It’s common place today for Kickstarter projects to ask for a couple hundred thousand to get their project off the ground, but full AAA titles require budgets in the hundreds of millions! Heck, sometimes publishers spend more money on marketing the game rather than actually developing it! They have to make all this money back and then some in order to be considered a success. No wonder every AAA company barely looks at a game unless it sells millions of copies.
These are the 15 most expensive games ever produced, marketing included, adjusted for inflation in 2015.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim cost approximately 89 million dollars to produce and market, and it’s not quite certain how much money went into each. Oddly enough, it’s the only Elder Scrolls game in the top 50 most expensive games ever made, and the only one that really has what we would consider a AAA budget.
Some of the most expensive games of all time never even came out. This is the case with the Halo MMO made by Ensemble Studios. The game ate up 90 million dollars of Microsoft’s money before eventually being canceled. Any other publisher might have closed after taking a hit that big, but Microsoft is just swimming in money.
Sega spent 47 million dollars to make Shenmue and 23 million dollars to market it. Put together and accounting for inflation, that’s almost 99 million dollars. No wonder Shenmue is so popular. Most of the games on this list come from the post-2000 era of gaming. In fact, many were made post 2010 when gigantic budgets became the norm. But Shenmue is the rare old school game that absolutely broke the bank for its publisher. All this for a wander around, do chores, quick time event simulator.
Crystal Dynamics wasn’t fooling around when they brought back the Tomb Raider franchise. 101 million dollars was spent on this reboot. Now we just have to wait and see if Rise of the Tomb Raider was done on a bigger budget due to the first game’s success, or a lesser budget because the name alone would sell it.
Not every expensive game has to be good. Deadpool by High Moon Studios also had a 101 million dollar budget, but was considered largely mediocre. Heck, you can hardly even purchase the game anymore, as it’s been taken off every digital distribution platform other than Steam. It was funny, yeah, but it was basically just a button masher otherwise.
Speaking of not being very good, Disney Infinity also shared a 101 million dollar budget by 2015 numbers. Unfortunately, the game was glitchy, boring, and largely uninspired. Also, you had to press Y to attack and that, well, that was just weird. Disney Infinity 2.0 and the upcoming 3.0 are better games, but have only a fraction of the budget. It just goes to show you, it’s not the size of your budget, but how you use it.
Red Dead Redemption
Numbers on Red Dead Redemption are kind of sketchy. Estimates say that the game cost anywhere from 80 million dollars on the low side, to 108 million dollars on the high side. We wouldn’t be surprised if this Old West game ended up on the high side as Rockstar is one of the biggest spenders in the industry.
Max Payne 3
Speaking of Rockstar, Max Payne 3 also cost 108 million dollars by 2015 standards. It looks like Rockstar’s entire modus operandi is to throw a ton of money at a game and hope it hits big. Sometimes it’s a hit like Red Dead Redemption . Max Payne 3 , on the other hand, was only OK.
Too Human is perhaps the best example of a game that everyone thought would be a hit, but ended up mostly a miss. With a 65 on Metacritic and an eventual sales rate of 700,000 copies, the game didn’t do much to make up its 110 million dollar budget. Many attribute this game to the closure of the Silicon Knights studio, as they were already working on Too Human 2 and 3 by the time they closed down.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Hey look! It’s Rockstar again, spending 110 million dollars on one of their games. Unlike Max Payne and even Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV was considered a masterpiece of gaming, and has made several “best games of all time” lists. It brought Grand Theft Auto into a new age, away from the era of tank spawning cheat codes, and into the era of grimdark crime drama. Also, there was Gay Tony. He was awesome.
The more recent you get, the more money is spent on AAA titles. Destiny had a whopping 140 million dollars spent on it, and that’s just a rough ballpark figure. It’s unclear whether or not that includes the DLC, which would push the price up even further, possibly rocketing it to the top of the list.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the first games that breaks the 200 million dollar point. This also makes Star Wars: The Old Republic the most expensive MMO ever produced, and yet it still couldn’t overtake World of Warcraft.
Final Fantasy VII
One of the most loved games of all time is also one of the most expensive. But don’t think that all that money was spent on development. On the contrary, Final Fantasy VII cost less money to develop than any other game on this list. The thing is, Squaresoft spent twice as much money marketing the game as it did making it. This all adds up to 213 million dollars adjusted for inflation, with more than 140 million spent on marketing alone. The only other game on this list from the pre-2000 era was Shenmue, and it doesn’t even compare. It’s interesting to think that more was invested in Final Fantasy VII than almost any other game on the market today. No wonder we remember it so fondly.
Grand Theft Auto V
Oh Rockstar, your ability to spend money knows no bounds. In the top three most expensive games, Grand Theft Auto V is the only game whose marketing budget was less than its development budget. 137 million dollars went into development and 128 million went into letting us know that the game exists, bringing us up to 265 million dollars total. That’s a lot spent on marketing, but I’d call Rockstar an exemplary studio. More money should be spent on the game’s development as opposed to its marketing. Otherwise you’ll end up with…
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Many people call Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 one of the best shooters of all time, and it certainly was. But I wonder how much of the adoration for this game was hype made by Activision? It cost 50 million dollars to make the game, but 200 million dollars to market it. That’s 4 times the development cost of the game! Activision made a veritable marketing juggernaut to let us know that Modern Warfare 2 is the best shooter of all time, and we believed it! Adjusted for inflation, that’s 275 million dollars spent on this one game alone, making it the most expensive game of all time.