Mike Z on the cost of making (fighting) games

It doesn’t matter, you’re not going to change his mind.

" Michael Zaimont Nathan Topousis • 19 days ago

What ARE those 8 people doing? I’ll try to give a more in-depth breakdown.
If it’s anything like a typical Skullgirls character, which was made under the same arrangement, we’re doing about 60-80 hours of work a week:

Me - programming, scripting, balancing etc. (Note that the Squigly update will also contain other fixes that didn’t make it in the patch.)
Earl - scripting and tuning assistance, PR.
Alex/Kinuko/Persona - animation and art (character portrait/promotional art/model sheets/story art/etc). Note that most animation is roughed in-house, put into the game to test, then keyframed in-house, and only outsourced for the final inbetweens. There’s more than enough work left. :^P
Richard - cleanup lead (cleaning up important animations like idles/walks/attacks, directing the cleanup contractors).
Brian - palettes, contractor management and misc everything else art-related.
Peter - coordinator (ever try dealing with 200 contractors?), PR, producer.

Plus, even outsourcing for this much art is a ton of work since you have to manage everyone, review everything, get fixes, etc.

[edit] Not to mention that with the crowdfunding there’s also the whole dealing-with-getting-the-rewards-to-everyone thing."

"Here is some reference from my own experiences. Typically I dont like to share these kinds of details with people who just DEMAND information they havent earned, but discussion has shifted here a bit and its good to see.

I was one of the contractors, well, still am! I did some of the cleanup animation. By the time I got an assignment, the animation rough had been approved by Kinuko and at this point it could make the final game or it could not (thats all in the testing, balancing and memory management) Smartasses in this thread have questioned the need for engineers in a game thats already “done” and thats a big mistake. The original game had to have animations cut because we had run out of memory, so on a technical standpoint, how the fuck are we gonna add more characters? Well shit, good thing theres engineers on the team to figure that shit out, huh? Thats only one of the challenges too.

But anyways, to the point. You may get a short animation (6 frames aprox), medium (12, 15 ish) or large (20 plus) theres also varying degrees of importance (normal move vs animation that only triggers when two duplicate characters hit each other with the same move) and theres also character design details to add to the difficulty (Valentine is more simple than Painwheel, for example). One extra wrinkle is the level of sketchiness in the animation rough. Some animators will make the drawings so tight that theres no room for improvisation while others will basically blank out the face and all of a sudden you find yourself animating faces from scratch!)

For an outsourcer, since you dont have access to the team at your immediate need, its important to be diligent with the reference materials. Very few artists draw like Alex or Kinuko and its our job to make our art look exactly like theirs. If you look at my art youll find that my style is not really close, so I cant just start on the task right away, I need to study the reference provided carefully and make sure I “get” the character before I start.

So once you start, the first deliverable is to digitally ink all the frames. Im a clasically trained 2D animator and have a fulltime art gig, so eventhough Im fast I can only start working on this when I get home. This is another of the unfortunate realities that come with an ambitious project like this, that a lot of outside help already has other projects going on, so they cant give you 8 hours a day. I came home at 7 after drawing all day and spent another 5 hours doing Skullgirls work. Typically after two days I would send a medium sized animation over for approval from Richard, who is the awesome cleanup genius at Lab Zero. Approval usually takes about a day because Richard is getting deliverables from the outsources, who if you have seen the credits are way more than 20 … So basically Richard is art directing 20+ people AND doing cleanup work himself, meaning he basically doesnt get to go home (so its great to have to listen to assholes here tell me that he needs to justify his $600 a week) I had the pleasure of meeting him a few months back and hes going gray already, haha.

So yeah, approval. While I wait for that to show up I get started on the next frame. Very rarely does the linework get approved on the first try. Usually something is inconsistent, a weapon looks weird or the shapes are a little flat. Depending on the damage you may have to do 20% percent of work or maybe even up to 50. Its important to get this stuff approved because otherwise you cant move on to shading and coloring, which are the next steps.

Once youre approved and do the shading and color pass (which take about 60% of the time it takes to ink) you send those off for approval as well, make some last minute touch ups due to feedback and THEN the animation is done on your end. Before it ends in the game proper, chances are Richard has fixed some things himself … So Id say on average I could get about 60 ish frames of animation a week, and seeing how the character with the FEWEST amount of animations has about 1500 then you start to get an idea of how just one step of the process works.

THEN we look at Squigly. What a lot of you arent realizing is that she has MULTIPLE STANCES. What does that mean? TWICE THE ANIMATIONS.

Can you start to see how the hours pile up and have NOTHING to do with proper managing? A fighting game is unlike any other game. A character in a fighting game is the equivalent of a character + level design + the game design of any other game.

But hey yeah, lazy devs, right? "

All right, I’m gonna go through this one more time.

