Cost of making a game

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Ok so i want to make a game – i got all i need (graphic design skills, game idea, business model, marketing skill, some spare cash and i can even make some simple music and sounds for it, forgot something?) except i dont have full time (my girlfriend and dayjob wont allow it) and programming skills.

So I’ve got a question for more expierienced game developers:
How complex from a programmers point of view are games like Baloons TD5, Infectonator 2 or GemCraft Labyrinth? How many hours of programmers work are we looking at here?

 
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It really depends on how much you can do yourself, how much you can get for % sponsorship value (no upfront payment), and how much time you have.

For those games, you are looking at some serious hours. Weeks upon weeks, and usually months. However, all those devs have been smart to reuse assets from prequels to save time.

 
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If you’re doing it all yourself, it will be a huge learning process and you will spend much more time learning than actually creating the game. I’m not a more experienced developer, but as a beginner I can tell you that’s the process for me right now when making a larger game: learning alot, implementing what I learn, trial and error, learning some more, and so on. I imagine for even the more experienced developers there is learning involved in every creation, as long as the dev is always pushing their own boundaries.

I don’t know if this adequately answers your question, but if you are going to do the programming yourself you will just need to factor in all of that self teaching into the time it’s going to take you to create the game. For an experienced and highly-skilled programmer, it would take a fraction of the time, but I can tell you that learning yourself is extremely rewarding.

 
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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

It really depends on how much you can do yourself, how much you can get for % sponsorship value (no upfront payment), and how much time you have.

For those games, you are looking at some serious hours. Weeks upon weeks, and usually months. However, all those devs have been smart to reuse assets from prequels to save time.

Could you explain how % sponsorship value affects this? I believe i didn’t really get the idea of what you just said.

 
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There are a few ways to make money for games. One of them happens to be selling permanent advertising space in your game to a game portal (like Kongregate). This is called sponsorship. Most sponsorships are a solid cash value, somewhere in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand USD. Because great games can make lots of money like this, it has become a norm to offer a % of the sponsorship value as payment if you do not have upfront money to pay to your collaborators.

Of course, it is risky because you don’t know if you will get a sponsorship or how much it will be if you do get one. But it has the possibility of greatly surpassing most upfront payments that the developer would offer collaborators. Typical % sponsorship shares are 40% to the artist.


It is important to note that getting a sponsorship is not an easy task. It takes a lot of effort. There needs to be a game of value produced. A majority of games that try to get a sponsorship do not get one.

 
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Originally posted by Bronsoner:

Ok so i want to make a game – i got all i need (graphic design skills, game idea, business model, marketing skill, some spare cash and i can even make some simple music and sounds for it, forgot something?) except i dont have full time (my girlfriend and dayjob wont allow it) and programming skills.

I see 2 options for you there. Either you start learning programming, which can be a long route. It can take months, if not years, before you become good enough to make great games. But it’s very possible, just take some work.

Or, if you prefer to focus on your graphic design skills, I highly suggest you create yourself a portfolio. Once you will have a good portfolio, it will be easier for you to find a programmer, as a partner. Of course, you could pay a programmer to program your game, but I doubt it’s a good idea to invest money like that for a game that is uncertain of making profits. So the best way would definately be, as UG said, to find a programmer and to share profits with him, if there is any. But first, you need a portfolio to do it. ;)

 
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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

There are a few ways to make money for games. One of them happens to be selling permanent advertising space in your game to a game portal (like Kongregate). This is called sponsorship. Most sponsorships are a solid cash value, somewhere in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand USD. Because great games can make lots of money like this, it has become a norm to offer a % of the sponsorship value as payment if you do not have upfront money to pay to your collaborators.

Of course, it is risky because you don’t know if you will get a sponsorship or how much it will be if you do get one. But it has the possibility of greatly surpassing most upfront payments that the developer would offer collaborators. Typical % sponsorship shares are 40% to the artist.


It is important to note that getting a sponsorship is not an easy task. It takes a lot of effort. There needs to be a game of value produced. A majority of games that try to get a sponsorship do not get one.

Thank you for explaining it to me. So what you are inclining is hiring a flash developer for a % of sponsorship or the ad revenue and on the other hand paying upfront.

Are you able to provide me with information about how much would a game as complex as the ones stated in my first post cost to develop when we consider a mixed model: upfront cash (well cash after programming is done) + % of revenue? Lets say 20%.

 
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The value of the game itself, the cost of the sponsorship for the game, and how much hiring someone to make a clone of a game are 3 entirely separate values probably far apart from each other.

The value of each of those games is probably (all minimum estimates here) $50k+ for Infectonator2, $100k+ for GemCraft Labyrinth and $150k+ for Bloons TD5. Complete estimates though. They all have micro-transactions and should be making lots of money.

