Being an active Quora user and having browsed through a myriad of software development related questions, I've noticed an increased interest within the community in how much it can potentially cost to build a web or mobile software prototype. I've analyzed some of the prototype development services we've provided for numerous clients as well as top Quara answers to identify the average cost of building a software prototype in 2016.

Prior to answering the question, let's summarize why it's business critical to start any software development project with a working prototype of an expected solution. Prototype is needed to generally evaluate the application idea feasibility and visualize the future product in terms of features, functionality and UX. That being said, prototyping is an effective way of presenting your future software product to top management / investors to get funding / budget approval, and target users to check the social engagement and user acquisition potential of the application prior to putting the buck into building the actual product.

In fact, creating a software prototype can be a very labor intensive job requiring nearly as many resources, i.e. time, talent and money, as the actual MVP product development.

Let's take a look at mobile prototyping. According to "intellectually eclectic" Juan Gallardo:

Here in Los Angeles, no iOS developer will touch anything for less than $5k. The average I see apps around here being built for is about $25k.

If you are creating a basic game, with no outside interaction, and one developer builds on a framework like cocos2d, then maybe the lowest is like $2-3k.

When you have to pull live information for the app then you are looking usually at a minimum of $10k. Prices will increase depending on graphics and backend support.

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the national average rate for an independent contract software engineer is $125/hr. Roughly, hourly rates for an engineer can vary from $90-$250/hr. Outsourcing providers normally charge $35-55/hr. on average for the same job.

Let's imagine you need to build a web and mobile card game prototype based on the following criteria:

  • The game prototype should run under win23, Android and Unity 3D engine with NGUI frameworks
  • Google-based back-end for all in-game parameters such as button names, card descriptions, and other game related variables
  • Player back-end (i.e. user profile storage, player matching, random generator, etc) is based on parse.com
  • All multiplayer sessions are stored in Photon Cloud
  • Design in based on Unity 3D engine

Roughly, such a prototyping project will take up to 300 hours to develop. If your service provider charges you $125/hr., your anticipated cost of prototype can reach $37,500. If you look beyond your home country and outsource your prototype development to a lower-cost location, the same project can actually cost you around $12,000. Using outsourcing, you can actually squeeze your entire mobile product development with $40,000-50,000 budget.

Speaking about building web prototypes, the process is nearly the same and what influences the cost of prototyping is basically the cost of your software development team.

According to web consultant Mircea Goia:

It depends on more variables (the technology used, the complexity, the time frame you wanted it developed, the developers themselves - some can be cheaper than others) and even if you think you nailed the budget very rarely you hit that budget (many times it will go over it just because you can't anticipate everything).

For instance, if you need to use PHP/MySQL as your key technology when building a web prototype, PHP developers will cost you less than Ruby/Rails developers, and the overseas developers will cost you even cheaper.

IT Project Manager Julien Chabe suggests companies go to Elance and use freelancers to save cost of in-house / onshore prototype development. That's his formula of estimating total cost of prototype:

Cost of virtual server / month + X hours of specifications at $X an hour + Y hours of coding at $X an hour + Z hours of testing at $X an hour.

Define X Y Z and $X and multiply them by 1.7. You shouldn't be far from the real cost.

So, wrapping up, the more IT specialists you involve in building a prototype, the more you'll pay for the product. As you see, the options are many and it's up to you to decide which one to go with. Just don't listen to skeptics that say that prototyping software is just a waste of time and money. In the end of the day, the more errors and bugs you're able to find and fix at the prototyping phase, the fewer overheads you'll be facing when building the actual software product!

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Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to Business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other IT portals. You can contact him directly on LinkedIn.

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