The Cost of Your First Game

Launching a new mobile game is cheap these days, right? I mean, the common wisdom is that anyone can make and release a mobile game for practically nothing – just a small bit of time and maybe some hard work and then you sit back and wait for your ‘free money’ to potentially roll in. I assume this is part of the reason why, once people hear I make apps, they keep telling me about their new (and impractical) ‘awesome app ideas’…

But what does it really cost? And what does it cost if you want to do it professionally – create a company and treat it as the first game in an eventual portfolio?

question mark on money

For me, the answer was €1,319 – and it could be a lot more for you. My company’s first game (AuroraBound – Pattern Puzzles) launches in 2 weeks on 3 platforms and 4 app stores. I did the design, coding, art, audio and marketing myself – only outsourcing the localisation, yet the various costs still added up.

Forming a Company

The first cost for me was setting up a new company I could release games under (Final Game Studio Limited). You can technically avoid this if you want, as I think all of the major app stores allow you to sell apps under your own name, but there were a couple of reasons I decided to go down this route.

Limited Liability

I’m offering a product for sale worldwide and while I don’t anticipate any issues, there is always the slim chance someone will decide to try and sue me over some obscure patent, copyright, trademark or some other reasons. That’s just the reality of the world at the moment, and I’ll sleep better at night knowing I’m somewhat protected since they can only sue the company and not me personally.

Tax Advantages

As an Irish citizen, there were a LOT of tax benefits to setting up a company to release my games. Since my short to medium term goal is just for my games to pay for their own costs (less my time), any money they earn can stay in the company account and only be subject to corporation tax (12.5%, and there are exceptions even to that for the first few years of a new business). As I mentioned in my last post, I work full time at another game company, so if I were to release the games under my own name, all income would be taxed on top of my existing income (at over 40%) and cause me additional headaches since I would need to register as both employed and self employed.


I think its just looks a bit better. I would rather have customers seeing a company name at the top of my products’ store pages than my own. I think it also adds a bit of credibility when contacting press or platform holders for featuring.

The Cost

The final deciding factor for me was that it was extremely cheap (and relatively easy) to set up a new company as an Irish citizen. It cost me €50 to incorporate the new company, and another €20 to register a trading name so I could drop the ‘Limited’ from the end of the company name on stores (it just looks better). I spent about 10-15 hours reading over all the relevant documentation and laws and then I was good to go. There is a bit of ongoing paperwork (doing accounts for example), but I didn’t need a lawyer or accountant to get started and as long as the company’s yearly revenues stays below a certain amount a year, I won’t need to incur any major costs like audits and don’t need to register for vat straight away. This process could cost you a lot more depending on where you are living however.

There were a few other costs related to the company though. I needed a company website for things like press kits (plus this blog and some cat photos). I also got to act as a landing page for the game – I’m not sure if that was strictly necessary, but I got the url for €1 for the first year. The two urls, plus hosting for a year €90. I decided to make the website myself, because I wanted to save some money. I also decided not to just use WordPress at first, because I am stubborn, grouchy engineer at heart (pro tip – just use WordPress, it will be faster). I needed a company email address, so I got Google G Suite for €40 a year. You need support email addresses for some of the app stores, and it looks a bit more professional to not be emailing press from ‘’ (that’s an example, but my spam email from when I was 14 isn’t much better…)

App Stores Registration Fees

One cost that isn’t optional is the various app store ‘registration costs’. I am releasing on the Apple App Store, GooglePlay, Amazon, Windows Store. The Apple App Store is €99, GooglePlay is €24, Windows is €93 and Amazon is free. The only hidden catch here is that the Apple App Store developer license is recurring , so its actually €99 a year (but that’s next years problem…) So that’s €216 to release on all 4 stores.

