It may not be something you think of too often, but making a game can be a pretty pricey endeavor. The bigger the project, the more resources are put into a game’s development. That often ends up costing developers millions of dollars. With so much being spent on making these titles, you can start to understand just how much pressure there is to make a product that’s going to sell.
These AAA titles are some of the most expensive games ever made, and you’ll no doubt recognize most of the names on this list. Between marketing and development costs, these games cost a pretty penny to put out, though not all of them paid off. Read on and find out which titles made their money back and which ones flopped.
Updated November 19th, 2020 by Hayley Mullen: As AAA video games get more technologically advanced and larger projects are taken on, there’s no doubt that gamers will see even larger budgets for games in the future. Considering how many recent titles have broken the $100 barrier, it’s not impossible to imagine that the gaming industry will someday reach the same heights as the Hollywood movie industry. We’ve added more games that cost more than any others in gaming history to make.
15 Red Dead Redemption – $80-100 Million
If anyone thought Grand Theft Auto was all Rockstar Games was capable of, they certainly changed their tune after Red Dead Redemption’s release. A successor of sorts to Red Dead Revolver, this foray into the American frontier was a high-risk, high-reward project from a monetary perspective, and it took more than just five years and tens of millions of dollars; it also came at the expense of their staff members’ health and financial well-being.
Though no official statements have been made about its successful sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, media analysts have made estimates of around the same range of $80-100 million.
14 Disney Infinity – $100 Million
Many companies have tried to sell toys and figurines that have tie-in online experiences or games (better known as toys-to-life), but the sheer popularity and wealth Disney wields almost guaranteed they would attempt such an endeavor. With its first release in the late summer of 2013, using physical toys to boost video game sales and reception seemed to be Disney Interactive’s next step at trying to cull its $1.4 billion in losses since 2008.
The game received generally favorable reviews (aside from the 3DS version) and racked in over $1 billion by late 2014, helping Disney Interactive make up previous losses and the estimated $100 million it cost to make Disney Infinity.
13 Deadpool – $100 Million
The Deadpool video game actually cost more than the movie it was inspired by: the movie cost only $60 million to make compared to the game’s $100 million.
The appeal of this game is mostly due to the personality and antics of Deadpool himself, rather than the gameplay, which some have said is rather generic. It is difficult to make hack-and-slash games unique due to their design, but Deadpool’s fourth-wall breaking and critique of the overall story makes it an enjoyable comedic romp.
12 Tomb Raider – $100 Million
This 2013 game is the tenth title in the Tomb Raider series and acts as a reboot of the origins and character of Lara Croft. Lara starts off new to adventuring or raiding of any kind, and we see her becoming the skilled and hardened explorer we know right before our eyes.
Game analysts have estimated the budget of Tomb Raider to be around $100 million. Luckily, it more than made up this money by selling over one million copies in the first 48 hours of its release, as well as over 11 million copies as of 2017.
11 APB: All Points Bulletin – $100 Million
Realtime Worlds’ APB: All Points Bulletin is one of many games to have a development and marketing cost of around $100 million. Out of all given such big cheques, APB may be the only real failure of the bunch. It’s always upsetting to see that despite putting so much in on a game, it can still burn out hard.
Many players and critics have stated that the game felt unfinished or underdeveloped. The week-long review embargo put in place for its release only drew more criticism to what was ultimately a disappointment to many.
10 Grand Theft Auto IV – $100 Million
One thing you’ll notice pretty quickly is that Rockstar has quite the strong presence on this list. The team doesn’t mess around, with most of their modern games costing them a pretty penny in development.
GTA IV was estimated to have cost in the range of $100+ million when it came out, making it one of the most expensive games ever made at the time. It still ranks pretty high up on the list despite having been released over a decade ago.
9 Max Payne 3 – $105 Million
Yet another Rockstar game, Max Payne 3 was released four years after GTA IV and ended up costing them about the same amount to make. Released nearly ten years after the last game, Max Payne 3 was highly anticipated but didn’t sell as well as you’d think.
