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A Single Video Game Character Can Cost Around $80,000 To Make

It takes money to make money.

(Kim Kulish/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

While video games make massive amounts of money, blockbuster games can often cost just as much as a major movie. In the case of big games like Destiny, Portal and Left 4 Dead, designing a video game character from concept to fully-rendered finish can cost almost as much as hiring an actor for a role.

During a recent speech at PAX Prime, an annual gamer convention, game designer Kim Swift broke down the costs of designing a character for a video game while addressing complaints that video games cost too much money. Designing a major video game is a highly collaborative process that requires all sorts of specialists: illustrators, programmers, writers, musicians, voice-over actors, special effects designers and more. When a team is putting together a game that complex, costs can start getting high, Colin Campbell writes for Polygon.

In her speech, Swift broke down the character creation process step by step, based on published industry standard salaries and the amount of time each step takes. A concept artist might take two weeks and make $3,000 for designing how the character looks while a visual effects programmer might spend the same time and money crafting the animations for the character to swing a sword, Campbell writes. All in all, it takes an average of three months or so to create a single character from the ground up. After factoring in the cost of office space, computers and other equipment needed for character design, Swift estimates that the cost comes out to about $80,000 for just one virtual avatar.

"That's just one character," said Swift in her speech. "Extrapolate that out to multiple characters and environments and it gets expensive, fast."

It is increasingly common for video game budgets to rival big-budget films. 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V was the most expensive game to produce in history with a budget of $265 million. In contrast, the biggest-budget movie released in 2013 was Disney’s The Lone Ranger, which cost about $215 million to make, according to the Internet Movie Database. That’s a hefty investment, even for a game with as big a fanbase at the Grand Theft Auto series. But for a video game to please legions of gamers, studios increasingly have to put just as much care and money into their games as their Hollywood counterparts.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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