Before I start off, though, let me give you a little background. With the exception of Ravi himself, there is almost certainly no one on GAF who is more qualified to talk about voiceover in games. Not only am I literally a voice actor in Skullgirls (AND League of Legends, and several other games), but I run my small indie studio, which made a game with over 1,400 lines of fully voiced dialogue, certainly more than Bastion and likely more than most, if not all, indie games out there.

The question, of course, would immediately come up: how much did I spend on Sequence voiceovers? The answer is, truthfully, about $2,200, but this is an incredibly misleading number. Several…well, most…of the actors in Sequence were my friends, who worked for free. My friend Geoff, the audio engineer, mastered and edited over 1,400 lines for free. And of course, all the work I did…directing, picking takes, inserting into the game, modifying for time, and let’s not forget, writing all the lines themselves…was unpaid. The studio was out of some guy’s house; he charged me $40/hr, but it was mainly for the microphone. We recorded in a living room, for the most part. The quality wasn’t horrible…I doubt many people were yelling at the screen…but from a professional standpoint, it was pretty rough.

I still feel bad about doing this, and I love my friends dearly for helping me. I had no choice; I couldn’t pay more money, everything was out of pocket, I was a 23-year-old struggling to live in Los Angeles paying the bills via SAT/ACT/GRE tutoring. But I can never do this again. A professional studio, making a game that isn’t just a project of passion but a proper, commercial endeavor that’s meant to help support actual full-time jobs, CANNOT JUST NOT PAY PEOPLE A FAIR WAGE. It’s insulting and, frankly, illegal. If EA told you to come in a do a shitton of work on Mirror’s Edge 2, would you do it for free? No. You wouldn’t. Your skills and time are worth money, and you expect to be compensated accordingly. In my next game, There Came an Echo, I’ve already paid the VOICEOVER STUDIO ALONE (Soundelux Design Music Group) over eight thousand dollars for their services, nearly $7,000 in SAG/AFTRA fees, and suffice to say, Wil Wheaton’s acting isn’t free either. I did this because this is what it costs, this is the price of entry, for the highest quality voiceover services in a game that absolutely requires those services to reach its highest potential.

Ravi (who I know personally, by the way, and is sacrificing a lot for himself and his team even with the 150k) isn’t doing that. Ravi is making the best use of his money. He’s hired Cristina Vee to direct…with whom I was hanging last night, by the way, and she was utterly appalled at this shit…who charges an utter pittance compared to hotshot Hollywood VO directors who wouldn’t do any better a job, they’re using an independent voiceover studio and a single sound engineer to run the whole setup, which is pretty shockingly professional for the cost. And I’m sure they have someone in-house doing all the editing, mastering, and placement for the VO lines, which is extremely time-consuming.

Two voice actors, a director, a sound engineer, studio costs, equipment costs, and a pretty massive workload back at the office…and you people are bitching about four thousand dollars? Honestly, fuck off. You have no idea what you’re talking about, you want quality for pennies, you want people to work for free, or fucking pizza, or something. It’s demeaning. I can’t speak for animation…Noogy’s got you covered on that…but I can speak for this.

I’m working on a game right now, a JRPG. It’s a Final Fantasy like game, I expect about 10-15h of game play, custom engine, optional quests, a job system, animated monsters, hi-res tiles and sprites, all that stuff. My job on the project is programmer, designer, script writer and producer, and I’m not paid a penny on it. I’ll be paid when the game comes out, from the profits on it and in the meantime I hold a fulltime job to pay the bills.

Everything else on that project, animated monster visuals, battle effects, character sprites, concept art, UI, music, sound effects and so forth, is costing me under 50k. So what I’m hearing is that I could make 4 full games, and not simple “angry birds” stuff but actual full productions, for the price of a DLC character? Note: asset production is expected to take about a year, and my personal investment will be 2 years.

There are ways to manage costs, like out of country outsourcing. And I’m not sacrificing quality either.

So I get really confused when I read costs like that, I don’t understand them at all. Not for an indie studio.

People like to see Skullgirls as an indie game, but when you actually look at the development, it’s kinda not. It was basically a AAA funded and developed game with a couple publishers. Nothing against your game, but I doubt every character has the complexity of a fighting game character or on average 1400 frames of animation drawn at twice the resolution of 720p with professional voice acting and music done by an industry professional and porting your game to the two major consoles and PC.

I believe in Mike Z and what he is saying, yet i am very depressed to think you need that amount of money for make this. As someone who has dreamed about making a fighting game and doesn’t even live in the US this destroy my dreams by far. I am from South America so 500k for a game project like this sounds like a bad joke, but that’s reality i guess.

And well, maybe some people is used to see projects coming from nowhere and be awesome without hearing about money. I want to remind everyone that Vanguard Princess is a freeware game and was made with a single dime.

