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How much money and time does making a VN usually cost? What's the profit it can usually generate? Is it profitable?

You can engage in any VN segment (indie games...) to answer my question as I know the topic is quite broad.

  • 1
    Hmmm I fear with how you formulated the question it is not answerable without doing a "discussion" aka only oppinion based answers possible. (even for indie games the prices/costs depend on the exact artists you hire, the number of CGs, ... . In addition to that profit is depending on way too many things to consider that it is in essence pretty "random" if a novel generates one or not.). – Thomas Nov 14 '16 at 17:56
  • An "standard" estimate of costs will be enough. In relation to the profits, I'm even happy with just knowing how that market does in general. I'd rather not limit the answer I might get by adding restrictions like "just for indie games", because my question is broader than that. – echomateria Nov 14 '16 at 18:42
  • The problem is still though that it is different for each and every game. For example for a game I did I had to pay about 50 dollars per CG while for another 30 dollars as it depends solely on the artist you hire. The only thing you COULD do is asking what the usual price for (example) a 40 CG, 10 full body sprites (1 set of clothes, 3 expressions, 2 poses each) with 10k of text would be. But problem is still though that it depends on whom you hire so even the "usual" price could be seen as oppinion based and most stackexchange parts most of the time close such questions. – Thomas Nov 14 '16 at 19:54
  • 1
    to add to @Thomas second comment the price can vary on the type of CG/Body Sprites you get made, in Canvas 2 CG and Body Sprites have animated lips, in Kamidori Alchemy Miester Serawi's breasts initially jiggle in her CG and Sprites at the start, in Hyperdimenstion Neptunia Mk.II in some scenes the 2D body sprites were replaced with 3d models (which was later kept to all 2D in Re;Birth 2) and in Galaxy Angel (and from the screenshots i've seen of Muv-Luv) there are full 3D rendered Combat Scenes (and with Galaxy Angel i think some CG was still 3D pre-renders) – Memor-X Nov 14 '16 at 21:33
  • 2
    This question should be answerable, though there will be a large variance (larger than for, say, an episode of anime). Revenue should be easy to calculate based on sales figures. Production costs are less transparent, but I know they have been discussed in several places before. The example I can remember was in an interview with one of the producers about the VN Supipara, and the figures were somewhere in the range of 30-100 million yen, but I don't remember the source. – Logan M Nov 14 '16 at 23:11
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I've got a fair bit of experience in the indie VN developer scene. From that I can say there is no general answer as the prices you have to pay and also the possible profit vary very greatly, thus I will try to give a detailed and restricted example there:

Costs

As a note here: The prices vary greatly depending on the artist in question. They can be as low as 50% of the amount I'm mentioning and up to 200% of it!

Graphics

One thing of note here: The prices will vary greatly for different styles the artists use. Thus if cell-shading, soft-shading or semi-realism is used. (semi-realism being most often the most expensive one and can have costs of up to +100% compared to the others).

  • BGs The price here most often depends on how complex the BG in question is and sometimes even what resolution it will be for. Usually you can count on 30-50 USD per BG.

  • CGs These have the greatest price range as I've seen artists take 30-250 USD here. Normally you have 1 simple BG included and 1-2 characters. You pay an additional amount per additional character on screen (either fixed amount like +30 USD or +50% total cost) and for each variation you want (most often between 10-20 USD). On average I daresay it is 50 USD per simple CG that you need to calc in.

    Note: Most often the CG artist is also the sprite artist. Although the BG for the CG is often made by a BG artist. Additionally a title screen is often counted as a CG.

  • GUI The GUI adaptions often cost much and range from 50-400 USD depending on the artist and how much you want it to differ from the default of the engine you are using.

  • Sprites The prices here vary greatly with what you want: Thus how much is visible of the character (head only, hip up, or full body) and how many sets of clothes, poses and expressions you want. Usually I pay 50 dollars base for 1 full body sprite (including 1 set of clothes, 1-2 expressions and 1 pose). For each additional set of clothes I pay 10-15 USD and for each expression 2-10 USD and for each pose 10-15 USD.

    Thus for 1 sprite with 2 sets of clothes, 4 expressions and 2 poses I usually pay: 106 USD

Sounds

  • Sound Effects Most of the time you can use free sound effects (even for commercial games). IF you need to have custom ones it most often costs around 10-30 USD.

  • Music Music varies greatly in terms of price and quality. Usually the componists have prices set for 1 minute tracks each. The ranges for this are between 30 USD and 150 USD. I myself am usually only talking with componists who want 30 USD per track.

