You pay $60 for many of the new games you play, but how much does a blockbuster game cost to make? Although it is a seemingly simple question, it is actually incredibly difficult to answer.
Of all the opaque video game industry questions, this is perhaps the most opaque. Many in the industry don't even know the budgets of games. It is not unusual for developer working on a big-budget game to have no idea of the game's budget.
Publishers and developers almost never release information on budgets of their games, and publicly traded companies just combine all of their production costs in investor reports, giving little insight into individual game costs. Most commonly, the numbers we see circulated are often guesses from writers or analysts. So budget numbers could vary wildly: one place might say $60 million, another might say $15 million.
When we do get specific numbers, it is often only the development or marketing costs, which do not necessarily provide a complete picture of a game's entire budget of development, distribution and marketing costs. Also, specific numbers communicated to the public may not be accurate: like the film industry, it is possible for accounting to play tricks with budgeting to change the appearance of things. In 2009, EA executive Rich Hilleman indicated in a speech that his company "now typically spends two or three times as much on marketing and advertising as it does on developing a game." This formula is not necessarily applicable to every potential blockbuster game—a "AAA game", in gaming parlance—or to every company, but it is fair to say the break-even point for the average AAA game is well above the development budget. Companies also need to recoup marketing and other expenses.
There is no question, however, that the cost to make a AAA games in going up across the board. Last summer, when Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo talked to Sony's head of worldwide development, Shuhei Yoshida, about game budgets, Yoshida said budgets for top-tier PS4 games would be "slightly larger" than the $20 to $50 million price range he estimated as the development cost for "top PS3 games." Four years ago, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot estimated that the average production budget for the generation of games following Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 would be $60 million. In an 2012 investor report, Take-Two admitted some of its "top titles" cost in excess of $60 million for development alone.