We live in the days when many video games cost as much to make as the big budget Hollywood movies. With growing expectations from players, developers have to do their best to meet their fancies. And that requires money.

Over the past few years a few games have breached the threshold of a 100-million-dollar development budget. An exorbitant amount, for sure, but if we look at how polished these games were, how much effort was put into ironing out all the issues and bugs, one could say that it was worth the investment. These games went on to become critical and commercial successes, some of their sales doubling and tripling the cost put in development.

In this article we will cover some of the games that took the most out of the investors’ wallets and see if it was money well spent or a complete flop.

Shenmue I & III

Release date:1999 & 2019
Developer:SEGA & Ys Net, Deep Silver

Back in the late nineties, the original Shenmue game made quite a splash, because it held the title of the most expensive game ever made. It’s budget ranged between 47 and 70 million dollars, depending on who’s reporting, which in 1999 was nothing to sneeze at. The third game in the series was no slouch either, but its budget was overshadowed by the mighty original.

A long-awaited sequel to popular Sega Dreamcast series, Shenmue III went into production after a Kickstarter campaign was announced in 2015. The campaign is considered one of the most successful ones in history, meeting the base goal of 2 million dollars in less than 9 hours since its announcement. The campaign wrapped up in September 2018, having reached over 7 million dollars through crowdfunding, with the additional budget provided by outside investors – Sony and Deep Silver.

Was Shenmue III a solid investment? According to the critics, it was indeed – the game was met with a solid reception. Reviewers praised the open-world gameplay mechanics, noting their similarities to those from the previous two installments. The critics noted that Shenmue III didn’t bother with the current trends, sticking to their own formula instead.

The game’s sales were modest – during the first week it sold in just over 17 thousand copies, placing fourth on the chart after such titles as Pokémon: Sword and Shield and Luigi Mansion 3. However, considering the small development budget and niche nature of the title, Shenmue III release could be considered a success, just maybe not a financial one.

Key features
  • Continuation of a cult-classic Sega Dreamcast series
  • Fully explorable open-world environments
  • Solid gameplay mechanics

Heavy Rain

Release date:2020-06-18
Developer:Quantic Dream

QD’s third foray into adventure game’s genre was at the time their most ambitious one. Featuring state-of-the-art graphics and innovative gameplay mechanics, Heavy Rain aimed to blend the gaming and movie experience. An obvious result of that was a large development budget necessary to realize all of David Cage’s ambitions.

The game cost over 60 million euros total to make, which puts it somewhere near the middle of the most expensive titles over made. The investment sure paid off – the game was an enormous success, both critical and financial. The reviewers praised the complex story and near-seamless blend of gameplay and cinematic experience.

The fans seemed to share the sentiment, as well. Heavy Rain sold in a whopping 1 million copies within a month of release. By 2018, 5.3 million copies of both PS3 and PS4 versions of the game were sold. According to Eurogamer, the game earned Quantic Dream a whopping 100 million euro, almost doubling the initial investment.

Key features
  • A blend of gameplay and cinematic experience
  • A thrilling crime story told from various perspectives
  • Player’s choices throughout the game influence its ending

Half-Life 2

Release date:2004-11-16
Genre:Action & Shooter

The continuation of Valve’s 1998 opus magnum was another great success for Gabe Newell’s company. Introduction of the Source engine meant improved graphics and most importantly better physics. That in turn made for better puzzles, a gameplay aspect the series has gained the most recognition for.

How much did that all cost? According to estimates, the game budget closed at around 40 million dollars. Not a small investment, but never-the-less worth it. H-L 2 has become an instant classic and received acclaim from both critics and fans. The reviewers praised the physics-based puzzles as well as the graphics of the game.

With the appreciation of the fans came sales, which within two years of release reached over 600 thousand copies sold, raking over 34 million dollars during that time. By 2011, the number doubled, reaching 12 million of purchases. Thanks to that the game has made it to the lists of one of the best-selling titles in the history of electronic entertainment.

Key features
  • The continuation of Gordon Freeman’s story
  • Improved graphics and physics engine
  • Familiar gameplay mechanics made better with the Source engine

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

Release date:2015-05-18

The Witcher III was a crowning achievement of the Polish developer studio – a game that put CD Projekt on the gaming industry map. The tale of the white-haired monster slayer based on a popular book series gained recognition among the fans of the novels and those who had never heard of Geralt of Rivia.

What sold the players and critics on the game were excellent gameplay mechanics, blending action and role-playing elements, an open-world environment based on Slavic myths and legends, and a gripping story filled with memorable characters.

As of writing this article, The Witcher III is still the most expensive video game released by a Polish studio. The development budget closed at around 46 million dollars. Including the heavy marketing campaign, the amount grows to a whopping 81 million. However, thanks to the sales revenue the game managed to cover its budget with a solid interest – by 2019 Wild Hunt sold in over 20 million copies, owing to a still-growing interest to the 2019’s release of Netflix’s Witcher series. In total the game made over a billion PLN, which by current rate could be rounded u to over 200 million dollars.

Key features
  • Open-world based on a popular novel series
  • Gameplay blending the exploration, action and RPG mechanics
  • Memorable cast of characters involved in an intriguing plot

L.A. Noire

Release date:2011-11-08
Developer:Team Bondi

L.A. Noire wowed the critics and players with its approach to crime-solving gameplay. Thanks to excellent graphics, capturing even the slightest change in the expression of a character the player could deduce whether they were being honest or not. Combined with a solid detective story and great acting performances, Team Bondi’s game was a huge critical and commercial success.

