So how much $ (in general) does it cost to produce a fully animated/rigged, fully voiced 1-3 minute cutscene in a game that’s in ongoing development (something like SWTOR, where they have a lot of prebuilt assets)? Like just a general low range and high range? I’m seeing a lot of people complaining about prioritizing content they want, and don’t know enough about the behind the scenes costs to properly communicate they’re being unrealistic with their complaints.

The cost of any content in game dev is directly proportional to how much new stuff needs to be created for that content. In order to create a basic conversation cutscene to put into a game, we would need:

  1. A narrative designer to write the script for the cutscene
  2. A cinematic designer to script out the cinematic - which characters speak, in which order, with what timing, in which location, and what other actions they would take over the course of the cutscene
  3. Animations for the characters to play in those positions
  4. A rig for those characters to play those animations
  5. Character models for the characters involved
  6. Voice recordings for the characters to speak
  7. A tool with which to set all of these parameters and organize the cutscene
  8. A game system that can parse the tool data and assets and construct the cutscene from them
  9. A script system to start playing the cutscene when the proper conditions are met

This doesn't include extra stuff like VFX, music, lighting, environments, props, etc. that might need to be created for certain specific cutscenes. In an ongoing game like SWTOR, element numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 were already built long ago and already exist. As long as the designers can create the characters with the in-game character creator and reuse the existing rigs, no new resources need be expended to create them. If you need a completely new custom character model, that takes time from a character artist and a texture artist. If the character needs to animate differently than everyone else (i.e. needs its own rig), that's time from a rigger to create. If the cutscene needs new animations we need to bring on an animator to spend time building the new animations needed for the cutscene.

Using some napkin math, let's consider costs. We usually use the $10,000 per month figure to pay for a developer (salary, benefits, rent, utilities, software licenses, etc.) or approximately $2,500 per development week per person. Let's assume that each task takes a developer a week to complete.

  • Write the script (Narrative designer)
  • Script the cinematic (Cinematic Designer)
  • Record audio (Sound Designer + Voice Actor + studio time)
  • Rig one new character (Rigger) x however many new characters
  • Animate one animation (Animator) x however many new animations
  • Model one new character (Character Artist + Texture Artist) x however many new characters
  • Track all tasks and keep everyone on schedule (Production)
  • Test and validate that the cutscene works (QA)

At the very minimum, we need the script, the cinematic, production, and the QA tester, so a very bare bones cutscene that reuses all assets and has no new VO (say it only reuses the alien language) would cost 4x$2,500 = $10,000. If we add voice recording and keep it to one voice actor (let's say she voices both characters in the cutscene), then the cost jumps to 7x$2,500 = $17,500 because we need the sound designer, the voice actor, and the recording studio time. Adding in two new animations (e.g. one character throwing a punch and the second character reacting to getting punched) would add another two weeks of animator time, raising the cost to 9x$2,500 = $22,500. And so on and so forth. Those costs add up very quickly.

There are ways to get a "bulk" discount of course - we hire voice actors for blocks of four or eight hours, so we can record multiple cutscenes during that session and share some of those costs. We can create one new character and reuse her across multiple cutscenes so that we get more value out of her. Things get cheaper if we reuse stuff more, but they still cost a lot up front. The bulk discounts only really work if the things we're paying for can be reused multiple times though - the more specific an asset is (e.g. a kissing animation), the harder it is to reuse and the more expensive it tends to be relative to other assets.

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