the best of the first three games in the series. It builds on what was good about the first game and gives players an interesting experience that is meant to make them feel alone and then use that feeling to shock and scare them. All of these changes came at a high cost, though. The developers of Dead Space 2 later said that the game cost $60 million to make.
Some people will say that was a good investment because Dead Space 2 has the best score of all the Dead Space games on Metacritic, beating out both its predecessor from 2008 and the remake from 2023. Even though Dead Space 2 got a lot of good reviews and sold millions of copies, it didn’t make any money. This shows that spending tens of millions of dollars to make a single game isn’t always a good idea.
Watch Dogs – $68m+
Watch Dogs is one of those games that sounded great on paper but never quite reached the same heights as some of its competitors. It’s a strange one, because the team’s plans and ideas were pretty much put into action perfectly, making for a visually impressive game title that did what it said on the box. With an estimated budget of almost $70 million for development, that should have been obvious.
Most of the scores for Watch Dogs were between 75 and 80, which is a pretty good range. Even though that’s not terrible, the fact that one of the most expensive games ever made didn’t get an average of 90 or higher will probably upset some of the top people at Ubisoft. The game sold a lot better than the reviews said it would, breaking several Ubisoft sales records as it blew past the 8 million unit mark in just a few months.
Shenmue – $70m / $47m
Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever made for a long time, according to the Guinness World Records. The famous Dreamcast game is said to have cost Sega a staggering $70 million to make. Even by today’s standards, that’s a lot of money. However, Shenmue started being made on the Sega Saturn years before it came out, and it has a lot of cutting-edge technology in it, so it’s not too surprising that such a big number is being thrown around.
In the years before the game came out, however, the creator of the series, Yu Suzuki, has hinted that Sega’s estimate of $70 million may not be true. Suzuki said at the Game Developers Conference in 2011 that the real number was closer to $47 million, and that some of this money was spent on marketing and on making the 2001 update to the game. No matter how you look at it, though, that’s still a lot of money, especially when you take inflation into account.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider – $75m+
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the latest part of the great Tomb Raider remake series, is also Lara’s most expensive adventure to date.In an interview with gamesindustry.biz, David Anfossi, the head of Eidos Montreal, said that the game cost between $75 million and $100 million to make, and that another $35 million or so was spent on marketing and advertising.
Lucky for the person who made the game, it sold very well. In its first three months on the market, more than four million copies were bought. It also did well with reviewers, though its Metacritic scores aren’t quite as high as those of the two games that came before it. No matter what, it’s possible that both the game’s developer and Square Enix, which published it, made a good amount of money from it.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – $80m+
It’s becoming more likely that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will be Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear game. The famous Japanese game designer left Konami in 2015, so this could be his last Metal Gear game. The sudden and shocking split is probably going to stay a mystery, but at least the budget for his last job with the company is a little clearer.
Eurogamer said that a report from a Japanese business newspaper said that as of April 2015, $80 million had been spent on making the game. Since the final version didn’t come out until September of the same year, though, it’s possible that the final cost was much closer to $100 million, especially if you count post-release content and patches.
Defiance – $80m+
Defiance was a third-person shooter MMO game that came out in 2013 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. It didn’t do much to please critics, but it did get a fair number of players and lasted a very respectable eight years before servers were shut down in early 2021. The game’s big budget helped in this way, but it’s still not clear how much it really cost.
A story from Forbes just before it came out said that the whole project had cost around $100 million, which was also the cost of a science fiction TV show with the same name. The story says that the game itself cost around $80 million, but this number could be a lot higher now that a better version of the game was released for the PS4 and Xbox One.
Battlefield 4 – $100m
Many people think Battlefield is one of the best first-person shooter series, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that EA’s Battlefield games aren’t cheap to make. In fact, the company’s previous Chief Creative Officer, Richard Hilleman, said that the fourth game in the series cost a whopping $100 million to make. This would make Battlefield 4 the most expensive game in the series so far.
The game did well with reviewers, and since it came out, it has sold more than seven million copies. Even though it did a lot of great things, it had trouble keeping up with the competition. Call of Duty: Ghosts went on to sell almost three times as many copies. We still don’t know if the much-anticipated Battlefield 6 will do better in this way.
