You may not have believed we would reach a day when video games cost more to make than movies, yet here we are! These are the ten most expensive titles ever created.

The 10 Most Expensive Games Ever Made

You may not have believed we would reach a day when video games cost more to make than movies, yet here we are! These are the ten most expensive titles ever created.

Its hard to believe there was once a time when successful video games were made entirely by one person in a bedroom - and usually with a maximum budget of just a few hundred dollars. Today, most games are the product of the huge teams that work on them, and have costs that can run into the millions. But even their budgets pale in comparison to the expenses incurred by some of the big AAA titles, many costing more to make than most Hollywood blockbusters.

As the medium of video games becomes exponentially more popular, its likely that these numbers will keep on rising: In 2000, the average total budget for a mainstream game was $1-4 million, today it is anything between $20-60 million. 2014 also saw the release of the most expensive game ever made. If this trend continues, then we may see the first billion dollar video game within the next ten years.

This list comprises the ten most expensive games that have ever been made. These totals include development costs, marketing, and any other expenses incurred. As some of these titles are several years old, the cost totals have been adjusted for inflation.

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10. Max Payne 3

Original cost $105 million; with 2015 inflation $108 million

They may have waited almost ten years since Max Payne 2, but this third entry in Rockstar’s series was worth the delay.

Max Payne 3 was postponed several times during its production, with developers claiming the game would benefit from more time being spent on it, all this added to its total costs. It was also widely reported that Rockstar had spent a lot of money on research, including visiting Sao Paulo in order to make Max Payne 3’s setting as authentic as possible. Like a lot of Rockstar games, no expense was spared when it came to marketing, including having prominent TV commercials and even collaborating with Marvel for a tie-in comic book.

It seems the money was well spent: Max Payne was met with overwhelming critical acclaim, and one year after its release had sold a total of 4 million units.


9. Too Human

Original cost $100 million; with 2015 inflation $110 million

This is THE title that proves a huge budget doesn’t guarantee a successful game. Too Human was in production for so long, ten years in fact, that during its development it was moved across three different consoles. Originally planned for a four-disc release on the original Sony PlayStation, it later went to the Nintendo GameCube before Microsoft bought the rights. The game was finally released exclusively on the Xbox 360 in 2008. 

While Too Human was far from the worst game ever made, its sheer mediocrity after the massive hype it had garnered caused it to be forever considered one of gaming’s biggest flops. Developer Silicon Knights’ founder, Denis Dyack, was also particularly vocal of anyone daring to criticize the look of Too Human before it was released, leading to even more overshadowing of the game itself.

The story of Too Human didn’t end there. After losing a lawsuit with Epic Games over - amongst other things - the use of their Unreal Engine, Silicon Knights were forced to pay them $4.45 million in damages and destroy all copies of their games built with Unreal Engine 3 - including Too Human. The game was removed from the Xbox Marketplace in 2013, and Silicon Knights filed for bankruptcy in on May 16, 2014. It may rank ninth as the most expensive game ever made, but Too Human’s total costs extended beyond its development budget.


8. Grand Theft Auto IV

Original cost $100+ million; with 2015 inflation $110+ million

It took three and a half years to complete, had over 1000 people involved in its development and a total budget of over $100 million. Luckily for Rockstar, Grand Theft Auto IV was a commercial success and pretty much universally adored by gamers.

It wasnt just the large number of developers that Rockstar had to pay, a huge portion of the budget went towards attaining the rights of the many music tracks used in the game. Then there was the companys usual massive advertising campaign that ate up a lot of the cash. But as the old adage goes, you have to spend it to make it, and Rockstar certainly did both.

Within 24 hours of its release, the game had generated $310 million in sales, breaking several Guinness world records and more than justifying its huge budget. Today, its estimated that Grand Theft Auto IV has sold well over 25 million copies.


7. Star Citizen

Estimated final total costs $100+ million

Because Star Citizen is constantly receiving money through crowdfunding, and will continue to do so after the game gets its final build release, the total budget of Chris Roberts’ epic is expected to reach well over $100 million.

Star Citizen is probably the most ambitious game ever made. It’s been in development for several years, and we may still have to wait a couple more until the finished version is available. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait and the massive investment that so many members of the public have made towards it; few games have managed to stir up so much excitement as Star Citizen in recent years. With the sheer size of Star Citizen and the number of people involved in its creation, it’s easy to see where all this money is going.


6. Shenmue II

Original costs $132 million; with 2015 inflation $176 million

It may come as a surprise that this 2001 sequel to the fantastic Dreamcast exclusive was one of the most expensive games of all time... especially as it was never given a North American release and the European version featured Japanese-only audio.

This all changed when Shenmue II was re-released on the original Xbox; getting North American and European versions with an English audio dub - featuring most of the original voiceover cast from the first game.

The original Shenmue was the fourth-best selling game on the Dreamcast, and it too had a huge budget, so it seemed Sega went with the ‘bigger and better’ method with this sequel. With a larger team of developers, and a reputedly enormous cast of voice actors, the game’s costs spiraled to the $132 million mark.

Sadly, despite all this expenditure, Shenmue II didn’t sell as well as expected. Despite being critically acclaimed - often getting into many of today’s ‘top 100 games’ lists - the problems it suffered moving to the Xbox, poor marketing, the lack of exposure in North America, and the demise of the Dreamcast console, meant Shenmue II was a financial flop.

A finale to the series has been promised, with the possibility of a Kickstarter project is being investigated.


