When you think of the 1950s, many people conjure up images of soda fountains, poodle skirts, hula hoops, and probably some of the coolest looking automobiles ever made. In terms of video games, many people think that pinball machines were the closest the 1950s would get. Not many people know that the 1950s is actually the first decade to give the world video games. These games were few and weren’t accessible to the general public as they had to be played on massive computers that took up an entire room. It wouldn’t be until the 1970s when the world would see home consoles and be able to purchase their own video game titles.
Fast forward to 2014. We now have huge multi-million dollar games that have turned video games into a multi-billion dollar industry, very similar to the film industry. Heck, many games today include voice-work by or even star big name Hollywood actors and actresses. The money to market these games often trumps actual production costs by as much as 200-300%. The following games are some of the most expensive games the industry has paid to produce.
10. Tomb Raider (2013) – $100 Million
Square Enix was taking a huge gamble spending this much money on a reboot. To see profitability the company would need to sell 5-6 million copies worldwide. Many believed the Tomb Raider series had run its course but Square Enix had faith.
After a very disappointing launch of 3.4 million, the company wasn’t sure what to do. After already suffering huge losses that year, Square Enix was banking on Tomb Raider and a couple other hit titles to make up for those losses. Fortunately, by the end of the year, Tomb Raider broke even and began seeing profitability. This is good news for players too since Square Enix has put out a number of incredible video games over the decades.
2013’s Tomb Raider is a reboot of the extremely popular video game series that first dropped on the original Play Station console. The original became very well known for its highly sexualized protagonist that even appeared in men’s magazines as a sex symbol in the 1990s. A series of films starring Angelina Jolie would follow.
9. Red Dead Redemption (2010) – $100 Million
Rock Star Games is no stranger to putting a lot of money into a video game. Heck, it’s payed off too since the Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most popular series of video games, possibly ever. It’s no surprise the company had a lot of faith in Red Dead Redemption, it’s pretty much Grand Theft Auto on horseback. It was a hit as soon as it was conceived and it could very well be the greatest true Western game ever made if you aren’t looking at Oregon Trail through nostalgia-colored glasses. It’s reviews consistently hovered around 95 out of 100 on aggregate sites like Metacritic.
The title could still prove to be an excellent return on the large investment as Brad Pitt was rumored to be a possible star in a theatrical adaptation of the Game of the Year title holder.
8. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) – $100 Million
This installment of the massively popular franchise brought the series back to its roots in the fictional Liberty City and back into the present day. It’s two predecessors, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, had been period pieces (set in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively) and took place in different cities. The newly remade Liberty City had a massive open-world map. The game proved to be a financial success and was adored by critics. Since the release of GTA V, GTA IV has become one of most panned installments by many gamers. Regardless, there is no mistaking that it was $100 million well spent for Rock Star.
7. Disney Infinity (2013) – $100 Million
This game is a tricky one to rate on the list because it’s constantly growing and has the added element of collectible toys that are added into the game through a code that comes with the purchase of the figurines. The base cost of production is $100 million but that grows as more toys are produced. The toys are little figures of various Disney and Pixar characters that can join the player on their adventures through the open sandbox world of the game. This is very similar to the concept behind the game Skylanders.
This is an incredible business model because the company pays to develop one game but continues to sell scores of action figures on the side. If a kid gets tired of playing with the characters of the film The Incredibles, they go out and buy figurines of the characters from Monsters, Inc. Once they’re bored with characters from Monsters, Inc. they go purchase a Captain Jack Sparrow figurine. Not to mention that some kids just like collecting the toys and may never even get to using all of them in the game.
6. Max Payne 3 (2012) – $105 Million
Max Payne 3 received a lot of critical acclaim but financially it just wasn’t the hit a video game with production costs like this needed. After shipping 3 million units to video game retailers across the globe, the first month of sales yielded a meager 440,000 copies. It would take nearly a full year to sell 4 million copies, which isn’t something Rock Star (there’s that name again!) is used to. Rock Star shut down their Vancouver studio following the poor sales numbers.
4. Final Fantasy VII (1997) – $145 Million
This is the game that started the idea of “video games as blockbuster movies”. It was even paralleled to big blockbusters in its TV spots. The cinematic cut-away scenes in the game were breath-taking and it’s no wonder it was a commercial success and critical success. It’s spawned it’s own movie and many fans still wait for a Final Fantasy game that is a direct sequel to this installment.
Final Fantasy VII actually has the lowest development cost out of any game on this list. In fact, if we stretched it to a thirty item list, it would still be one of the cheapest three games to develop. It’s the $100 million spent to market the game that places it at a total production cost of an estimated $145 million. Fortunately, those ads payed off. In 1997 Final Fantasy VII was the game to be playing, whether you were a fan of the RPG genre or not.
4. Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011) – $200 Million
This is arguably the best Star Wars game ever made and is considered one of the top ten games in the world.
The Old Republic is a massive-muliplayer online (mmo) that put the player in the Star Wars universe as a character of their own design. It’s speculated the game made $139 million dollars on top of the fact the game required a monthly subscription fee. The game has since gone “free-to-play” however many features require payment to be used so that’s a bit of a misnomer. Not only is it one of the most top ten expensive games produced, it’s also one of the top ten most profitable games of all time.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) – $200 Million
Of course a Call of Duty game makes the list. The first-person run-and-gun genre is amazingly popular and it would be foolish for a company to not put money into a safe-bet. These war-sims are played by both hard-core and casual gamers alike. Since the casual gamers are a big part of the sales of Call of Duty and similar games, these people need to be reached since they aren’t reading all the top gaming websites. Once again we see the biggest expense in the production is $150 million into marketing. Development costs themselves were rather low for a AAA game.
2. Grand Theft Auto V (2013) – $265 Million
Once again Rock Star makes the list. This installment added a lot for fans of the series. The open world was completely unlocked from the get-go and sports a rather popular online feature (though the launch of GTA Online was a little rocky). It also takes place in modern-day Los Santos and San Andreas, a fictional area introduced in the 1990s-based San Andreas installment that occurs outside of the main series.
The game had commercial and critical success with aggregate ratings hovering around 97%! This gives Grand Theft Auto V the distinction of being one the highest rated games of all time.
1. Destiny (2014) – $500 Million
Destiny hasn’t hit home consoles yet (the beta testing isn’t even until July of this year), but it holds the distinction of the most expensive game ever to produce. The development cost alone isn’t the most the industry has ever seen at $140 million, but the money put into marketing this much anticipated game is an estimated $360 million, putting total production costs at a whopping half-billion dollars!
Destiny is a first-person shooter set in an open world sci-fi universe. Games like this such as the Halo, Borderlands, and Mass Effect series always seem to do well. Games like these are a “safe-bet” for a company, much like super-hero flicks have become for film studios.