How Long Video Games Take To Make – About This Study

Video games take longer to make than they used to, but if you ask how long that is you’ll get wildly varying answers. Many will point to how many years there are between releases in major franchises, but that’s not a good way to gauge development time; a developer might not start on a sequel right way, there might be multiple teams working on the same series, an engine might or might not be reused, or an individual game might just have more or less content than the one before it. The actual answer requires a bit more work.

There’s a whole section where I look into how true this may be.

To get a better look at how long it really takes to make a video game I have gathered data on the development time of 1,283 games, released from 1979 to 2024. I’ve only included data for games where I can be reasonably sure I’m not off by more than 2 months, so statements like “started development after [other game]” was considered too vague, but something like “started development immediately after [other game] released” was concrete enough to be included.

This is a study specifically of commercially released games, so no student projects or freeware is included. Without market pressures or budgets it doesn’t make sense to compare these to games that do. I also have not included non-licensed games for defunct consoles, even if they are commercial products.

Arcade games were not included, as I considered them to be a different kind of market with different commercial realities. Looking back I wish I had included them though, since I ended up including mobile games. No remasters, remakes, ports, or compilations were included. These are not wholly original products, it doesn’t make sense to compare them to games that are. I had to make some judgement calls when it came to ports, since sometimes a game will release on one system, and then another system days to years later. I generally considered games to not be ports if subsequent releases on additional platforms were within three months of the first. I also did not include any games that were significantly rebooted mid-development or stopped development at some point and then restarted. It’s impossible to say how long development really takes with nebulous cases like this, so games like Duke Nukem Forever aren’t part of the study.

As much as I would have loved to include every game ever made in this project, this kind of information only comes out for a minority of games. I checked on over 10,500 games, and was surprised at how some of the biggest, most important, and most successful games of all time have little information about their development. Even some games with an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to their development only have the year work was started.

I also think it’s worth reflecting on what kind of games have this information available. Most of this information comes from promotional interviews with developers to promote a game, and occasionally retrospectives well after release. A lot of unpopular games with no hype or fanbase behind them don’t get this kind of press. Indie studios also love doing any kind of interviews, while developers at bigger studios may not be allowed to give interviews or may not even know when exactly a game began.

Video Game Development Time By Year

Let’s start with a look at everything lumped together: PC games, home console games, handheld console games, and mobile games. These numbers are all rounded to the nearest day, the major gridlines represent a year, and the minor gridlines represent a quarter year. Some of these early years only have a small amount of data. Heiankyo Alien is the only game from 1979 that I could find information on.

To get into how this data was gathered and processed a bit more I found the following on Heiankyo Alien’s Wikipedia page: “Development lasted for roughly three months.” I checked the source, which is a translation of an interview from the book 超アーケード 単行本 by shumplations, where Mitsutoshi Tabata says development took “About 3 months.” With such a short time frame we can be reasonably sure it was maybe a few weeks more or less than that, well within my maximum two month window of uncertainty. Heiankyo Alien’s exact release date is unknown, but that’s not important for finding the development time, so I entered “07/01/1979” as the release date and “04/01/1979” as the start date in my spreadsheet and had it calculate the number of days in between. Months can be 28, 29, 30, or 31 days long, so the choice of July does make a tiny difference, but this is as close as I can get it.

1980 only has three games to represent it, and Adventure’s two year development heavily influences it, making it an outlier. John Madden Football and Super Mario Bros. 3’s exceptionally long development times for the era make 1988 stick out as well. Overall there is a pretty steady increase but things kick into another gear starting in 2014 as more PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games start to come out.


Computer game releases generally follow the same trends as the overall picture. The dip in 2010 is still very noticeable. I see there’s a number of early indie titles such as Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV there, but that’s true of 2011 as well. There’s a big jump in 2019 here, too.


Mobile games take less time to develop overall, but the progress is less steady, probably due to having less data. This graph only goes to 2022 and some years only have a few games where I was able to find information.

The first few years up to 2013 are remarkably low, games took about as long to make as console and PC games did in the 90s. Mobile games made fast strides and seem to have tripled their development time in 12 years.


Video Game Development Time By Generation

I think it makes more sense to look at non-PC games in terms of generations, since their hardware jumps in discrete steps every five to seven years. I’m going with Wikipedia’s definitions here so for reference the NES was third generation, the PlayStation was fifth, the Wii, DS and Xbox 360 were seventh, the Switch and PlayStation 4 were eighth, and we’re currently in the ninth.

Unsurprisingly we see gradual increases in each generation, but I am a bit surprised by the jump between seventh and eighth. The seventh was the start of the high definition era, games generally had voice acting and many had online features, while eighth generation games seem very similar in production value. The ninth is about as large of a step up of development time, yet the difference between games from the previous generation seems even smaller.

I think a lot of people would say third generation games took maybe a few months to make, but among the 21 games I found data for the average was comfortably over a year. Metal Slader Glory apparently took four years and didn’t even leave Japan.