The Hardware

You need build machines and mobile devices to test with. I actually had access to everything I needed already, but my circumstances are a bit unique, so chances are you don’t… I do most of my development on my windows gaming PC, but I also have a 27′ iMac I got years ago for some ios Development at home. You need a mac to build and release on the Apple App Store and you need a Windows 10 PC to build and release on the Windows Store (and because Unity can be a bit of a pain to use on the mac). Since even a cheap second-hand mac can set you back a few hundred Euro, this could be a major expense for a few people.

test devices

Test devices are trickier – my main test devices are a cheap kindle fire and an old nexus 7 for android and my current iPhone 5s and old iPhone 4 for iOS. (I always prefer to test on older, slower devices – I can get a rough idea of how things look on my dev machines, but for performance you need to test on device). Those 4 devices really aren’t enough for proper testing however – you’ll need to test on few more android devices from different manufacturers (bare minimum would be a kindle, a nexus and a htc). You also want to test on different iOS devices – especially the newest iPad Pro to see what your game looks like in full retina resolution. Its pretty common to find rare bugs/inconsistencies that crop up across the different CPU/GPUs of the iOS device family. You also want to test on a few different versions of Android and iOS….

Luckily for me, I have access to all of these devices at my day job – and they have been very cool about me testing on them outside of my work hours. Without this, I definitely would have had to purchase at least a few of them – and the newest devices don’t come cheap.

The Game

So what about making the game itself? How much can it cost when you do ‘everything’ yourself?

First off, while I’m not counting my time as an explicit cost – I am aware of it. Anyone who tells you it cost them ‘nothing’ to make a game is lying to you. I’ll work out the exact times later for a retrospective, but I have probably spent about 400 – 500 hours working on the game in one form or another. That’s maybe 3 months of full time work, so the opportunity cost of that is theoretically pretty high. For illustrative purposes, I’m a C++ software Engineer when not making games and the average US salary for that is $115,000 – so $~28,000 for 3 months ). Now I’m doing all of this in my spare time, so I’m not missing out on any income, but there is still a cost – as of writing this I still haven’t started Zelda! Let alone the various games that came out over the Holiday season…. Oh, yeah – and missed time with loved ones, that’s also important…. (maybe not Zelda important, but still important!)

In terms of production costs, I did all of the design, programming, art, audio and marketing (such as there was) myself – for better or worse. I actually enjoyed switching between the different disciplines more that I expected, but I was never quite happy with how the audio turned out. There is obviously going to be a trade off in terms of quality and scope when wearing all the hats yourself. While I am confident enough in my design and engineering skills for example, I work with some really talented artists and my limitations in the field are made immediately obvious when I try to draw something to illustrate a point (my stick figures put other programmer art to shame…). This heavily effected the design of the game, as I adopted an art style I was confident I could pull off.


Localization was something I couldn’t do myself though (and if you are reading this and thinking to yourself ‘Google Translate’… No. Just No.). I wanted to launch worldwide and decided to localize in 14 languages – most of the major ones and a few that I suspect the Apple featuring team have a soft spot for. Localizing obviously broadens your potential markets, and not localizing reduces your already infinitesimally small chance at getting featuring from the major store-fronts. (As a side note, I really wanted to localize into Arabic, but Unity doesn’t support it by default – get on that Unity!)

I knew localization was going to cost a lot, so I worked to keep the number of words as low as possible and chose re-usable phrases where I could – some of those translations are going to be used in future games to help reduce costs! In total, I needed 175 words translated. As a side note, I strongly recommend you have all of your store pages filled out before you get things translated, there are a lot of small things you can miss like minimum and maximum string lengths or descriptions for IAPs. I went with keywords for the localization as they had localized apps I had worked on before – they weren’t the cheapest option, but their rates were reasonable, they were nice to work with and had a great turn around time. In total, localization set me back €440 including vat.

I also purchased a Unity License… which I am kind of on the fence about. My main reasons for getting it were to get access to an android profiler (which I probably could have done without for my game since I am pretty good at designing efficient systems at this point and I purposely tried kept it pretty simple) and to get rid of the basic splash screen (which is probably just industry snobbery on my part, since I doubt most casual users will care). I probably could have put off upgrading to their paid license tier a bit longer, but at least I got it towards the end of the project – the Unity licence set me back €464 (which is another recurring yearly cost). Thankfully all of the other software I use is either open source or free for a company as small as mine (Audacity, GIMP, etc)

What’s Left?

Surely that’s it right? Well, for me it is. But some of you might have noticed a distinct lack of market spend…. I’m not going to pay for ‘expedited reviews’ on principle, but what about advertising? For this game, I don’t think its worth it – its a fun game, but the monetisation is basic and it doesn’t have the kind of stickiness a modern free to play game needs to succeed.  I needed to stick to free marketing for this release – I have sent out promo codes to various outlets and YouTubers, contacted the stores in the hope of promotion, and will send out a few press releases on launch day (Oh, and I wrote this, this blog counts as marketing I suppose – If you are reading this and are on the Apple, GooglePlay or Amazon editorial teams, you should totally feature my game).