L.A. Noire’s unique performance capture required significant funding. The game’s development budget closed around 50 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation that makes 57 million, all of which returned to the publisher’s pocket thanks to excellent sales. By the end of the year, L.A. Noire sold in nearly 5 million copies across PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Key features
  • An original game from the producer of Grand Theft Auto series
  • Explore the 1940s Los Angeles and solve crimes as an up-and-coming
  • State-of-the-art performance capture allows the player to deduce the NPCs truthfulness from their facial expression

Red Dead Redemption

Release date:2010-05-18
Developer:Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption was a true revelation on the gaming market. The “GTA in the Wild West” garnered an enormously positive reception from critics and players, who praised the game’s complex story and well-written characters, the open-world full of side missions, activities and other content, as well as the atmospheric setting of the twilight of the Wild West.

The effort of the developers to bring the best possible experience to the player was clear, as was the staggering amount of money put into development. The game cost an estimated 100 million dollars to develop. With the 2020 inflation adjustment it makes a total of 117 million spent on faithfully recreating the American frontier at the beginning of the 20th century. The effort paid off also on the revenue side, with Red Dead Redemption selling 14 million copies within 5 years of release.

Key features
  • Open world setting of the Wild West at the end of its time
  • An excellent story in the vein of Western movie classics
  • Immersive gameplay mechanics, including side activities like gunslinger duels, poker games, and more

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Release date:2015-09-01
Developer:Kojima Productions

The Phantom Pain was the first Metal Gear Solid game released for the current generation of consoles, and it showed in the scale and the visual side of the title. TPP was set in the 1980s, during the height of the Russian-Afghan conflict.

The gameplay featured the exploration of the open-world environment, stealthy disposal of enemies, and other mechanics familiar to the series veterans. A novelty introduced in MGS V was the player’s base of operations, which acted as a hub and asynchronous multiplayer, allowing interaction between players throughout the campaign.

The game cost 80 million USD to develop (86 million when adjusted for inflation). The title received positive reviews from the critics, who praised the open-world setting, voice acting and story of the game, as well as other gameplay features. Positive critical reception translated into sales, which reached over >3 million copies and made over nearly 200 million dollars upon initial release across all platforms.

Key features
  • Explorable open-world environment
  • Political-thriller story
  • Gameplay mechanics blending action, stealth and base management

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Release date:2018-09-14
Developer:Eidos Montréal

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third, and so far last, installment of the rebooted series about Lara Croft’s archaeological adventures. The game continues Lara’s quest to stop the Trinity, an ancient cult bent on global domination. This time, her research takes her to Mexico, where she finds a device capable of ending the world. When Croft inadvertently triggers the apocalypse, a race against time to stop it begins.

Like the previous installment of the reboot series, SotTR was met with solid reviews. The critics praised new mechanics, such as improved stealth and expanded skill trees, and the graphics of the game. Lara’s latest adventure cost 100 million dollars to make, which adjusted for inflation and marketing expenses, rounds it to nearly 140 million dollars total.

Key features
  • A thrilling action-adventure gameplay
  • A return of familiar gameplay mechanics such as challenge tombs
  • Improved stealth, allowing Lara to cover herself with mud and hide in the walls of greenery

Red Dead Redemption 2

Release date:2019-11-05
Developer:Rockstar Games

If Red Dead Redemption was a revelation, then its sequel is the second coming. RDR 2 improves on everything fans grew to love about the first game in the series – the open-world setting spanning vast plains and snowy peaks, filled with all sorts of activities, from hunting animals to participating in robberies. The game is set before the events of Red Dead Redemption and lies the foundation for by the downfall of the Dutch Van der Linde’s gang and John Marston’s eventual quest to hunt down his former gangmates.

The game’s epic proportions came at the price of a massive development budget. It is estimated that  RDR2 cost an estimate of nearly 200 million dollars to make, putting it among Rockstar’s highest budget games, even if it somehow isn’t the most expensive video game developed by them.

To compare, the most expensive movie to be released in that year, that is Avengers: Infinity War closed its budget at around 400 million USD. That’s right, one ofthe most expensive game in the history cost half as much as one of the most expensive movies – and that’s saying something. The exorbitant budget was more than covered by the sales – which at the time of writing this article clock at over 30 million sold copies.

Key features
  • An open-world setting buzzing with life and activity
  • A simulator of life in the Wild West
  • An enthralling story of loyalty, betrayal, and redemption

Grand Theft Auto V

Release date:2015-04-14
Developer:Rockstar North

Without a doubt, GTA V is one of the best selling video games of all time, if not the best selling game of all time. However, the amount of work and expenses that went into creating the bustling world of Los Santos and Blaine County, filled with a multitude of activities and content to enjoy, cannot be underestimated.

The game cost over 200 million dollars to make. At that time it was a record-breaking amount of money spent on developing a video game. With a budget that could rival Hollywood productions, it was all but certain that the game would blow the competition out of the water, and it did. Raving reviews accolades various industry outlets, and millions of sold copies make every penny put into polishing Grand Theft Auto V worth it.

Key features
  • Open world environment bursting at the seams with content
  • A story of three unique individuals trying to make a name for themselves in the concrete jungle of Los Santos
  • GTA Online – the multiplayer module allowing to experience the world of the game with or against other players