What is the startup cost of a studio?

There is quite a lot of discussion you could probably have over the dynamics of starting a studio, but I would like to focus in one important aspect of starting and running a studio. Employees. You need talent, teamwork and inspiration to make games. I have learned the hard way that trying to put together a game by yourself is such an undertaking task. Certainly not impossible, but incredibly difficult. So I think assembling a team to do so is important.

Some questions about unertaking this task:

• What are some of the key positions you will need filled to start developing professional games? To have a well rounded team, and to ensure nobody is overworked, what is an ideal team, and what positions does that entail? Some ideas below:

• Concept artist
• 3D Artist
• UI artist

Or could you save money and hire somebody to do both the concept art and 3D art? Or would that be too much work for one person?

When I think of starting my own studio; the most difficult thing will be finding the right talent, and knowing what they are worth (ie: salaries). I know personally if I started my own studio I would want to be particularly generous with salaries. While that is expensive, I think a well paid employee makes a happy one. Plus as an employee myself, I know how valuable extra money can be. Needless to say, If I can’t afford to be generous, than I wouldn’t consider starting a studio.

• So with that said, how do you gauge what a certain position is worth; and on top of that, experience?

As a side note, I’m thinking I can save some money and do the programming work myself for a while. I’m already used to doing it full time as it is.

I guess to sum up my post, for a startup, what is the best combination between saving money by not hiring too many people initially, and still not overworking people in the end? I wouldn’t want any person to be overwhelmed if you could help it.

You start a studio when you have an IP…
Otherwise the struggles are just the same.

If you aren’t filthy rich then shouldn’t do it without publisher funding * and they only finance studios with IPs *

Right well I have other sources of funding available. I don’t plan on depending on a publisher for funding. I don’t plan on making the next Assassins Creed game (obviously), but I don’t see why you can’t still make a non-linear high quality game has replay-ability built into it. That way, you can still build something decent without needing a huge team. I know that is a huge oversimplification of developing a “high quality” game. which is debatable in and of itself. However I don’t want to engage in that discussion.

IF you don’t need publisher funding, what are the dynamics of building a game dev team?

It depends on what type of game you’re making. The other thing is that when you first get started you have different requirements than you will later–for example, you’d likely be needing concept artists and writers to figure out what the game will actually be, it’s probably also good to try and find some lead programmers/3D artists since you’ll need some really good people in those positions, then you start getting people as the amount of work increases.

Truth be told I’m not a games developer but a 3d artist in general and I love video games as being art in motion so coming from that direction you could buy off the shelf what you need to fill in the holes that you can not accomplish on your but as part of an Indy team it’s more about dividing up the workload of the things that no one whats to do.

My thing that I want to do is character animations so I cover the Lead Animator position as my preference but I’m also the asset and content manager as well cover other areas that’s not really of interest to me as it should be but “must” be done in an effort to “always” be moving forward.

One of our coders does promotion. A character modeler is our business manager, another our team leader. Our 2d concept artist is top shelf but also makes environments, makes custom textures and materials, and helps out with animation.

The thing about making a video game is everyone whats to do the hero pie work, I would rather eat dirt than do UV mapping but we do have someone who enjoys this task, so having someone of skill is nice but having a crew of developers who is all guts and glory of “getting it done” and does not fear stepping outside their comfort zone is nicer. :smiley:

So the idea of “turf” should be avoided in a small team and ignore how the AAA guys do things and do what works for your own team.

The gig economy: Hire no one / Make a game with temp staff. If it sells then think about this stuff.

Open a studio in low cost economy with low red-tape. Check if maybe there’s govt help / grants too.

Try to find developers who aren’t lazy and hyper sensitive.
Now this one is a huge challenge :stuck_out_tongue:

When you find some, those are the ones that cost a lot to keep though…

Hello! I can tell you my cost making a solo venture conversion of my book stories. Kind of a step by step as well as a cost as a solo developer.