You don’t need the funding Mike Z does for Skullgirls, you just need to cut back in a lot of areas. Make your game 800x450 and make your character sprites the appropriate size for the screen, use as many frames as you need to convey the movement and attacks, fighting games have had characters that only use 300-500 frames of animation for years, hell, King of Fighters XIII if you were to ignore the special effect sprites like fire and explosions only uses about 700-800 frames of animation per character. You can even do thinks like make your game 3 or 4 buttons to give you less frames to animate.

And if you only make it for the PC development and publishing is going to be a lot cheaper, because you already have a computer and you don’t need to spend money to release it to the internet. There’s a lot of ways to cut costs for a fighting game to make your goals a lot more realistic, you just need to be aware of your limitations and set more realistic expectations. And remember, your game doesn’t need to be super HD for people to enjoy it. As long as your game is good people will still play it.

Really? Are you seriously comparing your homemade RPG to Skullgirls? It’s no wonder you don’t understand.

Pic related

You’re right, what I should do is get some offices, move to one of the most expensive cities in America, increase my overhead costs through management and meetings and end up with a product which might be better, but hardly by leaps and bounds.

You know what’s homemade? Braid. 125k dev cost. You know what else? Super Meat Boy. You don’t need a huge studio to make a great game, and there are many ways to reduce costs. A studio is just a fancy way of talking about people working together on a project, which is exactly what I’m doing. The difference is, I’m working with subcontractors instead of having everyone in house, which is saving me a ton of money, at the cost perhaps of increased effort on my part. I’m fine with that.

That’s entirely true, I have way fewer animation frames per character, and the style will be simpler. But that being said, I’m not comparing a game to a game, I’m comparing a game to 1 DLC character. And I’m at least 4 times less expensive to produce my whole work, as opposed to one sliver of his.

Are you really comparing these 2 games aesthetically?



Yes you do, unless your game is for the blind and the ignorant, like Super Meat Boy. Blind because the game looks like a POS that I could be making by myself in MS paint, and ignorant because it fools people that save-state design means challenge and strokes their egos. Fighting games don’t have that luxury because in multiplayer games people have higher standards and by nature, are a bit more aware of the mechanics (because it’s easier to recognize bad design when the opponent gets you stuck in a jab infinite and you don’t get to play, for example.) so fighting games as a whole actually have to deliver if they want to have some success.

Not sure what you’re saying. Making a game shouldn’t be a career or full time job? It should only be something done in your spare time?

I think that both of you (Tataki and Mr. X) are misinterpreting his stance, in theory SG is an indie game, but from their production values is clear that is not the case, he who happens to be developing a game see the contrasts of how he is able to make his game with just a fraction of what a single character costs on the SG project and wonders (like many) if there is the possibility for them to cut the costs.

Also @tataki, chill man

Well, has anyone actually saw and cried with Indie the movie? I haven’t but maybe you guys did. And if you guys were a little empathetic, you would love to give those guys proper salaries for their work and games.

Calling MikeZ and Labzero not indie, is basically calling them “sellouts” cause they got a publisher. Mike and Alex did a lot of unpaid work by themselves being “indie” before they got contracted by Reverge. They just returned to the indie status and working for nothing after the lawsuit that Autumn games got.

And for those who claimed about $2000 being too much for hitboxes, by MikeZ himself:

Absolutely not. In my case, I don’t have the sales of a game to rely on, so I have to have this job to pay for it. That being said, even if I were paying myself 2 years salary (which I wouldn’t need to since I would be making this faster), the game’s budget would still would be under the 1 DLC character asking price.

And Braid? Also, clearly we have different sensibilities when enjoying video games.

I definitely would not have worded it better myself.

They’ve budgeted themselves working 60-80 hrs a week at $600 a week for 10 weeks.

I think they cut cost at any corner they could.

WTF??? Are you now comparing 2 old school designed platformers with a fucking competitive fighting game?

The idiocy continues…

They don’t have the sales of the game to rely on. The publisher’s bank account is tied up due to a lawsuit over Def Jam Rapstar.

They were laid off and worked on the 1.01 patch for no pay for months.

One of the problems I have with Skullgirls is hit box contracting. As hitboxes give the priority to the attacks and throws which is a vital part of the game(specifically the neutral) sure you can throw priority engine in there, but that can make things way worse.

You don’t need to be using 10+ hurt boxes on a some cells of animation of standing when you could use 3 to 6 hurtboxes quite a bit of the of animation if not all. How do you think SNKP do a rebalance to 2002 with a small team or a couple of battle planners from Capcom can do a 30+ characters with animations changing all the time.

Yes, since I don’t tell others how to run their business like I know any better, and use irrelevant examples to justify it. The day you make your own Skullgirls, which will be just as good, with much smaller budget, your financial criticism could be taken seriously.