Podcast 30: How much does it cost to make a serious game?

Why is game design so expensive? Hi, this is An Coppens. I’m the chief Game Changer and show host of a Question of Gamification. And today I want to draw your attention to costs because it’s a frequently recurring theme for our company for sure and also to draw some comparisons because, when people in business are shopping for a game most of them have not looked at what it takes to make a game.

They consider it the same as for example a website or any kind of business application. Now when you think about a game. Even some of the basic casual games that we play on our mobile phones may require several team members several pieces of software and several different lengths of time of development.

So I wanted to sort of address the question. Why is it so expensive to design a game or what constitutes the cost of designing a game? Because, more and more frequently people come to gamification and would actually like a serious game. And because both of them have a serious purpose and usually a business objective, it’s not unsurprising that this happens.

The challenge for us is that they usually come as I say it with a bicycle budget, but would like to buy a Ferrari. And that would be similar in game terminology having the budget for a very simple game like Pac-Man or Flappy Bird and actually wanting let’s say a AAA game similar to a World of Warcraft or and ideally compressed for mobile.

I mean not unusual as a request to be honest in our world, so. What constitutes the cost? I mean and I wanted too to paint a picture as large as possible. If you’re looking for something to the style of a Flappy Bird a simple quiz, one person can develop that. Design it develop it and you probably need only a couple of weeks to do it and then maybe a week or two for testing.

If you are aiming to build something much more engaging much more graphically interesting you end up already needing different tools so different softwares to get you started. So that’s the first thing. So you need different software licenses, different graphic design tools, game development tools, hosting etc.

Now for a big Triple A game and a triple A game. I would want you to think about it along the lines of a Grand Theft Auto, a World of Warcraft and OverWatch. Games that have typically a development team of minimum, five to ten people on them. So in a development team for these kinds of big big name games, you typically have lead game designer who sets the overarching concept.

You have level designers you have which are all responsible for one level and that needs to be consistent with the main story arc and the main storyline and fit into the overall vision of the lead game designer, then a narrative designer. You may also find in the larger organizations where the actual narrative is worked out based on levels, based on characters.

You may even have character designers who work out a whole story board as story Bible so to speak for each character in the game nearly as developed as let’s say a script for a movie if you will and then you usually have several programmers. Programmers tend to program games of that nature in either Unity or Unreal, the two big engines for game design and they will typically Master skills like C# or C plus. So both Unity and Unreal allow you then to push it through to different platforms whether or not it’s Android, iOS, PlayStation, web apps, Nintendo’s you name it. Most of the development tools allow you to do that.

Then on those games you also have graphic designers and animation designers. So the graphic designers may have specialties some are background designer some are character designers. And then the animation designer basically makes sure that the characters can animate the anything that needs to move also moves.

Those Graphics can be 2D, 3D. So you may have specialists in 2D graphics or 3D graphics and basically, visual effects need to happen so you could even have a visual effects artist working on a big game as well.

So as soon as you enter a real world game scenario where the world looks real and looks interesting, you’re actually talking nearly two to ten graphic designers and animators. So I mean immediately you’re into big budgets.

Just think about it people like that come with significant skill, significant training. And that goes from game designer, to level designer narrative designer, graphics animators, programmers and then you haven’t even thought about sounds so you have sounds designers and special effects designers who typically work on these games.

The game like an OverWatch could take anywhere from 12 months to two years to reach fruition and actually reach the market. So what you see out today was probably, you know dreamt up somewhere couple of years back. So, you know and the budget required a ranges from 1 million to hundreds of millions, depending on the number of levels, the number of storyline, the number of people that need to work on it.

So if you think about it while we’re a small studio and a small Agency for gamification design as a small agency, we can give you very good quality game design and gamification design within reason. I mean. Last year, we stretched to a very tight, I supposed tight goal.

We had five minigames or 10 minigames in five months rather which were basically developed for web and men stocking up on our original team of three by quite a significant number of people to get the job done. So if you think about on average, a person each month cost you two thousand pounds you’re immediately up in the anti quite significantly based on experience level based on the time we require them for, ETC.