App Store Dev Licence     :   €99 (per year)
GooglePlay Dev Licence   :   €24
Windows Dev Licence      :   €92
Amazon Dev Licence        :   0

Unity ‘Plus’ Licence          :   €464 (per year)

Company Registration      :   €50
Company Trading Name   :   €20
G Suite Company Email    :   €40 (per year)

Website Hosting and URL : €90 (per year)

Localisation                       : €440

Total Cost :  €1319

I am in the enviable position of not needing this game to turn a profit since I made it in my spare time. I hope people download it, play it and like it, but to pay back its ~1,300 cost I would need a lot of downloads once you factor in conversion rates (probably 100,000+). Luckily, I worked out the majority of this before I started and knew what I was getting into – and I really enjoyed making it. Some of those costs won’t come up again, and depending on how many games I make a year, some of them can be spread out. The next game should cost me less, as will the ones after that, and I do plan to keep making them. Hopefully, if you decide to make your own games, this post will help you go into it with your eyes open.

Oh, and in the mean time you can follow me on twitter here: @finalgamestudio (see? more free marketing)

Cat doing the budget

Part Time Indie Game Development

Making a sustainable living off indie games is difficult.

Whether you believe in the indiepocalypse or not, please take that statement as fact. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of new games and apps being being released every week and even if you do manage to rise above the noise and have a hit, that is no guarantee you will manage to do the same again next time.

But that’s probably not going to stop you making games – it’s not stopping me. Not a single day has passed in the last decade when I haven’t had an idea for a cool or interesting game I want to make and I am determined to make at least some of them. But personally, I want to make fun, polished, completed experiences for players to enjoy – not unfinished game jam prototypes. And I know this might come across as greedy, but I want to do it without quitting my day job, burning through all of my savings, living like a pauper and putting myself through a mental and physical endurance test.

So the question I asked myself last year was, can I make the kind of games I want to make in my spare time?

My Motivation

So, not only do I currently have a full time job – it’s a game dev job. I have been working as a software engineer at StoryToys making kids apps for the last 5 and a half years or so. In that time, I have lead the development of over a dozen apps in a variety of engines, worked in multi-disciplined teams with some really talented people and generally learned a lot. The work I get to do is challenging and rewarding, and while it has its ups and downs, I enjoy it and I plan to keep doing it… So why am I writing a post about part time indie game development?

Well, because I’m doing that too and there are a couple of reasons for that;

The first is that as much a I like making kids apps (seriously, seeing a 4 year old jump up and cheer out loud over something you made is an awesome feeling), there are lots of other types of games I want to be making as well. If anything, there are too many other types of games I want to be making, and frankly it’s hard to get management to greenlight a tactical rts or dark fantasy rpg when your company’s core demographic is 2-10 years old.

The second reason is creative control. While I am very lucky to have a huge amount of creative input into everything I work on at the moment, there are always going to be things you would do differently if you got to call all the shots. It’s a very different experience being in complete control of every facet of a game from Marketing to UI and Game Design to Programming.

The final reason I’m making my own indie games part time is the fact that I was doing it anyway – I just wasn’t doing it very well. I have been making little game prototypes and thinking through game design ideas in my spare time for years, but I usually didn’t make a lot of progress with them. I’d have an idea, work on it for a few hours or days and then leave it unfinished when something else came up or I hit some part of it I didn’t really want to do (looking at you networking code… ). I didn’t have a clear goal or a lot of motivation to finish them, so I didn’t – and over time that started to really bother me, so I decided to change it.

What was getting in the way?

While I was certainly learning from researching and making all of these prototypes in my spare time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just wasting a load of my time and not getting any tangible benefit from it. I wanted to make finished, polished games and release them for people to play and as many of you know, there is a VERY long road from prototype to finished game.

I identified the main reasons I would stop working on something.

Not Fun:

I could discover the game idea just wasn’t fun to play – that reason is fine and perfectly valid, and generally becomes obvious after a few hours at most. 

