Ex-Visceral Dev Reveals Dead Space 2 Cost ~$47 Million And Underperformed Despite 4 Million Sales [Updated]

Making games has become exponentially more expensive over the last decade, as developers balloon in size to cater to the kinds of scope and visual finesse that players now expect from the latest consoles. Last week, I quoted an old figure from the 2008 development of Gears of War 2 and how it cost Epic Games $12 million to make with a team of around 50, but now Zach Wilson, a former developer from the now shuttered Visceral Games has revealed that just two and a bit years later for the early 2011 release of Dead Space 2, the budget was already five times larger in the ballpark of $60 million.

Update 11:50AM 19/10: After his tweets were picked up so widely, Zach Wilson has corrected certain points. Firstly, he emphasises that his figures are rough estimates, but he also notes that his initial $60 million figure for DS2 was too high and closer to $47 million. Additionally, he says that the general consensus is that the original Dead Space from 2008 cost around $37 million to develop. The additional marketing budget is, as a rule of thumb, equivalent to development costs.


Even with these additional points and corrections, it still shows how expensive game are to make and that profit margins can be thin. The below $30 take on a sold game is only true during its first month on sale and when sold at full price. It’s likely that EA made a profit on Dead Space 2 possibly in the tens of millions, and this was enough to fund Dead Space 3, but when that game failed to see consistency or growth, it was the end of the series.

The original story continues.

Further to that, while Dead Space 2 sold 4 million copies, the game was still seen to have underperformed once EA took into account the publicity, the marketing (which is often roughly equivalent to dev costs), the share console manufacturers take, the share of each sale that retailers take, the drop off in revenue after the first month or two of sales, and so on. It’s nowhere near as simple as multiplying 4 million by $60, and Wilson estimates EA’s actual take on each game sold to be closer to $30.

In other words, with 4 million sales Dead Space 2 might have turned a small profit. Just. This goes some way to explaining why Dead Space 3 took a different tone to the first two entries in the series and also, given how it sold less well in its first month, why EA eventually decided that the series would not continue.

With all of this in mind to provide context for the closure of Visceral and the “pivot” of their Star Wars project, it’s clear to see how big a financial bet this Star Wars game was starting to be. It was already over three years into development and not expected to release until 2019, and with the development team having grown to also involve Motive and EA Vancouver, the latter of which will now lead the redesign.

Source: Zach Wilson via Videogamer

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  1. It would be interesting to know how much the first game cost to make. $60 Million for Dead Space 2 seems rather lot. After all, they’d done all the hard/initial design work when they made the first game.

    Could it be that they’re paying ridiculous sums of money for the top ‘celebrity’ devs/writers/voice actors etc.? If that’s the case, I’d certainly be asking for a partial refund. DS2 wasn’t a patch on the original. I personally don’t think you need famous voice actors/writers. I don’t think I’ve ever been more intrigued or convinced to buy a game because of a particular voice actor. If anything, that’s enough to put me off… not Nolan North AGAIN… ugh.

    I think a lot of the costs issues could be down to bad project management to be honest. I mean, look at this latest Star Wars game. Cancelled after a few years development. It’s probably already cost a significant sum of money and now they’re starting again from scratch. I think maybe they need to plan better to avoid costly errors such as this and stop trying to find excuses for ditching traditionally single player games.

    • How much was the multiplayer in Dead Space 2 I wonder? Because that was unnecessary. But it goes to show the costs of games and in particular games that we love like DS2.

    • Making games constantly gets more and more complex, even within a single generation. The budget comes from hiring more staff so they can be more ambitious with the graphics engine, the art style, the size of the levels, character animation. DS2 also had multiplayer, It’s not about celebrity wages, it’s just about wages in general. Making games takes a lot of effort, whether it’s the first game in a series or the fourth.

      They’re not starting from scratch with this game, incidentally. The existing work is being used as a basis for a different style end product.

      • I just think he’s talking complete b*llocks to be honest. Of course they want you to believe that microtransactions are necessary. They aren’t going to come out and say ‘oh well actually, we made a wedge on DS2 so microtransactions are completely unnecessary – free dlc for everyone’ are they?

        I’m just surprised that DS2 could cost so much more than the first game when they already had the base game assets and design aesthetic nailed down. You’d think the first game would cost A LOT more because they had to design, build and test everything from scratch. I imagine there’s a lot of trial and error with an original game. Whereas with a sequel, you’re building on top of what you did in the first game and cutting out a lot of the more time consuming groundwork in the process. Hell, half of DS2 was spent exploring the same levels from the first game.

        I realise they had multiplayer in DS2 (that no one wanted – ok me, I didn’t want it) but still… Could it be that lead developers/executives are being paid too much (or demanding more money to stay on board)? I wonder what the bonus situation is? Maybe the issue isn’t that the price of games stayed the same but that the costs of game developers has skyrocketed at a disproportionate rate?

        Plus, if the average cost of each copy of DS2 sold is $30.00. $30.00 X 4,000,000 is still $120,000,000.