Max Payne 3 – $105m
Rockstar Games isn’t known for taking half-measures or playing it safe, which is clear when you look at the size of the projects it usually works on. Even though GTA and Eggy Car may be the most famous examples of this, there are a lot of other great games in the company’s huge back catalog. Max Payne 3 is one of them.
The famous video game cop’s third and final adventure is also his most expensive. The game is thought to have cost around $105 million to make. It did, however, sell more than four million books in its first year, so it should have at least paid for itself. More importantly, perhaps, the game was a great way to say goodbye to Max while also being a fun game to play.
Grand Theft Auto V – $137m
No matter what you think about the game itself, it’s hard to argue that the $137 million that Rockstar put into making the first version of Grand Theft Auto 5 wasn’t well spent. Since it came out in 2013, it has sold more than 140 million copies, and that number is sure to go up when the PS5 and Xbox Series versions of the game come out in late 2021. All of this adds up to a total profit of around $6 billion and growing.
It’s important to note that the $137 million only covers the game’s original production costs. Over the last eight years, DLC, GTA Online, and the game’s many next-gen ports are likely to have pushed that number much higher.The initial marketing budget for the game is also thought to have been around $137m, so it wouldn’t be too shocking to find out that Rockstar has now spent more than $300m on the game in total.
Destiny – $140m
Even though Destiny and its 2017 sequel aren’t for everyone, they have both been very popular games that have won a lot of awards and gained a large, passionate fan base. All of this success has come at a price, though. Based on Bungie’s first licensing deal with Activision, the first game probably cost around $140 million to make. Scarily, this might only be the beginning.
Destiny 2 is bigger and better than its original in almost every way, and it has been the developer’s main focus for a much longer time.It has also gotten a few more updates, and there are still two more to come: Lightfall in 2023 and The Final Shape in 2024. With all of that in mind, it seems very possible that a lot more money went into making Destiny 2 than went into making the first game. Even though the game has been out for more than five years, Bungie is still working on it. This shows that the money was well spent.
Red Dead Redemption 2 – $170m+
Red Dead Redemption 2 may not have sold as many copies as GTA 5, but its big open world has just as much detail as GTA 5. But this attention to detail cost a lot of money. The game is thought to have cost between 170 and 240 million dollars to make, and the creator may have spent an additional $300 million on marketing. When everything is said and done, the real cost of the title may have been more than $500 million.
Since the game made an amazing $725 million in its first two days on the market, it seems safe to say that Rockstar was able to make a healthy profit once again. Like GTA Online, though, the game’s online features have probably made the cost of making it go up even more since it was first released, so it’s hard to say how much the creator spent or made in total.
Cyberpunk 2077 – $174m
Developer CD Projekt Red had a lot riding on the release of Cyberpunk 2077. The game had been in the works for eight years and had been delayed several times. It sold well enough, but players complained about the game’s poor performance and other bugs, which caused the company’s value to drop by billions of dollars over the next few weeks. Compared to that, the $316 million that was spent to make and sell the game seems like a small amount.
One of the company’s own financial records says that the game cost around $174 million to make, making it one of the most expensive games ever made at the time this was written. The company managed to make a good profit on this amount, which is a miracle, but its share price is still less than half of what it was before the game came out and doesn’t look like it will go back up any time soon.
Star Wars: The Old Republic – $200m
Even though Star Wars: The Old Republic came out almost ten years ago, it still gets updates pretty often. But since so much time and money went into making it in the first place, this shouldn’t be too much of a shock.Reports say that the game’s development cost around $200 million, making it one of EA’s most expensive and complex projects ever.
This desire has paid off, though, as it is now thought that the game has made more than $1 billion since its servers went live in late 2011. This would be a good return on the game’s big development cost, and since tens of thousands of people are still playing the MMO, it’s hard to say how much more money it might make before its servers are shut down for good.
Star Citizen – $415m+
Cloud Imperium Games was able to fund the making of Star Citizen with more than $300 million thanks to the success of several crowdfunding efforts. Since then, more money has been raised through private investment, which has led to a huge increase in the size and scope of the project. This is good news for both the people who backed the game and the people who will play it in the future, but it has also caused a new problem.
The game has been in development since 2011, but there is still no clear sign of when it will finally be available for sale. Estimates say that hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent on making Star Citizen, and that number will only go up as the project takes longer and longer to finish. So, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that a lot depends on how the game turns out in the end.