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Posted by KirePDX

Is this story in the Lang Zone?

It's just that good.

Posted by _Horde

I was expecting all of this to end in "oh my god, they're stealing money!", because I had no idea that a character could actually cost that much. But, it adds up and makes sense.

Posted by Zandy1123

First off Patrick this is one of the best articles you have written. I hope you do more of this stuff, specifically spotlights on lesser known kickerstarters and greenlights.

Random thought though, you misspelled indiegogo in the second to last paragraph as indiegoto.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by Baltimore

If this is how much an indie dev needs for one character, how much did it cost Capcom to make Street Fighter 4? At, say, 150,000 per character times 21 characters comes to 3,150,000 just to develop the game. That doesn't include shipping it to store an marketing.

Man, games are EXPENSIVE.

Posted by Sword5

The Smash total is wrong.

Glad the article is mostly about the game and not another platform of hate towards the people that play games. Surprised there were no potshots about the FGC.

Posted by Phatmac

Would've loved to see Skullgirls at EVO. I haven't played the game but it looks great from the vids I've seen.

Posted by DonPixel

People willingess to trow money at kick-starters still bends my mind.

Posted by Excast

I think this article illuminates an area of game creation that most of us have no idea about. A lot of gamers look at these absolutely massive budgets and development times we see on a regular basis and wonder where all of the money goes.

And when you consider inflation and the fact that game prices really haven't gone up anywhere near a proportional amount, you really begin to understand the shrinking profit margins a lot of these companies, especially the smaller ones, are dealing with on a daily basis.

Edited by Wudz

You misspelled Indiegogo as Indiegoto in the paragraph immediately after the video.

A great article though. I haven't actually played Skullgirls yet, but I've been following some of the stories about it since not long into the EVO donation drives. It's great to see them get this kind of support, and it's fascinating to see the cost of development for something like this spread out.

Edited by MikeFightNight

I'm happy Patrick picked this up and made an insightful and interesting article out of it. Good work Scoops! Like anything in life people who are not well informed jump to conclusions like how much money it takes to accomplish something. Until you sit them down and educate them they will remain ignorant. Hell, some will still choose to even after you drop the knowledge on them.

A lot of cool stuff happens in the FGC so I hope more stories can be reported on correctly and brought to the attention of more people. It's awesome to see the support for SG keep up since it's really the first proper fan made fighting game.

Posted by SirOptimusPrime

Fantastic article, Patrick. Pulling Dave Lang on this was a super smart choice, and getting that inside baseball (uggggggh) made for an interesting and really informative read. I've been waiting for an article like this ever since reading some people totally not comprehending how a developer uses money from something like KS.

Edited by Chibithor

If this is how much an indie dev needs for one character, how much did it cost Capcom to make Street Fighter 4? At, say, 150,000 per character times 21 characters comes to 3,150,000 just to develop the game. That doesn't include shipping it to store an marketing.

Man, games are EXPENSIVE.

Would be interesting to know. On the one hand most of the characters are already established (move-sets and such) but 3D models and animation are probably more expensive than the sprites of Skullgirls. Also more characters will take longer to balance.

We'll never know, but it's great the at the Skullgirls team is being so open with this stuff. Great article by Patrick too.

Posted by Ravenlight

I don't know. I'd say that the rise of crowdfunding has actually exposed me to the true cost of making a game.

Granted, I probably do a lot more research into crowdfunding projects than the average backer, but whatevs.

When people have more of a realistic expectation about how much it takes to make a game, maybe they'll be less inclined to mindlessly purchase every half-assed, rushed, AAA title. Maybe not.

Posted by Blimble

The problem is 1 or even a couple of characters isn't going to save the game. I seriously doubt that even the pc release will help, the game is just a mediocre one in a pool of other fighting games. If it weren't for the fact it was an indie game we'd probably never hear of it

Posted by EarthBowl

It is always nice to see the community come out and support a game like Skull Girls. I really enjoyed playing it and I would personally love to see more from this new IP. Also, this is a fantastic article Patrick and an interesting read to say the least.

Edited by Tychoid

Fantastic article, Patrick. Bravo and thank you. As a software developer, I can't count how many times I've seen people give me a look of disgust - like there was something wrong with me - when I tell them how much time and/or money it would take to implement some specific feature. ...Or how much we would have to charge for the software in order for us to recoup our development costs in less than two years after release. There's this idea floating around the internet that developers/producers spend zero dollars making a product, and everything they get back is some kind of evil profit. THIS COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.

So, the more that people get informed about this, the better.

Posted by Phished0ne

@donpixel said:

People willingess to trow money at kick-starters still bends my mind.

you mean like our willingness to throw money at a website we have no proof does anything worthwhile with our money?