The sponsorship of those games were different as well. Infectonator was the only truly sponsored game (Armor Games) probably upwards of 15-20k. Gemcraft Labyrinth was kinda sponsored AFAIK, I think there was a deal with doing a series and they get a huge amount of money in funding before the games are even made. Bloons was made and published by the developers (NinjaKiwi), so no sponsorship.

For a clone of these games, you might get one for a few hundred to a few thousand. Good clones might be lots more. And for these good clones they probably will want an upfront payment maybe with a % cut.


You might be wondering why there aren’t a lot of people trying to make money if you can do it so cheaply. There are. Most found out that the money is mostly in micro-transactions and are doing games with them (like MMO games). Or they realized they can get rich from investing in these games and becoming a sponsor.

Also keep in mind that if you can only turn out 1 or 2 of these games a year, that is hardly anything to live off. ;)

EDIT: Relevant link, courtesy of Draco18s:

 
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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

The value of the game itself, the cost of the sponsorship for the game, and how much hiring someone to make a clone of a game are 3 entirely separate values probably far apart from each other.

I can’t believe this forum doesnt have a + by every post function, I’d give you ten!

Could you share (could be in private) what kind of revenue did you make from some of your games?

I’m looking at game making atm more as additional revenue and someting I’d love to do even for free while being paid for it, so living off it is not necessary at the beggining, I could even invest some money into it.

After what you have said, I found I’m asking the wrong questions around here. So a right one for a change: How much time/money would it take for something simple to be programmed, assuming all graphics, precise description of how things work and how are linked together and sound would be provided? I’m talking about game with complexity around that of Dungelot.

 
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@Bronsoner, if you want some revenue statistics, I suggest you check this link : https://www.fgl.com/report_monthly_site_sales.php . It have live statistics on the game sales on FGL’ where most of the flash games get sponsored.

As for living out of flash game, it’s definately something possible, and many developers are doing it. But for that, you need a lot of experience and talent, and to work very hard, cause it’s surely not easy. You also need to consider that the market is in constant movement. Today, the sponsorship model is very popular, and each month, some games get sponsored for > 10k. But maybe in 1 or 2 year, the market will have shift to MTX or mobile.

PS. Stats may seem encouraging, but even though tons of games sells for many thousand $, as UG said, most of the games don’t sell at all. Only the best ones manage to sell.

I just played Dungelot. The game is very nice, and doesn’t seem too complex. I think it could be done in 50 hours of work (that’s my estimate, I might be wrong). From then on, if you calculate that a programmer could cost you $20 per hour, by example, you arrive at around $1000 to develop a game like that. Might be very inexact though.

But I don’t suggest investing money into it, at least, not before you can start making revenue, and knowing the market better. You should definately start on a full partnership basis, by example, sharing profits at 50/50, between you and a programmer.

 
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Originally posted by Bronsoner:

How complex from a programmers point of view are games like Baloons TD5, Infectonator 2 or GemCraft Labyrinth? How many hours of programmers work are we looking at here?

~50-1000 hours; but I haven’t played Infectonator before

Bloons TD can be pretty quick (~100 hours) if you go down the right design path

It’s mainly games like Don’t Shit Your Pants Fantastic Contraption with lots of physics and UI elements or massive games like Runescape where there’s little repetition of game mechanics (unlike in TDs) that take a while to make

There is huge disparity in both what a programmer is capable of doing and how long it takes a programmer to complete a given task

 
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Originally posted by Sanchex:

@Bronsoner, if you want some revenue statistics, I suggest you check this link : https://www.fgl.com/report_monthly_site_sales.php . It have live statistics on the game sales on FGL’ where most of the flash games get sponsored.

Thank you, that is very usefull. I’m interested in gamemaking more in terms of business than a job – if you want to know more, check out full description of what i have in mind here http://www.kongregate.com/forums/4-game-programming/topics/319791-jojn-a-team-make-a-game-earn-money-get-equity

You meant 50 hours of programmers work or overally? Just to be sure.

 
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Originally posted by Dealmaster13:
Originally posted by Bronsoner:

How complex from a programmers point of view are games like Baloons TD5, Infectonator 2 or GemCraft Labyrinth? How many hours of programmers work are we looking at here?

~50-1000 hours; but I haven’t played Infectonator before

Bloons TD can be pretty quick (~100 hours) if you go down the right design path

It’s mainly games like Don’t Shit Your Pants Fantastic Contraption with lots of physics and UI elements or massive games like Runescape where there’s little repetition of game mechanics (unlike in TDs) that take a while to make

There is huge disparity in both what a programmer is capable of doing and how long it takes a programmer to complete a given task

Another great answer. Thank you.

