Indie Dev Asks Whether $100,000 Is Enough To Make A Game

Indie Dev Asks Whether $100,000 Is Enough To Make A Game

image

Minimum cost to make a game = cost of living x time needed x team size, also known as penury.

"It was frustrating," says independent developer Hitbox "to not be able to find much data about whether indie game development is a realistic thing to do with your life." The team behind janitorial platformer Dustforce didn't know, going in, how much it would really need to make a game. It had $100,000, courtesy of an independent games competition victory, but would that be sufficient, it wondered. Since then Hitbox has worked out a costs formula, on the assumption that all you really need is to be able to cover basic living expenses and have access to the internet. The problem, as Hitbox saw it, was the X factor: time.

Or, as per Hitbox's formula, minimum cost to make a game = cost of living x time needed x team size. "How much does a year cost?" Hitbox asked itself. A year and a half was how long it thought Dustforce would take to make, and Hitbox had four mouths to feed, scattered all over the globe. About $20,000, it felt, was enough for one person to live frugally for one year - the cost of living - and as luck would have it one of the four was willing to live on savings alone. That meant that the $100,000 would last just enough time for Hitbox to finish making the game.

"It was cutting it a bit close," HItbox admits, "you don't want to finish the project with zero dollars in the bank." There are all sorts of things that can go wrong, and even if things go well, there's still a lag period between ship date and the first sign of profit. Plus, of course, Hitbox wants to be able to do this again, except that it will take longer next time - about 3 years, it estimates - and ideally the Hitbox team would like not to be living in penury during development. In the end, after all the Humble Bundles and other promotions, Hitbox is looking at something like $295,000 profit, after expenses and deductions, or about $4.41 in its pocket per $10 Dustforce sold.

So $100,000 was enough - just barely - and now Hitbox is looking to put its cash into its next project, Spire. "We are all humbled and elated by how well Dustforce has been received," Hitbox concludes. "The joy from our players is enough to keep us making games; the financial success is just an incidental blessing."

Source: Hitbox

Permalink

isn't it against the law to work within your means in well... ANY BUSINESS these days?

More proof that the members of video game development teams, even big-name ones, are just lowly artists working with the tools they are given.

That's quite simple for a lean company like Hitbox. Look at companies like EA and you'll find that the "bare minimum" is inflated by red tape and suit's salaries. Living together could further lower costs (if they aren't already), but to live with the same people you work with could sometimes put a strain on relationships.

Full:
More proof that the members of video game development teams, even big-name ones, are just lowly artists working with the tools they are given.

And many of these are expensive tools, no less. To be honest, I consider digital arts is one of the most overpriced markets out there as I feel that the general consensus is to place a high price on whatever program you made so that you can cash out on the artists' successful productions, which in return also raises their prices. These prices also make digital art programs one of the most pirated products - When artists, be it potential or established, have to steal their tools just to do their work or get started on their path, there is something seriously wrong with the market.

I picked up Dustforce in one of the Humble Bundles.. must give it a shot one of these days.

It's interesting his comments on whether or not $100k is/was enough to make a game; considering the Kickstarter goals for FTL and Xenonauts ($10k!! and $50k respectively), although I don't know at what stage in development either of those games were in comparison or how much, if any, outside funding was available to them; plus of course the fact that those games got considerably more than the asking price in the end (Xenonauts was 300% funded.. FTL 2,000%!).

Dr.Awkward:
That's quite simple for a lean company like Hitbox. Look at companies like EA and you'll find that the "bare minimum" is inflated by red tape and suit's salaries. Living together could further lower costs (if they aren't already), but to live with the same people you work with could sometimes put a strain on relationships.

Full:
More proof that the members of video game development teams, even big-name ones, are just lowly artists working with the tools they are given.

And many of these are expensive tools, no less. To be honest, I consider digital arts is one of the most overpriced markets out there as I feel that the general consensus is to place a high price on whatever program you made so that you can cash out on the artists' successful productions, which in return also raises their prices. These prices also make digital art programs one of the most pirated products - When artists, be it potential or established, have to steal their tools just to do their work or get started on their path, there is something seriously wrong with the market.