We can also compare how long handheld games take to make compared to their television-connected brethren and the first thing that may stand out is fourth generation handheld games. This is entirely due to one huge outlier: Pokémon Red and Green took over five and a half years, enough to skew the results. As a matter of fact Pokémon took longer to make than any other game up to until that point (among the games in this study) and there was no game with more time in development until 2009’s Final Fantasy XIII.

Overall though we see handhelds taking 50-60% as long to make, up until the eighth generation. The eighth generation a bit different because it has the Switch, which I am counting as both a home console and a handheld, as well as the 3DS and PlayStation Vita. Without including the Switch at all the handheld average is 882, or 74% of the home console average, which is still a notable increase from before.

The ninth generation only has handhelds in the sense that some games released on both the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S and also the Switch, and are thus both eighth and ninth generation games.


Comparing Console Development Times

All of the systems in the following charts are in chronological order of first release. If a system isn’t included it’s because I had no or very little data for it.

I included two generations here because there isn’t enough data for the Sega Master System and SG-1000 to compare to the NES.

Again we can see how much the original Pokémon games skewed the averages, but the Game Boy still isn’t far behind other systems.


It’s a bit surprising that the N64 had the longest development times here, with cartridges that had less room for time consuming graphics and FMVs.

Sega continues to have lower development times and I don’t know why. Sega itself does tend to make arcadey, highly replayable but short games, but there are many non-Sega games for their systems too.


It makes sense for Dreamcast games to take less time than it’s competitors, as it came out so much earlier than them and had weaker hardware.

The PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox’s development times only vary by 77 days.


The DS and PSP are another clear example of how hardware capability generally correlates with development times, while the Wii shows the same thing in the home console space.

The PlayStation 3 was notoriously difficult to develop for with its unique architecture, so I’m actually surprised its average isn’t higher.


Please note the the y-axis now goes to 4.25 years instead of 3.

It’s quite interesting to see the 3DS above the Vita here, and not by a small margin.

The Switch ties with the Xbox One and is very close to the PlayStation 4. The majority of the Switch games I had data for were not exclusives, they also released on Xbox or PlayStation.


Here in the present generation there is little difference between the development time of a PlayStation 5 game and an Xbox Series X/S game.

The average development time of a console game has crept up to about four years.


How Long It Takes To Develop AAA Games And Other Games That Take A Long Time To Make

Here’s the overall average by year again, if you want to compare. Keep in mind the y-axis is different.

No one knows how to define a AAA game, but I gave it my best shot. Final Fantasy VII is sometimes called the first AAA game, so I started with 1997 and chose games that were very “full featured” for their time period, from a major developer, probably cost a lot more than average to make, received press coverage, and sold well. These are all nebulous ideas, but I did my best to choose games that I think most people would agree were AAA and ended up with 238 games.

I also chose the five games that took the longest to develop from each year, which are quite often not AAA games. These games tend take about twice as long as the average game.

Those AAA games tend to take a bit longer than average, but not by an outstanding amount, rarely more than 25% longer, and they don’t even beat the overall average in some years. Remember this is a rough estimate, no two people will have perfect agreement on what a AAA game even is.

I’m not sure why 2024 seems to be so much lower than recent years so far. I only included games that had released as of mid June (because you can’t count on a release date) so maybe games that take longer to develop tend to release in the latter half of the year.

Going back to Jason Schreier’s comment: there were seven years between the launch of the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. Let’s assume the same will be true for the PlayStation 6, and it releases exactly seven years after the PS5 on November 12, 2027. That’s a development time of 1,775 days from the day he posted the tweet, assuming they’d be a launch title. Compared to 2023’s development times that would be 260 days longer than the typical AAA game, and 445 days shorter than the very longest games.

It’s hard to predict how much longer game development will take for the next generation compared to this one. The average PS5 game took about 20% longer to make than the average PS4 game, while AAA games took roughly 40% longer in the ninth generation compared to the eighth. Jason’s prediction would only require about a 15% increase in AAA development time. I didn’t specifically track this, but I think it’s reasonable to assume games that release within the first few months of a system launch have shorter development times than the majority of releases on a system. With all this in mind I think we can pretty safely say that some big-name games that will eventually be PS6 releases were indeed starting development in early 2023 and that Jason was on the mark here.


What Month Games Begin Development

This is a bit off the topic at hand, but I realized I could also use my data to see what time of year games tend to begin development.

There were quite a few sources that described development as starting “early” or “late” into a year, which I decided to interpret as March 13th and October 19th, or 20% and 80% through the year. Some of these are going to be a bit earlier or later in reality, so I have marked them off in red here and you can imagine the adjacent months getting some portion of that amount.

The only reason I can think of September being the least common and October and November being the opposite is the fact that so many games come out near the end of the year. Developers may finish a game in September that will be on store shelves in October or November, and start on their next game immediately afterwards.

I did a whole project on video game release dates, including a section on months, check it out and see just how popular October and November are for releases.



I put these on a separate page, but also special thanks to Time and Date’s Days Calculator for saving me from a lot of mental math.

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