Raph Koster Shares Data About the Cost of Games

In the ongoing war against lockboxes, we as gamers sometimes forget that developers still need to earn money. As much as we complain about some monetization methods, as long as it drives revenue we can at least still play our favorite title. Because otherwise, it’ll just get shut down. While this is a more or less logical conclusion, data about the cost and earnings of games are pretty hard to come by. Some of it has to do with studios simply not sharing stuff. But the free-2-play, mobile, and subscription market also has made things more complicated. It’s not that you can just count sales, multiply that value by the box price, and put it all in a shiny chart.

Raph Koster Has Some Data

Veteran game designer Raph Koster, widely recognized for his work as the lead designer of Ultima Online and the creative director behind Star Wars Galaxies, presented some numbers about the topic on his blog a couple weeks ago. If you’re not completely allergic to science and numbers, it’s an amazingly interesting article that we absolutely recommend to read in its entirety. But of course we also deliver a solid tl;dr with the most interesting aspects.

Raph basically concludes that while the cost of games has gone up per byte, players are spending less. So to come up for increased costs, you need to sell your product to more people. “But… at least in developed countries, we are actually close to market saturation.” If the recent trend continues, the average game will be free in ten years (and average means AAA in this case) while the development costs will skyrocket to 250M and above. This demonstrates how much money developers need to make after the initial release (for example through lockbox monetization).


Koster offers some inconvenient solutions to gamers and studios to fight the current situation:

  • Focus on retention and community: The most profitable games are evergreens.
  • Let players generate content at no cost: UGC, using player models, customization, whatever.
  • Make less games, raise prices on the existing ones.
  • Algorithmic and procedural approaches need to become dramatically more widespread.
  • Shift our F2P emphasis, which currently depends on trickling content and upselling it.

He mentions more point in the article, but these are probably the most interesting ones in terms of Neverwinter. Especially the Foundry and community engagement comes to mind, which this game (despite some improvements lately) still lacks. There is however one more obvious takeaway from the data: Go support the games you love. They need it more than ever!

If you want to preserve the games you love, you can help by not pirating, by supporting developers, by not tearing them down on social media and calling them inept greedy bastards, and most of all by just understanding the landscape.

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3 thoughts on “Raph Koster Shares Data About the Cost of Games

  • Avatar
    February 9, 2018 at 11:40 am

    I agree with paying something for NW, but it’s PWE who decided to make it “free” to play. I’ve paid more than my fair share. I’ve also seen more than my fair share of ineptitude and, at times, sheer stupidity and actual, deliberate scams.

    But then, haven’t we all?

  • Avatar
    February 12, 2018 at 9:01 am

    [Shift our F2P emphasis, which currently depends on trickling content and upselling it.]
    > You can scam 1000 players one time, but you can’t scam one player 1000 times.

    [Make less games, raise prices on the existing ones.]
    > No one like lowcost shit.

    [Focus on retention and community: The most profitable games are evergreens.]
    > Now making a good game, well maintained will attract more players than marketing : thanks to reviewers.

    [Let players generate content at no cost: UGC, using player models, customization, whatever.]
    [Algorithmic and procedural approaches need to become dramatically more widespread.]
    > If you read a bit about BASIC psychology : Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then translate it to gaming :
    >> After players are able to “survive=play”
    >>> They will want “love/belonging=team/community”
    >>>> Then “esteem=customize”
    >>>>> Then “self-actualization=create”, …

    Globally what released Raph Koster are just Mr. Captain Obvious facts, no?

    • Avatar
      February 12, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      I agree, Duck. I downloaded the article in the link, but not had time to study it in detail, so I’ll have to do that soon.

      One thing I am curious about is the point he makes about the cost of games going up in cost per byte, but people are paying less. So what? And how is that calculated? Artists, voice actors, what?

      This a Game Developer talking. The cost of technology etc always goes down with time and new developments.

      Beware of Pseudoscience!

      I remember games like Eye of the Beholder on 3 floppies being about 2 MB and costing £25 in the early 1990s.
      Later, new games like Daggerfall on CD in 1995 could be 450 MB and cost £40.
      Skyrim on DVD in 2012 cost me £25 from Amazon and is huge, dozens of GB, although most was downloaded from Steam.

      In 1994, £1000 would buy a 486 DX2/66 MHz PC with a 12″ monitor.
      In 1998, £1000 would buy a far better Pentium with more cpu, gpu and RAM power and a 14″ monitor
      In 2002, £1000 would buy a Pentium III with a bigger monitor and better graphics card.

      And so on.

      The basic cost of a reasonably decent, entry level gaming desktop has been about £1000 for 25 years, but the power and quality has increased dramatically.

      And this repeats.

      The first manually operated, pump-action vacuum cleaner, which needed two maids to operate, cost £25 in about 1870. That is about £2,775.00 today.
      Dyson’s first cyclone vacuum cleaner sold for £1300 in Japan in the 1980s. That is about £5,000.00 today.
      In 1993, the the Dyson DC01 upright in the UK cost £200, or about £380.00 today.
      I bought a better, newer model in the late 1990s for £180, brand new, or about £280.00 today
      Today, the DC41i can be had for £150.

      Now look at fridges, freezers, TVs, mobile ‘phones, videos, CDs, CD players, DVD players, washing machines, dish washers etc etc etc.

      Of course we are paying less. That apples to just about everything except food, clothes, housing, education, health care and the military.

      So I don’t really see what point he is making.


      I will read it soon.


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