Now 100h doesn’t look very intimidating. That could mean practical time of 4 weeks (everything takes longer than expected). Does 100h include wiping out most bugs as well or just creating a pretty raw game?

 
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Originally posted by Bronsoner:

Now 100h doesn’t look very intimidating. That could mean practical time of 4 weeks (everything takes longer than expected).

Exactly

Originally posted by Bronsoner:

Does 100h include wiping out most bugs as well or just creating a pretty raw game?

100 hours would include every programming aspect polished suitably for release – best case scenario (100 hours is pretty much as fast as a reasonably capable programmer with clear thinking will be able to create a Bloons TD clone from scratch; I’m confident to say that it can take as little as 30 productive hours having already written a TD recently).

Don’t underestimate my comment about the estimated time span, however.
It can indeed easily take a programmer 500 hours instead of a meagre 100 to create a TD game. A TD game will require a lot of structure and good design practices to minimise the possibility of introducing bugs (a common theme to all games) and to enable the programmer to code efficiently and have the flexibility to expand the game without the chosen structuring of the project hindering him or her.
A naïve programmer, such as myself, can easily pick a series of poor solutions for implementing aspects of the game, resulting in not only the eventual need to scrap the project and start again, but also having resulted in unnecessary time wasted working with a faulty project, that is likely harder to maintain than a well-written and well-designed project (you can take it from me… I scrapped in the region of 500-1000 hours of work last Summer and I don’t regret that decision one bit; obviously if anything, I made that decision too late; everything I’m writing now, I’m close to absolutely happy with).

As a very brief run-down of the programming-intensive tasks for a TD game, we’ve got:
Character (enemy) movement
Tower placement
Tower targeting and firing mechanisms
Game UI

Then again, you’re telling us that you’re not the one that’s going to be programming for the project!

 
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Originally posted by Bronsoner:

Now 100h doesn’t look very intimidating. That could mean practical time of 4 weeks (everything takes longer than expected).

Exactly

When saying 30,100,500 hours, what kind of programmers you have in mind? How would I see the difference between them?

Even if I end up not programming, still this is very usefull knowledge. And if I ever do, I’ll remeber this advice. So dont hesitste to share.

What about solutions like http://www.flashdevelop.org/ or Stencyl?

 
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FD is fine

I’m not familiar with Stencyl, but if it’s got similar qualities to Game Maker, then it’s fine as well

Approx 1000 hours (typically 3 years of hobbying) of good AS3 and OOP experience and education should be sufficient qualities for the 100 hour bracket
The (higher) education aspect is likely quite significant, but I don’t know for sure

Someone who has only undertaken two or three medium-sized (~5k loc) AS3 projects will likely fit in the 500 hour bracket

Complete objective guesstimation here

 
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When saying 30,100,500 hours, what kind of programmers you have in mind? How would I see the difference between them?

Those 100-500-1000 hours was just a comparison between novice, advanced and expert programmer, to show how big a difference may be, that’s not an actual timing, you can never guess exactly how much time your project is gonna take.

By the way, I may be wrong but from reading your thoughts it looks like you keep game development just as a source of income, so I must say that with such philosophy you are doomed (except if you have someone very creative in your team). If you are creating a game only for money and nothing else, you may end up very disappointed.

 
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Those 100-500-1000 hours was just a comparison between novice, advanced and expert programmer, to show how big a difference may be, that’s not an actual timing, you can never guess exactly how much time your project is gonna take.

By the way, I may be wrong but from reading your thoughts it looks like you keep game development just as a source of income, so I must say that with such philosophy you are doomed (except if you have someone very creative in your team). If you are creating a game only for money and nothing else, you may end up very disappointed.

Well making money from games is something I want to do – doing stuff for free is cool till you graduate or if you got a very stable job – I don’t qualify. Don’t get me wrong – I can do it for free for some time, to learn, but not as a goal. If there was no fun in it, I’d just keep doing more of what I’m already doing with more money and less risk.

There are many urban legends about approach to projects like this – sure, individuals do succeed and come up with innovative ideas but it’s the companies that do games for big bucks (and no small degree of satisfaction) that bring products best cartered to player needs. It’s more about balance between fun and business than just fun or just business, but it is not said that those approaches will lead to failure. Be smart – watch those that succeed and listen to no one when it comes to recipes for success. People usually don’t know why they succeed.

 
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It’s more about balance between fun and business than just fun or just business

Well guess I was mistaken, this point of view is 100% alright.

I will not start a discussion on why “just business” model is wrong, but anyone can compare let’s say HOMM2 & HOMM5 and everything will become obvious. And that is why we have so many crappy modern games.