  • Voice over This varies greatly and it didn't come up often so far for me. But from what I know this usually ends up in a payment per line spoken. For a relatively small intro I got a price estimate of about 400 USD (so its one of the biggest cost parts).

Editor / Writers

Editors and writers usually want to be paid on a per word base which can vary a bit. A normal price I dare say for editing is about 0,2 USD per word. Not sure about writers as I never had to hire one, but I would dare say its very probably the same or double the price.

Programmers

Here I have to say....I hope you only want easy "default" things out of the VN. Experience wise most "programmers" for VNs can't do really complex things (or don't want to do them). The prices here vary greatly and I've seen things from 20 USD for a minigame up to 200 USD for a dating sim, ... .

As a note here also: Many VN engines have tutorials and also free examples for different genres of VNs that can be easily modified, so if you have time and are an easy learner you don't need to hire a programmer too often.

Profit

This varies greatly on how you want to publish your work. One example would be via kickstarter or similar crowd funding services. Here an average income is about 3000 USD for a VN (although one has to say some rare get WAY over 10K out of it while many others fail to even make 100 USD).

If you want to sell your VN on online sites the profit will probably be very small (except maybe Steam but I have no data on them). Most VNs have price ranges between 5 and 15 USD there and sell between 0 and 20 times. With the exception of studios who are widely known or have good luck. These have price ranges up to 25 USD and often sell their product 100-150 times on a single online shop.

The costs for the engine you want to use I didn't put in, as there are many free engines around.


Then lets put things together:

Lets say you want to create a VN that has 10 CGs + 1 title, 3 tracks of music (1 title, 1 menu and 1 ingame music) and you have 3 sprites (full body, 2 sets of clothes, 4 expressions and 2 poses each). Furthermore you use 10 backgrounds. The VN has about 10k words and you hire an editor and a writer. So the total cost would be:

BGs 500
CGs 550
Sprites 318
Music 90
Editor+Writer 400
-----------------
Total cost: 1858 USD
  • 1
    Under $2K sounds incredibly low. What nation(s) have you in your experience tapped to get these kinds of market rates? As a software developer in the states, these kinds of rates wouldn't fly. – Makoto Nov 15 '16 at 21:17
  • The game he made is a < 2 hour one (10k words) that has 10 CGs, 10 backgrounds and 3 music tracks of 1 minute each. 2k doesnt seem incredibly cheap hehe – echomateria Nov 15 '16 at 22:55
  • @echomateria: When I first started out in the industry - straight out of college - I made about that for my first paycheck, and I wasn't producing anything at the level of a visual novel. Mind, I'm not a CG developer, but a full-stack web engineer. I would find it tough to believe that an entry-level dev can be capable of doing something like this in a short amount of time, so I would imagine that these are more seasoned developers doing this. Again, since I live in the States and work as an engineer, these rates seem really low to me. – Makoto Nov 16 '16 at 6:42
  • @Makoto I took there rates I know that ppl in the lemmasoft forums want. That is a forum for developers and indie artists, ... which is mainly for the renpy VN engine but at the same time also a general recruitment forum for VNs, rpgs, ... And as echo stated I made a minimal example: normally you have 5-10 music tracks and 15+ CGs with variations which sums things up to way over 2k. Anohter thing is the low reliability of ppl in the indie scene which also adds to the costs (when they 'disappear'). But that aside the costs are really WAY less than what a normal programmer wants for a few – Thomas Nov 16 '16 at 10:04
  • hours of work. Don't ask me how those artists make a living out of that (no clue really. I only know the prices as I saw them time and again on the forums and also had to pay those rates time and again). Also worth of note there. The comment of mine about programmers above: That is mostly default 2-4hours work for a "real" programmer. Most "programmers" for VNs (from what I noticed) are not able to do complicated stuff or improvise, thus are not much more than a typical script kiddie in terms of programming knowledge (as harsh as it sounds). – Thomas Nov 16 '16 at 10:04
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This more into "Eroge" game, but mostly Eroge game is kinda like a visual novel but with extra content, H content. SO here they are. And it cost much more rather than an indie game development. Yamato Tamaki is the one who made this explanation. He is not that popular. We can say, not that popular person rather than Ryukishi07 (higurashi, umineko vn ) . His works are mostly nukige and it's pretty short game.