Step 1: Get to Know Whether Your Design is Fun
The first iteration was in the Aurora Engine (NWN1) then Electron Engine (NWN2)…both of these are inclusive toolsets to those games and anything made with them are free. The good side here is that I learned a lot of details about how to make a game function as well as making a game ‘Fun’ for players (myself included). Both of these engines had multiplayer functionality as well…so the testing was very good. I would HIGHLY recommend using NWN1 Diamond Edition (includes all 3 expansions) with CEP and CTP which are both addons called HAK files…basically Bioware’s 7Zip file container with the files inside to load at Editor and Runtime. Take 4-6 moths to make this happen including some dialogue and questing.
Cost = Time

Step 2: Figure Out Your Design Standard
*This can actually be done in line with Step 1 if your really know you want to make a series of games.
In my case it took a lot of time and investigation. The graphical improvements in NWN2 were really good…especially with my personal and various community HAKs. I wanted a game that played like NWN1/2 but with the graphical fidelity of a Skyrim or Shadows of Mordor. This led me to DAZ Studio as well as several other modeling systems. Since I already knew Blender a bit I started trying to transfer files into 3 current game engines…Torque, Esenthel, and Unity 4. Torque I just did not get. Esenthel was fairly decent but it just did not ‘click’ since my mind is still in the Bioware and Skyrim way of doing things. Unity 4 however was a different story. Remarkably easy to use and the imports gave me what I needed. So I stuck with it and even bought the Pro license since there were things I had to have that only the Pro version gave. Many stated that DAZ art cannot be used for gaming since the poly counts are too high…I called BS and developed some excellent workflows and LOD levels that worked really well in Unity 4. The Standard was formed in about 6 months.
Cost = ~$175 USD
DAZ Studio Pro is Free and comes with some great things to get started with…but you will want some morph expressions and body morphs to really unlock what you need.
*If you want a list of required addons to really get started it is about $175 to get the right ones…I have this info in PDF. Just send me a PM and I can link up the PDF from my site.

Step 3: Make your own design documents that you have to follow yourself.
This is huge. Naming conventions of scripts and models and all of that makes a difference. If you took the NWN1 route you can learn from one of the best developers there are…Bioware. They did an amazing job at naming conventions. So much so that it can be followed as a guideline for these current gen engines. It is too bad that many coders and artists just go wild with naming or use **** naming standards all together. 1 Month to get the spreadsheet nailed down.
Cost = Time and Spreadsheet Program (I use MS Excel 2007)

Step 4: Start making/buying 3D art.
*Buy On Sale! DAZ has Great Sales all the time but the big ones hit 4 times a year. If you do the DAZ route then get the Platinum Club Plus (PC+) Membership…crazy deals saving huge piles of green.
Why not make the artists from DAZ work for you. Simply study what licenses are offered and stick to the fewest you can. Anything with DAZ Originals in the artist title is all under one license. Whether you make and/or purchase your art you will need to use your naming styles and prepare your art to be game ready. This is actually easier in UE4 (outside of making sure your scaling exports are right for UE4). Textures and Materials all need to named and cataloged for Insurance and License challenges that could come later. Takes a little extra time to add each model to a spreadsheet but it is very well worth it later. I am still preparing art as well as going back through and setting the scale properly for UE4 in Blender. This process is ongoing but it took about 1 year to get enough in game format to actually start building some nice stuff.
Cost = My Total Cost ~$45,000, also Time to make my own 3D Art, and the large dose of time to export and game prep the 3D art. $30 per hour per artist

Step 5a: Game Logic Coding.
*Can be adapted in Step 4 but really be careful with time and burnout here!
I made the ORSv5.1 - Olander’s Realistic Systems for NWN1 (ORSv5.1 - Olander's Realistic Systems | The Neverwinter Vault) and a private ORS v6 in NWN2 using the advancement of the scripting capability and the XML based GUIs that were available to do some cool stuff. The ORSv5.1 is free of course and you can use much of the code for doing things shown in the description in UE4/Unity. The code is very similar to C but uses Bioware’s functions to get the work done. These functions located on the NWN Lexicon (NWN Lexicon) can be reversed engineered (did many of these in Unity…and currently doing some/many in UE4) and used in almost the same detail as in NWN1/2. These functions are handy and are as go to gaming since they also make sense. If you hire a coder…especially in the C++ world…introduce them to NWN1 script and take a couple of weeks to go through the ORSv5.1 in how it integrates nicely into the Bioware engine. The code is highly optimized and once again…translates very nicely. This will take about 1.5 years to get the Framework Overlay done on top of the engine of choice…in this case UE4.
Cost = Time (My Cost) or $40 per hour per coder.

Step 5b: Game Story and Writing.
If you went the NWN1 route your should have some nice conversations made that also do questing/missions. You should have quite a number of these ideas for players to have some fun with. This is obviously very wide open depending upon your game…but that main thing here is to make certain you stick with your Standard with your writers. Especially if you are writing your own stories/missions.
Cost = Time (My Cost) or $30 per hour per writer.