Edited by jtgamble

@dennistm: Yes, they're definitely taking a pay cut. That would be $31,200 a year per employee. Not much, especially in LA, even for an industry that isn't known for huge salaries. $150,000 for a character in a fighting game is a bargain basement price. At that cost, Super Street Fighter 4 AE would have cost only $5,850,000 for the character development.

EDIT: Miscounted characters in SSF4AE :)

Posted by wumbo3000

Really interesting read. I'm really happy that they got funded.

But as an aside, I'm really excited that Melee won the charity event. Can't fucking wait for EVO!

Edited by Laiv162560asse

There are some questions to be asked about these figures. [Note: I don't know about Skullgirls, play many fighting games, or ever pay much attention to crowdfunding projects.]

For a start, why is the entire $48k cost of the company's payroll for this period figured into the investment cost? The staff will presumably be doing more in that period than making one single character for their game. Based on what we're told here, much/all of the animation is being outsourced. Are we to understand that the company would not be required to pay these salaries at all if they weren't developing the extra character? That's the only way this breakdown would make sense.

Then there's Dave Lang's estimate that $30k-50k - for rent, insurance, internet etc. - should also be attached to the development cost of this one character. Again, these are continuing overheads for the company so why the hell would they all be attributed in their entirety to a single side-project? Fine, if the company was going to close its offices/cancel its internet/whatever had they not been working on this character, then that adds up perfectly. I just find it hard to believe that's the situation this company is in - somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

Subtract the $31k (final 2 items on the breakdown) which comes purely as an expense of choosing to crowdfund and you have a very significant lump of funding which represents an inflation or possible inflation of the true cost, assuming all of the other breakdown items are accurate.

Then there's the questionable nature of crowdfunding itself, where fans bear the entire investment cost without the prospect of seeing any of the profits. Obviously some people are very happy to enter into that arrangement, but it's hardly surprising that others are very demanding about knowing what their money goes towards, first.

Edited by Ett

Good stuff Patrick.

Posted by DrDarkStryfe

The lack of transparency in this industry has finally started to catch up. It is hard to want to invest, and take seriously, an entertainment industry that hides its development costs so much.

The biggest disconnect between the average game consumer, and those that make and publish the titles, is the knowledge of how much contracted labor, how much outsourcing, and how much in licensing fees go into the development of a game. People see a name like Infinity Ward attached to Call of Duty and think that every bit of the game is done by them.

This makes me really interested in the documentary that is being done alongside the development of Double Fine's Kickstarted adventure title. When it is all said and done, will we get a really nice look at everything that entails in game development?

Posted by RenMcKormack

I'm so happy for these guys. Skullgirls is exciting in many ways. First of all its good just as a fighting-game. Whats also great is that is an "indie game" that is focusing on a genre that is so dominated by the big guys. Maybe someone will take a crack at 3rd preson shooters or something.

Now if only someone will fund me and my buddy for State Fighter. HERE"S THE PITCH!

A street Fighter 2 Rippoff using the past presidents as characters. Also World-Leaders (TM) DLC.

Edited by alpha_rudy@hotmail.com

@flymeatwad:A move list? really?just look online and take a glance at the characters 3-4 moves.

Posted by Shivoa

I've heard that $10k/month figure for long enough that I have to assume it's seriously low-balling the realistic cost of labour for the last couple of years at least. We're coming up to another Gama annual salary survey results time so this is less than perfectly timely but people are paid for their expertise. Hard to imagine rent, equipment, utilities, employer taxes and insurance on top of those salaries working out at $10k/month unless you're paying your staff below average (which exposes you to brain drain issues).

I'm sure that people do realise how expensive games are, they just need to consider what constitutes successful launch window global sales numbers * ( average price - loss for distribution etc) to get some idea of the scale of risk for commercial games. But if you want to take a shot at a game you dislike then it's an easy target to attack sticker value without trying to evaluate the costs (and great work by the devs being so open about the costs).

Posted by DukesT3

$48k for the whole staff? Holy shit..

Edited by Masakari

Good article Patrick. Most people complain about "high" crowdfunding budgets and really have no idea that they are (usually) wrong.

Posted by Dagbiker

I think its interesting that they have 8 people on staff yet are outsourcing so much. I respect that they asked for the whole thing, and the fact that they listed it all out. And it is not unusual for any industry to outsource so much. Im sure they would not be on staff if they didn't do anything. But I just think its interesting.

Posted by Tychoid

@laivasse:

You should probably be asking more questions about development, and the process thereof, and you'd understand more about these "figures." In reality, it is extremely likely that they will spend FAR more than what they get from crowdfunding to create these characters. The rest they will have to make up from the (hopefully) increased sales of Skullgirls as a result of releasing these new characters... which is a bit of a gamble. But business always is.

