Games Inbox: How much does it cost to make a video game?

The Thursday Inbox discusses all the games that have got a 10/10 score from GameCentral, as one reader laments the death of the PS Vita.

To join in with the discussions yourself email [email protected]


More than you’d think
The reason why video games cost ‘so much’ is because they cost a lot to make. More than double what they did 10 years ago when they still cost 50 quid. With the current generation came huge costs for developers and publishers to eat. One thing I noticed was the length of games decreased early on and then came the fluffing of content. The Order: 1886 was a mere six hours and Call Of Duty campaigns began to be cut even further.

The risk factor has meant a flop is a lot more damaging than it was before. Pre-orders have never been for the consumer. They have always been about guaranteeing a return on investment. Think of it like this, if a game sells 6 million copies at 50 quid a piece, that’s 300 million made. Not taking into account that developers don’t get all of your money. It’s also pretty common for video game costs to be between 40-60 million each. So imagine how much it would cost to develop if games were ‘complete’ as most people like to put it.

Imagine spending north of 60 million to create something that has no guarantee of success. 50 quid is not really a lot when you think about it. Games have to sell at least a million copies just to make their development costs back. That’s not including publishing costs and marketing.

GC: You’re right, but you’re low-balling the figures. Budgets of around £100 million are now far more common than they used to be and only likely to become more so in the next generation; even a high-end indie game can cost upwards of £15 million to make. Also, developers don’t necessarily get anything from the sale of games, with many working under contract, or as an in-house studio, and so not party to any royalties at all.


Gaming constants
Loved the homage to the PS1 anniversary, GC. Was funny to think how the biggest games of 25 years ago are almost all still the biggest games of now, just with additions. Metal Gear only isn’t because of the weird way Konami treated Hideo Kojima and Tomb Raider I think they’ve always struggled to make sequels outside the first one – but I’m sure it’ll be back sometime, just like Crash Bandicoot was.

The thing is almost all of those games were brand new franchises, even arguably FIFA. The only ones that weren’t were Metal Gear and Final Fantasy and they were so totally transformed from their previous entries they might as well have been (and were for UK gamers anyway).

To me that’s been the major failure of this otherwise good generation: no new game. Everything is a sequel or a reboot and you can count the number of major new franchises on one hand. I somehow doubt it’s going to be any different next generation either, not with the cost of making games going up every time.

A lot of those old PS1 games might not stand up so much now technically but just reading that article hit me with a flush of nostalgia. Not just of the games themselves but of all the brand new games that I’ve never seen or heard of before. I somehow don’t think it would’ve been as exciting if it was Alone In The Dark 8 and Bubsy The Bobcat 12 instead of Resi and Crash Bandicoot.


Never again
I noticed that Neverwinter Nights is out for the PlayStation 4 now as an enhanced edition. Not long after I just mentioned it in a feature. I never did get to finish it – it was on a friend’s PC after all.

Is that worth getting? Does it still hold up? Have there been any structural compromises that you know of? I mean, the graphics were not exactly cutting edge at the time – it was a contemporary of the Dreamcast, if I remember – and the character models looked like they belonged in an early PlayStation 1 game.

But I am very tempted. Still got Shenmue 3 to plough through, though… Which is more like an obligation than a pleasure, but you know.
PS: While I’m here, so to speak, if I do the numbers Divinity: Original Sin 2 would appear to be the greatest role-playing game yet made. Would you say that’s the case? Or is there some title from the long, long ago that is a little more dear to your little hearts?

GC: We haven’t got the 60 hours spare to play through a 17-year-old role-playing game, especially as we never particularly liked it the first time around. It’s too much of a straight dungeon crawler, compared to the more varied Divinity: Original Sin 2. Although whether that’s the best ever depends on what you’re comparing it to. It’s our favourite computer role-player but it’s a completely different experience to something like Chrono Trigger, Persona 5, or especially NieR: Automata.


E-mail your comments to: [email protected]


Jumping on point
RE: five-year-old gamers. My niece, technically great niece, played Mario Kart on the DS last year… at four she told me she ‘played Mario Kart and kept jumping off the track’. I think she thought that was the point! She’s five now and more recently I’ve had her on Mario Kart 8 on the Switch.

As GC said, put auto-steer on and whack it on 50cc. I let her accelerate to build up the thumb strength, and she often placed from second to sixth, all while shouting things like ‘Ha ha, I’m faster than her!’ and ‘Whoa, I’m so high!’ (on Rainbow Road, not drugs).