Step 6: Testing your Designs.
I do testing but I also pay others to do testing as well. Usually this is just a young guy/gal from the local Game Stop or Microcenter/Fry’s to test out a level and give some verbal feedback (recording while play testing). Metrics are a curse…don;t use them in my opinion. Go with what the players are saying and what feels right. Makes certain to test tightly…meaning small easy to focus on tests. Less details lost and you gather better feedback. Takes a little additional time to set these tests up but the result in fabulous and very high QC. Once something changes…makes certain to go back and test…example being after the testing project is transferred into the real game project and integrated…run another QC test on it to make certain everything functions.
Cost = 100 Hours of Testing @ $25 per hour $2,500 may as well double or triple this as your game gets closer to completion. 2 hours of good play testing goes a loooooong way!

My total cost currently is almost $55,000 and I live and breath game design. I am single and love what I do. I am an engineer in my paying job and really like that as well…my real love is game design. My Unity 5 sales demo of my game design proof of concept did not get investor funding as I hoped. Close but just not good enough…being in Unity 5 was part of the big reason why I did not get the investor funding (some real pros made the statement that if I was doing the project in UE4 I would have gotten the funding). This is now why I am fully vested into UE4 and do a full rebuild. I miss Unity…and I miss Aurora even more…but UE4 is awesome sauce that I am really cruising along in.

I know this was a wee bit long winded but I hope this gives some details on not only what my game development in a very frugal way has cost me out of my own pockets as well as some insight into what it will cost to hire talent. This talent could be as a freelancer or in house employee (recommended).


  • Have a game pitch that makes you excited. If you can’t get excited about it, you won’t make others excited, and you’re dead-in-the-water.
  • Don’t just fill roles, find indispensable people that will help you grow and bring life to your team.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly.
  • Make your business plan separate from your product plan (though, obviously, they ultimately are interwoven).
  • Set tasks, meet tasks.
  • Set milestones, meet milestones.
  • Make a budget, ask for more than your budget, get your budget.
  • Spend smart. Money goes real, real quick.

How long is a piece of string?
What’s the best car for me?
What does it cost to travel?

You need to have very specific requirements if you want very specific answers.
If you are a programmer/artist yourself, and you’re building a small (one-person) game, you may need nothing more than Ramen noodles and the rent for a shared room.
If you’re building the next worldwide MMO with DX12 graphics support, simultaneous 4 platform release, and a world persistently modified by users, you’ll need many dozens of millions of dollars/euros/pounds.

Okay, to be more specific, should you first hire an experienced artist as an “Art Director” to help you find good talent for a team? I have some skill as an artist, but not nearly what I would need to implement the look of a game. I am more technically oriented. So maybe an experienced artist would be the first person to consider.

For those of you who would consider yourselves artist, what would you consider a “good” concept artist?

Great art can make or break a game (Fez, Bastion, Firewatch, The Witness, etc), and it can also not matter at all (Minecraft, Undertale, Nidhogg, Thomas Was Alone). Ideally for a small team you’d want an art director that can do 3d art, concept art, tech art, and can help establish the asset workflow. But if the game is gameplay first a great artist might not be 100% necessary, but only if there’s something else that brings charm and players attention. If a 10 second clip of gameplay isn’t going to sell the game, then the art in that clip needs to.

I started my own studio, Heavy Diesel Softworks, LLC. Other than the 300ish it cost me to start the LLC I haven’t had any other expenses outside of zbrush, Substance painter, substance designer, bitmap2material, and topogun. As a programmer I did bring on a partner who is an animator and artist for 50% of the company. When you can’t pay them the only thing you can do is offer a percentage of your studio. I hate doing art so I needed an artist, I found one that can do it all.

Our first priorities after making some money are:
1: Buy new workstations
2: Hire an audio person.
3: Hire someone to do environmental 3d modeling/concepting
4: Hire a C++ engine guru

But until then

I do: scripting, 3d modeling, rigging/skinning, audio, Texture work, level design, ui layout
My partner does: 3d modeling, animation, concept art, Texture work, environmental design, ui design

I guess what I am trying to say is, if you are going to hire people for a small studio, make sure they can wear multiple hats.

If you have enough funding that you are going to be paying multiple artists, then yes, an experienced AD and art lead is very important!
Hiring people who don’t work out to actually crank out the needed volume at the needed quality is super expensive, so you want to avoid that as an indie studio that pays people.
Same thing for programming – if you don’t know what to look for in a programmer, and can’t tell a quick hack from a solid solution, you’re unlikely to know where to set the bar in hiring, and may keep paying for bad decisions for a long time.
(Note that someone who makes everything “perfect” at all times can be equally expensive, if what you need is an immediate fix in leaf code that doesn’t affect any other parts of the system.)

A related article: Dunning–Kruger effect - Wikipedia