Video games are big business these days. What started with a cute yellow circle eating dots and being chased by pixelated ghosts in Pac-Man has blossomed into an industry worth $66 billion.
With the release of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 consoles this fall, the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Nintendo’s Wii U has already sold 4 million consoles since its release in 2012. Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are not far behind, with each selling more than 3 million units in just the past few months.
Video games now feature dozens of hours of gameplay, intricate plots, fully developed characters, mind-blowing special effects, and celebrity voice actors. If you’re thinking all of that must cost money, you’re right. Development costs for the top video games now rank with the budgets of even the most expensive feature films ever made.
The game studios that invest this money into making rich and immersive games aren’t doing so out of charity. Unlike movies which often take months to recoup their budgets, it’s not uncommon for a major video game to make back its development money in the first day of its release — sometimes in the first few hours the game is available for sale.
Due to this trend, game developers are more willing to spend more and more because consumers have shown they have got a big appetite for big game experiences.
Here is a look at the top ten most expensive video games ever made.
10 Crysis 3 — $66 Million
The third installment in the Crysis first-person-shooter series was developed by the German studio Crytek, and published by industry behemonth Electronic Arts. The game is set in a futuristic New York City in the year 2047, and the developers didn’t hold back on detailed, realistic graphics of the future dystopia. Crysis 3’s visual effects receive universal acclaim from game critics.
9 Shenmue — $70 Million
Shenmue is an adventure game released all the way back in 1999 for the now-defunct Sega Dreamcast. The game featured a pioneering take on non-linear gameplay, real-time weather effects, and full voice-tracks for even the minor characters in the game. Needless to say, these features that would be considered standard today were revolutionary in 1999. Revolutionary as well as expensive. Shenmue and its sequel, Shenmue 2, were the most-expensive video games ever produced at the time of their release.
8 Gran Turismo 5 — $80 Million
This installment of perhaps the world’s best-known racing series was released in late 2010. The series was recently updated last month with Gran Turismo 6, but that game’s predecessor cost even more to develop. Featuring graphics-hungry weather effects and 31 different locations with 81 different track configurations, Gran Turismo 5 is the most expensive racing game ever made.
7 APB: All Points Bulletin — $100 Million
All Points Bulletin, released in the summer of 2010, is one of two games in our list that was not available on consoles. Developed exclusively for Microsoft Windows, APB is a multiplayer online game that lets players choose a side in a fictional urban gang war. The game took five years to make, an eternity in video game time, and development costs spiraled to $100 million.
6 Disney Infinity — $100 Million
This adventure sandbox game features dozens of Disney and Pixar characters interacting together for the first time. The game added a new twist with physical toys that players could connect to the game to change gameplay and stories as new items are connected. A long list of celebrity actors and actresses played the voices on the game, including Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible, John Turturro as Francesco Bernoulli, Joan Cusack as Jessy, and Kristen Bell as Anna from Frozen.
5 Tomb Raider — $100 Million
The 2013 reboot of the long-running Tomb Raider series has been called the best yet by many top game critics. Featuring a fully formed origin story for protagonist Lara Croft, Tomb Raider introduced the character to a whole new generation of console gamers upon its release in early 2013. The game boasts breathtaking graphics and effects to go with its classic puzzle-solving and adventure gameplay.
4 Red Dead Redemption — $100 Million
This open-world Western from Rockstar Games was a critical darling, generating widespread acclaim on its release in 2010. Red Dead Redemption chronicles the life of John Marston, a bounty hunter in a fictional American frontier in the year 1911. Game critics praised the depth and breadth of Marston’s character development, and many compared the game’s plot favorably to any Hollywood movie. The game also received accolades on its dynamically produced musical score, which changed the tone of the music in the game to reflect the mood of the plot.
3 Grand Theft Auto IV — $100 Million
The fourth installment of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto was released in 2008 after years of anticipation by gamers and critics alike. The familiar open-world action of Grand Theft Auto was set this time in Liberty City, an analogue in the GTA universe of New York City. Sporting dozens of cars and a huge, open-world map, GTA 4 took more than four years to develop. The game features a large cast of voice actors, both for the game’s plot and the in-car radio stations available any time the player is driving. Rockstar paid up to $10,000 per song featured in the game.
2 Star Wars: The Old Republic — $200 Million
Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. Available only for Microsoft Windows, the game was released in late 2011 as the most expensive video game ever made at that time. Players could choose to play as the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire, and gameplay was diverse, as players could complete missions, fight enemies, or just explore the vast map. Development took more than five years, and the game’s developer BioWare estimated that Star Wars: The Old Republic contained more content than all of its other game titles combined.
1 Grand Theft Auto V — $265 Million
Grand Theft Auto V has a list of achievements too numerous to mention. It’s the most expensive video game ever made, the best-selling video game ever made, and considered by many to be the best video game ever made, period. Released just a few months ago in September 2013, the game earned an astonishing $1 billion in its first three days of sales. Featuring the largest map ever made in a mainstream action-adventure game at 49 square miles, GTA 5 took more than five years to develop. Hundreds of hours of voice acting were recorded by dozens of actors. Art teams took an estimated quarter million photos of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas just to research the game’s potential visuals. Game producers interviewed FBI agents and former gang members to ensure the game’s street-crime-based plot was authentic. The game is also the first of the series to feature a wholly original musical score, which runs more than 20 hours. Altogether, Rockstar spent $265 million on the game, which was a solid investment considering the game earned $800 million in sales its first day alone.
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