Though the series has a loyal following, the numbers weren’t what you’d expect from a Rockstar product. That had to have been a tough pill to swallow given the ridiculous development costs of the game.
8 Dead Space 2 – $120 Million
Tied for fifth place on our ranking is Dead Space 2. Developed by the now-defunct Visceral Games in 2011 as a follow-up to 2008’s Dead Space, Dead Space 2 was well received by both critics and fans. The game offered a fresh new take on the survival horror genre and cost around $60 million to develop.
Though it sold millions, the game still failed to meet sales expectations. At least to EA’s standards. Developer Zach Wilson lamented the game’s marketing costs and didn’t seem too pleased with how the game’s budget was handled. Regardless, Dead Space 2 still holds up as a fun and well-made game.
7 Halo 2 – $120 Million
Consider that Halo 2 came out seven years before Dead Space 2 and still carried a similar total cost of development. That fact alone is astounding. With inflation, Halo 2 actually ends up being the more expensively developed game of the two.
Halo 2 left behind a pretty big legacy, especially in regards to console online matchmaking. Fans will say that it’s still the best game in the series, and it’s hard to disagree with them there. There are still those dedicated to playing and speedrunning the game to this day.
6 Shadow of the Tomb Raider – $135 Million
Though not as well received as its predecessor, Shadow of the Tomb Raider outdid the 2013 reboot in at least one regard; cost. While Tomb Raider only cost around $100 million to get out, the 2018 sequel ended up with a slightly larger figure because of its promotion costs.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is another game that got off to a slow start in regards to its sales. With over 4 million units moved, it makes the difficulty developers face when covering development costs all the more clear. At least players got another entry into the Tomb Raider series with the weapon-handy Lara Croft we all love.
5 Destiny – $140 Million
Speaking of Halo, this next Bungie title garnered quite a few comparisons to its spiritual predecessor when it came out back in 2014. Destiny received fairly positive reviews when it came out and intrigued many with its shared world multiplayer.
Back around the time of the game’s release, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick claimed that the publisher would be putting in $500 million towards the game. The actual amount of money that went into Destiny was much smaller, but still a huge total sum regardless.
4 Final Fantasy VII – $145 Million
Though the game’s recent remake is much more technologically advanced and graphically spectacular, the original Final Fantasy VII had a higher overall budget than its remake, which was about $80-100 million. This is mostly due to the $100 million spent on U.S. marketing, as the production budget was only $45 million.
Being the best-selling game in the series to date, Final Fantasy VII was the game that introduced many players to the series, especially considering it was the first one ever released in Europe. Its use of cinematics, 3D graphics, and game mechanics still influence the game industry to this day.
3 Star Wars: The Old Republic – $200 Million
As soon as it was first announced in 2008, Bioware’s The Old Republic seemed like an ambitious title. The game promised so many features and so much exploration and choice that would make any gamer want to become a Jedi. Such promises, though, always come with a price, this one being literal millions.
There are no marketing cost estimates for this game, meaning that the bulk of this $200 million went into development. For such a massive and overall successful project, that isn’t too hard of a pill to swallow.
2 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – $250 Million
Still one of the most popular games in the Call of Duty series, Modern Warfare 2 was a critical and financial success for Infinity Ward and Activision. It didn’t come cheap though, and it’s no surprise to find it so high on this list.
What’s pretty irregular about Modern Warfare 2’s development costs is that most of the $250 million didn’t even go towards development, but rather marketing for the game. While development took up around $40-50 million, marketing cost a whopping $200 million. The game itself didn’t even cost all that much to make.
1 Grand Theft Auto V – $265 Million
One of the biggest releases of this decade, it’s no surprise seeing GTA V where it is on this list. Rockstar’s money-maker franchise certainly brings in a lot of cash for the developer. But anyone who’s played GTA V will agree that it isn’t a half-hearted effort.
There are plenty of resources that go into making a game as big and ambitious as GTA V what it is. With millions being put into both the game’s development and marketing, fan expected – and got – a real quality product.
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