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How much does it cost to make one game character?

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Total studio cost is around $80K, says Portal developer Kim Swift

Most people understand that making video games can be a time-consuming and expensive business.

But how much does it really cost? In her speech at PAX Prime today, noted game designer Kim Swift attempted to demonstrate the costs involved in big studio game development, by breaking it down to one single in-game character.

Swift is currently working on "a secret game" for Amazon Game Studios. Her previous work includes Portal, Left 4 Dead and Quantum Conundrum.

Her speech attempted to address popular misconceptions about game development. One such, she said, is the oft-expressed belief that games are over-priced.

Swift showed how one game character  a melee warrior  is made, from initial concept art, through animation, to writing, voice-over, combat design, audio and special effects.

For example, a concept artist would likely spend two weeks making the character design, with a salary cost of about $3,000. An effects artist creating impact weapon-swing and impact animations might also spend around two weeks on this particular task, with a salary cost of around $3,000.

Other specialists working on the character would include a character artist, a technical animator, a combat designer, animator, programmer, voice actor and audio engineer. In a large studio working on a big budget game, this one character might take about three months to take from concept to actual in-game asset.

Using published game industry salary averages and "being conservative" Swift reckoned on the total salary cost for the character to be $46.5K. But she also added costs such as office space, computers, software and utilities. The total cost for one character, she said, is around $80K.

"That's just one character," said Swift. "Extrapolate that out to multiple characters and environments and it gets expensive, fast."