So from my perspective, I feel often that we have to let the client down or we have to make the comparison as to okay, “What can you expect for what budget the number of interactions again that you want in a game or a cost factor and will impact how much you pay the number of players you expect the play at any given time will have impact on the infrastructure in the back end from the hosting’s perspective.

If your game over soon becomes a big Blockbuster hit your servers will server costs will skyrocket for temporary moment in time and depending on how important that is for the gameplay. This may impact the whole user experience. So, I mean that’s just to design the game then you have testing and I would recommend testing for all the games.

Even board games that we create require several play tests. So think about it. If you were giving a board game to let’s say a company like a Hasbro or other Publishers of mainstream board games. They would have to have multiple tests by multiple audiences for it to pass their quality assurance. Now, We aim for minimum 20, but ideally ninety or a hundred and that’s sometimes really six, but sometimes not given the timeline that we work towards so who it is, you know giving perspective.

So if you’re thinking of a simple game like a quiz like something, you know 2D very basic where you might have to collect something like a treasure hunt or a text adventure something along those lines. Your budget can be dealt with with let’s say two to three people in the company to give it a bit of good graphic design and I would say starting budget of about 10K seems realistic for some of those depending on how fancy you needed and how much analytics you need from it and whatever else needs to integrate with it.

You’re immediately talking about doubling or tripling the budget required. If your however thinking more along the lines of a Pokemon Go, you’re immediately in multiple of tens of thousands because you’re talking several interactions. So each Pokémon you catch has several points course interaction score is different elements that need to come into play.

So. If you think about it, there’s an awful lot more going on than just a simple text or one letter transaction. So at any given time there is probably five or six game elements in play other minimum in those kinds of games. But if you think about Grand Theft Auto any kind of racing or multiplayer online role-playing game you’re talking about tens of thousands interactions in very short spaces of time server capacity needs to be great, bandwidth needs to be great.

The interaction from a graphical perspective and the special effects The Sounds everything makes for a fabulous game experience. But those games you do not create for anything less than several millions. So, you know, and they may have had their first release on a bootstrap budget which probably still had six figures on a minimum.

If not seven and yeah, you know when we deal with clients in terms of gamification and and serious game design. We often get major push back. If our numbers even start to get close to its reviewed four figures five figures even and you know, God forbid if it’s six figures and you know, let’s be realistic if you’re not willing to put a good budget on the table then what you create on the other side is limited.

So our limit see, you know, our most basic game that we can create will still cost you 10000. But if you want something more exciting more interesting. Do make sure that you have something that’s that’s closer to two six if six figures because the reality is we will need to bring in the manpower to do it will also need to set you up on special servers to make sure that the game runs for you.

And it will require at least six to nine to 12 months lead time before it goes to Market. I mean, we have delivered crazy things and crazy deadlines. It’s not how we love to work. I can tell you that because it could puts massive strain on everyone because we’re asking people to work nearly 24/7 and to get people to do their best work flawlessly.

That’s that’s really harsh. So, you know, let’s get real. So if you are serious about making a fantastic game that represents your organization, well and represents it realistically then also do your research. I mean a simple search on how much does it cost to create a computer game gave me several comparisons online.

On how much it took to create let’s say a Grand Theft Auto all the way to a Flappy Bird and also a AAA game cost breakdown or  what people spend what on so, you know, there’s several resources out there and you want to compare like with like, so if you want to have a game that’s playable on mobile, you will require different budgets and if you want a game that’s required on web or interactive with multiple access points if you wanted Multi-Device that’s again a different conversation to have so as soon as you didn’t want integration and analytics.

You also need a budget to create the code that actually collects the analytics. The programming by itself and the game engines by itself are set up to collect every single data point, but it may not make sense. To track every single data point because that might be overkill so you need some people that make sense of okay, what actually does make sense in this context to track and to set up reporting for you may have very clear objectives with your game and we sure hope that you do especially in the series game situation or a gamification situation.

