In the early days of gaming, development teams would often consist of only a few people working together in a tiny office to create game. It was not unheard of for hit games to have been created by a single person. While that is still the case with some independent titles that have released recently, the vast majority of AAA games that hit store shelves are worked on by teams numbering in the hundreds. The large studio sizes, combined with the cost of the technology needed to develop games and the huge marketing costs, has created a situation where individual video games can rival hit TV shows and blockbuster movies in how much is spent on them.
The following entries are the video games that have had the biggest budgets, ranging from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Shenmue was a hugely ambitious project for its time and took the title of being the most expensive ever made when it launched in 1999. With a large open world, detailed visuals and intricate 3D battles, Sega had to budget $70 million for the project. It paid off in one sense, as the game went on to be universally praised by critics, although it struggled to sell as well as it needed to in order to recoup the costs of development. Part of that $70 million was probably invested as a gamble to put resources in place, with the hopes that success would lead to further sequels on the console. Despite being one of the most successful titles on the Dreamcast, the console's ultimate failure meant that Shenmue was largely a commercial failure and significant loss for Sega.
Gran Turismo 4 was a hugely successful title for the PlayStation 2 and was one of the console's iconic titles. Therefore, any sequel would have to go all out in order to even match its predecessor. Sony knew this and invested $80 million for development and marketing to try to make the racing game as good as it could be. Under development by Polyphony Digital for an estimated five years, the game officially launched in 2010 to mixed reviews and a general feeling that it wasn't a vast improvement over the last installment in the series. That did not stop it from going on to sell over 10 million copies though.
Rockstar are no strangers to making games with blockbuster budgets. Many of their titles are huge in scale, with large teams working on them and a development timescale of several years, which makes them expensive to make. The Scotland based studio began to work on the game, soon after the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2004, with a team of just 150 people. With heavy marketing, the eventual total cost for Grand Theft Auto IV rose to an estimated $100 million, but the budget was more than justified following the release. Within 24 hours of launch, Take-Two announced that it had already brought in around $310 million in revenue.
Disney Infinity is an unexpected entry, due mainly to the fact that it isn't the usual AAA game. Instead, it is an action adventure game that utilizes collectible table-top toys, similar to the way that Skylanders works, featuring characters from across the Disney universe and players can buy additional toys individually from stores. Created by Avalanche Studios, it took an estimated three years of work and $100 million to finish. Since releasing in 2013, the game has sold more than three million copies and spawned a sequel and additional figurines.
Much like Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption saw players take control of a protagonist in a vast open world, filled with other characters and quests. Unlike that of other Rockstar titles, though, this one was set in the American Frontier and took more than 800 developers working on it for five years to complete it for its release in 2010. This large team and long development time meant that even with a significantly weaker marketing campaign, the total cost still amounted to $100 million in total. That investment was repaid though, thanks to a wildly successful launch that saw the game sell over 12 million copies and receive widespread critical acclaim.
It should come as no surprise that Final Fantasy VII is the most commercially successful game in the Final Fantasy series, as it was also the game with the largest budget. Considering it was the first Final Fantasy title to launch in Europe, and the first time that Square Enix had used 3D graphics, the publisher had to put much more effort and funds into creating a game that would appeal to all markets and take advantage of the latest technology. This led to a development cost of around $45 million, and a total marketing budget of $100 million. It was worth it in the end though, with almost 10 million copies sold and hundreds of awards. The game also proved vital to the success of the PlayStation console.
First announced in 2008, although work had been done on the title long before that, Star Wars: The Old Republic was BioWare’s attempt to create a successful MMO set in the Star Wars universe. Using their experience from the role-playing series Knights of the Old Republic that they had previously developed, the team spent several years creating an enormous world with an incredibly deep story. Electronic Arts and LucasArts footed the development and marketing bill, that was estimated to be in the range of $150 million to $200 million. Following its release, Star Wars: The Old Republic became the fastest growing MMO of all time but failed to reach the heights of its main competitor, World of Warcraft.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was the direct sequel to Infinity Ward’s last entry in the series. The first Modern Warfare had seen the Call of Duty franchise return as a triumphant force in the first-person shooter genre and Activision knew that, with the following they had built, if they spent big they would have the chance to bring in record breaking revenue. While the development cost of $50 million was small compared to some of the other entries on this list, the marketing budget was a staggering $150 million. The gamble paid off though, as Modern Warfare 2 went on to sell over 22 million copies and generate sales of over $1 billion.
Grand Theft Auto V was the most ambitious game in the series, with a world far bigger than any that Rockstar had created in the past. It also included impressive visuals, large numbers of NPC and a long intertwined story that drew praise from fans and critics alike. Work for the game began in 2009, and throughout development, more than 1000 people worked on the game across Rockstar North and other studios owned by Take-Two Interactive. When it launched in 2013, it was the most expensive game ever created, with a combined development cost and marketing budget of $265 million. The title ended up being hugely successful with revenues of $1 billion, after just three days of being available to buy, making it the fastest selling entertainment product of all time.
Earlier in the year, Activision boss, Bobby Kotick revealed that the publisher had invested $500 million into the recently released sci-fi shooter Destiny. It is not too hard to imagine that Activision would be willing to pay so much, as they are hoping that Destiny will grow into a franchise to rival Call of Duty in the future. Bungie, the developer behind the title, later refuted this claim, saying that the development cost was far lower than $500 million, leading to speculation that the high cost may also include payments for resources and technology for future sequels and downloadable content, rather than just the first game. Destiny launched in September to mixed reviews, but Activision revealed it had shipped more than $500 million to stores worldwide by September 10, perhaps vindicating their huge investment.