App Development, Thought Leaders

How Much Do Augmented Reality Projects Cost?

November 5, 2019

by Egor Pavlenko

CTO, Live Animations

People are often confused why creating augmented reality (AR) content is expensive. To answer these questions, Live Animations’ CTO Egor Pavlenko breaks down two recent AR projects to look at the different factors that influenced their cost.

Big AR projects can be costly. As CTO of a studio that has been developing AR for five years, people are always shocked by AR’s price tag. 

AR became more accessible almost a decade ago, but companies eager to include it in their marketing repertoire are almost always misinformed of the cost of AR solutions. 

AR Can Be a Valuable Marketing Tool

AR blends the digital world with reality and has been used extensively to impress, excite, and build connections between brands and customers through mobile devices. 

Since AR is still new compared to other marketing tools, businesses have been experimenting with different ways they could use AR to connect with customers. 

The popularity of the Deadpool franchise and the great variety of available in-store AR experiences made this campaign totally worth it for 7-Eleven: They won a prestigious Auggie tech award, in addition to keeping customers in their stores for a longer time.

7-Eleven, for example, has been using AR to engage their customers for quite some time now. Their 2018 Deadpool campaign included 30 unique AR experiences activated throughout the stores. It received a warm response with more than 10 million user interactions and an average interaction time of 85 seconds

The Brazilian branch of Burger King used AR to have a go at competitors. Their “Burn That Ad” AR advertising campaign encouraged mobile users to overlay digital images of a blazing fire on the fast-food’s competitors ad banners. 

As a reward, Burger King offered a coupon for a free Whopper sandwich.

Pepsi used AR in a different way in their London AR bus stops campaign. This campaign went viral and helped to create buzz around its brand. 

While 7-Eleven, Pepsi, and the Brazilian branch of Burger King used AR successfully in their marketing campaigns, other companies haven’t been so lucky. As AR technology becomes more mainstream, businesses will have a more difficult time finding meaningful ways to use AR

AR Prices Vary in Different Markets

Every company’s journey into the world of AR begins with a search of a vendor that could deliver AR content matching to the goal and budget. 

The average pricing for AR development starts at $30 per hour in India and goes all the way up to $150 per hour in North America. 

Just a brief glance at AR vendors’ lists on B2B marketplaces such as Clutch would give you the full list of rates by region:

  • India: from $30/hour
  • Eastern Europe:  from $35/hour
  • South America:  from $43/hour
  • United Kingdom:  from $70/hour
  • Australia:  from $110/hour
  • North America:  from $150/hour

When it comes to AR development, the most expensive option is not necessarily the option with the highest quality. The average rate is just a reflection of the level of wages in different parts of the world, and the global scale availability of specialized software and hardware for AR development makes it possible for companies from different parts of the world to create quality content. 

It’s important to choose your AR developer wisely and keep in mind the different components of the total price tag of a project. To better understand how the cost of an AR project is determined, we’ll explore two recent case studies: Toy Story and Wonderscope

Each of these AR apps contained the same 5 elements but at different complexity levels: 

  • The app
  • 3D modeling
  • Animations 
  • Optimization 
  • Testing 

Toy Story 4’s AR App: How a Simple App Can Require Up to 900 Hours

AR apps can serve as a platform for AR experiences that double as digital campaigns for movies. 

For example, a recent Toy Story 4 AR experience shows that AR projects can be simple, not requiring much from the user or hardware. Yet, it still offers virtual interactions with seven main characters from the latest movie.

Users can take photos of them interacting with Toy Story characters.

Users are encouraged to scan a Toy Story 4 poster to bring the beloved protagonists Sherriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear to life and take a photo or video with them. 

Each character has one unique animation/action and one general “freeze” action should you press the alarming “Bonnie’s Coming!” button.

Element 1: The App

The app itself is simple with basic functionality relying on AR-kit 2.0 which features:

  • Image recognition
  • Flat surface recognition
  • Tidy user experience and interface 

Even though this app is simple, it still took between 230-300 hours to produce. 

Element 2: 3D Models

One of the key components of Toy Story 4’s AR project was the life-like visuals: The characters seem like they just stepped out from the big screen.  

The 3D models look realistic while maintaining their signature looks.