On Super Mario Odyssey she just likes to go to the seaside level, dress Mario in his trunks and snorkel and make noises like ‘Uh!’ When the seaweed monsters come for her, before swimming back to the beach and jumping on those heads… She’s a Mario fan!
big boy bent


Perfect score
Having re-read your reviews, I will probably get Yoshi’s Crafted World at some point, but unlikely to get Kirby Star Allies. I also took the opportunity to read your reviews on the games I had bought. I knew they were all excellent, but I never realised you had given all three 10/10.

I know you’re very hard to please (in a good way) and won’t give out 10/10 unless it’s definitely worth it.

Which got me thinking, over your whole career, which games have you given full marks to?
PS: I am terrible at Tetris 99!

GC: The only games we’ve given 10/10 are Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, Super Street Fighter 4, Zelda: Ocarina Of Time 3D, XCOM 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and Super Mario Odyssey. We also gave 10/10 to Grand Theft Auto 5 and Zelda: Skyward Sword, but in hindsight now consider that overly generous.


Backroom deals
Regarding stock mysteriously reappearing after a sale finishes, I remember discussing this practice years ago with an ex-girlfriend that worked in the HMV head office. Essentially their supplier would sell them a batch of games at a reduced price, say £30 instead of £45. HMV would then sell only this batch for £35 and the normal priced items would be unavailable until after the sale finished.

Many suppliers would also ask for all unsold sale stock to be returned to stop HMV just holding onto it until after the sale. I suspect Argos are following the same model and were given a paltry amount of sale copies by their supplier.


Splitting team
Maybe some people will see it as not surprising but I find it awful that Valve have already broken up Campo Santo. I know not everyone liked it, but I thought Firewatch was amazing and now they’ve basically ensured we’ll never get a sequel or anything like it from the same time.

I’m sure Half-Life: Alyx will be great and all, but I’ll never get to play it and I’m sure Valve could’ve found other people to make the same thing. I mean, what do these know about making a first person shooter?

This sounds more like something EA would do than Valve. But then as we all know, they’re not really the company they used to be back when they were making Half-Life 2 themselves.


Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here


PS Mortem
Although it’s not any kind of surprise I’m upset to hear Sony confirming they have no intention of making a new portable. I feel the PS Vita hardware was amazing but their lack of support for it was what killed it. It felt like it was victim of some kind of internal rivalry at the company, where one side wanted to make the hardware and the other didn’t want to waste any time on the software (the game).

The Vita is so similar to Switch Lite I almost did a double take the first time I saw one, and yet the Vita came out years earlier. Such a shame to see a great machine wasted, even if it was great for indie games.

It also makes me think that Sony has no interest in creating any kind of Switch style hybrid. If they did I don’t think they would talk about portables in the dismissive way they have, which makes me think they just don’t care about that whole angle. Although I guess they will have to change their tune at least a bit when they have a streaming service that runs on mobiles.


Inbox also-rans
Any plans to review The Touryst? It looks intriguing but I haven’t seen many reviews for it in the wild yet.

GC: Probably not, it’s been out for a while now and we never heard much about it.

Do you know where you can purchase Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time, that you reviewed in hard copy format?
Wayne Parkinson

GC: It’s digital only, as far as we know.

In reply to David complaining about game prices, over 25 years ago I was regularly paying £35 to £40 for SNES games, and I suspect those games were cheaper to develop.

GC: Some cartridges were more expensive than that too.

Showing my age here, when I saw the potential box art for Nemesis in the Resident Evil 3 remake the first thing I thought he looked like was Death’s Head the bounty hunter from the original Transformers comics.
I know it was inevitable but I’m stoked that Resident Evil 3 is looking pretty real.

GC: We thought this was going to be about 2000 AD, yes?


This week’s Hot Topic
With Black Friday just gone, the subject for this weekend’s Inbox is what’s been your best video game bargain of the year?

Even if it wasn’t recently, what game, console, or other video game-related items have you bought for cheap and why were you so pleased with it? Were you specifically waiting for it to go cheap or did you take a chance on it because of the price?

How normal is it for you to buy something in this way and generally how often do you buy games at close to full price, as opposed to when on sale? Also, please mark your letters for either the Hot Topic or weekday Inbox, as it’s already becoming difficult working out which are meant for which.

E-mail your comments to: [email protected]


The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word 4Player viewer features at any time, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

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