Just last month Happion Labs launched Sixty Second Shooter Prime for the Xbox One through their [email protected] program.
Now, I’m one of the cheapest game developers I know. I’ve been indie for almost nine years now and am still in the red, so I’ve gotten to a point where I’m loathe to spend another penny. Add to that I really had no idea how a game on the Xbox One would sell. So I wasn’t even willing to hire an artist for Sixty Second Shooter Prime (which could very well have hurt sales a lot as my logo screens were made by, well, me) so you can figure that when I approached the project I was doing it just about as frugally as possible.
So how cheap is cheap?
You might think, since Microsoft is giving away their dev kits to early adopters of the [email protected] program, as long as you have no offices and pay everyone with rev share you could ship a game for just about nothing. But that’s not quite the case: let's look at how our costs broke down:
Maintaining the Sixty Second Shooter URL
Sending the second dev kit to
Hardware (usb and video
Video capture device (for
Foreign ratings boards (PEGI,
So, about $5K. Not as cheap to make as a PC game - by a long shot.
What are those big expenses?
First: Errors & Omissions Insurance. Microsoft requires this; it’s in the contract. And it’s not just any E&O Insurance - it has to cover IP and copyright violations, so the cheap E&O Insurance you can easily find online doesn’t qualify. I went through an insurance broker (Parker, Smith, and Feek) and found the cheapest insurance that would qualify.
Second: Ratings boards. Again, Microsoft requires this - if you want to release in a given territory, you have to get your game rated by the official ratings boards of that territory. It’s sad but true, getting your game rated in some territories can be a lot more expensive than simply translating your game to that territory’s language! I spent about $700 on localization, all told, and spent nearly $2000 on getting my game rated by PEGI and USK. (I skipped Australia and New Zealand because they both wanted around $2K for their ratings boards...maybe I’ll launch in those territories later if the game seems to be selling particularly well.)
Obviously, localization and other territories are optional - if you limit yourself to regions where you don’t have to pay (which would mean skipping Europe) - you could get the costs of your Xbox One game down to well under $3000.
All that said, although those costs were somewhat daunting for a shoestring developer like myself, it was absolutely worth it. Although we haven’t gotten our first sales report yet, there were at least ten thousand entries on the leaderboards last we checked, so we’ve certainly covered our costs and made a living wage to boot - which is kind of rare in the indie game development world, in my experience - so I'm really happy we jumped aboard the [email protected] wagon.
Sixty Second Shooter Prime link is broken
Posted by: toto | July 29, 2014 at 01:18 AM
This was a really useful look behind the curtain. Sucks about the Australian and New Zealand ratings boards, and that we'll be missing out!
Where did you get localization done? How extensive was this task? Would a more textual game have much higher localization costs?
Posted by: BrettWitty | July 29, 2014 at 03:58 AM
Localization was done mostly by my pals at www.rocketsound.net - not too extensive compared to most games, as half of it had been already loc'd for Deluxe. About 800 words. Yes, loc costs would go up proportionally for more text.
Posted by: Happionlabs | July 29, 2014 at 10:52 AM
I'm a little curious why you chose those languages for localization. Spanish is the only one among those language which is in the top 5 languages spoken globally.
Posted by: tonicboy | July 30, 2014 at 12:43 AM
how do I go about getting a free dev kit from MS? I have a great indie game idea that I have not seen anywhere online or otherwise. A totally new take on games that will hopefully revolutionize how people look at an indie game.
Posted by: Ian | July 30, 2014 at 06:30 AM
Sixty Second Shooter Prime is a fantastic game, and the best $5 I've spent in a long time. Fast, fun, satisfying, and always with the "just one more game" feeling.
The graphics are perfect IMO, much better than a fake 8-bit retro look. The clean lines fit the feel that everything has been carved back to its most raw form.
Thanks for making it for Xbox One. I hope you have great success! (And not just because I'd love a sequel :-) )
Posted by: Agar | July 30, 2014 at 07:56 AM
since when is "making a game" the same as releasing a pre-existing game on Xbox the same?
the title and content makes no sense
Posted by: StrangeDude | July 30, 2014 at 09:19 AM
As always, great insight! Very inspirational. What was the cost for labor, time spent in development?
Posted by: Sergio | July 30, 2014 at 10:04 AM
Tonicboy: Good question. EFIGS has been what we've standardly localized to for years and I just realized I don't really know why that is. It may have to do with what markets the Xbox has most penetrated. I also didn't want to do any languages that required double-byte.
Ian: To get in the [email protected] program you have to sign up here (http://www.xbox.com/en-us/Developers/id), but there is a long waiting list and they prioritize people with experience.
StrangeDude: Maybe, but it took about the same amount of time to make this version as it did to make the original version for Google Chrome. And even if it took longer to make an original title, the overhead would be the same.
