It’s not easy to wade through all of the data and find the most expensive video game or video game development of all time. This is due to the fact that developers and publishers rarely release official figures for their titles, and many of the numbers doing the rounds are actually only the estimates of experts and analysts. In addition there are the important roles played by inflation (when comparing older and current titles) and the impact of various costs. For large AAA titles, for example, the costs of marketing and advertising are many times higher than the pure development costs. In this list of the most expensive games of all time, we rely on official figures and expert estimates to reveal the total budget, including development and marketing costs.
500 Million Dollars? The Astronomical Budget of Destiny
One title, which goes hand-in-hand with the question of the most expensive video game production, is the 2014 release of the online shooter Destiny. Bobby Kotickm, the CEO of Activision, revealed in an interview that the total cost of Destiny would run up to 500 million US dollars—an astronomical sum. However, this amount is not easily verified. With pure development costs of around 140 million US dollars, Destiny is most certainly high up on our list and is definitely one of the most expensive video games of all time. If the costs of marketing, advertising, server maintenance and the ongoing development of the online shooter are factored in, then the figure of 500 million could turn out to be realistic—making Destiny the most expensive game.
GTA 5: Development Costs and Marketing Budget of 265 Million
Before Destiny, the fifth instalment of the Grand Theft Auto series occupied top spot for development costs. The pure development costs alone came in at 137 million US dollars, with marketing and advertising costs at the time of release adding an extra 128 million US dollars to the total. The open world gangster epic appears to have been worth every penny for developer Rockstar Games and for publisher Take-Two Interactive, and earned them record sums within a short space of time: In the first 24 hours alone 11.21 million copies of the game were sold, resulting in 800 million US dollars worth of income.
Star Wars: The Old Republic—An MMORPG with A Galaxy Of Expenses
The exact costs for the Star Wars online roleplay game are unknown, nevertheless the pure development costs alone are supposed to have been around the 200 million US dollar mark. In terms of development costs this makes Star Wars: The Old Republic the most expensive video game of all time. The project was ambitious right from the off: Developer studio Bioware and publisher Electronic Arts wanted to continue the success of the roleplay series Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR), one of the best Star Wars games, and carved out a niche in this segment that is similar to the success of World of Warcraft. One USP is the universal musical dialogue. Over 1,000 actors provided the voices for over 200,000 lines of dialogue for 4,000 characters, a feat that landed the game an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
Final Fantasy VII—The Expensive Fan Favorite
Among fans of JRPGs and in particular the Final Fantasy series, the seventh part, which was published in 1997 for the Playstation, is considered a particular highlight of the franchise. That’s why there was such universal joy upon the announcement from Square Enix at the E3 2015 that, buckling under fan pressure, a remake is already in the works. With development costs of close to 145 million US dollars, the original version is still one of the most expensive games, despite 20 years having passed. Almost 45 million was dedicated to development, and a staggering 100 million on international marketing activities—taking inflation into account this would come in at 214 million US dollars today for the development and marketing costs.
High Costs: Success Isn’t Always Guaranteed
The development of AAA titles always ends up more expensive, and developer studios as well as publishers happily use labels such as “most expensive video game ever” for their PR purposes. But costly development and high marketing budgets are no indication of a game’s potential success. These largely grandiose games made it into the Top 10 Budgets list, but commercial success is also a possibility with more modest budgets. Like the development costs for the fifth instalment of The Elder Scrolls series—roughly 85 million US dollars; a far from shabby figure, but still a far cry from the likes of GTA or Destiny. Nevertheless Skyrim is one of the most successful games of the last few years. Furthermore, smaller indie developers repeatedly prove that large, successful projects can be realized on a small budget. The best example is Minecraft, which was for a while a one-man project with no budget and became a global phenomenon—the Minecraft marketing machine is still going strong today.
Top 10 Most Expensive Video Games According to Pure Development Costs
- Star Wars: The Old Republic – approx. 200 million US dollars – release: 2011
- Destiny – approx. 140 million US dollars – release: 2014
- GTA 5 – approx. 137 million US dollars – release: 2013
- Star Citizen – already over 110 million US dollars – release: 2016 (TBC - still in development)
- Max Payne 3 – approx. 105 million US dollars – release: 2012
- GTA 4 – approx. 100 million US dollars – release: 2008
- Too Human – approx. 100 million US dollars – release: 2008
- Halo MMO – approx. 90 million US dollars – release: development stopped
- Red Dead Redemption – approx. 80 - 100 million US dollars – release: 2010
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – approx. 80 million US dollars – release: 2015