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  • Analyzing Early Access Finances Of Our First Indie Game

    - Tomer Barkan
  • Earlier this month, we released the full version of Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation after two years in Early Access and 3.5 years of development. I took this time to analyze and share our financial data in hopes that it could help other aspiring indies out there who have no idea what to expect in the long road ahead of them.

    Note: All sales data presented in this post are summed up values across all stores. At this time Judgment is sold on Steam, the Humble Store, on our website (using the Humble Widget), Green Man Gaming and Fanatical. No bundles, only direct-sales in their stores.

    The Price of Being an Indie

    Making games is not cheap. There are a lot of different fields involved, and it's very rare to have a single person that is proficient enough in all these fields, so usually, it involves a larger team or paying for external services. The numbers below include the total development costs during the 40 months in which we've been working on Judgment so far, out of which 15 months were pre-release and the other 25 were Early Access. Obviously, there will be more expenses after full release as we continue to improve and promote the game.

    Here's what it cost us to create Judgment:

    • Total expenses over 40 months of development: $650,000
    • Programming: $280,000
    • Game Design: $118,000
    • Marketing: $94,000
    • Art: $87,000
    • Production: $45,000
    • Writing & Audio: $8,000
    • Office, Bureaucracy, and Other Expenses: $18,000

    Not cheap at all! But I should note that in these expenses we include lost wages (potential income lost due to us working on Judgment instead of working as hired employees elsewhere) in addition to actual money spent.

    Employee Costs

    The majority of the expenses are employee costs. All of the programming and production costs, most of game-design and art, and a big chunk of the marketing expenses.

    Employee costs don't necessarily have to come out of your pocket, if you manage to gather a dedicated team that covers all these fields whose members are able and willing to work for profit share alone.

    As you can see, only $50,000 (7.7%) were external costs. If our team had worked without a salary, we would only have had to spend that much out of our pocket over the entire course of 3.5 years. Plus, many of these expenses were required only after we had started generating income from EA sales.

    It is my experience, however, that building such a team is extremely difficult, and unpaid team members tend to lose motivation creating an unstable environment. I would always recommend, if possible, to pay team members at least a reasonable wage in addition to the promise of profit share - which means more starting funds and/or an investment. In our case, team members got a decent salary from the start, in addition to some share of the profits.

    Other Expenses

    Other than employee costs, there are additional expenses that usually come out of your pocket. For us, these included audio, writing, marketing, software and general bureaucracy such as lawyer fees, accountant fees, and company registration costs.

    The marketing costs above include both employee time (we spent A LOT of our time on marketing) and external expenses such as conference participation, paid ads, a PR firms and consulting services. I'll go into more details on marketing expenses later on.


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