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Update:

Since we posted this article, Zach has posted some key amendments to his statements, in addition to emphasizing that they were rough numbers and says they were inaccurate. He continued in the tweet chain to explain that most of the team estimated the budget was closer to $47 million, and that teams are generally not privy to that information. He says that there is a general consensus among developers of the project that Dead Space 1‘s costs were somewhere around $37 million, but that is just an estimate. He explains marketing is generally equal to at least the budget for most titles (for example, CD Projekt Red spent $67 million on The Witcher 3, of which $35 million was on marketing) and that he wouldn’t go into expectations or profitability as that is generally even more opaque and kept away from the team.

He finished the thread by apologizing for the confusion and offering a simple RIP for Visceral Games.


Original Story:

In the wake of Electronic Art’s announcement regarding the shutdown of Visceral Games, one of the former developers of the studio has gone to twitter to casually discuss a beloved title under Visceral’s label; Dead Space 2.

Zach Wilson, a former designer for Battlefield: Hardline, Dead Space and other games, revealed on Twitter that the cost of Dead Space 2 was roughly $60 million in terms of development costs. The exact numbers are unknown, according to Wilson, but he does note that the studio was “merciless with their budget” for Dead Space 2 and it sold roughly 4 million units, which was not enough for Electronic Acts.

Wilson continues via twitter to note that an additional $60 million was put on top of the game for marketing, although he is unsure if that number is the exact marketing budget. We know at least $5-$10 million on the ill-fated “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2” ads is at least part of that budget. He does state that cuts from retailers and companies such as Microsoft are contributing factors to the game ‘failing commercially’ for the studio.

As a comparison, Wilson was asked on twitter what the cost was for the first Dead Space, and he guesses it was around $37 million. This too, however, can’t be a confirmed number either and what is unknown is the overall marketing of the title there.

Dead Space 2 was released by Visceral Games in 2011, at a time where the estimated costs of game development were growing at an exponential rate. It was estimated in 2014 that the average game falls within the budget Wilson presented here – costing around $60 million in development time alone – mostly due to various factors driving up costs. Some sources point to the use of focus groups for quality control, hiring professional and Hollywood actors for voice-over work, and the art assets of an average video game taking up the majority of a developer’s budget.

Other issues of cost are more immediate. Overhead costs for physical game copies has been a major issue for publishers, who can lose an estimated $15 per retailer for physical game copies, plus additional charges for distributions, platform royalties, and more. It was estimated in 2010 that a standard $60 video game only earns an average of $27 per publisher, which is roughly 45% of the total sale.

Wilson notes a sad truth regarding game development in his tweets, the use of first-party platforms for the digital sale of games. These digital marketplaces mean big money for big publishers. Steam, for example, takes in an estimated 30% of a games sale revenue, with the remaining 70% going to the publisher. Publisher-owned digital stores go even higher, raking in 90% of the total sale as profit, or $54 out of $60. Wilson even states this, using Ubisoft’s UPlay as an example.


Quick Take

It is rare to see concrete numbers for game development, despite many publishers being publically traded companies. The average development cost has been steady for a few years now but despite this, game costs at retail are the cheapest they have ever been. This too has dug into the sales of some video games like Dead Space 2, and why many companies today are following the gaming as a service model for their big named titles. It also does put into perspective EA’s move from a business standpoint – the closing of Visceral and the retooling of the untitled Star Wars game is going to make a lot more money in the long-term for them if it’s closer to that service model and fits the desired feedback of its target audience.

This is also why we see loot boxes so much now too – but that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice to say, Dead Space 2 is a prime example of the average cost of a game simply being too high to fit the standards of general game development, and it does make you wonder what it will take to bring those costs down… although it’s likely the use of loot boxes and microtransactions had already done that. 

What are your thoughts though? Leave your comments below. 


Robert Grosso

Staff Writer

A game playing, college teaching, erudite-minded scholar who happens to write some articles every so often. Have worked as a journalist, critic, educator and blogger for over five years now, with articles published (as user editorials) on Game Revolution and Giant Bomb as well as a contributor for the websites Angry Bananas and Blistered Thumbs. Now making TechRaptor my home.


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