Sergio: We had two coders (including myself) working for about three and a half months, but part time: 20 to 30 hours a week. We also had a musician who put in a few weeks.
Posted by: Happionlabs | July 30, 2014 at 11:39 AM
I like how most of these costs have nothing to do with Microsoft and would be incurred no matter which platform you release your game on.
Maintaining a URL for your game, buying a video capture device to record previews, trailers, and advertisements, hardware, localization, and ratings boards would be required for any platform. Also tell me how it's Microsoft's fault that you need to ship a dev kit to someone?
Also are you prepared to tell me that Sony, Nintendo, Valve, and other platform holders don't require that insurance you mentioned? Because if they do, strike that one from the list as well.
So, removing all the nonsense that actually had nothing to do exclusive with Microsoft and would be required no matter what platform you picked... It's either just the insurance or it's absolutely nothing.
It was very poor form of you to post this as if these fees are things you only run into on Xbox One. And you shouldn't have even listed things like buying a URL. Microsoft didn't require you to do that and you'd have been paying for that URL even if you didn't release on Xbox One.
Posted by: Mjc0961 | July 30, 2014 at 01:14 PM
Mjc0961 - I wasn't trying to attack Microsoft. They could relax their policies about E&O insurance and rating the games in various territories, but I get why they do it. This was supposed to just be an informative post.
Posted by: Happionlabs | July 30, 2014 at 01:24 PM
Thanks Jamie! That helps a lot. Wishing you continued success!
Posted by: Sergio | July 31, 2014 at 11:29 AM
Do you know if sony also requires e&o insurance and the ratings board costs?
Posted by: Richard | August 01, 2014 at 03:49 AM
Microsoft doesn't require the ratings, the local governments do. Point your frustration in the right place please.
Posted by: Narg | August 01, 2014 at 07:25 AM
Narg, could you provide some evidence or a link for that assertion? Games on mobile or Steam don't always have ratings - why on the Xbox One?
Posted by: Happionlabs | August 01, 2014 at 11:42 AM
Richard, I'm pretty sure my agreement with Sony for Energy Hook does not require E&O. When I did Playstation Mobile stuff ratings were required, but they were all through free mobile-friendly ratings boards.
Posted by: Happionlabs | August 01, 2014 at 11:43 AM
Just one little annoyance, could we please stop excluding labor costs from our work when talking about budgets?
Unless your time is worthless your largest expense will always be your labor/opportunity costs/time. This is a huge pet peeve of mine when I see things like "Movie made for $500!" yeah... if you treat people like slaves and exploit free labor.
It's great to break out hard-costs but don't forget to also tack on:
"$5,000 hard costs and... $15,000 in labor."
That's why we see so many people come back to us and say something like "I want you to make a game/movie/song for me. I heard that you can make an entire game for $5,000 or an entire feature film for $50. So I'll give you $100."
Posted by: Gavin Greenwalt | August 01, 2014 at 12:20 PM
Sorry Gavin, but I work for myself and my partners are paid with rev share. So there really are no labor costs. (Other than the loc, which I mentioned.)
We could talk about the opportunity cost of me giving up my six figure Treyarch salary to go indie ... but then I just get depressed. :)
And see above, what I told Sergio about how much person-time went into the project.
Posted by: Happionlabs | August 01, 2014 at 12:50 PM
Hey Jamie, hope you don't get frustrated by the perceived anger on some messages. It's an unfortunate reflection of the pervasive use of click-bait articles to convert console flame wars into ad impressions. It's easy to feel like everyone has an agenda even when there's none.
Anyway, now that there have been a few months of release under SSSP's belt, how are you feeling about a follow-up?
I'd love to see couch co-op (or competition, basically any local 2-player mode). Even if it was added as a $1 or $2 option there's still plenty of value - and perhaps could be a good upsell if you ever went down the Games With Gold route.
Beyond that, I have two tiny requests if there was ever an update. When I die, I always wonder how many missiles I had left (should I have risked my life to get that powerup??) and what my multiplier was. Unfortunately, they're cleared immediately when you die - and when I'm alive, I'm too busy avoiding enemies to look at the top of the screen to check them.
Oh, and with Xbox launching in India, China and Japan, localizing to those languages might have a decent ROI.
Anyway, do you think your Xbox One experiment was a success (i.e., worth the opportunity cost)?
Posted by: Agar | August 07, 2014 at 12:29 PM
Hi Agar -
If it was all about dollars and cents for me, going indie is not replacing my AAA salary, so it's not technically worth the opportunity cost.
But it's not about dollars and cents for me. It's about making the games I want to make with no compromise, spending time with my family, being happy, etc. So as long as I can make a living wage I'm good. Which I did. (This time...)
Posted by: Happionlabs | August 21, 2014 at 10:35 AM