However, they still need to be adapted to an AR environment, which takes 10-20 hours per model.

Given this baseline, making all of the characters compatible with the AR environment likely took 70-140 hours. 

Element 3: Animations

The animations in the AR program are smooth and well-done, which are signs that quality was chosen over quantity. 

Each character has one unique animation, while the “freeze” animation is the same for all characters.

This likely took 30-50 hours per model and 210-350 hours total. 

Element 4: Optimization 

After the app is built and the characters and animations are complete, the AR engineers must combine these elements. 

When importing animations into an app, they also have to optimize lighting and sound. 

This can take 4-8 hours per model, so for the Toy Story 4 AR project, it took 28-56 hours. 

Element 5: Don’t Overlook the Little Things

While the app, animations, 3D modeling, and optimization are the main components and most time-intensive tasks, companies shouldn’t overlook the smaller tasks that contribute to an AR project’s success. 

These “little things” include: 

  • Concepting (i.e., creating the project’s blueprint)
  • Voiceovers 
  • Testing and bug clearance 

These smaller tasks take 100-150 hours to complete. 

All of these elements combined took 638-996 hours to complete. AR projects consist of many different parts that must be built, assembled, and then testing to ensure for a smooth, realistic experience. 

Wonderscope’s AR App: Complex Apps Can Require Up to 1960 Hours

Unlike Toy Story 4’s AR app, Wonderscope’s app is more complex and features tons of interactive content, cool AR tricks, and stunning visuals.

Wonderscope’s story is a familiar one, but is interactive and unfolds right in front of your eyes wherever you are, whether you’re in your room, a quiet park, or a conference room. 

Using the Wonderscope App, you can make stories appear wherever you are, read out loud to talk to characters, be in the stories, and take screenshots while interacting with characters.

In this app, not only characters come to life but entire scenes, adding layers of dimension to interactive storytelling. 

Let’s look under the hood of this app using the example of one of the available Wonderscope stories in AR developed by Within Unlimited. 

The story features 4 locations, 4 characters, and contains 8 minutes of AR animations. 

Element 1: The App

Wonderscope’s app is aesthetically pleasing with vivid colors and an accessible and well thought out UX, accented by a stylish UI full of 3D objects and animations. 

It is addictive to navigate through the app, scrolling between the screens and clicking on menu items. 

Smooth transitions between screens contribute to smooth user experience. 

In addition to surface recognition functions of AR-kit 2.0, Wonderscope boasts the speech recognition function.

This app likely required 140-160 for UX and another 350-400 for UI. 

Element 2: Models 

Like in the Toy Story 4 AR app, this story in Wonderscope featured only a few characters (Blob, Ball, Rabbit, and Caterpillar) plus four high-quality locations. 

Creating these models required 350-450 hours. 

Element 3: Animations

This story features 8 full minutes of animation complete with elaborate interactive scripting involving 4 characters in 4 locations. 

 [Wonderscope Animation.gif] [Wonderscope Animation 1.gif]

Perfecting these animations required 550-650 hours to complete. 

Element 4: Additional Tasks

Similar to the Toy Story 4 app, this story required smaller tasks for a smooth AR experience such as concepting, voiceovers, testing, and bug clearance. 

For such a polished app, 200-300 hours were likely spent on these little details that add up to a positive user experience. 

All of these elements combined took 1590-1960 hours to complete. 

More complicated AR projects consist of more parts and require more time to assemble. 

Companies Can Better Plan Their AR Projects If They Know How Much Time Is Required

The examples provided by Toy Story 4 and Wonderscope demonstrate rough estimates of how much AR projects cost and how long it takes to get an AR-based project off the ground. 

Companies should decide whether an AR project is worth the investment by looking at examples of how big brands benefitted from adding AR to their marketing mix, as shown by 7-Eleven, Burger King, and Pepsi. 

If companies want to get the most out of their AR project, they should not compromise on the quality of its content: AR is something that should amaze and make users’ jaws drop. 

If the reaction to your AR project will be “meh,” it’s not AR at all; investing in “cost-optimized” AR is a waste of money

When looking for an AR vendor, keep in mind how you want your app to look, work, and feel to the intended user, and remember: Never compromise on quality. 

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