Edited by DigTheDoug

This is a great article and that quote/analysis from Lang is wonderful. Breaking down the numbers like that makes it real easy for the people that think it's always just a couple dudes that do this during their time off from their normal jobs for a few days.

Posted by Seroth

I wish the competitive scene would take Skullgirls more seriously, but it's really cool that the current Skullgirls fans are extremely supportive.

After the EVO drive, I was really considering picking up Skullgirls. With the Squiggly campaign, I finally bought it (on PSN, of course, which has the latest patch). I'm considering putting 30 towards the campaign for Big Band and the PC version!

...now, if only I didn't absolutely suck at fighting games. :D

Posted by Baltimore

I would love for some of the bigger companies to come out and say how much it costs them to develop games. Wait a minute....most of the bigger companies are publicly traded. Shouldn't all that info be in their end-of-year company report?

Posted by irishalwaystaken

@patrickklepek The Dave Lang breakdown was a great addition to this article. What did/do you think of Zone (hentai flash animator) being one of, if not the first backer to avail of the get your character in the game award. The guy holds a lot of clout over at newgrounds and 4chan and I saw a a fair amount of threads on /co/ and /v/ with screenshots of his twitter. It was how I heard of the campaign and chipped in and I'd say I wasn't the only one. It reminded me somewhat of McPixel/Andoyne and their stint and on TPB.

Posted by patrickklepek

I would love for some of the bigger companies to come out and say how much it costs them to develop games. Wait a minute....most of the bigger companies are publicly traded. Shouldn't all that info be in their end-of-year company report?

There are R&D budgets 'n the like disclosed in some quarterly calls, but I'm not sure you're ever going to see "Dead Space 3 = $35 million" anywhere. Not that I'm aware of, anyway. I can double check.

Staff
Posted by nekura

@morbid_coffee: They actually are releasing a Steam port; in fact, a code for the Steam port is one of the prize tiers. :)

Posted by Redhorn

Great article. Thanks for the education.

Posted by coheno

Yeesh man, second comment, and there it was already.

@shinryu said:

Wow 150k for 1 character thats ridiculous

But yeah, great article! These are the kind of articles I find most facinating.

Posted by Esposito426

Great article as always Patrick. I think you should throw down the $1000 bucks to get in the game. Scoopsarella would be a hit.

Posted by jtgamble

@dagbiker: Not too surprising really. There was a good comment in here earlier about how artists in particular are a luxury most smaller developers can't afford to keep on staff unless they have some other skills as well (programming, project management, maybe audio?) Audio is another one that unless you've got some other skillset, you're not going to be kept around on a small staff. Hit box is a bit specialist, and they may not have someone on staff that does it.

With 8 salaries to pay, you're looking at 1-2 Producer/PMs, 1-2 designers, 3 programmers, a test lead, and fill in the blank for the last 1-2. No room for animators/artists, audio engineers, specialist engineers, etc.

Edited by patrickklepek

@drdarkstryfe said:

The lack of transparency in this industry has finally started to catch up. It is hard to want to invest, and take seriously, an entertainment industry that hides its development costs so much.

The biggest disconnect between the average game consumer, and those that make and publish the titles, is the knowledge of how much contracted labor, how much outsourcing, and how much in licensing fees go into the development of a game. People see a name like Infinity Ward attached to Call of Duty and think that every bit of the game is done by them.

This makes me really interested in the documentary that is being done alongside the development of Double Fine's Kickstarted adventure title. When it is all said and done, will we get a really nice look at everything that entails in game development?

The video game industry has a seriously lack of transparency with its financials. We all champion the cheap sales available on Steam, but does Steam make people money? Probably, but since Valve is a private company, they don't have to disclose any numbers whatsoever, and that data essentially becomes proprietary. Good for Valve, but not good for consumers necessarily. The publishers have bullied organizations like The NPD Group into showing less and less retail sales data to the public, not to mention NPD Group wanting to make money for that data, and we're left with little to analyze on a month-to-month basis. Compare that to the movie industry, which discloses its box office returns every damn week. We'd have a much better idea of what the industry was really like if the numbers were on the table, rather than waiting for people to spin it for us.

Staff
Edited by simguard

Thanks, this was a great article with interesting information. I only have one issue with it, and that is the assumption that crowdfunding leads to the misunderstanding on how much games cost to make. I think it is more that until recently there was not much information to find on the costs of game development. If anything crowdfunding has helped expose some of that costs even if some of it is underrepresented compared to the actual costs. If anything I believe that crowdfunding has only raised awareness to costs, and what that money actually goes to. For example, the interview you did with Tim Schafer where he mentioned the costs of previous Double Fine products.

Posted by Phished0ne

@laivasse said:

There are some questions to be asked about these figures. [Note: I don't know about Skullgirls, play many fighting games, or ever pay much attention to crowdfunding projects.]

