How much does a mobile game cost to develop?

When it comes to working out estimates for mobile game projects. It often surprises me how far off a potential client’s expectations of game development costs can sometimes be.

Here’s a common scenario – A new client gets in touch asking about game development. I’ll usually ask their budget and they’ll usually say that they don’t want to reveal this yet (This is understandable, but frustrating for reasons that will become clear later). So, assuming they’re happy to share the details of their game (Not always the case!) I’ll then put together a cost estimate based on the spec provided.

Most of the time, the response to the estimate is “Great, I’ll get back to you”. But every now and then it’ll be something like “Oh! Wow! That much? I’ve errrr, only got £200… What can you do for £200?”.

I don’t mind this, how would they know after all? But it is pretty frustrating having spent the time working out a cost, only to realise that if they had shared their budget upfront, we’d have all realised it wasn’t meant to be.

So with that in mind I thought I would put a rough guide to game dev costs together which will hopefully benefit somebody looking to have their game developed in future.

So generally, a mobile game (i.e. A game that would be distributed via the iOS and/or Android app stores) will fit within one of the following price brackets:

Flappy BirdMini Game – £5k to £20k

Even a simple game, built from scratch is probably going to cost you upwards of £10K. But if all you’re after is a simple Pong or Pac-Man clone (or a re-skin of an existing game) you could have it built for less than that. Watch out though, if you have grand aspirations and a budget of under £10k, you’re likely to be disappointed.

A small game is likely to be 2D in appearance and have simple visual style and/or simple gameplay. It will probably only have one ‘level’ and will not feature a great deal of extra content (e.g. Levels, Characters, Power Ups). Flappy Bird is a good example of a game that would sit near the bottom of this bracket.

EDIT: After originally posting this, I thought I should clarify that most browser based mini games would also fit into this category. But that’s a topic for another post!

Small Game – £20k to £60k

Many healthily budgeted advergames and small indie game projects would sit within this price bracket. If you want to build a game and you intend it to charge money for it, you will need to spend a reasonable amount on the development to ensure the game has enough perceived value to the player.

Usually when someone reaches out to us to quote for their game idea, our estimate will lie somewhere within this price bracket. So if you’re looking to have a game developed and this was roughly the cost you were expecting, please get in touch! 😉

Angry BirdsMedium Game – £60k to £120k

Most well known independent games would sit within this price bracket. These are games that will have much more depth of content (levels, characters, story) and replayability that appeals to a wider audience than games in the previous brackets. The first versions of Angry Birds and Cut the Rope would have sat near the top end of this bracket.

Large Game – £120k – £250k

Games in this bracket will most likely be titles based on existing IP and funded by a publisher or broadcaster. Alternatively they may have been built by a developer and backed by investment funding, most likely a free-to-play title featuring micro-transactions for monetisation. As such, these games will have a lot of content and feature much more depth of game play.

Infinity BladeVery Large Game – £250k+

This is the domain of the larger studios and publishers. These will be high quality, large scope games with high end graphics and lots of content. The most popular free-to-play titles such as Clash of Clans would fit within this bracket, as will the high-end paid titles. For example, Infinity Blade 3 is rumoured to have cost around £1.5 Million to build.

Other considerations

Estimating the development cost of a game is really hard. REALLY hard. Game development in itself is like solving a series of puzzles. Imagine if somebody put a collection of assorted puzzles in front of you and asked you to estimate how long it would take you to solve them all. How accurate do you think you would be? Maybe if you’ve completed some of the puzzles beforehand, or had experience of similar puzzles you would be in a better position but generally there is going to be a lot of guess work. For this reason, if you can you should allow some flexibility in either the budget or scope of the project during the development process.

Marketing

Finally, If you’re spending tens of thousands of £s having a game developed, then you really should spend some of that making sure the right people know about it. Many indie game developers would argue that a good game will market itself, whereas big game publishers will easily spend as much (or more) on marketing their games as they do developing them. How much you spend on yours will depend on the audience and the type of game you are making, but I would argue that it should be at least 20% of the overall budget.

Think that these numbers are ridiculous? Perhaps you can share examples of how much other games cost to develop? Please let me know in the comments below!

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