Eroge industry veteran Yamato Tamaki had written a detailed eroge production cost breakdown on his site a while back. Yamato Tamaki had done a variety of jobs in the eroge industry for 10 years (mainly as a project planner and scenario writer), and this is info that he is giving based on his experience.

This list does not include costs from advertising or manufacturing, because he has never been involved in that area. Advertising refers stuff like handing out flyers, putting ads in magazines, providing articles to magazines, setting up the website, etc. Manufacturing costs refer to costs incurred in stuff such as producing the box, pressing the DVDs or CDs, copy protection, printing the game manual, etc.

People involved in the development staff

  1. Director

Similar to a movie director, but in the eroge industry the director is usually also involved in one of the other jobs listed below.

  1. Artist

Draws the original art

  1. Scenario writer

Writes the story, many of them also double as a scripter

  1. Programmer

Writes the program, many also double as a scripter

  1. Scripter

Scripts the game according to how the program works, does the presentation too

  1. CG Supervisor

Makes sure the art is consistent, does the finishing touches, works on the improving quality of the art, etc

  1. CG colouring

Colours the CG art and makes small graphics such as buttons

  1. Background artist

Makes the background art used for bust shots and sometimes also for event art

  1. Composer

The team who arrange the compose the music inside the game

  1. Sound Effects

Makes the sound effects, this part is usually done by the composer too.

  1. Seiyuu

The one who Voiced the character in game ( but if the game is a non-voiced game , it would not listed on the team )

  1. Sound director

Directs how each seiyuu should be speaking like and explains the intonations needed etc

  1. Animator

Guys that do the anime parts or filming etc

  1. Enshutsu ( cant find about this one )

The one who made the storyboards for the trailer movies or anime scenes

  1. Debugger

Checks for bugs and QA etc

  1. Production manager

Makes sure everything is going according to schedule, usually done by the director or producer

Production costs

There are two ways to calculate prices in the industry, one is where the price is calcuated on a per unit basis and another is by having the company stating the total amount required and calculating the total price from there.

It is believed in the industry that you get a cheaper price via the 2nd method. That is because even if there is a sudden need to increase the amount required, the price usually does not change. The 2nd method is usually paid on a per project basis, so a small increase in the amount needed will not change the price. There are also instances where it is in the contract that additional fees are required if the amount needed increases, but it’s usually very vague in this area.

Event line art

8,000 ~ 15,000 yen or 50,000 ~ 80,000 yen per image

Event art refers to art that takes up the entire screen and is used to represent a certain scene. The cost on the left is for a normal artist, and the cost on the right is the cost when a popular artist is used.

Event CG colouring

10,000 ~ 30,000 yen per image

The price changes according to if the background has to be coloured, and also according to the colouring style used (such as anime style colouring), and if the shadows are already designated in the line art.

Bust shot line art

3,000 ~ 10,000 yen each

These are the images used to represent the characters in the normal parts of the game. Variations in the character expressions doesn’t change the cost, but different clothes and poses will count as different images.

Bust shot CG colouring

approximately 1/2 ~ 1/3 of the cost of colouring the Event CG

The colouring style will be done in the same style as the Event CG, so the cost of colouring the Event CG will directly affect the cost of the Bust shot colouring.

Bust shot backgrounds

15,000 ~ 50,000 yen each

These are the backgrounds used to depict where the characters are. All sorts of backgrounds from TV anime level to movie level of art.

Scenario

1,000 yen for every 1kb

The story. Basically 1 yen for every 1 byte of the scenario. Outline and background settings do not count.

Programming

150,000 ~ 2,500,000 yen

The computer program that’s needed to run everything on the PC.This is the cost for ADV games, the price can get higher if it’s stuff like Action games or Mahjong.

Scripting

150,000 ~ 300,000 yen per 1MB

Scripting refers to the scripting that’s done to present all the relevant materials (art, backgrounds, bgm, etc) in order as the scenario progresses. The 1MB refers to the size of the scenario.

BGM

10,000 ~ 50,000 yen each

Most of them have been 25,000 yen or below recently.

Song

100,000 ~ 1,000,000 yen each

Stuff like the theme song, insert song, ending song, image song etc. Using a famous singer can cost a ton.

Sound effects

1,000 ~ 5,000 yen each

It’s pretty tough for the sound effects guys because when they sell a sound effect to a company it tends to get used across all their games.

Movie

100,000 ~ 10,000,000 yen

The more sophisticated the movie, the more it costs. It can cost a fortune if there’s anime or stuff like that.

