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The cost of Columbia? Ken Levine denies rumors of BioShock Infinite’s incredible budget

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Nearly three years after the game’s first announcement, and even longer after it went into development under the codename “Project Icarus,” BioShock Infinite is finally coming out next week, but it’s been a tumultuous journey. The game faced multiple delays, the cancellation of multiplayer modes, and the exodus of key staff members in 2012, and there came a point when many thought that BioShock Infinite may not come out at all. The game is finally finished though, and according to Irrational Games’ Ken Levine, it was not cheap to produce.

The exact amount is up in the air, though. A New York Times profile of Levine, Irrational Studios, and BioShock Infinite published on Thursday put an astronomical price tag on the game. Its unnamed industry analyst source pegged development costs at around $100 million, with Take-Two Interactive spending an additional $100 million on marketing the game.

Take-Two Interactive has been aggressively promoting BioShock Infinite, hoping to elevate the series to the same sales status as other recent hits from the publisher like Borderlands 2. Televised commercials for BioShock Infinite began airing on services like Hulu during the summer of 2012, more than six months ahead of the game’s release, and the marketing can be seen everywhere, but Levine took to Twitter to refute the New York Times’ source. “$200 million for Infinite?” said Levine, “Did someone send some checks to the wrong address?”

Game development is more expensive than it used to be, but it’s highly unlikely that BioShock Infinite cost $100 million to develop. The average game during the PlayStation era of the late ‘90s was between $800,000 and $1 million, a figure that ballooned to between $5 and $10 million during the PlayStation 2 and Xbox generation. In 2008, when development for consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 began in earnest, costs were hovering between $18.8 and $28.2 million, a figure that’s increased depending on the project in that time frame.

The truth is that Take-Two Interactive hasn’t had the capital to fund such an expensive project. In fact, the company has incurred significant losses in recent years due to the delays of BioShock Infinite and labelmate Grand Theft Auto V. While Irrational Games’ new opus likely cost more than the average single-player game—more than four years of development time paired with a huge marketing push almost guarantees it—but $200 million would make it the most expensive game of all time, by a wide margin. 

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