Hey there! If you enjoy big blockbuster games, you‘ve probably seen some with insane production values and scales. But do you know which titles had the biggest budgets ever? We‘re talking hundreds of millions of dollars — more than many Hollywood movies cost to make!
As an experienced data analyst and gaming enthusiast, I‘ve researched the soaring development costs behind gaming‘s biggest productions. Below I‘ll walk you through the top 10 biggest budget games ranked by their production and marketing costs. Strap in, because the figures are mind-blowing!
So…What Exactly Goes Into a Game‘s Budget?
Before we get to the rankings, it helps to understand everything that factors into the costs of making a big game nowadays.
Game development typically happens in two broad phases:
This refers to the hands-on process of actually building the game – programming, art/animation, writing, QA testing, etc. Production budgets account for:
- Salaries – for hundreds or even thousands of developers
- Overhead – like studio rental, hardware, software licenses
- Outsourcing – external companies contracted for assets
- Research – such as real-world references for artists
Pre-production like concepting and prototyping falls here too. With huge AAA games, active production can take over 5 years with teams exceeding 1,000 across multiple studios.
According to data SitePoint collected, average salaries make up over 50% of production budgets. The rest goes to overhead, outsourcing, etc.
Once the game‘s ready to ship, there‘s still the big task of actually selling it to players. Marketing budgets include:
- Advertising – commercials, YouTube, billboards, and so on
- Public relations
- Launch events – putting on conferences or parties
- Sales incentives – bonuses for hitting targets
- Manufacturing – pressing discs for physical copies
Add both phases together, and you get the game‘s total cost to make and market. Of course the goal is for sales to ultimately surpass the budgets! Now let‘s look at which games had the biggest total budgets ever.
Counting Down the Top 10 Biggest Budget Games
Here are the 10 video games with the largest budgets to date based on production and marketing costs. For accuracy, we‘ll rely on official budget confirmations when available. When the true budget is undisclosed, we‘ll lean on estimates from proven industry analysts.
#10: Destiny (2014)
Total Budget: $140 million
Publisher: Activision & Bungie
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Kicking off the list is Bungie‘s influential 2014 shooter Destiny. After handing off the Halo series to 343 Industries, Bungie partnered with Activision on this new original IP. It blends FPS action with cooperative PvE and PvP multiplayer modes.
According to reports, Activision spent around $140 million total between development and marketing costs like TV ads. Based on estimates, roughly $60 million went to production, $80 million to promotion.
The investment paid dividends, as Destiny made over $500 million worldwide on day one, recouping its costs immediately. It also set franchise records for the biggest new IP launch to date. Over time, the game has earned billions in revenue through expansions and in-game spending.
#9: Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020)
Total Budget: $137 – $145 million
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Ranking #9 is the 2020 remake of the legendary 1997 RPG Final Fantasy VII. This ambitious project expanded the original‘s story and graphics into a modern multi-part epic. Part 1 covers the Midgar section and introduces real-time action-based combat.
According to Square Enix, total costs ranged from $135 – $145 million. For comparison, the 1997 PS1 original cost around $45 million adjusted for inflation. The results were worth the premium investment, with FFVII Remake selling over 5 million copies quickly.
Based on reports, about $70 million went toward development, with the rest covering marketing and promotions. The game earned back its budget within 3 days of launch.
#8: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Total Budget: $137 million
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
No other franchise captures chaotic open world action like Rockstar‘s Grand Theft Auto. The fifth entry broke records as the fastest piece of media ever to hit $1 billion in sales, doing so in just 3 days. To date, it remains one of the highest grossing games ever with over $6 billion total revenue.
This level of success didn‘t come cheap. According to Rockstar‘s parent company Take Two, total costs exceeded $137 million including production and marketing. For comparison, even huge Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame cost around $300 million.
Based on Take Two‘s financials, about $80 million funded development with at least $57 million spent on advertising alone. Clearly the investment paid off in spades.
#7: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Total Budget: $200 million
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Within the gaming world, Call of Duty is synonymous with influential modern military shooters. The second entry in the Modern Warfare sub-series became the fastest selling piece of entertainment ever at its time, moving 22 million units in the first 16 months.
Reports from developers Infinity Ward confirm a massive total budget around $200 million. Only $50 million went toward actual game production. The other $150 million promoted the game worldwide through marketing like celebrity ads.
To wit, basketball star Dwight Howard reportedly received $1 million for his endorsement. Overall, the monumental launch of Modern Warfare 2 proved Activision‘s marketing expense paid off.
#6: Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011)
Total Budget: $200+ million
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
EA‘s main contribution to the Star Wars franchise is this massively multiplayer RPG set thousands of years before the movies. It originally used a subscription model before transitioning to free-to-play.
