Hi, my name is David Tolley and I’d like to share my many years of experience and extensive knowledge regarding successfully setting up, managing and working with art outsourcing teams for computer and video games to throughout the world. Lot’s of practical experience in delivering a wide range of art assets into game and managing external teams. Anyone new to (or interested in) the subject of outsourcing artwork for video game production should hopefully find what follows interesting.
When developing today’s content hungry video games, there are several good reasons why choosing to work with external teams can be beneficial for developers. Cost savings and scalability are well documented, but increasingly the specialisation offered by some companies can be very attractive, and a great way of acquiring quality content quickly.
Typically though, the primary reason for outsourcing is simply based on the amount of work in-house teams can (or indeed can’t) handle; it makes little sense to grow studio capacity during development only to have artists sat idle through post production. Using additional art resources as-and-when needed is cost effective and can be accurately planned - saving money and overheads.
Where to outsource
With videogame outsourcing, globalization is truly here. If planned properly, the actual location of the contributor is almost irrelevant, indeed in many cases it can be used to a distinct advantage. In some instances project deliverables can be worked on ‘overnight’ and uploaded to the client’s FTP ready for inspection the next morning. Any feedback can be prepared during the day and is ready and waiting for the external art team to come back online.
Generally, if an offshore studio can complete the work then the physical location is not really an issue. However, the importance of face-to-face meetings shouldn’t be underestimated because they can give a personal feel to the work and a better understanding of the client’s needs.
How you outsource
Delivering quality artwork into any game pipeline takes planning, management and understanding to be truly effective. There are many attributes involved, even when integrating even the simplest assets into an existing project. Any art manager knows that if the procedures aren’t clear from the outset then trouble lies ahead - and this goes double for outsourcing.
It’s important to understand that outsourcing your game artwork is not a magic solution, don’t underestimate the management time in dealing with external teams, remember they are an extension to your development and need to fully understand your project and processes if they are to produce their best work. During development, internal teams are fully briefed and well supported, so be prepared to spend the time with your contributors - be open and available.
This term basically means owning an offshore team, but managing the studio as if it were in the UK (or wherever the developer is based). Running your own cost-saving offshore studio can give a number of distinct advantages, but really the chief gain is that the team is working solely for the developer as a true extension to the UK studios. Having an experienced team who are familiar with your tools and processes is a major advantage in that you don’t need to retrain or re-educate staff when moving to new projects.
Is it right for your business
Assuming that outsourcing has been systematically chosen and is right for the project it can be hugely rewarding and cost effective. It’s a complex two way partnership which needs hard work, practice, support, and above all, careful planning, but the benefits are clear. Papers are available advising how to outsource, which cover strategies, preparation, due diligence and management, but a really successful outsource contribution will be driven by experience, passion and strong support from internal staff.
A variation of this article was originally submitted to TIGA as part of their Outsourcing and Offshoring article
I’ve also written a number of articles detailing processes and pitfalls concerning outsourcing - one of which is posted below.
Feel free to post any questions in the comments section below, I look forward to receiving them.
UPDATE - 22/June/2010
Outsourcing: A Little Checklist to Save You a Lot of Hassles - A related Gamasutra article