Nowadays, it seems like not a day goes by when we don’t hear about new VR games, technologies, and news. The discussion has especially ramped up, with the 2 biggest video game console makers (Microsoft and Sony) taking very differing views on the role of VR in gaming. However, what everyone can agree on is the fact that more and more VR games are being released each year, and the movement in general is growing rapidly.
Although many people lump VR titles into the category of computer/video games, there are very substantial differences between them. Obviously, VR headsets are quite different from computer/TV screens, so the releases meant for them also use other technology and methodology. Thus, the key differences lie in the technical aspect of development, yet there are also disparities in cost that should be discussed. In this article, our focus will be on everything relating to VR game development cost.
Without a doubt, the biggest costs of making a game go into the time invested by the development team, i.e. salaries for staff and compensation for partners and contractors. Here is a breakdown of the process and people involved in it:
Building a VR game starts with an idea and vision which may or may not be pursued by the developer company. Such decisions are made at the executive level, and are usually preceded by a fair amount of research into competitors and the feasibility of the project. Once the decision to proceed is made, the gears of the project start turning and more people get involved. Company executives work with project managers, lead designers and developers to craft a basic plan for the project, as well as business analysts to assess costs and formulate a business strategy.
Preliminary work includes the first details and conceptual work of a project, serving as a foundation for the eventual final product. For example, it includes the creation of concept art, plot, characters, and core mechanics. Most of the people involved are writers, artists, and designers, though there is still a fair amount of work done by developers to prepare the core gameplay mechanics for further development.
This is the most costly part of the entire process, as it takes the longest time and involves the most people. Large teams of developers, designers, artists, and everyone in-between spend months (sometimes years) in close collaboration to create the game. VR titles require special software (such as Unity, UE4, Sumerian or Oculus Medium) to build, and the process is widely considered to be more difficult than standard AAA game development.
In order to iron out the kinks and bugs in a game prior to its release, several QA engineers (a.k.a. testers) are usually put to work on it. VR games are played with special hardware (usually headsets and controllers), so the testers are equipped with these devices in their work. While testing does not take as long as development, it is rarely quick, so the associated costs of this stage do not end up being negligible. Testing can comprise as much as 20% – 30% of the full development cost.
After the completion and release of a game, the costs do not necessarily stop. For example, if the game is a commercial venture, breaking a profit will be very difficult without a marketing campaign. Additionally, there is a level of technical support that continues for most games. This includes bug fixes, maintenance of servers, and other essential practices that keep the game running for all users.
Software & Hardware. Making a professional title requires professional software, which can carry exorbitant licensing costs for a company. Additionally, an assortment of hardware (computers, equipment, VR headsets, etc.) is essential for anyone aiming to make a VR game.
Marketing. A marketing campaign can make or break a game, so it is not unusual for the marketing budget to make up a significant chunk of total spending; sometimes even half or more. Some companies dish out millions of dollars on online advertising, promotional events, and printed media.
Cloud & Computing. It is commonplace for studios to rely on cloud services for storing digital assets and using them for the numerous computing needs of development.
Music & Voices. Virtually all major gaming titles use music, sound effects, a score, voices, or some combination of the four to convey dialogue, emotion, realism, and other information to players. While some companies opt to use stock sounds, original audio is created or recorded by specialists most of the time.
Miscellaneous. Many additional costs can go into the creation process, and they are often unforeseen and unpredictable. Of the other conventional expenses, we can mention accounting, legal operations, content translation, and communication costs.
As you probably imagine, the cost of virtual reality development ranges by many factors, including the country where it is built, the number of people involved, the amount of content, and the quality of content. In the most robust game development market (USA), relatively simple and low end VR games (think 3D Pong) can cost upwards of $5,000, while most mid-tier titles fall into the $20,000 – $100,000 category. Massive AAA and multiplayer titles can easily cost millions of dollars to make.
For example, Skyrim VR (often referred to as the best VR RPG title) is believed to have cost at least $10M to make. “Robo Recall”- another major VR title is estimated to have cost about $3.8M to make. Unfortunately, accurate figures of many popular titles are not always available due to the makers’ reluctance to share this information.
Sometimes, the total cost of the game can be partially estimated according to its genre, gameplay type, and category. For instance:
Given the many factors contributing to a VR title’s cost, it is difficult to put a price tag on a potential virtual reality release simply based on its genre, platform, and duration. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to get an estimate before you release the product. With the help of experienced specialists who have analyzed such games before and consider all relevant factors, it should be possible to get a fairly close estimate of how much the release will cost.
The development process can also pose many challenges to those who have never built such products and titles before; so many people/companies with VR game ideas opt to hire another company or studio to handle the process for them, or at least a certain aspect of it. Today, thousands of companies operate on the virtual reality development market and offer such services, but only a fraction of them have the experience necessary to tackle big and complex projects in this field.
Game-Ace is a studio with over 2 decades of experience in building games intended for various audiences and platforms. We are no stranger to virtual reality or other innovative technologies like mixed and augmented reality, and confidently take on projects in this field using the Unity or UE4 engines. To have your idea appraised and the next steps discussed, you are welcome to send us a message.