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How long should game devs spend working on just one game?

"Don't fall into the trap of making a giant piece of art that earns you nothing except disappointment,” warns Shadowhand creator Jake Birkett.

Alissa McAloon, Publisher

April 5, 2018

2 Min Read

"Don't fall into the trap of making a giant piece of art that earns you nothing except disappointment.”

- Jake Birkett makes a case for why devs should reign in their per-project development times

Stories of game developers pouring a decade into a single project have been cropping up more and more recently, but game developer Jake Birkett argues that game developers should invest a fraction of that time into their game if they want to find some level of success.

Following a poll he ran on Twitter on the subject, Birkett has compiled some of his own game development data into an informative, 20-minute long video to explain why he believes many game devs are spending too long making a single game.

Birkett notes that his comments shouldn’t necessarily be taken as advice since individual development situations may vary, but developers should still take a look at what his 13 years of varied development experience have taught him about scope and project management.

Early on, he uses the example of a hypothetical game grossing $100,000 on Steam in its first year to weigh dev time versus hourly wage. Minus various costs, a hypothetical developer that spent only a year on the project is making only $14 an hour.

“If you’re going to make a game which could vary in income from awful to amazing would you rather spend three months on it or three years on it,” asks Birkett. 

Looking at ten of his own games, Birkett’s per-game hourly wages are all over the place. He notes that his best period of pay, nearly $400 per hour of development, came from a casual match-3 game called Spooky Bonus that he says most folks haven’t heard of. 

However, his most recent release Shadowhand took two and a half years of development and, to date, has earned him considerably less than $50 per hour of development. 

“It’s definitely my best game,” says Birkett. “I think it’s a really great game, it’s a long game that’s fifteen hours of gameplay in there for people. But you know it’s never, even with an amazing longtail, going to match Spooky Bonus or maybe even my fourth game…And that’s pretty sobering really, and it caused me to take stock of what I’m going to do in 2018.”

About the Author(s)

Alissa McAloon

Publisher, GameDeveloper.com

As the Publisher of Game Developer, Alissa McAloon brings a decade of experience in the video game industry and media. When not working in the world of B2B game journalism, Alissa enjoys spending her time in the worlds of immersive sandbox games or dabbling in the occasional TTRPG.

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