Animation

1,000,000 yen and above

For comparison, a 30 minute TV anime costs about 8,000,000 ~ 15,000,000 yen

Cut-in

This refers to small graphics such as items and stuff. It’s usually done within the company itself, but if it’s outsourced, it’ll cost several thousand yen each.

Voices

It’s hard to give a range for this because the costs are completely different depending on the person that is used.

Interface

100,000 ~ 200,000 yen

Basically the graphics and design for the GUI. This is also usually done in-house, but this is the average cost to do it if they outsource.

Debugger

5,000 ~ 10,000 yen per day

It’s usually done in-house with everybody doing it together, but they get part-time staff when there isn’t enough manpower.

Other fees that may occur:

Direction fees 100,000 ~ 300,000 yen per month

CG managing fees 100,000 ~ 300,000 yen per month

Project fee 300,000 yen and below

Event CG variations

During the same scene a character’s expressions may change or the character’s hand may move slightly. These variations can have additional charges depending on how big the change is compared to the total area of the image.

Additional charges will not apply if the change is smaller than approximately 1/3 of the total area. If the change is bigger than that, there will be an additional charge (approximately 1000 ~ 5000 yen for event line art), and if there are many different variations of the same piece, the additional charges will keep increasing. Yamato Tamaki has personally seen a case where an image costed 15,000 yen for line art and 25,000 yen for colouring (total 40,000 yen), but because of the variations it became 250,000 yen in the end.

Royalties

There may be royalties given to the artist or scenario writer, usually between 0.5% to 3%. In many cases the royalties are only given on condition that the game manages to sell a certain number of copies.

Seiyuu also need to be paid when the voices recorded for the game are used in other applications such as when a game is ported to consoles, when a game and its sequel are packed together and sold in a set, or when there is a remake etc. The price is usually a percentage of the original cost for when the voices were originally recorded.

Art used for advertising

Art that is used in advertising materials such as posters, telephone cards, magazine spreads etc need to be done in a higher resolution than the game art so the prices are different.

Line art – 15,000 yen and above

Colouring – 25,000 ~ 80,000 yen

The prices can go crazy when using a popular artist for the line art. The highest that Yamato Tamaki has seen is where it cost 350,000 yen for a single piece. But popular artists on this level can make the game sell over 10,000 copies just with their name alone.

How many copies need to be sold to make a profit?

The distributors get approximately 40% ~ 60% of the selling price. How much the distributors get is usually determined by the power balance between the maker and the distributors, recently there have been distributors that provide funding to the maker for the game’s development, so in these cases, the distributors hold more power. Whereas the more stable game makers that constantly make games that sell consistently or when the maker has a famous artist, they can have more power than the distributors.

Also, when a game maker sells a game directly themselves, they do not have to go through the distributors so the distributors do not get a share of the money. A game maker that is able to get good sales from direct sales basically gets double the income as compared to going through a distributor.

For example, for a game that is 8800 yen, if the distributor takes 50%, that means 4400 yen goes to the game maker. The distributor will then sell the game to stores at 6500 yen a copy, so the distributor really makes 2100 yen per copy. Then when it comes to the stores, the amount they make will change depending on how much they sell the game for. If they sell it a the fixed price of 8800 yen, they make 2300 yen per copy, if they sell it at 7200 yen, they make 700 yen per copy. ** **On the game maker’s side, if they make 4,400 yen per copy, that means they get 44,000,000 yen when 10,000 copies are sold. If 3,000 copies are sold then they make 13,200,000 yen.

If the cost of production was 50,000,000 yen (including advertising and manufacturing), it means they will need to sell 11,400 copies before they can start seeing profits.

This means that in the case where they use a famous artist that is able to sell 10,000 copies of the game just by his name alone, it is possible to break even, even if it costs 40,000,000 yen to use his art. (Though it’s not a really good deal at that price)

So basically the big titles that manage to sell over 100,000 copies made 440,000,000 yen, but the game makers that can make sales on that level will probably be able to demand a bigger cut of the sales from the distributors so the amount that they actually get is probably higher. # (there are only 3 companies that have games that sold more than 100,000 copies in recent times)

(Just in case anybody is getting the wrong impression about sales numbers, getting 5000 copies sold in the eroge industry can be surprisingly hard for many companies, so many try to keep the break-even point lower than that)

According that, cost production that stated above is for AVERAGE game. The game is more like 10-30 hours to play with it. YOu can compare that with the big title that take alot of time to finish the game

Sources : https://forums.fuwanovel.net/topic/6437-visual-novels-budget/

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