The gaming industry is perhaps the only place where you will find innovative artists whose creative skills are combined with a calculated business sense. Let’s take a look at some of the most expensive video games in terms of their developing and marketing costs.
5. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is the seventh title in the Final Fantasy series, and is by far its best-selling installment. The game was published and developed by Square, and launched in January 1997 in Japan for the PlayStation. It was also the first installment from its series to be launched in Europe, along with being the first installment to use 3D graphics and rendered models, providing a more lifelike depiction of the characters.
Final Fantasy VII was quick to become successful, both critically and commercially, due to great promotional campaigns prior to its release. The game has consistently sold well, selling 10 million copies as of May 2010. Critics have praised its gameplay, the direction (guided by Yoshinori Kitase), musical composition (by Nobuo Uematsu), the storyline (written by Kitase and Kazushige Nojima), and the graphics, which were designed by Tetsuya Nomura.
Development for the game originally began in 1994. It was initially planned to be launched for the Super Nintendo, and later shifted to the Nintendo 64. However, the producers then decided to release it for the PlayStation due to lack of storage capacity in the Nintendo 64, and development was picked up again in 1995. The additional storage space and graphics enabled the team to incorporate a full-motion video that was over 40 minutes long. Approximately 120 designers and developers worked together on Final Fantasy VII, using 3D PowerAnimator and Softimage software.
The installment was considered the most costly game at the time, with an assessed marketing cost of $100 million, a total cost of $145 million, and a budget of $45 million (worth $64 million today). Along with being released for the PlayStation and the PC, in 2009 the game was launched in Japan, Australia, Europe, and North America for the PlayStation Network (PSN). Final Fantasy VII became the fastest-selling PSN game within two weeks of its release; it was downloaded more than 100,000 times.
The game has been awarded several Game of the Year honors since 1997. These include “Console Adventure Game of the Year” and “Console Role Playing Game of the Year.” It was also nominated in the categories “Interactive Title of the Year,” “Outstanding Achievement in Art and Graphics,” and “Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Design” at the Academy of Interactive Art & Sciences’s first annual Interactive Achievement Awards. The game has also been selected by numerous magazines as one of the best-selling video games of all time, such as EGM’s 100 Best Games of All Time in 2001, Retro Gamer’s 100 Games in 2004, IGN’s Top 100 Games of all Time, and PALGN’s Greatest 100 Games Ever in 2005. It was selected in the All-Time 100 Video Games by Time magazine in 2012.
But perhaps its biggest achievement is that Final Fantasy VII is often credited as the game “that sold the PlayStation” and paved the way for other role-playing games (RPG) to target markets outside of Japan.
4. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts (EA) and LucasArts, Star Wars: The Old Republic was first publicized at a press event that took place on October 21, 2008. It was released in Europe and North America for Microsoft Windows in December 2011. The game’s first cinematic trailer, called “Deceived,” was shown at the Electronic Arts Press Conference in June 2009, followed by a live public demo on Gamescom.
The game received widespread critical acclaim, especially for its storyline. The story is set in the fictional universe of Star Wars nearly 3,500 years before the events shown in the films, and 300 years after the events in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games. The game was also praised highly by the Gamers Foundation 2012 for its numerous options and accessibility features, such as multiple action bars, in-built mouse sensitivity, area and auto looting, along with queue-able actions. SWTOR marked BioWare’s first entry into the online multiplayer and RPG segment. It became the second Star Wars game to do so, following Star Wars Galaxies, which was shut down.
The game’s official website received immense amount of traffic within minutes of its release, and had to be changed to accommodate the influx of visitors. It received one million subscribers within three days of its release, and soon became the fastest-growing massively multiple online game (MMO) ever. According to its producers, SWTOR was credited as having additional story content as compared to other games in the Star Wars franchise. Upon further analysis, a 2008 October preview revealed that 12 full-time writers had been working on the project for more than two years. The game broke the record of the “Largest Entertainment Voice-Over Project Ever,” with more than 200,000 lines of documented dialogue, a feat recognized by the Guinness World Records in January 2012.