 
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@Bronsoner, I was wondering, do you already have a portfolio with some graphic design you do? Because, it can be good to know how it work, to have the best game design document either, but if you have no portfolio and no programming skills, you won’t go really far. So if you have a portfolio, it’s good. And if you don’t, you’d need to start building one. ;)

 
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I think your current worst enemy and the one that will bug you the most in the near future is the lack of knowledge. I will get to why and how in the middle of my post.

Could you share (could be in private) what kind of revenue did you make from some of your games?

My games combined have made much much less than the value I estimated for Infectonator 2’s Sponsorship.

After what you have said, I found I’m asking the wrong questions around here.

Yes. I have been asking what you have asked. Sanchex answered the question you should be asking.

Here is where the worst enemy comes in

I’m interested in gamemaking more in terms of business than a job

That is sort of a confusing statement. Because you are new to the field, you are less aware of the potential profits than someone who has been around a bit longer and asked a few more questions or done a bit more research. With flash games field it simply just isn’t that easy. Out of all the indie developers out there, you are looking at a select handful that actually make enough revenue to live off, much less make a profit for a whole team. Because you are interested in it as business, I believe you will find investing in games to be a much more satisfying job and one you might be more apt to be.

Well making money from games is something I want to do – doing stuff for free is cool till you graduate or if you got a very stable job – I don’t qualify.

The hour estimates people have given you show exactly how long your project will take — no one is sure. It takes as long as it will take and if it is rushed you risk losing money. A little money or a lot of money. I do not believe many collaborations will be able to instantly make money. My own game team took 1 year before we started making anything more than pennies. On my own I took 2 years before I started making more than pennies. Making games will most likely take considerable time (measured in many months) before you start making more than these pennies.

re: collab thread stuff – “Marketing”

You suggested that you would like to be the marketing lead. Because of your lack of knowledge in the field, I don’t think this would be the best choice. Marketing for flash games really is a lot more than just chatting with a few people that are your friends and asking them to play the game. It extends much farther into different sites with different purposes. It doesn’t just cover getting people to play the game, it covers getting people to sponsor the game. It covers getting people to host the game. It covers getting people to like the game. The only way you can get the knowledge in this field, of course, is through experience and asking questions.

re: collab thread in general

While Kongregate does provide a collaboration forum, I fear that, for the most part, the people on the forum have similar experience to you. Thus you will likely not be able to bypass all the comments I made in this post through the use of someone’s experience. But that is part of the adventure.


I’d love to comment more but it will be too long and someone will not read it. :/

 
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Originally posted by Sanchex:

@Bronsoner, I was wondering, do you already have a portfolio with some graphic design you do? Because, it can be good to know how it work, to have the best game design document either, but if you have no portfolio and no programming skills, you won’t go really far. So if you have a portfolio, it’s good. And if you don’t, you’d need to start building one. ;)

Not really – I don’t. Could you point me to some very good portfolios of game designers?

 
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@OP
How much:
I saw StarFireGold (a professional programmer) quote 15-15kUS$ for 3-4 months, at someone looking to pay a coder to code their game. I’ve also seen them interested in joining a collab only for revenue share because they liked the art. It depends what you have to offer.

How long:
I could make a TD in…probably ~2 hours, but it’d be shit. TD5, Gemcraft lab….I think they both took more than a year. You just keep going until it’s done. And then you fix it. And then you balance it. And then you polish it. You really can’t get firm timetables, especially trying to drag together some team of amateurs. (which is almost everyone around here)

Business vs job:
Just getting making games to be a job is a REALLY big ask. A business? Give up.
Like UG says, sounds like you’d be better off running your own portal. If you can get a profitmaking portal, you can presumably have a fair bit of influence over game designs, by offering good sponsorship deals to make a sequel to your favourite flash games.

How to make games:
If you want to make games as a hobby anyways, I’d suggest you start advertising yourself as ‘artist seeking programmer’, and link to some examples of your work.
FlashDevelop is fine, but basically you go with whatever the programmer wants to use.

I really don’t think you stand much chance of making a business out of something that so many people already do for free as a hobby.

 
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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

I think your current worst enemy and the one that will bug you the most in the near future is the lack of knowledge. I will get to why and how in the middle of my post.

Well i feel you just made some asumptions that are not entirely true. I do value your advice, so I’ll provide you with some backgroud to hopefully steer this conversation into some more practical area.

I may be totally new to game development but I’m not new to the game market and since I was able to sell and market products from health nutrition to complex hr solutions I think I can handle a well organized market like this one. So please, lets stick to the stuff that is helpful – developing really good games and costs of doing so.

 
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It is hardly a well organized market. There are a dozen ways to talk to someone. When they might end up shelling out a few thousand dollars for your product instead of a few dozen dollars, certainly their expectations are much different and certainly the way to approach them is much different. I would say having experience in marketing in general is great, but it won’t necessarily lead to the instant success in a different field.