Ron Gilbert explains how video game budgets work

    
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Ron Gilbert explains how video game budgets work

If you’ve never designed a game for money, you probably do not have a very clear picture of what video game budgets look like. This is honestly not unusual; if you don’t work in plumbing, you probably do not have a very clear picture about how to price out installing a new tub. But it also means that a new entry from Ron Gilbert (the man behind classics such as Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island) about the distribution of funds and budgeting for his upcoming game Thimbleweed Park is particularly enlightening.

The spreadsheet Gilbert shows off outlines where all of the money is going, accounts for ramping up production times, and breaks down the amount of money it takes to produce even a small game with a relatively small team. Gilbert points out that even a project as small as his easily costs $20,000 – $30,000 a month just to keep moving forward, something worthy of consideration when discussing MMOs and the Kickstarted budgets thereof.

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dorn2
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dorn2

Edany (AmberACurtis) 
I think people don’t even understand how much employing them at their own job costs.  Between health insurance, building costs, equipment, electricity, etc, etc it all adds up fast.  The end cost per employee is something they quickly forget.

Edany (AmberACurtis)
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Edany (AmberACurtis)

Coming from the world of Accounting, I have a fairly good idea of what it takes to run a business since I help stare at their financials all day. Perhaps that is what gets me so worked up when I hear some 20-year old barely out of school bitch and moan about being “ripped off” by having to pay for a subscription, or having to pay for anything in a game otherwise. If they had half a clue, they’d shut their flippin’ pie holes and be grateful to pay that measly $15 per month.
It is also why I felt so comfortable in backing Mark Jacobs with Camelot Unchained. Say what you will about the man’s history (which to me is still top notch one of the best in the industry), he has the needed experience to not only make a great game, but he has a real understanding of what it actually takes to deliver on that game. He isn’t just an art designer that decided he could somehow do it better, but he has actual business acumen. Combined with his previous experience, I have no doubt that Camelot Unchained will be a thing. I can’t honestly say that about much of anything else except Crowfall, and that is again because of the experience of their team and the money they’re throwing behind it.
When I see someone like Brad McQuaid throw out a Kickstarter – I don’t even give it a second glace, let alone a serious look. Unlike the world of investing – past performance, in this case, *is* an indicator of future performance.

GabeNewellFetish
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GabeNewellFetish

shadowblender Of course, this only cover’s Ron’s situation. Every situation is different.

I’m a one-man software dev shop and I don’t need to deal with advertising or going to events like E3 or others, because I don’t need my product to make a million dollars. And because it’s the age of the internet. I don’t need an advertising campaign and budget or go to meat-space events to promote and spread my software around to people when I have the free unlimited world of the internet at my fingertips.

Someone to create music and sound effects can be incredibly expensive or pretty cheap. It depends on what you need and who you can work with. I found a guy in Sweden via the internet who makes some tremendous music. I think he is on the verge of blowing up in the synthwave/retrowave scene. I’m surprised he hasn’t *already*. For less than $300 USD we worked very collaboratively and he created several looping bits of music for my project (each loop is around 90s or so). Plus two whole theme songs with two whole variations of each one. That’s almost 11 minutes worth of music for $300 (and frankly, he charged me less than that but I paid extra because his work is so good and I was so grateful for his talent).

I also had someone create an intro video (fully rendered 3D animated 90 second video) for my stuff and design my logo from scratch. And an animation of my logo. And a mix of everything that was worked into a 30 second “trailer” version. This was done by a professional musician and animator in the pacific northwest who works for a big media firm during the day and works for huge national corporate campaigns and television and film. For all of this, he charged me $1500 and we spent hours and hours every night all night online working together (very collaborative to make sure I got what I wanted – he was great) for two full weeks.

The only part that I couldn’t/haven’t dealt with is testers, translation, and voice-acting/recording. And as a one-dude project, I have no need to pay employees. And that’s where, in my experience int he past, the real cost comes in. It’ snot a simple issue of paying someone $15/hr for the work they put in. It’s $15/hr for the work, plus social security, plus payroll taxes, plus legal obligations, plus all sort sof other related overhead… simply for that *one* employee. It’s a killer.

Ron is playing on a different field though, from even most indie developers. And with a much larger potential audience. And even then, we’re not talking an MMO… an MMO is an entirely different *universe* with an incredibly complex set of long-term expenses and unforeseen sink-holes. There’s a reason big MMOs that have any success often cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

SallyBowls1
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SallyBowls1

Nunky Interesting but I bet you could get huge variations depending on what “maintaining” means.  
Servers, networking, billing?
Plus customer service & tech support?
Plus bug fixes or even some content?

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Then there are the costs associated with running it once it actually gets off the ground in the case of an mmo. Monthly costs that entail salaries, insurance, maintaining hardware, getting new hardware, software licenses, building/location costs,  internet connection lines (T-One lines etc), adding “more” servers if your game takes off and you need more shards/servers to handle the influx of new players etc etc etc.. 

Of course then there is diverting some of your employees to work on new content while others maintain and fix things that come up with the current content. Or hiring more employees and then the time it takes to train them on your software/hardware. So many ongoing costs and that’s before you can even consider looking at maybe just maybe making a profit. 

 Crazy industry because meanwhile you have the players who might causing you nightmares due to wanting free this or free that or complaining LOUDLY that you’re ripping them off. Yep, an industry I’d never ever want to work in. I’ve got nothing but sympathy for anyone who works in this industry as a career. I couldn’t do it.

Styopa
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Styopa

shadowblender Can you please comment on pretty much every story?  My god, you’d save me hours a day.

shadowblender
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shadowblender

Long story short: money for employees, testers, music( they charge 1000 $ for 1 minute wtf), translation, voice recording, mobile, advertising, going to events(E3 and so on), software, legal, accounting.

Omedon
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Omedon

Thoughts like this are why I’m very tentative and arms-length with even my one remaining KS-MMO interest, Shards Online. I’d love for them to strike it big within a pace that they can handle (another variable I’m wary about), but honestly, the reason I even keep them on the radar is because I hope that if the project falls flat, it happens after the point that my friends and I all have or have access to the client to use locally. I don’t need it to live long, I just need it to live. I can’t say I’d ever invest in the very creation of a game that I needed live for a long time on its own power.
To be harshly blunt: When it comes to MMOs, unless you’re a fundraising freak of nature like Star Citizen, if you need to ask me for money just to get off the ground, I don’t have a lot of confidence in your longevity.