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Top mobile devs spend a "startling" $21 million on game backends

A Metaplay survey finds that deploying game developers to backend development leads to higher crunch rates and staff turnover
Top mobile devs spend a
Date Type Companies Involved Key Datapoint
May 23, 2024 report Metaplay $21 million
  • Metaplay’s survey found backend game tech costs an average of $21 million in the US
  • 60% of top studios have more than 50 people working on backend tech

Helsinki-based Metaplay’s survey of 125 top senior mobile game executives has found that backend game tech costs an average of $21,662,784 in the US.

This high price is necessary to build and maintain the backend tech which supports big games and, unlike widely accessible game engines, is still typically developed in-house.

The research was conducted in April 2024 with Metaplay surveying mobile game developers with at least 50 staff. The results showed not only the financial costs of building and maintaining backends, but also the impact on the staff themselves, and the human cost.

Into the numbers

Of the studios surveyed, 60% have more than 50 people working on backend tech, while 20% have between 26 and 50, and 20% have up to 25. The mean number comes to 52.

Their mean salary, meanwhile, is $138,864 (though less senior staff are paid under $100,000), and the average time to develop backend tech is 36 months.

As a result, on average across leading US mobile game studios, building a bespoke backend costs that "startling" $21,662,784 sum.

Strategy and shooter games are most likely to need backends for online services and live ops, the survey found, with 58% and 57% of developers requiring them by respective genre. Those building backends are least likely to be developing card collectors and hypercasual games, with only 18% and 22% doing so.

The personnel price

Of the surveyed mobile game studios, 74% reported that game programmers have been impacted by redeployment to work on internal tech instead of game content. Among those studios, 41% also observed a slowdown in the actual game development process.

34% noted an increase in crunch, matching the 34% of studios consequently seeing higher staff turnover rates.

"The challenge in front of us today is that games now really are much more than games. We’re deep into the era of games-as-a-service - and the technical demands of building, scaling, operating and maintaining a live service game are heavier than ever," said Metaplay co-founder and CPO Teemu Haila.

"As a company which has spent almost four years focused entirely on building backend tech for mobile games, even we had to do a double-take when we saw these stats. Shipping a long-lasting hit game was already very challenging, but the current state of the mobile gaming market means investment at this level without any guarantee of success is incredibly risky.

"We’re trying to fix the binary choice of ‘build vs buy’ when it comes to backend tech - where ‘build’ means expensive and ‘buy’ means unscalable, so mobile devs can focus on making great content." 

Unity's 2024 Gaming Report recently revealed that 68% of developers are now making multiplayer games over single-player experiences.