How much money do you need to make a big game?

“And I would like a mobile version too, please”

There are countless materials available about best game design practices, recommended development techniques and successful artistic approaches. However, finding reliable information about game budgets is a pretty disappointing venture. Even if you work in games, chances are you don’t know the budget of your current or past projects, simply because publishers and developers almost never release their data.

There are always exceptions, of course: journalists and analysts making educated guesses (although most of the times they are just a guess), public companies’ investor reports (although they usually combine all their production costs), and people like Tim Schafer, who isn’t afraid of telling us the costs of their previous critically acclaimed games (Grim Fandango: ’98, $3 million; Psychonauts: ’05, $12 million; Brütal Legend: ’09, $24 million), and even lets us know that patching a console game can cost $40,000.

“And this is how I get the money for my games”

That’s why it’s worth checking what a remarkable job the Kotaku columnist superannuation has done. Using public sources, he has put up an incredible list with tons of titles and their budgets. According to him, this list “marks a first attempt here at Kotaku to get a comprehensive sense of how much money the world’s biggest and most expensive games cost.”.

It starts as early as 1982, with the infamous E.T. (’82) and its $23 million licensing fee, and includes the car combat game Twisted Metal (’95, $0.8 million), the god game Black & White (’01, $5.7 million), the first Guitar Hero (’05, $1.7 million) and the mythological action-adventure game God of War III (’10, $44 million), among others.

Take a look at the full list here.


A good puzzle theory (by Tim Schafer)

On Tuesday, Double Fine launched the first part of Broken Age (its Kickstarter-funded problematic baby), exclusively for its backers, while the rest of the people will have it available on January 28.

Therefore, I thought it was a good moment to remember what Tim Schafer (Double Fine’s honcho and industry rockstar) has to say about what makes an adventure game special.

You don’t have to be physically dexterous to solve an adventure game. You just have to sit there and scratch your head and you can go walk around the block and come back and you know how to solve the puzzle. That’s a different kind of playing experience than other kinds of games.

Tim Schafer explaining his theory to the Cookie Monster

According to Schafer, his “good puzzle theory” includes the following elements:

  • A clear obstacle.
  • A clear motivation.
  • Responses for failed solutions (with hints).
  • Rewards for getting close.
  • An “a-ha” feeling and not a “WTF” feeling after you solve the puzzle.
  • Appreciation of the puzzle in retrospect that makes you want to tell people about it.

On the other hand, the old game interface riddled with verbs has been replaced with inventory items, in order to make the interface more accessible.

You can learn more about his thoughts on puzzles and adventure games (and the pros and cons of Kickstarter) here.