It Costs How Much to Create a Game?!

This blog post appears on’s Hey, Digital Geek on Wednesday, October 3. Here’s a sneak preview. If you have any insight to add, please post them in the comments by end-of-day October 2nd and I might add it to the Kidscreen blog:

Here’s the setup: You have a great idea for an online game to go with your TV show. You approach gaming companies to help quote out the costs associated with its development and you’re told it can cost, say, $100,000 or higher. What’s your reaction?

If you cringed, please read on.

To help you understand why a game may cost more than you expected, here is a very loose rundown of what happens behind the scenes to create a game. Having this in your back pocket can help you ask the right questions to get the game you need:

1. Pre-Production: Here’s where the Technical Director, the Creative Director, a Project Manager and other team members pull together their resources to create documentation and guidelines for the game. They will develop a document that represents the games’ guiding vision. It can include things such as gameplay mechanics, concept art, user flow diagrams, target audience research, an outline of the game’s story, list of characters, the “user interface” (meaning, how a user will navigate the game), music/sound considerations and prototypes, among other elements.  This document can vary in size and scope and is important.

2. Development/Production: This can involve a team from one person to well over 50, depending on the complexity and scale of your game. This part can include programmers, project managers and designers.

The Programmers not only inserts code into the computer, they also figure out important elements such as physics of the game, manage and consider how the player would make the game work, consider ways to keep it fun, input sound, and make sure the game runs smoothly. He or she is typically run on a heavy diet of coffee and patience, and they’re usually perfectionists. There can be more than one programmer on your game.

The Project Manager will be your best friend. He or she will be the person who makes sure things are running on schedule and on budget, while also ensuring quality. This person will be under stress about 90% of the time, and if you decide to add a new character or element to the game during this stage, expect exasperation.

The Designer, not surprisingly, creates the visual aspects of the game.  He or she can create original animations and art based on your live-action TV show to make it appear in a game, or can take assets from your animated series to bring them to life in a game environment. Designers produce concept art, character art, backgrounds, animations and work with the programmer to consider the user interface. Every designer I’ve worked with takes constructive criticism well, and they can be trusted to know what they’re doing.

3. Post-Production: this part is all about testing and deployment. The Quality Assurance tester (QA tester) will often play a role during the production/development phase. Things never run smoothly during online development. Bugs happen easily. The game can work perfectly on one computer and then as soon as it’s on the testing environment, things can go horribly wrong –  and sometimes it can take a team of sleuths to go through the code, line-by-excruciating line, to find a solution.

Gaining insight into why things may cost the way they do will definitely help you negotiate a price and game that works for your needs. Asking the right questions will help ensure your online experience is everything you and your audience wants – making it worth every penny.