Though EA has not confirmed an official budget, multiple outlets estimate it exceeded $200 million. That accounts for both production over several years and the initial marketing blitz. Ongoing costs have surely climbed higher with constant new content updates.
For reference, developing an MMO with the scope of SWTOR typically costs over $100 million alone. Then EA likely spent nine figures promoting it as their next big online experience after titles like Warcraft.
#5: Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Total Budget: $240 million (estimated)
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rockstar struck gold again with this long-awaited sequel to 2010‘s Red Dead Redemption. It delivered unmatched depth across its characters, environments, gameplay systems, and more. Critics praised RDR2 as an instant classic and one of the greatest games ever made.
While Rockstar has not confirmed costs, multiple analysts estimate the total budget exceeded $240 million. That makes it one of the most expensive video games ever developed.
For scale, Rockstar‘s parent company Take Two reported spending over $300 million on total "creative costs" in 2018. The bulk of that likely went to Red Dead Redemption 2. In any case, with over 44 million copies sold, Red Dead 2 more than made up those costs.
#4: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022)
Total Budget: $250 million (estimated)
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
This 2022 sequel continued the rebooted Modern Warfare story that started in 2019. The campaign tackles fictional events like terrorist attacks across European cities. Multiplayer received a graphics upgrade, new modes like third-person view, and the return of classic maps.
While unconfirmed, multiple sources estimate another massive $250 million budget between Infinity Ward‘s production and Activision‘s marketing. That matches the reported budget of 2009‘s original Modern Warfare 2. It speaks to Call of Duty‘s enormous scale and the resources Activision pours into maximizing each launch.
Promotions alone likely cost upwards of nine figures, like sponsoring soccer teams and racing crews. But the series earns over a billion dollars annually, so Activision will keep spending big.
#3: Destiny 2 (2017)
Total Budget: $285 million (reported)
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
After 2014‘s Destiny became a huge new franchise, development studio Bungie got to work on an even bolder sequel. Compared to the original, Destiny 2 added more cinematic storytelling, PvE activities, multiplayer options, locations to explore, and tons of loot to chase.
Financial documents from Activision confirm they spent over $300 million developing the Destiny franchise through 2017. Of that figure, about $285 million went toward Destiny 2 and its initial expansions.
While the budget was massive, Bungie‘s continued support and innovations have maintained a dedicated community. Seven years later, Destiny 2 remains among the top played games on all platforms.
#2: Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)
Total Budget: $316 million
Publisher: CD Projekt
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
One of the most anticipated games of the decade, Cyberpunk 2077 came from The Witcher 3 developer CD Projekt Red. It aimed to deliver an immersive open world RPG and deep player choices.
Public financials confirm a staggering $316 million invested into production and launch marketing. Despite moderate reviews about bugs and missing features, Cyberpunk 2077 broke even on pre-orders alone. However, the rocky launch damaged the brand‘s reputation after such confident, expensive marketing.
The team continues working to improve and expand the game though. CD Projekt is determined to deliver the perfect sci-fi RPG experience they initially pitched to match the development costs.
#1: Grand Theft Auto VI (TBA)
Projected Total Budget: $420 million+
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Rockstar‘s follow-up to their biggest moneymaker ever is sure to have an astronomical budget. While details remain scarce, it‘s expected GTA 6 will push new boundaries.
Veteran industry analyst Jeff Cohen predicts total costs could surpass $420 million, making GTA VI the priciest game ever developed. Some estimates go as high as $2 billion, but those figures aren‘t realistic based on historical data. In any case, GTA 6 will claim the biggest budget once it arrives in the next few years.
Considering 2013‘s GTA V cost at least $137 million over a decade ago, it‘s reasonable to assume well over $400 million will fund this next revolution in open world gameplay and satire. When it drops, GTA 6 will sit comfortably atop this list as the most expensive video game made so far.
Are These Massive Budgets Worthwhile Investments?
In certain cases, gigantic gaming budgets pay off through equally massive sales revenue. But minimizing risk is crucial with so much money on the line. If a high-cost title fails to resonate as expected, losses stack up quick.
Plus, smaller indie developers create amazing experiences on modest budgets by focusing creativity into more specific game ideas. Still, today‘s biggest AAA titles truly capture public attention and push technical boundaries like nothing else can.
As costs inflate even higher in the future, it will be fascinating to see if these astronomical budgets remain viable in the long-run. But for now, publishers keep spending bigger than ever chasing the next huge hit.
So there you have it – the top 10 biggest budget video games made so far based on reported expenses! Let me know if you were shocked by any of the actual development costs. I‘m happy to chat more about the inner workings and finances behind the games we love. The numbers are pretty mind-blowing!