Although BioWare has not officially disclosed the game’s development and marketing costs, financial analysts have estimated it to be between $150 million and $200 million, easily making SWTOR one of the most expensive video game at the time of its release.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision (ATVI), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the sixth title from the Call of Duty series. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in the second half of 2009. The game introduces several upgrades from the previous installments, such as new weapons and equipment. Generally considered as a first-person shooter game (FPS), it requires the player to assume the role of several characters, changing perspectives as the story progresses. Infinity Ward used the IW engine, which was specifically developed for the Call of Duty series, in order to accommodate larger worlds, detailed graphics, and effective rendering of characters. The game engine has also been used by Raven Software and Sledgehammer Games.
CODMW2 sold approximately 4.7 million units in the UK and the US in the first 24 hours of its release. Total revenues from first-day sales were $310 million, making the game the biggest entertainment launch in history, surpassing even its predecessor Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in terms of revenues. As of January 2010, the game had garnered over $1 billion in sales. It also managed to gather eight million players online within its first five days, constituting the largest group of players in the world. The game had accumulated 25 million unique players as of March 8, 2010. Overall, it has received high praise and awards from several publications and gaming sites. Amongst these included the “Best Shooter” and “Best Multiplayer,” given at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards.
With an estimated development cost of $40-50 million, marketing cost of $150 million, and a total cost of $200 million, Modern Warfare 2 is easily among the most expensive video games ever produced.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is the fifth installment in the Grand Theft Auto series, developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. The immensely popular game is set within the fictional state of San Andreas, based on Southern California. It was launched on September 17, 2013 for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
Development for GTA 5 began in 2009, under a team of over a thousand people, consisting of Rockstar North’s core team as well as staff from the studios of Rockstar Games around the world. Played from a third-person perspective, the action-adventure game follows three criminals and their efforts to perform several thefts while being pressured by a government agency. The story progresses as players complete missions with fixed objectives. The depicted world is larger than the world in earlier games. It can be explored with hardly any restrictions, with more gameplay content being unlocked as the story develops. Of course, GTA 5 would not be complete without the usual cussing, sexual themes, and graphic depiction of violence.
Upon the first day of its release, Grand Theft Auto V broke industry sales records by ramping up $800 million in revenues. It reached $1 billion by the third day of its release, and became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history, breaking the previous record set by Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which surpassed the billion dollar mark on its 15th day in the market.
GTA 5 won several awards from numerous gaming publications. It received an appraisal score of 97% and 96% for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively, by GameRankings, making it one of the highest-rated games on its website. With a budget of $265 million, it ranks at number 2 on our list of the most expensive video games ever produced.
The upcoming multiplayer FPS video game Destiny was revealed to have a budget of $500 million, including developing, marketing, and other expenses. It has broken the previous record held by Grand Theft Auto V, becoming the most expensive video game ever produced. Destiny’s budget is 2.5 times the amount that EA spent on developing SWTOR, and nearly twice as much as what Rockstar Games spent on GTA 5. The figure even trumps Hollywood blockbusters such as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which had a budget of $300 million, which had made it the most expensive film ever produced.
Developed by Bungie and published by Activision, Destiny is set to be released for the PS3, PS4, the Xbox One, and the Xbox 360, on September 9, 2014. The game takes place 700 years in the future, against a post-apocalyptic backdrop following a period of hi-tech progression called the Golden Age. The first reference to Destiny was made in Bungie’s Halo 3: ODST, which was released in 2009, where a photograph of the Earth with a cryptic orb was shown, along with a sign on a wall that read “Destiny Awaits.”
A new two-minute trailer for the game was released earlier this week by Sony Corporation (SNE) for the PS4. The trailer features members from Bungie’s development studio, such as community manager David Dague and head of community Eric Osborne, who offer insights into the game’s various multiplayer options and features, along with footage from behind the scenes. A preview of Destiny’s combat and gameplay can also be seen in the trailer, as well as discussions on what can be expected from the addition of the player-controlled characters.
Activision believes that the game is a billion-dollar franchise that will bring in a lot of revenues, especially due to the attraction of Destiny’s innovative multiplayer features as well as Bungie’s earlier fame from the Halo series. However, it is evident that Destiny is a huge gamble on Activision’s part; the game will have to sell at least 15-16 million copies in order to break even. The large amount of money spent on the game also explains the delay in its release, as Bungie is taking its time to establish the billion-dollar franchise.
CEO and President of the Activision Publishing subsidiary, Eric Hirshberg tweeted: “We believe Destiny could be Activision Publishing's third billion-dollar franchise, and we're working hard to make it the biggest new IP launch in video game history.”