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We rarely have an opportunity to look into the financial side of things during indie game development. Ron Gilbert in his recent blogpost however decided to share the detailed budget of his upcoming game Thimbleweed Park.
Ron Gilbert shows Thimbleweed Park at Gamescom 2015
Thimbleweed Park is a point and click humorous adventure game with pixel art visuals. This project should take us back to the SCUMM days of old. The game was financed thanks to Kickstarter and 15 000 backers.
In the recent blog post Ron Gilbert talked a little bit about the money and running the project. Like any producer he was worried that he may run out of money, which would jeopardize the whole development.
“Seeing $500,000 in your bank account can make you cocky. It can seem like an endless supply of cash and more money than most people (including me) have ever seen in their bank account. But you have to treat that $500,000 like it’s $5,000 or even $500. Every dollar matters. It’s why I like to have a budget. It is one of the advantages of having a publisher, they will poke your budget full of holes and challenge your assumptions. The downside is, they will also push your budget down and it’s not uncommon for developers to then fake the budget so they get the deal (which their studio is often dependent on to stay alive). It’s not malicious, they (and I have done this as well) just convince themselves they can make it for less, and that’s often not true. I want to know where every dollar is being spent from here until the end of the project. You start putting line items into the budget and you instantly see your money starting vanish. A few line items later and you’re out of money. It’s sobering and a necessary process. It really makes you appreciate spending anything”.
Gilbert says that running his own company without a budget is very scary, that’s why he always passes a budget before starting any work. However the budget is a complicated thing and it’s completely changing as the production moves on. The important thing here is to be careful and understand when it’s time to stop or cut the costs. To illustrate his point the developer revealed the current budget of Thimbleweed Park.
The team has a lot of different expenses. Although Ron Gilbert and his partner in crime Gary Winnick actually earn about 25% of the normal salary, there’s a bunch of money needed. The salaries are very low, however. Gilbert believes that the developers could earn much more with “real jobs“. The team also needs expansion. They are going to hire at least a couple of artists, animators and even a writer. Interestingly enough one of the most important things in the budget are testers.
“It’s money well spent because not testing will cost you down the road in emergency patches, dissatisfied players and crappy review scores. The original budget had 3 testers, but I added a 4th when we added the Xbox. I over budgeted for testing and it’s an area that will probably come in under budget (ass, prepare to be bitten)”.
During the production stages the company will keep the budget at about $25-$30k per month, however during the testing period it may go over $70k per month. The release expenditures are relatively low. However there are still stretch goals, physical awards for Kickstarter backers.
All in all, it seems like indie development, even on a relatively small scale, today is a very expensive business. You need to spend half a million dollars at least to pay your developers. That’s why Gilbert is usually skeptical about Kickstarter campaigns that ask for very little money but promise a lot of stuff. Seems like miracles don’t happen in our industry without a nice budget plan.