Seeing as how we shell out nearly $60 a pop for virtually any new console game, it’s expected that development costs could be quite high. So high, in fact, that they rival even the most expensive Hollywood blockbusters. For this gaming archive, we’re looking at titles that were actually finished - sorry untitled Halo MMO, you could have been a contender. Numbers have been adjusted to account for current inflation.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
When you have hope that your title will explode into a flurry of dollar bills at its launch, you may do what Activision did and sink over four times the cost of development into marketing alone. What would have been a rather modest $50 million game wound up costing, by today’s standards, over $275 million when marketing is factored in. It’s no surprise, either, considering that Modern Warfare 2 was plastered just about everywhere. Cross-promotional branding, branded gaming peripherals, and commercials in all of the right – and likely expensive – places, definitely incurred a good portion of that money, but it was $200 million that didn’t go to waste. Day one sales in the United States and United Kingdom alone broke $310 million and would hit $1 billion in sales within the first quarter of its release.
Grand Theft Auto V
In terms of size, Grand Theft Auto V is a massive game, but does that alone account for the considerably high cost of development? The Witcher 3 boasts a map 1.5 times the size of San Andreas and a smaller budget, so there has to be more to Rockstar’s investment, which capped around $270 million, including marketing. For about five years, a team of 200 individuals worked hard to bring San Andreas to life, rendering a beautiful city stuffed to the brim with hours of activities like tennis, golf, darts, arm wrestling, racing, parachuting and, of course, GTA's favorite pastime, beating up random citizens. The investment proved to pay off, as the game went on to capture 6 Guinness World Records, including the Highest Sales for a title game in a 24-hour period, and the fastest game to reach $1 billion in sales - which took a mere 72 hours, by the way.
Final Fantasy VII
It just isn’t a gaming list if some entry of the Final Fantasy series makes its way on. Total estimated costs of bringing Cloud Strife and the gang to life on the PlayStation One ranged around $66 million, quite a sum of money, especially for the time; but the costs didn’t stop there. Building the game is one thing, but making sure it’s known by the public is an additional aspect that cost Square Enix $147 million more, bringing the total cost of Final Fantasy VII to $214 million. To put into perspective how much that pricetag really is, it’s nearly 3 times the cost of what it took to develop Final Fantasy XIII.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
It really doesn’t take much to trick people into playing a Star Wars game - just look at DICE’s rendition of Battlefront – but BioWare was not taking any chances during the development of The Old Republic. The developer, known for its expertise in lengthy RPGs, wanted to ensure that The Old Republic would appeal to fans – and to do so took a budget of over $210 million. The money put into it was definitely worthwhile – within 3 days of launch, the game reached 1 million subscribers, making it the fastest growing MMO at the time. Despite spending so much, BioWare can sit pretty on their product, which earned, not including paid subscriptions, over $139 million in 2013 alone.
Initial reports of Destiny’s budget stated costs at an astounding $500 Million, but Bungie was quick to clear up the false number. Responding to Activision’s much higher figure, Bungie COO Pete Parson explained that $500 million was likely the long-term investment, but that the game definitely cost less in initial developments. The FPS RPG certainly could warrant quite the budget, especially with big-named talent like Peter Dianklage initially attached to the project, but the final budget put into Destiny’s development levels out at an approximate $140 million.
Grand Theft Auto IV
For Rockstar Games, telling the story of Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic was worth spending quite a bit of dough, and so they shelled out the most they ever had to tell it. At its release, Grand Theft Auto IV had the 2nd largest map size of the series, but also featured an impressive graphical overhaul that made Liberty City look and feel like a living thing. By the time development had closed on the 2008 title, Rockstar Games had shelled out over $110 million. It was a worthy investment, as the game saw a return of $310 million on its first day and opened up a pathway to two expansions.
It may seem odd for a game with a large budget to be received with mediocrity, but Silicon Knights’ Too Human shows that it’s definitely possible. The 2008 Action RPG was estimated to cost around $110 million, and in the end it was all for naught. Even had the game succeeded with reviewers and the public, a lawsuit filed by Silicon Knights against Epic Games backfired, leading to a court order to have all unsold copies of Too Human and several other of the developer’s titles destroyed. Epic had countersued, claiming Silicon Knights infringed on Epic’s copyrights with unapproved lines of code from Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 software kit.
APB: All Points Bulletin
APB may not be a widely known title, hell, it may not even be a widely enjoyed game, but that doesn’t diminish the amount of money and effort that Realtime Worlds put into bringing it to life. A messy development and a change of hands tarnished APB’s history, but it’s the overall cost that winds up standing out the most. For a game that wasn’t really remarkable in any way, $109 million sounds like a lot of money to fork out to develop it. In September of 2010, Realtime shut down APB’s servers and, in November, sold it to K2 Network, where Reloaded Productions ended the game’s 5-month hiatus and reintroduced it as APB: All Points Bulletin.
Red Dead Redemption
When Rockstar announced that it would be returning to the Red Dead drawing board after the 2004 title garnered positive response, interests were piqued. To bring the new project to life, Rockstar borrowed elements from its Grand Theft Auto series to spruce up the western-styled gameplay and brought to the table a hefty cost upwards of $109 million. Though Revolver was a success, it seemed Rockstar was willing to risk more for a better return on the spiritual successor. Sometimes risks do pay off, and in this case, the development company walked away with an award winning title widely considered one of the best games of its generation.
Just because it’s a cutesy title that depicts Disney’s most lovable and newly acquired faces in a series of silly mini-games and short adventures doesn’t mean it wasn’t a costly venture. In fact, bringing the different world’s together in this playful mash-up burnt up $102 million, and that’s not including the cost of marketing. According to an undisclosed source, the game was even considered a “Hail Mary” for Disney, indicating that there may have been concerns behind closed doors about whether or not the concept would take off as well as Skylanders, a figure-based Activision title that released two-years prior of Infinity.