Video game budgets are higher than they’ve ever been, and the new Tomb Raider is yet another example of that inflation, helping illustrate why big publishers are so desperate to get players to spend more than $60 on their games.
“Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and other different AAA single-player games, cost $75 million to $100 million,” Anfossi told the trade website GamesIndustry.biz in a recent interview. “And that’s production only; it’s close to $35 million on the promotion.”
$135 million may sound like a ton of money to sink into a video game—and it is—but from everything we’ve seen, that’s actually on the lower end of the spectrum for top-tier video games in 2018. With some napkin math and a monthly estimate of $10,000 per month per employee, you can see how budgets can creep past $200 million or even higher. (For example, a team of 450 working on a game for four years might equate to 450 * 48 * 10,000, or $216 million.) In higher-cost areas like San Francisco, that $10,000 estimate might be significantly higher.
Also consider that of the $60 players will spend on a brand new physical video game, a publisher might only see around $30. (A digital game, in comparison, might net its publisher around $42 per sale.)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s development is not in fact happening in San Francisco (like the last two Tomb Raider games), but in Montreal, where its lead developer Eidos Montreal benefits from tax credits from the Quebec government. That’s undoubtedly how the studio can comfortably support 500+ employees (a stat that Anfossi shared with GamesIndustry.biz). In addition to the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which comes out in September, Eidos Montreal is working on a game based on Guardians of the Galaxy.
You may be wondering: How is any of this sustainable? How can the video game industry, already renowned for its brutal hours and difficult work conditions, support constantly inflating budgets, a flat product cost, and a constant trickle of veterans burning out and leaving vacancies for senior staff in their wake? I, too, am wondering this.