Boring Details:

I would hit a part that was a pain in the ass to work on. This was more of a problem – I just don’t enjoy coding up certain low level things like setting up a C++ rendering engine.


Another big problem was scope – not scope creep, just scope. I usually didn’t have clear goals or limitation when I started prototyping something, so I often ended up in a situation where I would find something really fun and then realize my idea would take over a year full time dev work to actually complete ( examples include a multiplayer RTS game and several RPGs with a procedurally generated world and stories ).


Finally, the biggest hurdle to finishing these prototypes, at least for me, was just leaving them for a while and not coming back to them – maybe a new game came out I wanted to play, or I wanted to work on something else for a while… basically, if I left a project unopened for over a week it was as good as dead.

What changed?

Clear Goal:

I wanted to make and commercially ship finished games, and I wanted to make them in a (relatively) short amount of time to keep the finish line in sight and my motivation high. I decided I wanted to ship my first game within 6 months of starting on it ( Which meant picking something I thought I could get finished in about a month since I am experienced enough to know how estimation and scope creep work… ).

Plan for the future

I intend to continue making games in the future, so I was willing to front-load some of the work into the first game to start off on the right foot. I designed elements of code/UI/Design to be somewhat re-usable in future games I have planned. I also formed my own company to publish the games under and set up some other boringly-important things like a company website and email.

Work consistently

I knew I needed to work on one game consistently and for me, that meant 2 hours a day, every day, with an extra 8 hours spread over weekends. I have traditionally been very good at making excuses for myself, so to get into the habit, I didn’t let myself skip a single day for the first 2 months of work. After that, I relaxed it a bit to allow for, well, a life… but I have been sticking to this schedule pretty well for the last 6 months. To some of you 2 hours might not seem like a lot, but it was the absolute max I was willing to commit to. My day job can be pretty draining at times and I also wanted to make sure I still have time in the evenings to relax, enjoy myself and spend time with my girlfriend.

Enjoy the work

This 2 hour timescale lead me to decide on another rule designed to keep my motivation up and generally make sure I was actually enjoying working on my own games: No feature goes in that I can’t make in satisfying 2 hour chunks. At the end of each session, I wanted to commit a fully working/compiling version of my game and feel like I accomplished something useful, whether code art or sound. I have broken this rule a few times and regretted it every time.

Design a game to suit this approach

The short timeline, combined with broken up work schedule, led me to design a game that was not only much smaller in scope that most of my previous prototypes, but also much simpler. The only goal was to make a fun game and any features that weren’t going to achieve that or were a pain to implement got cut. That meant no networking, no third party SDKs, no monolithic pieces of cool new tech. That’s not to say my games won’t have these in the future, I just intend to introduce anything like that over time – maybe one large piece of new tech per project?

Has it worked?

So far, things are going great.

I submitted my company’s first app ( AuroraBound ) last week to the Apple, GooglePlay and Amazon app stores – It will be released on May 9th. I am also preparing Tizen and Windows store builds this week. AuroraBound is simple, fun, polished and, most importantly to me, I really enjoyed making it – the last 6 months have probably been the most rewarding of my life. I don’t expect it to be a large commercial hit (the monetisation model is simplistic and getting PR/featuring for a new app is pretty tough these days), but I don’t need it to be.

I have some future updates planned, as well as some ideas for a deluxe desktop version, and after taking a few days off to finally play the new Zelda game I’ll start work on my next title. Throughout the entire development of my own game, my work at my day job never slipped (quite the opposite actually, I was able to make use of a few things I had discovered during AuroraBound’s development ).

I plan to keep making more and better games in my spare time, and maybe one day I will take the plunge and go Indie full time – but if I do, I’ll be doing so with my eyes open, invaluable experience, an existing codebase, a catalog of existing apps and relationships with some the major platform holders.


Starting a Dev Blog

Well, the title of this post is rather self explanatory… Hopefully over the coming months I’ll get around to filling this blog section with tons of interesting musings… or musings at least…

In the mean time, if you are reading this I guess I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. (Or I did, and it was so good you already read it all and then reached this post which I kept around for posterity or something…)

For context, I am hoping to submit the companies first app in the next week or two, and then start work on the next one ( by which I mean go play Zelda Breath of the Wild… which I haven’t let myself start until I get AuroraBound submitted… )