A new post from the developers of Shovel Knight outlines how, as an indie studio, you not only have to spend money to make money, but not spend money to the point of poverty to make money.
According to Yacht Club’s post, the standard metric in game development to determine cost is usually to estimate $10,000 per man month. So for a team of their size—six—with a projected 24-month development cycle, Shovel Knight’s budget needed to be about $1,440,000. Their Kickstarter funding, however, ended with $311,502, with an additional $17,180 coming from a Paypal donation period. This meant the team had to make a $1,440,000 game on a $328,682 budget.
How did they accomplish this? Primarily by cutting costs to an extreme. It started with composer Jake Kaufman agreeing to accept payment post salary, lowring the cost of development to $1,200,000. Next, Yacht Club managed to cut the development time in half by adding in stretch goals post-launch. That still left them with double the cost than their budget, so with no other choice left, the six-man team cut their individual salaries to something closer to $30,000 a year (before taxes). Yet even with all this, toward the end of the development cycle, Yacht Club’s budget ran dry, and the team had to wrap up the game while operating for five months without pay.
“It was a difficult period, where some of us were awkwardly standing in front of cashiers having our credit cards declined, drawing from any possible savings, and borrowing money from our friends and family,” reads the post. “But we made it to the other side!”
Of course, that other side is a successful one. The team had expected to sell between 30,000 to 60,000 copies the first week after launch. They wound up moving about 75,000, roughly equal thirds across Wii U, 3DS, and PC. One month in those sales more than doubled to 180,000 copies sold across Wii U, 3DS, and PC.
For more on Yacht Club’s delightful, albeit derivative old-school platformer, check out my review.