AAA Game Development Cost

By Juegostudio | Game Development | September 24th, 2020

Everything you need to know about AAA game development costs

“Why are AAA Games so Expensive? How much does it cost to develop AAA Game?”


Final Fantasy VII’s whopper release gave way to the emergence of “AAA” games in the late 1990s. It’s unprecedented development and marketing cost went on to crown it as the “most expensive” video game ever. Since then, “AAA” has been associated with the games developed and distributed by major and mid-sized publishers who have humongous pockets for development and marketing. The best possible combination of the latest technology and the smartest minds in the industry are fused to nurture AAA games.

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What makes AAA games expensive?

  • Graphics  – Reality is expensive!

Pumping out fancy-looking and detail-rich high-resolution assets for the audience of AAA games is a cumbersome task. It takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the developer, to increase the overall budget. High expectations set by the games of the past often push AAA graphic designers to level up in order to consolidate a higher user engagement.

  • Costly Tools of Creation

There is immense pressure to measure up to strict deadlines while producing the greatest possible work when it comes to AAA game development. These concerns often lure developers into using the best possible creation tools (Quality and Time take a higher pedestal than Money here). At other times, to save themselves from the hard work, developers intentionally put advanced tools like a game engine to work to develop a more extensive or effort-heavy enterprise. These powerful game engines are usually licensed at a steep cost.

  • The Voice element

Like movies or music, a talented voice artist contributes greatly to the overall experience of the game. However, these seemingly secondary additions don’t come cheap!

  • Quality Assurance

This bug-squashing stage often propels the cost of game development significantly, as it includes playtesters, testers and developers working hundreds of hours on roll. Often, due to the trend of rolling out a “known shippable”, these costs are delayed until later versions.

  • Marketing

Marketing gobbles up a mammoth’s share when it comes to AAA games. Selling fast and selling well is the only way a developer can manage to rectify the huge dent created by developing a AAA game. A game’s success is linked to this aspect, therefore publishers spend lavishly when it comes to marketing. The presumption that an expensive advertising campaign guarantees high sales, has also a huge part to play in driving AAA games’ costs up through the roof.

  • Release and post-release support

Neglecting release and post-release support can prove to be fatal for any game. However, as a AAA game is meant to earn well, it becomes crucial to keep its audiences satisfied. This is something that just can’t be allowed to go wrong! And is necessary for upholding the reputation and memory of the game untarnished.

How much does it cost to develop an AAA game?

Game development is an intricate and extensive process. Though, it is of utmost importance to familiarize oneself with the probable costing, estimating an exact figure for developing a AAA game is very difficult. It greatly varies from game to game.

The earliest of AAA games like Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII and Sega AM2’s Shenmue, were estimated to have gobbled up around $64–72 million* (inflation adjusted) and  $72–107 million* (inflation adjusted) respectively, in development alone. The saga doesn’t end here, as the advertisement campaigns for these games surpassed the development costs too.

In recent years, these numbers have swelled-up considerably with The Grand Theft Auto V estimated to be developed for $291 million* (inflation adjusted) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for $298 million* (inflation adjusted).

Factoring in individual costs for stages like game design, art design, graphics, programming, audio, testing, quality assurance, marketing, etc can help you reach a good-enough approximation. Frequently, a rough cost of development for AAA games lies somewhere between $60-80 million as per most game developers. Again, this starts varying as and when you tinker with the aspects like special features to be added, shrinking deadlines, a platform of choice, graphics quality, etc. The size of the teams, expertise, geographical location, the reputation involved, etc. also impact the game’s development cost.

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Neither there is a limit to the budget of AAA games, nor a true average costing.

With experts being hired for pulling out the best in every nook and corner of the game, AAA game development cost shoots up easily. Specialists and masters of the field are called upon to render the best of the best money can buy, to bring a massive undertaking into reality.

However, spending more can not be the end-game. Setting a big budget as the only criteria for success will be detrimental to the developer’s landscape. The heavy costs involved in the development of AAA games create excessive burden on the game developing company and publishers with high expectations to sell well, breeding questionable development practices.

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