For a start, why is the entire $48k cost of the company's payroll for this period figured into the investment cost? The staff will presumably be doing more in that period than making one single character for their game. Based on what we're told here, much/all of the animation is being outsourced. Are we to understand that the company would not be required to pay these salaries at all if they weren't developing the extra character? That's the only way this breakdown would make sense.

Then there's Dave Lang's estimate that £30k-50k - for rent, insurance, internet etc. - should also be attached to the development cost of this one character. Again, these are continuing overheads for the company so why the hell would they all be attributed in their entirety to a single side-project? Fine, if the company was going to close its offices/cancel its internet/whatever had they not been working on this character, then that adds up perfectly. I just find it hard to believe that's the situation this company is in - somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

Subtract the $31k (final 2 items on the breakdown) which comes purely as an expense of choosing to crowdfund and you have a very significant lump of funding which represents an inflation or possible inflation of the true cost, assuming all of the other breakdown items are accurate.

Then there's the questionable nature of crowdfunding itself, where fans bear the entire investment cost without the prospect of seeing any of the profits. Obviously some people are very happy to enter into that arrangement, but it's hardly surprising that others are very demanding about knowing what their money goes towards, first.

Due to the nature of what happened with Autumn, the Skullgirls team's future was kinda in question. They had no means to work on their game without taking personal losses. The problem is that the publisher of the game could no longer fund what became Lab Zero AT ALL(including paying salaries). So it would only be fair for the crowd funding to also cover salary/upkeep costs because the team literally had no money to work on the project(at least from what i understand). To say they are crowd sourcing the production of "just one character" is a little reductive, because as you pointed out, you are doing more than that. You are helping to fund a studio to continue the plans it previously had to add to their game.

Edited by Laiv162560asse

@tychoid said:

@laivasse:

You should probably be asking more questions about development, and the process thereof, and you'd understand more about these "figures." In reality, it is extremely likely that they will spend FAR more than what they get from crowdfunding to create these characters. The rest they will have to make up from the (hopefully) increased sales of Skullgirls as a result of releasing these new characters... which is a bit of a gamble. But business always is.

I don't understand. No matter how much I ask it's not going to change the costing as given by Lab Zero and estimated by Lang, is it? I'm asking why the breakdown appears to cover expenses which aren't necessarily tied to this one project, exclusively.

Are you saying that their breakdown is an inaccurate underestimate of what the development will cost? It makes no sense that they would give such a breakdown.

@Phished0ne: That makes more sense, thanks. I didn't know that this was a company which might have to close its doors without this project.

Posted by mORTEN81

Could be that, even after reading it, he still can't believe how much it cost.

Edited by Sweetz
@ravenlight said:

I don't know. I'd say that the rise of crowdfunding has actually exposed me to the true cost of making a game.

As Patrick's article elaborates, what you're seeing is not the true cost. Most Kickstarter goals are below (sometimes far below) what it actually costs, because publishers are worried they won't get funded if they ask for too much. It is therefore creating a distorted view of what development costs unless you're aware of this.

You may be savvy enough to know you need to goose the goal number by as much as 50% to get an idea of the true cost, but most backers probably are not.

Edited by Ravidrath

@chiablo: It would take us between 6 and 10 times as long to do the animation in-betweening and clean-up ourselves. Contracting that stuff out saves us a TON of money because we don't have to pay salaries to the whole staff for that time, and the assignments are per-frame.

We distribute a character's ~1500 frames of animation across between 70-100 people, typically, so we can get it done in 1-2 months.

Posted by dannyodwyer

They layout of these article pages is really fantastic. Every time I visit I find something new I love about the redesign.

Great read as ever Patrick.

Posted by patrickklepek

@sweetz said:
@ravenlight said:

I don't know. I'd say that the rise of crowdfunding has actually exposed me to the true cost of making a game.

As Patrick's article elaborates, what you're seeing is not the true cost. Most Kickstarter goals are below (sometimes far below) what it actually costs, because publishers are worried they won't get funded if they ask for too much. It is therefore creating a distorted view of what development costs unless you're aware of this.

You may be savvy enough to know you need to goose the goal number by as much as 50% to get an idea of the true cost, but most backers probably are not.

Kickstarter and crowdfunding has done a good job exposing people to HOW games are made, but less so on how the cost actually works out, especially given how many ask for just 50% of what they need.

Staff
Posted by Kazona

Now this is the kind of article I can get behind. Very informative. Great job Patrick

Posted by Baltimore

@patrickklepek: I would be willing to bet that it's broken down by larger factors like you said. R&D, Marketing, Distribution, etc. I think it would be good if you could double check and see if any of the publicly traded companies do break it down better.