I am a co-founder of Scatterbrain Studio, indie developer of Hexicon: Strategy Word Game. Our mobile game has progressed from a side project to a side business over the last 3 years, and we have self-funded it every step of the way. We have tried to keep expenses to a minimum, but development still ended up costing us $2,923.90 prior to the game's launch.
These costs are often difficult to estimate before starting a project, so I hope this breakdown sheds some light on what to expect. This is what we spent our money on:
$625 - Lawyer-drafted trademark application
$425 - Apple Developer account, 4x years
$300 - Delaware LLC Annual Tax, 1x year
$250 - Adobe After Effects (11 months, annual plan)
$194 - 11 Domains (basically like crack when only $8.99/year)
$99 - Delaware Registration of LLC
$90 - 2 years of Delaware registered agent fees
$75 - Digital conference ticket (PocketGamer Digital)
$25 - Themed Hexicon business cards (for in-person events)
$25 - Google Play Developer Account (1-time fee)
$12 - Facebook ads
$3.45 - Database Fees (Firebase, 2016-2020)
$0.45 - Hosting Fees (Firebase, Nov 2019-May 2020)
This is not a long list, but $2923.90 isn't exactly a small amount of money for a side project. We were able to split these costs as a team of 3, though a solo developer would face these costs alone. Fortunately, these expenses were spread out over a few years, which did make them manageable.
Legal - $1425
Without our legal expenses, the overall cost to develop Hexicon would have been much lower at $1508.40. Was it really worth it to hire lawyers?
Hexicon may be played by children under 13
Hexicon may have words that some find offensive
Hexicon has virtual currency which can be purchased with real money
We are developing a 2nd game on a contract with another publisher and do not want any legal or privacy issues to damage that relationship
Alternatives like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer are significantly cheaper, but they are not legal entities. These sites do not provide legal recommendations, and they don't catch any mistakes that may be made, even if unknowingly.
We also decided to hire a lawyer to register our trademark for a related reason. The trademarking process is a lengthy 3-9 months, and this process will need to be repeated if an application is rejected. An attorney will draft an error-free application that has a better chance of being accepted, avoiding complications down the road. In the future, we would now be able to file a TM on our own, using our well-prepared Hexicon application as an example.
Development - $894
We tried to minimize expenses when creating the actual game. An Apple developer account unfortunately is very costly at $99 per year . We also ended up paying for an extra year when creating our business account. In comparison, Google charges only a one-time $25 fee, though both platforms take the same 30% revenue cut.
For software, we use free tools where possible, but Adobe After Effects is still excellent for creating animations and video content. $23/mo is pretty steep, but we use no other subscriptions, and we can cancel this once we finish animations in the app. We also use Lottie, a free tool to convert AE files into animations usable in React Native, so this saves some time and money.
The other big expense here is actually from domains. While domains are pretty cheap (as low as $8.99/year on NameCheap), we got excited and bought 3 for Hexicon and 3 for future projects. We released some that we no longer needed, but the cost of 6 domains over a few years added up.
Business - $489
We chose a Delaware LLC for a couple reasons. If we want to ever raise capital (for future products), it is a simple process to convert our LLC to a corporation in Delaware. Also, if we were to move out of the US to live abroad for some years (something we have discussed), a Delaware LLC may have some advantages.
Marketing, Database, Hosting (Scaling Costs) - $115.90
This sum is relatively low, but we have not yet spent significant money on ads or other marketing endeavors yet. Once we fully launch the game, we plan to spend more in this area.
Hosting and database costs will also increase after launch. We currently have only 300 monthly active users during our open beta, which yields a very low upkeep cost.
The majority of this category went towards getting fun themed business cards to hand out at events and a ticket for a digital indie games conference. Neither of these costs will scale though.
Hopefully this conveys a rough idea of what types of costs to expect to make a mobile game and a business around it. If you're also working on a game, feel free to share how much you have spent in the comments!
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