Don't remind me about how the "student" edition of Adobe Web Design costed me more than a semesters core curriculum book costs. The professionals have to pay over a grand for the software suite for crying out loud.

Dr.Awkward:

And many of these are expensive tools, no less. To be honest, I consider digital arts is one of the most overpriced markets out there as I feel that the general consensus is to place a high price on whatever program you made so that you can cash out on the artists' successful productions, which in return also raises their prices. These prices also make digital art programs one of the most pirated products - When artists, be it potential or established, have to steal their tools just to do their work or get started on their path, there is something seriously wrong with the market.

Except, there are a number of free and low-cost open source tools out there that can be used. Not all of them are as good as the professionally built tools, but some are damnably close. Of course, comfort-zone probably does play a part in what tools an artist will use.

Teoes:
I picked up Dustforce in one of the Humble Bundles.. must give it a shot one of these days.

Doitdoitdoit.

OP: Yeah, games are largely labor costs. Skullgirls is a good example of this with their Indiegogo campaign and whatnot. A lot of work goes into each Skullgirls character, and it took $150,000 to finish a single character. Just one. Hitbox is four people (one of which had no living costs), and in all honesty Dustforce isn't that large in scale, the aesthetics especially are quality over quantity. Lab Zero has seven people, four of which are dedicated to animation/visuals, not including Alex Ahad (Creative/Art Director).

Sure, you can make a game on $100,000, $40,000,000, or even ramen and energy drinks. It all depends on the scale of the project, skill of the team, and happenstance.

geizr:
Except, there are a number of free and low-cost open source tools out there that can be used. Not all of them are as good as the professionally built tools, but some are damnably close. Of course, comfort-zone probably does play a part in what tools an artist will use.

Working with/on games is kind of a hobby to me (modding).
The tools are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Adobe's software like Photoshop is a real lightweight. Autodesk software is where it's at. For a 3D game with decent outside environments you want those tools:
1. Autodesk Maya or 3DS Max
2. Autodesk Mudbox
3. World Machine or Terragen
4. Adobe Photoshop
5. An engine (Unreal, CryEngine, Unity, Unigine or whatever)

Here are the replacements:
1 and 2: Blender
3: Lithosphere
4: GIMP (starting with version 2.10)
5: Doesn't need a replacement.

Sounds alright, doesn't it?
The problem is that Lithosphere is discontented and broken and that GIMP 2.10 isn't available yet.

Teoes:
I picked up Dustforce in one of the Humble Bundles.. must give it a shot one of these days.

It's interesting his comments on whether or not $100k is/was enough to make a game; considering the Kickstarter goals for FTL and Xenonauts ($10k!! and $50k respectively), although I don't know at what stage in development either of those games were in comparison or how much, if any, outside funding was available to them; plus of course the fact that those games got considerably more than the asking price in the end (Xenonauts was 300% funded.. FTL 2,000%!).

FTL was very late in development when they went to kickstarter.

TheSniperFan:

geizr:
Except, there are a number of free and low-cost open source tools out there that can be used. Not all of them are as good as the professionally built tools, but some are damnably close. Of course, comfort-zone probably does play a part in what tools an artist will use.

Working with/on games is kind of a hobby to me (modding).
The tools are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Adobe's software like Photoshop is a real lightweight. Autodesk software is where it's at. For a 3D game with decent outside environments you want those tools:
1. Autodesk Maya or 3DS Max
2. Autodesk Mudbox
3. World Machine or Terragen
4. Adobe Photoshop
5. An engine (Unreal, CryEngine, Unity, Unigine or whatever)

Here are the replacements:
1 and 2: Blender
3: Lithosphere
4: GIMP (starting with version 2.10)
5: Doesn't need a replacement.

Sounds alright, doesn't it?
The problem is that Lithosphere is discontented and broken and that GIMP 2.10 isn't available yet.

There are replacements for 5 anyway, the Indie game I picked up recently is running on top of Torque (Originally made for Tribes 2, now available for free under the MIT license), and while its not exactly an engine Minecraft relies on the Light Weight Java Game Library (lwjgl) very heavily.

If GIMP 2.10 is really a viable replacement for photoshop I would suggest opening a snow plow business in Hell though.