5. Star Wars: The Old Republic

Original Costs $200 million+; with 2015 inflation $210 million

Most MMOs are, by their very nature, very expensive to make. Yet none have come close to the $200 million+ that was invested in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not surprising, when you consider that the game had more content than all of BioWare’s previous games combined.

Created over 6 years by a team of 800 developers across 4 continents, BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk was quoted at the time as saying: "Coordinating it all is like teaching elephants to do ballet.” The game’s writers worked on the project longer than any other team, while over 1000 actors were hired to provide voice-overs for 200,000 lines in three different languages.

While the game never became the next World of Warcraft as EA and BioWare hoped it would - with many elements of the MMO coming in for heavy criticism - it still managed to make back its costs. The recent move to a free-to-play model has seen player numbers increase again after a recent drop, and looks to be bringing a new lease of life to this Star Wars universe.


4. Final Fantasy VII

Original costs $145 million; with 2015 inflation $213 million

When development of Final Fantasy VII began in 1994, it was originally intended for release on the SNES, but the game was eventually moved to the Nintendo 64. However, since the N64’s cartridges lacked the storage capacity, Square decide to release it for the CD-based PlayStation instead.

While the game’s costs may have come to $145 million at the time, an amazing $100 million of that was spent just on marketing. This advertising campaign worked, as 2.3 million units were sold in the first three days of its release in Japan. The other $45 million went to the 120 artists and programmers involved in making the game - a lot of money and a lot of people for a title released in 1997.

Final Fantasy VII was acknowledged as the game which popularized JRPGs outside of their home market, and is often regarded as the best RPG of all time. Almost every ‘greatest games ever made list’ will have Final Fantasy VII in it somewhere, if not in the top ten.


3. Grand Theft Auto V

Original cost $265 million; with 2015 inflation $268 million

The fifth game in the Grand Theft Auto Series, and almost universally agreed on as being the best entry, spared no expense in its development costs and marketing expenses. When it was released, its $265 million budget made it the most expensive game ever made at the time.

Five years in development, and more than 1000 people working on a game is always going to push costs up. So much so that its total expenses surpassed the production budget of every Hollywood blockbuster ever made (adjusted for inflation and without marketing), with the only exception being Pirates Of The Caribbean: At Worlds End, which cost an estimated $300 million.

GTA V set numerous sales records and won multiple awards and nominations from gaming publications. Within 24 hours of its release, it had generated more than $800 million dollars in worldwide revenue; it hit the billion dollar mark 2 days later. As of December 2014 the game has shipped 45 million copies to retailers, with the imminent PC version looking to increase these figures even more. Talk about a good return on an investment.


2. Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare

Original cost $250 million; with 2015 inflation $275 million

Out of all the Call Of Duty games, it’s Modern Warfare 2 that takes the title of being the most expensive ever developed. This sixth installment of the long-running series may not have been the best or the most successful, but it still more than justified its enormous outlay.

While COD:MW2 total costs hit $250 million, an amazing $200 million of that was spent on marketing and the cost of producing and distributing the game discs. Being a so called AAA title, no expense was spared on its Hollywood-scale release and numerous TV and theater commercials. As for the game itself, much of the budget was spent on the big name voice-over actors, including 50 Cent, Lance Henriksen, and Keith David.

The game was a critical and commercial success, selling over 4.7 million units in its first 24 hours. After only five days, Modern Warfare 2 had generated $550 million dollars worldwide, bringing in almost double its total costs. While it sold incredibly well, the series’ subsequent releases, Black Ops, Black Ops 2, and Modern Warfare 3 moved even more units.


1. Destiny

$500 million

After all the publicity surrounding its costs, it probably comes as no surprise that the number one spot is taken by the “shared-world shooter” that is Destiny.

Initially, publishers Activision claimed the total investment in the game would come to $500 million, this was later disputed by developers Bungie, who claimed the cost of developing Destiny wouldn’t be anywhere near that figure. Finally, Activision came back with another statement saying that once upfront infrastructure costs and investment in the game’s engine were included, total costs would indeed be close to the half a billion dollar mark.

The thing to remember with this obscene figure is that it’s been spent on creating a framework for all future Destiny products. This will be a multi-year, multi-game franchise which Activision expects to still be around in a decade’s time. That kind of future planning requires a huge investment. Then, of course, there’s the marketing and promotion expenses (thought to be the most costly of any game ever made), the development, the costs involved in creating a multi-platform title, and even the numerous Hollywood actors' voice-over fees.

There’s been plenty written about Destiny itself, and how it seems to have a polarizing effect on the gaming community. Despite its sometimes critical reviews, Destiny still managed pick up BAFTA’s game of the year award, and its 16 million registered players obviously think the $500 million was money well spent. 


Today were at a point where games have surpassed movies in terms of budgets. Maybe its because theyre now considered the more popular medium, or perhaps its just easier for publishers to make their money back on a game - as long as theyre given enough hype.

Whether or not these spiraling costs is a good thing for the industry remains to be seen. On the one hand, it could mean gaming being taken more seriously by those who dont play them; plus, it could lead to an ever increasing number of jobs becoming available in the sector. On the other hand, it may see the retail price of games constantly increasing, as well as the risk of companies going bust if an expensive title flops.

Whatever the outcome, we gamers get to enjoy final product of all this expenditure. The industry has come a very long way since that one person making games in their bedroom.


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Author
Rob Thubron
Lover of all things PC and a fan of inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin. Remembers when 'geek' was an insult. Still passionately believes Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was the greatest game ever made. Also works as a reporter/feature writer for TechSpot.com and a producer of YouTube video scripts.