Evaluating development time

Hello everyone,

I’m in the process of putting a game project together, thus trying to estimate the development cost. However, neither of my partner and I are programmers, and even if we have a few years of game industry experience under our belt, we’re having troubles evaluating the time, and incidentally the budget, needed to develop our project (and obviously, we’re trying to put a sound game design documentation and visual research before getting any further, since anything less would be a waste of everyone’s time, and we can’t have that, right ?).

So, the question is : how much time would it take for 4 programmers to develop an online, multiplayer only FPS game with features mechanically comparable to Team Fortress (arcady shooter with different character classes, customizable loadouts, a couple different game modes) using UE4 ? While I know the product I’m citing as exemple is very polished, what I’m aiming for is essentially how long it would take to get a clean beta out.

The programmers I’ve approached with this questio so far gave me wildly different estimations, but I couldn’t find one who had actually worked within the engine, so I hoped one of you folks could help me out.

Anyway, thanks for your time.

Just the programming part or also the assets, UI,…? :slight_smile:

Just the programming part. Our visual, gameplay and sound design bases are covered, so to speak. :wink:

Without the “online part” (dont have experience with that ^^) I personally would estimate around 1-2 weeks -> actually those kinds of stuff is pretty easy to create (of course it depends on your experience) :slight_smile:

This seems incredibly low, even if it’s just the front end part of the software.

I worked on small to large projects and not once did we get the time right.

I think that the development time cannot be so easily predicted. Not without a deep and personal info on the project, people and skills. Even then it’s so easy to miss the time. You need to sit down with your programmers and develop a rough timeline.
If it’s a budget issue, isn’t it easier to pay fixed amount?

We’re at the early pre-production stage anyway, and my partner seems pretty confident he can get us the funds we need if we come with a robust enough game project, we might be able to sway an investor among his connections.

And yes, I know you can never guess a dev time, it’s fairly obvious, my concern is more to make sure we anticipated the right scale, and hopefully haven’t been too optimistic on the budget we allocated to code.

It’s really difficult there is easily too many factors here. To name some;

Programmers experience, Experience with the Engine, Experience with Multiplayer/Replication fundamentals, are they available full time.

I think Andrej J. is right. It seems this question is to work out if you have the correct funds. I think you need to separate the tasks into goals and work out the cost per Goal.

Fully replicated Character Movement and Actions - X amount of £
Child classes for Medic, Soldier, Spy with functionality - X amount of £
Weapon and projectiles - X amount of £
UI/HUD and Menu’s - X amount of £

Doing things this way has benefits like the below,

Programmers will get paid by Milestone (goal). Programmers will work faster to get the reward to complete work and essentially get another contract etc…
You can visually track the progress and present this to your investors.
You can split goals per programmer. You may choose to give your most experienced Programmer the biggest goal (which pays him the most when complete) and give the easier tasks to your less experienced programmers.

It all feels somewhat risy. Woring like that implies the devs can leave the project once they completed a development cycle and we’d be left with code we wouldn’t now the ins and outs, to pass on to another mercenary programmer. And at the same time, we have to pay the artists, so if the software dev schedule doesn’t match the art’s, if the freelance developers just disappear, give up, finds another job, and that’s something I’ve seen happening, I fear it would derail the whole thing.

Also, I see no reasons why we wouldn’t be able to hire a lead developer with some experience with the Unreal engine on their resume, assuming we’d give that person a salary matching their skills.

For pure development time, It’s hard to estimate (though it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks), but networking will likely add 15-25% to that time. There is also A LOT of polishing required after getting something made to get it perfect, which in my experience takes more time than the initial development itself.

To be completely honest, there are so many unknowns with your post that it’s impossible to give an accurate estimation of time/cost. How skilled are your programmers (2 great programmers can run circles around 4 moderately decent ones)? How much direction have you given for your project (ex: will your programmer know exactly what to implement and how long YOU expect it to take to finish…and not the other way around)? How much time do you plan on devoting to testing/bug fixes (trust me…they’ll happen no matter how good your programmer are)? What’s your budget (time & money)?