        There are other factors to consider such as ridiculously expensive Collectors editions (DS2 had one I believe) and DLC (DS2 had that too). Did they have online passes (not sure?). Are they including the cost of those CGI movies in the $47 Mil budget? They cost of purchasing a new building for the development team? Who knows, Stefan. Who knows. Trust no one…

        You know, they told me to wear this tinfoil hat but it’s really starting to itch :D

      • This is from a former employee who now works at Bethesda. He really has no vested interest in EA’s current business dealings, and is simply shining a light on how big game budgets from half a decade ago were and the expectations they have to succeed.

        Yes, some people are going to be paid more than others, but almost nobody in the games industry is irreplaceable and actually a large chunk of the team left to set up Sledgehammer Games in DS2’s development period, so they actually were replaced. That budget is everyone’s wages, from CGI to voice acting, testing, design, etc. etc.

        I’m not sure where the suspicion of what the sum is meant to represent is coming from, and if he says that they were “merciless” with their budget, then maybe consider taking that at face value as meaning that they didn’t have too many extravagances in achieving what they wanted to?

  2. Of course it’s horrible when developers lose their jobs, but it’s hard to feel sympathetic for the publishers like EA when they invest such ridiculous sums expecting returns. How much of that was actually spent on the development, and not on marketing or celebrity voice actors I wonder?

    Also, where the hell has the “B” game gone? It seems like nowadays a game has to be either AAA or an indie, with almost nothing in-between. The PS2 in particular was full of these kind of games and some of them remain among my favourite games of all time.

  3. All that money spent, and the best part of Dead Space 2 was the chapter where you found the Ishimura ship of Dead Space 1 and went around that again… Go figure.

    Essentially what I’m saying is bigger isn’t always better. The original Dead Space had something the second two Dead Space’s did not have. It felt truly scary. The second and third games had far too much of an increase on action. They should have kept it simple to DS1 – Pure horror, gameplay and storyline.

    Also, as other people have mentioned, multiplayer was never required (and was a bit pants).

    • EA just can’t seem to do franchise games that aren’t the usual sports efforts. They’ve taken over so many developers who did great games and then ruined them. Until EA realise it’s them that is the problem, it’ll continue.

  4. Terrible shame as I love this trilogy.

    Missed a trick mind as they should (still) definitely remaster the trilogy and rail shooter and optimise for the Pro, add VR support and that would give the development team a platform to either reboot or drop Dead Space 4.

    Gutted. Glad I still own the originals.

  5. Dead Space was a relatively new gaming IP and the success of it’s sequels was marred by the change of tone/direction from the original.
    Star Wars on the other hand is a much loved franchise which appeals far beyond just the gaming spectrum. I believe that a linear story-driven Star Wars game – especially with someone of Amy Hennig’s calibre at the writing helm – would have sold itself – and it’s not a terrrible stretch of the imagination

    • ..to expect that it might have sold some hardware too.

  6. the guy has said he got numbers wrong was 47 millionish :) so many ran with this original tweet.
    plus if they never made anything I find it hard to believe Dead Space 3 would have got made.

    • Thanks for the heads up. We’ve updated the story.

      As for DS3 being greenlit, there was solid growth and early interest for DS2 compared to DS1, so even if it only broke even or made a small profit, that could be reason to push ahead with a sequel. It would also explain why DS3 stepped further away from DS1’s gameplay, as it sought a new hook to try and broaden the audience further.

      • NP mate. yeah true 3 was so different was not a Dead Space game really imo Loved 1 & Liked 2 but 3 was just ok.

  7. From the same tweeter:

    “6/Sorry for the confusion. I’m not a reliable source for this stuff. RIP Visceral.
    5/I wont go into detail beyond re: profitability and expectations because thats an even more opaque thing that we only hear whispers about
    4/rule of thumb is at least equal to the dev budget.
    3/Most everyone agrees that DS1 was about 37 million. We’re still not 100% sure.
    2/Usually game teams aren’t privy to the actual development budget. Most people on the team think the number for DS2 is closer to 47 mil.
    1/Hi everyone, My numbers on Dead Space sales were totally inaccurate. There’s a reason i’m an LD and not a business person.”

    This does beg the question, why on earth did he come out with those numbers in the first place. But hey.

  8. *sigh* Of course. They threw millions at marketing and expected to make a stupid amount of that back. If it was enough to cover the development budget and be profitable, why not treat it as a preformed well thing?

    Marketing, i think EA may have had a lot of hand in and really, tis their fault then Visceral. Though, turning Dead Space into a generic alien wannabe third person shooter was stupid and Dead Space 2 was already pushing it. It is regarded as a decent entry but too action oriented.

    Now? Another studio is dead.

    Bioware will perish if Dragon Age or Anthem flops or does as badly as ME:A. (Which seems to be more of EA being EA the Arsehole then Bioware reasons)

    • You have to wonder about the millions spent on advertising,. PUBG, Fortnite, Minecraft etc have all sold millions without a single advert on the side of a bus.

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