The Economics of a 2D Adventure Game by Ron Gilbert

Saw this referenced over on Gaming-Age. Very interesting and detailed read regarding development budgets, break even at various price-points, dev royalties etc. Actually has very little do with adventures specifically and could apply to almost any low-to-mid budget PC title.

Hence increasing amounts of PC-only games being developed in Eastern Europe and other cheaper locales. There just isn’t room for that many PC titles with >$1m budgets, and as that article shows, that doesn’t go as far as it used to.

Definately worth reading for some perspective on PC game development realities.

$1M cost for development of a point-and-click with an already existing engine?

Not that I misdoubt the price, but what the hell is up with needing 4-5 programmers for development of something like this with an already produced engine. Are game dev tools really that poor? Is there some reason why, if the right tools existed, one person shouldn’t be able to account for all of the actual game logic? (Most adventure games are reasonably straightforward logic expressions, at least from the dev standpoint, I would think.)

4 programmers for a project like that is ridiculous. You only need 4 programmers if they all suck ass. It should be a 1-programmer job.

Interesting article, but something doesn’t fit. If the publisher’s break-even point at $19 is 155,000 units, why is the developer’s break-even point at the same price point 450,000 units if the publisher fronted the developer all of the development costs? Shouldn’t the publisher’s break-even point be the same as the developer’s?

It just seems like my screwed up 8th grade math teacher is on the loose again.


I’m sure a dev here can correct me if I’m wrong but the difference is that the 450k is dev royalty break even. The developer won’t make any money based on unit sales on top of their advance until the game sells 450k (highly unlikely so it ends up meaning the dev only gets what they were initially paid for the game).

so would a budget like this be decent enough for a game like ToEE or Planescape?

i had no idea 2d games were so expensive

This is just begging for counterexamples.

For starters, what about all the awesome games that Andrew Ewanchyna makes (

Those strike me as being just as difficult to implement as a standard 2D adventure game and he did everything essentially by himself.

The programmers in the example aren’t engine programmers by any means. What they are are the script programmers who program all those puzzles that we love so into the game. Someone has to program all the “when you click on this, this happens” stuff. Not Carmack level stuff.

Seems right to me.

ToEE cost substianially more than $1m.

Oh good lord, not even close. A game like BG2 or Planescape costs millions to make – tons of dialog, voice overs, very expensive art, testing/mechanics design, etc.

One million dollars for a game is ridiculously cheap nowadays. Most dev studios will run that much in a year just on salaries and basic costs, and that’s not a big company.

That was my point. Why do you have to script this stuff. Are there hidden levels of complex interactions of the

if (a then b)
else if (a and b then c)
else if (not a or b but c and d then f)

types in these games? Most of the adventure games I recall had small clusters of rooms with reasonably localized and 1-3 step puzzles. Set up some mappings between solved puzzles and state flags, some easily navigable event triggers based on those state flags. I’m not saying this is trivial stuff, but it seems to me that it shouldn’t require a programmer per se, as long as one has access to tools which allow a good grasph of how these things interact. Ideally the logic could be built in a visual flowchart, with maybe some n-deep linking in order to deal with persistant characters/situations/rooms that change based on past solved puzzles.

So, given all that, is the budget that high because the programmers are really necessary, or because there aren’t decent tools out there to make the menial workload more in line with what it probably ought to be. (In the same way that there’s a huge difference between people who write the engine and core for Unreal type games and people who use the mod tools to actually make the game, there doesn’t seem to be this difference in the adventure game field which, to me, argues that the tools are not mature.)

They don’t have to be high paid programmers, but having a programmer do that kind of thing is way more efficient then getting a non-programmer to do it. They understand the logic better, how the systems work, and are able to do things with it that a non programmer wouldn’t be able to figure out.

My point isn’t that, though. I’m not saying with good tools they could hire 4 monkeys. :)

I’m saying with good tools they should be able to collapse that 1 lead and 4 other programmers into simply 1 programmer. In the same way that having a visual debugger greatly increases your ability to see where your logic flow breaks, having good visual tools would likewise greatly produce productivity. Such things can be tricky for some types of games (I’m not sure I’d want to try to build a mod for Unreal with only visual tools for instance; I’m not sure it’d even be possible. Certainly it would seem to limit creativity.) I don’t see adventure games being one of the types of games for which it’d be tough, though. The basic elements of adventure games are simple boolean logic combinations, and they’re not nearly as deep in terms of evaluation as other games are.

(All this, of course, from my perception. Maybe they are just as deep. But small, integral puzzles which have at most 5 dependancies doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to develop better tools for than scripting language code.)

Thanks. I can see now why he was saying the 450,000 units before profit sharing kicked in was an unfair model for the developer. That gap between 155k and 450k only benefits the publisher–something I didn’t know about the industry.

The publisher response to that would be that they would end up paying out royalties even on games where they weren’t going to break even on their own expenses.

Another tangentially related tidbit is that faced with paying out serious royalties, a publisher would often rather just buy the developer outright. For startup developers, this can be all but guaranteed by minority investments and buyout clauses in their contract (i.e. Infinity Ward).

Oh good lord, not even close. A game like BG2 or Planescape costs millions to make – tons of dialog, voice overs, very expensive art, testing/mechanics design, etc.[/quote]

I wish someone would give Jeff Vogel the money for an art department so that he could have RPGs that look as good as, say, Fallout. Or Age of Wonders. His games are great anyway but a little polish would help put them over the top.

The current model of commercial game production seems like it couldn’t possibly be sustainable, but what do I know. ;)

  • Alan