Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Production Line development cost breakdown

Only part of the ‘true cost’ of producing a game is the narrowly defined ‘development cost’, as it should also theoretically include an allowance for ongoing studio costs over the lifetime of making the game. The cost of heating my home office, the accountant, the webhosting for all my sites (including this blog) and depreciation of my PC should all play a part in calculating the *true* cost of producing Production Line. (My car factory strategy game for the PC).

With this in mind I thought I’d briefly add up some estimates of the paper-cost, the estimated cost if I was paid a regular salary, and also the true, true cost.

So the basic cost, if I break it out into categories gets me a breakdown like this:

If I assume as lead programmer I should be earning £60,000 (first result I found. Note that I’m the only coder and have 20+ years coding experience), then things change a lot to look like this:

Then I need to add in the office costs. Firstly I’d get a pension as an employee, so I should add that in over the dev period (3 years of contributions), 3 years of accountancy, 3 years of webhosting, and as I replace my PC probably every 4 years, I need to allow for 3/4 of a new desktop PC. I also have 3 years of office internet and phone bill to include. There is stationary, heating and other bullshit, but lets just call that $200 a year. New chart:

So is anything learned from this short little exercise? Well there are many ways to interpret it. Firstly, It really looks like I may be undervaluing music and SFX in my game. Surely combined they should be more than 5% of my dev budget right? And translation, although the costs scare the fuck out of me, actually seems relatively small in terms of the big picture.

It also brings home just how important personal productivity and time management is. If I messed around on twitter less, got distracted less, and maybe got up a bit earlier each day, a 10% increase in my productivity would have a massive impact on overall costs, probably saving me enough to make a huge boost to the art budget.

It also shows me that trimming the art budget if the game is not doing well is absolutely the wrong target. Its all about the code.

And finally its worth keeping an eye on the external dev costs such as webhosting etc. Each item is small, but together they are virtually the same as the art budget. Also worth noting: I deserve an absolute monster PC every 4 years, thats for sure. Even if I doubled the price I pay for a PC, the faster compile times would probably pay for themselves.

4 thoughts on Production Line development cost breakdown

  1. Definitely agree with the top of the line monster computer. It doesn’t just speed up development, but keeps you more engaged when developing.

    I thought you were crowd sourcing the translation. I suppose there are still some translations that have to get done.

    Next, Production Line isn’t what I would consider a music heavy game. Most users probably turn it off. Sound also is minimal (clank, clunk, chunk, bunk). So I wouldn’t fret too much about it — but admit good title screen music can get the player charged up for the game.

    Finally, 10% boost in coding may not be possible. Perhaps you should do pie charts for your time each day?

    Thanks for putting this together.

  2. So are you a solo programmer that contracts out the art/sound/translation? If so those numbers definitely make sense to me. The most expensive thing in a business is usually the employees. So if the art/sound/translation is contacted out then it should be significantly cheaper compared to a full time employee. If you had a full time artist I would suspect the art category to be significantly higher.

    Let me know if I’m off base here.

  3. I guess some of the “Code” slice really belongs a bit to the Project Manager, Producer, PR department, Community manager, QA department etc.

    Seen the hint of this as an employee as well, about the code/salaries, that is. “New computer, that’s kind of expensi.. hmm.. [calculate]: that’s actually relatively cheap, compared to salary and how much trouble there’s been with an old PC.”

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