A lot of it also comes down to training, I learned on Blender, and when I tried to use the SOs industry approved 3D software I was totally lost, the SO meanwhile doesn't have a clue how to use Blender, and probably never will.

Requia:
There are replacements for 5 anyway, the Indie game I picked up recently is running on top of Torque (Originally made for Tribes 2, now available for free under the MIT license), and while its not exactly an engine Minecraft relies on the Light Weight Java Game Library (lwjgl) very heavily.

If GIMP 2.10 is really a viable replacement for photoshop I would suggest opening a snow plow business in Hell though.

A lot of it also comes down to training, I learned on Blender, and when I tried to use the SOs industry approved 3D software I was totally lost, the SO meanwhile doesn't have a clue how to use Blender, and probably never will.

Of course, but Epic and CryTek offer licenses that are attractive for indies. You can replace them, but you don't have to.

What I was up to with GIMP 2.10 is that there is one really important feature that it introduces that Photoshop already has. I'm talking about support for high bit depths. Other than that you *should* be able to do more or less everything you need to for a game in GIMP. Depending on what you do, it might take longer and be harder.
But the same counts for Blender and all the other tools/engines. Part of the appeal of those expensive tools/engines is their comfort and guaranteed support.

But you're right. It's about knowing your tools. A great example is Dear Esther, which looks absolutely stunning, despite being made on the Source Engine, which usually doesn't look that great.
I always said that I'd much rather master GIMP, than be a noob with Photoshop.

Dr.Awkward:
That's quite simple for a lean company like Hitbox. Look at companies like EA and you'll find that the "bare minimum" is inflated by red tape and suit's salaries. Living together could further lower costs (if they aren't already), but to live with the same people you work with could sometimes put a strain on relationships.

The main difference is that EA pays even their lowest programmers a fuck of a lot more then these guys were living on. Hell if you assume they worked 40 hours a week what these guys were living off of was below minimum wage where I live.

geizr:

Dr.Awkward:

And many of these are expensive tools, no less. To be honest, I consider digital arts is one of the most overpriced markets out there as I feel that the general consensus is to place a high price on whatever program you made so that you can cash out on the artists' successful productions, which in return also raises their prices. These prices also make digital art programs one of the most pirated products - When artists, be it potential or established, have to steal their tools just to do their work or get started on their path, there is something seriously wrong with the market.

Except, there are a number of free and low-cost open source tools out there that can be used. Not all of them are as good as the professionally built tools, but some are damnably close. Of course, comfort-zone probably does play a part in what tools an artist will use.

That's true now, but that wasn't the case even 10 years ago.

The gimp is not incredibly user-friendly, but about on par with it's commercial equivalents in terms of features.

Blender has made great strides both in feature set and usability, but even 5 years ago it was leagues behind the programs professionals use. (Incedentally, professional 3d software is by far the worst offender of the lot. 3d Studio max is considered 'low end', and other than student licenses, it starts at about $6000. Maya is the current goto tool for most purposes, and it begins at $12000, but can easily jump up by huge bounds.)

But if you go back 10-15 years, a 2d art package that wouldn't send you bankrupt would be limited to something like Paint Shop Pro, and blender... Didn't exist in any realistic sense.
'cheap' 3d modelling packages would still set you back $500 easily, and didn't even come anywhere near the feature set the professional level packages offered.

To this day though, the worst position to be in with regards to software like that is being a modder.
Most game engines that let you import custom 3d models include import tools in their SDK's...
That's all well and good, but the game's internal formats are often proprietary, and the plugins they provide have for a really long time only ever catered to 3d Studio Max.
If you didn't have a copy of that, you could forget developing any 3d content for those games.

Now, I don't know about you, but I doubt many modders can justify the $6000 or so needed to buy a copy...

So what proportion of game mods made in the last 20 or so years that use custom 3d models not already in the game had content made for them using pirated 3d software?

Even now, while you can model in blender, good luck exporting the content to any mainstream titles. (Then again, modding support isn't what it used to be these days.)

---------------
OT: This calculation gets even messier if you try and factor in working hours.

There was a time when 60 hour weeks were 'normal' in the gaming industry, and '100' hour weeks were not unheard of at times.