A general rule of thumb when it comes to project time/cost estimations: Cost = Complexity x Time x Artists/Programmers x Skill. It’s really not an official formula, but hopefully you get the picture…costs can add up quickly. You can hire decent programmers but your timeline gets extended, versus hiring skilled (more expensive) programmers and saving time on development. If you have little to no direction for the project, your deadlines just got really extended!

But…to answer your question with the information you’ve posted…I’d venture to say you could expect your game to be developed anywhere from 3-12 months depending on complexity and the skills of your programmers.

I second this suggestion. Also, depending on how much gameplay experimentation and tuning you will end up doing, this could easily go long.

Many times, game designers believe very strongly in a certain approach, only to find very late that the approach won’t work, and it’s back to the drawing board, which may significantly extend the schedule. This happens less often for art, but when it does, it’ll be a complete do-over. So avoid this :slight_smile:

The sooner you can prototype any bit that you aren’t 100% sure will already work, the better for everyone. Gray box levels, stick figures, programmers saying “boom” into the microphone, are all totally legitimate things to play with when figuring out the basic game mechanics.

Character animations, effects, transitions, an environment modeling should come after all of the gameplay is already built, and everybody agrees it’s as fun as it can be.

Even if the programmers are well versed with Unreal4 (which mean having completed and shipped a game using Unreal4 engine), the timeline is still hard to estimate due to game design itself and many other factors. Probably first create a prototype first aka create one level. From thereon, you will have a much better picture of the game design and all the asset development time.

Lol, let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time in the land of Action-script 3, I was determined to finish a project within 3 days. During the 1st day, progress was good, the game was finally starting to get a little bit of it’s desired shine. Day 2, the game was really starting to have flare, I had finished all of the main game logic, and was just starting to “pretty it up”. On the 3rd day, all was going great until I tried to run my game and got an error for every single one of my functions, so I turned to the noble forums. Day 4, after doing lots of research, and asking the pros on the forum boards, I was stumped, nobody could figure out my situation. Day 5, same as day 4. Day 6… Day 7… Day 8… Day 16, After 2 weeks and over 200 hours of painful debugging, someone on a forum board noted that somewhere in my code I had 2 consecutive colons at the end of the line, when I should only have 1. I saw their post, and immediately removed the colon, and all was well.

What is the moral of the story you ask? To be honest, I don’t know except to say that estimations can be pretty far off (nearly 600% underestimation in my case).

Well, thank you all for your answer.

Since it’s far from being my first game I do know everything can go horribly wrong, I’m merely trying to acertain how acurate are my expectations. As we’re trying to present a full fledged planning to potential investors in a few months, my figures have to be tight.

Since we’re on the subject, how much is a lead programmer with the necessary knowledge of UE4 is expected to earn monthly ?

That depends on many factors. Take a look at this list from 2014. There you can see the average salary in the game industry: :slight_smile:

It also depends on what you mean by “lead.” Does personnel management? Does infrastructure procurement? Runs live operations? Combining that with art tech? Gameplay? Data/analytics? Unicorn breeding?
The GamaSutra survey is good for averages, but almost nobody is average, and various parts of the world has WILDLY varying salaries, as do various sub-niches.
If they live in San Francisco, $175k/year? (There’s an engineering bubble going on there)
If they live in Bulgaria or the Ukraine, $30k/year?
These numbers are based on some insight into job and outsourcing markets, but you will likely find variations going both ways from these numbers if you go looking.

@jwatte : Well, the Gamasutra survey allowed me to deduce what an average senior developer would want as a salary. Once again, while I have some experience making games, I am no producer or HR, and while my partner has experience in that regard, I live and die by the rule of “trust, but verify”.

So yeah, I knew these things vary from place to place depending on the cost of life.

Anyway, thanks for your help everyone. I still have a long way to go :smiley: