Gaming is serious business, and by serious we mean $65 billion serious. This astronomical figure will be further inflated if we added the estimated $6 billion PC gaming market from emerging economies such as China. In consideration of the colossal sums at play here – it begs to be questioned, have video game budgets finally crossed the threshold of typical Hollywood movie funds?
And, that is where the shock of pretty penny is sprung upon you. So, without further ado, let us take a gander at the 10 most expensive video games ever made (and, yes – for the expectant GTA fans, Rockstar Games studio features a total of four times in this list of ten!).
*Note – Most game publishers do not officially release budgetary figures for their IPs. So, most of the figures mentioned in the post are according to industry analysts and media interviews.
10) DEFIANCE (2013) – $70-80 million
One of the very few video games that share an universe with an ongoing TV show, the MMO third-person shooter from Trion Worlds is estimated to have an budget of $70-80 million. Interestingly enough, many sources claim the game to be funded in conjunction with the TV show – borne out of the collaborative effort from both Syfy channel and Trion.
Unfortunately, despite its relatively trouble-free launch, Defiance has received mostly mixed critical scores, with its current Metacritic number reading 64 and GameRankings showing 65.81 percent. It finally went free-to-play for PCs in this month (after more than a year of its release), and is expected to adopt the same business model for the consoles in the coming month.
9) RED DEAD REDEMPTION (2010) – <$100 million
Rockstar Games draws its first blood on the opulent scale with the western action-adventure Red Dead Redemption. Released only for the earlier-gen consoles of PS3 and Xbox 360, the video game proved Rockstar’s creative worth that went beyond profanity-spewing city dwellers and noire crime stories. The reception was of course matched by the expansive budget that according to analysts, missed the $100 million mark by just a small margin.
The humongous investment seems to have paid off well, with Red Dead Redemption selling over 12 million copies after a year of its release. Currently, the game proudly holds an incredible Metascore of 95 and GameRankings percentile of 94.12.
8) GRAND THEFT AUTO IV (2008) – $100 million
Another ‘landmark’ product from Rockstar Games, the six year old Grand Theft Auto IV still flaunts its glitter and grandeur by the sheer scope of the digital Liberty City. Back in 2008, the endeavor became the costliest video game to create, with a colossal developmental budget of around a whopping $100,000,000.
And, as usual, Rockstar’s crafty investments seem to have their profitable runs – with the game breaking many records of the industry, including that of the fastest selling entertainment product with $310 million being generated in the first day itself! Selling well over 25 million copies by 2013, Grand Theft Auto IV holds a prodigious Metascore of 98 (for consoles), and 97.04 percent in GameRankings.
7) DISNEY INFINITY (2013) – >$100 million
There had to be a Disney entry when it concerned the opulent scheme of things. Well, the sandbox adventure Disney Infinity (developed by Avalanche Software and published by Disney Interactive Studios) fulfills this ritzy quotient with its ginormous budget of more than $100 million.
Disney Infinity is interestingly also one of the very few video games that combines real-time collectible figurines that can be synchronized with the virtual game scope. To that end, the project might account for one of the most expensive video game purchasable sets, with all the launch items (including the toys and discs) costing more than $450.
6) MAX PAYNE 3 (2012) – $105 million
Max is back, and bald than ever! Rockstar Games’ third foray into the extravagant realm, Max Payne 3’s overall budget is estimated to be beyond $105 million. That makes the highly acclaimed third-person shooter’s investment higher than even the ‘period-authentic’ L.A. Noire from the same publisher.
But was so much money being pumped into the venerable franchise worth the ‘trouble’? Well, some would believe it was – with the relatively tight yet unobtrusive development cycle and the video game shipping at least 3 million copies in the very first week of its release. Critical scores also back up the commercial ambit with Max Payne 3’s Metascore reading 87 and GameRankings percentile accounting for 86.
5) FINAL FANTASY VII (1997) – $145 million
While all the game entries in the list have been created after 2008, the Final Fantasy VII is unique in the sense that it can be considered ‘ancient’ by video game shelf life standards. The 17-years old RPG specimen from Square Enix (then Square) was groundbreaking in many avenues, including its whopping $145,000,000 budget!
Quite fascinatingly, almost $100 million of this massive budget was allocated for the marketing purpose of the game. This comes as no big surprise, as Final Fantasy VII was the first game of the venerable franchise to make its commercial debut in Europe, and also the first of the Final Fantasy series to adopt three-dimensional computer graphics.
4) CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 (2009) – $150-200 million
Arguably epitomizing the peak period of the Call of Duty franchise, the Modern Warfare 2 from developer Infinity Ward (and publisher Activision), was a huge commercial and critical success. And, the gargantuan budget fueling this first-person shooter juggernaut ranged from $150-200 million, with around $110 M to $160 M that sum being invested for global distribution and marketing.
Touted by critics as having one of the best multiplayer shooting experiences in the history of video games, Modern Warfare 2 did receive high over-80 scores in both Metacritic and GameRankings (despite user-scores that were not so flattering). Oddly enough, in spite of the game’s 22 million units being sold by 2011, it is Treyarch’s less-acclaimed Black Ops 2 that is the most profitable Call of Duty title till date.
3) STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC (2011) – $200 million
The epic scale of Star Wars is aptly represented by the production cycle of the Star Wars: The Old Republic from developer Bioware. According to the grapevine, the LucasArts/Electronic Arts-published MMORPG boasted of the following statistical figures – 800 people worked on the mammoth project from four different continents, and the end product entails 1600 hours of story, 4,000 characters – all voiced by over 1,000 actors, and that too in three different languages! What was the overall cost incurred for this heroic endeavor? Well, it is estimated to cross the astronomical $200 million mark.
Star Wars: The Old Republic also holds the record for the fastest growing MMO with over a million subscribers within three days of its ceremonious launch. Unfortunately, things have slowed down a bit for the grand space-fueled extravaganza – a trend that had surely influenced the game publisher’s decision to opt for a hybrid free-to-play model in the fall of 2012.
2) GRAND THEFT AUTO V (2013) – $265 million
The latest offering from Rockstar Games has convincingly made it to the list of extravagant video games with some glorious figures to bolster the sensation. One of among them is the endeavor’s mega budget of $265 million – that made GTA V the costliest game to make and market up till the year 2013.
The sales of GTA V are of course stuff of legend, with the open world adventure breaking at least seven Guinness World Records, including – the fastest entertainment property to smash the $1 billion mark (competitors included movies like Avatar and The Avengers), which was done in three days. Commercial domination was complemented by gamer accolades, with its current Metacritic score reading a uber-impressive 97.
1) DESTINY (2014) – $500 million
Finally we come to Bungie’s and Activision’s ‘mythic sci-fi’ love child – the one and only Destiny. With its extended 10 years-old development lifespan, the shooter/role-playing video game loftily holds the current record of having the highest budget allocated for a single video game – $500 million.
Naturally, many eyebrows were raised when Activision CEO Bobby Kotick first divulged the astronomical sum (that covers development, marketing and royalties). However, considering the publisher’s multi-billion dollar Call of Duty franchise is fast losing its shine, perhaps it was time for Activision to opt for a newer IP that would appeal to the more serious gamer. And, fortunately for the Destiny creators, the sci-fi hybrid-MMO shooter (with its beta to launch by July) was relatively well received by critics at the E3 2014. Still the game would need to sell at least 16 million copies just to break even!