If you are living on $20,000 a year, working on average 60-70 hour weeks, then your effective wages are... Probably not even half of minimum wage in most countries...

They could have halved their necessary yearly salary if they just moved back in with their parents: No food to buy, no rent/electricity/heating. It would just be petrol money and parking fees and they could blow the rest on hookers and blackjack!

Hero in a half shell:
They could have halved their necessary yearly salary if they just moved back in with their parents: No food to buy, no rent/electricity/heating. It would just be petrol money and parking fees and they could blow the rest on hookers and blackjack!

You're assuming the parents of the development team all live within drivable distances. They may well be, since I don't really know the devs in the article, but I'm willing to bet they don't.

TheSniperFan:

geizr:
Except, there are a number of free and low-cost open source tools out there that can be used. Not all of them are as good as the professionally built tools, but some are damnably close. Of course, comfort-zone probably does play a part in what tools an artist will use.

Working with/on games is kind of a hobby to me (modding).
The tools are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Adobe's software like Photoshop is a real lightweight. Autodesk software is where it's at. For a 3D game with decent outside environments you want those tools:
1. Autodesk Maya or 3DS Max
2. Autodesk Mudbox
3. World Machine or Terragen
4. Adobe Photoshop
5. An engine (Unreal, CryEngine, Unity, Unigine or whatever)

Here are the replacements:
1 and 2: Blender
3: Lithosphere
4: GIMP (starting with version 2.10)
5: Doesn't need a replacement.

Sounds alright, doesn't it?
The problem is that Lithosphere is discontented and broken and that GIMP 2.10 isn't available yet.

Oh, I do not at all deny the expense of the professional tools. I was simply offering that the open source tools may provide an option for reducing overall costs.

Little Gray:

The main difference is that EA pays even their lowest programmers a fuck of a lot more then these guys were living on. Hell if you assume they worked 40 hours a week what these guys were living off of was below minimum wage where I live.

Employees that have left EA routinely talk about mid-to-late development crunches, where they're working 6 days a week for at least 10-12 hours at a time. At least as an indie developer you can control your own schedule. At a company like EA, the stockholders decide when you're going to release the game, whether it's realistic or not (and whether it's finished or not). The main difference here is between self determination and job security.

TheSniperFan:

Here are the replacements:
1 and 2: Blender
3: Lithosphere
4: GIMP (starting with version 2.10)
5: Doesn't need a replacement.

Sounds alright, doesn't it?
The problem is that Lithosphere is discontented and broken and that GIMP 2.10 isn't available yet.

What do you mean by Lithosphere being discontented? It's not supported anymore? Because I watched a few videos on it, and it is exactly what I was looking for! Hoping it's still a viable development tool.

Well, FTL was made on ten thousand. So, yeah.

yamy:

Hero in a half shell:
They could have halved their necessary yearly salary if they just moved back in with their parents: No food to buy, no rent/electricity/heating. It would just be petrol money and parking fees and they could blow the rest on hookers and blackjack!

You're assuming the parents of the development team all live within drivable distances. They may well be, since I don't really know the devs in the article, but I'm willing to bet they don't.

Another potential is the dev team renting a house together, things get really cheap at that point!

Luca72:
What do you mean by Lithosphere being discontented? It's not supported anymore? Because I watched a few videos on it, and it is exactly what I was looking for! Hoping it's still a viable development tool.

It has huge problems with 64bit operating systems (which are the standard nowadays) and hasn't been updated in the last three years.
I, for example, cannot open or safe any files, which makes the tool useless for me.

saintdane05:
Well, FTL was made on ten thousand. So, yeah.

FTL was almost done before it went up on kickstarter. That $10,000 was to finish the game and add more content, not to build it from scratch.

CrystalShadow:
[

The gimp is not incredibly user-friendly, but about on par with it's commercial equivalents in terms of features.

While not quite user-friendly, it is a helluva lot more so than photoshop which seems incapable of doing simple things without making a mountain out of the molehill. Which is rather frustrating when you're forced to use it for your studies.

For an indie game the foruma is fine. not so for a big one. the big ones need to add expenses for graphic engines, outsourcing, rights to use brands ect. nto to mention bureaucracy, red tape, marketing costs that are not attributed directly to the game, but still are there.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here