So, you know you want to make sure that you have a clear idea of what’s possible a clearer idea of what reporting for which user is you would like to see under more? We are clear on your objectives. The easier it is to a create something that hits those and be to track and measure afterwards.

What works and what doesn’t. Because a lot of the time and this is probably a secret that the games industry doesn’t want you to know is that a lot of the bugs or updates that you receive for a game will also eliminate things where people get stuck it will often be in response to. Things that people have tried and have failed a t.

It may well be that there were things broken not a fixed, but often it’s data observation that makes companies are changed what they do and how they present it to you. So in some sense gamification. He’s probably in a lot of ways the poorer brother of the game design world and you know, nothing wrong with us and also because games are so exciting to play.

It’s also seen as the solution to end all engagement or other boredom related problems and I would say careful with that is sometimes gamification or a game is not your solution. Sometimes it’s simply a management issue. So always be willing to address that question too because some things can be quicker fixed and probably more cheaply fixed if your managers did what they were supposed to do and you know take that from someone who is at least worked 1517.

Years in Industry. So take its widths what it’s worth we know and I’ve been is just as guilty as the next person we all have great intentions, but our execution may not always be Flawless as a manager and sometimes that causes problems and you know, that is part of learning that’s part of growing.

And good support systems will help your people to do better which trying to fix everything through a game or game solution may not be what is required. Some things are just better done through direct communication and good leadership. So. I would say consider your money consider. What’s possible for your budget do the research on don’t believe me and my word for it, but do your own research online and say okay in comparison to X number of games and this is the kind of quality we want what is possible for my budget?

And then come and have a look with us. I personally have major issues with Price Shoppers. We try and do price fixed price work for most of our jobs and to be done pushed for cheaper here and cheaper there. You know that sort of is also taking a ride with our knowledge. So. I would typically at some point draw the line and say well actually this is it take it or leave it or we just don’t have a deal for it not to be avoided and for those on friendly conversation is not to have to take place.

However, I’m putting this podcast out there and hopefully address the question why is gamification or game design so expensive? It’s a question. We occasionally ask or get a store and more and more so. And the reason why I mean, I feel like it’s important to answer is to have realistic expectations.

We’d love to deliver and you know, one thing that we all stand for at gamification nation is we want to be proud of what we work on and we want to be proud of what we Handover. Even if we know that if we had slightly more budget, it could be even 10 times better. You know, that is something we have to live with it.

And I think that’s every designer is Bane of their life, I guess. But yeah, it’s important for people to. To realize that okay, a 20K budget will only get you this much a hundred K will get your whole lot more and you know anything that’s so above and beyond let’s say 250 to to 500k will get you something awesome.

So, you know, that’s the reality of it if you’re willing to to put people into place and the butcher’s into place. The possibilities of what’s what’s available become a lot higher does that mean that if you have a small budget that you shouldn’t try? No, it doesn’t it means that you just have to readjust your expectations and I think about okay, what would be my minimum look and feel?

And how much can I get for the budget that I have? I may be in that case a serious game is not your answer but a gamified process because Adam game mechanics to a given process. By using existing tools that are on the market like platform Solutions or even existing apps that can do gamified Quests.

For example, there’s a few that we collaborate with and partner with so those things are feasible even on the smaller numbers, but if you come to us with say with anything less than 10, it will be 10,000. That is it will become a stretch. And it would have to be seriously good for both sides as a showcase or as a promotion tool for it to fly.

Let’s just say that anyway, I hope that answers the question. If you have further questions in relation to that, we’d love to answer them. And also if that sort of triggered an interest on you know, we want to work with you. I’m as candid as I am on the podcast as I am in real life, so hopefully not either.

Triggers you to positive way or maybe not and if not, I wish you luck to find somebody to work with and maybe some people can so in the meantime keep listening. If you like it and you loved this episode, please share it forward. And if you have questions, please send them to us. If you like our podcasts give us a good rating wherever you’re listening.

Thank you very much. This is gamification nation.com enjoying the gamification movement.

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