Game Art Outsourcing: A Guide for Indie Developers

Game art outsourcing refers to the practice of hiring external companies or freelancers to create the art assets for a game rather than creating all the art in-house. It allows game studios, especially smaller indie studios, to access a wider talent pool and get high-quality game art created for their projects at an affordable cost.

The Benefits of Outsourcing Game Art

For most indie studios, outsourcing art creation makes sense simply due to a lack of in-house talent. Creating all the 2D and 3D assets for even a moderately scoped game is a huge undertaking – requiring multiple skilled artists across concept art, 2D textures, 3D modeling, animation, VFX, and more. Finding all those skills in-house is difficult and expensive. Outsourcing provides access to an entire team of specialists.

This also provides access to talent that might be unavailable locally. For example, certain skills like 3D organic modeling are in high demand, making those specialists expensive to hire full-time. Outsourced talent pools make it easy to find the ideal artist for each task.

Cost savings are another major benefit. Hourly rates for outsourced talent, especially in regions like Eastern Europe and South America, are often significantly lower than local hire rates. Fixed-cost outsourcing deals can also help studios stick to a defined art budget for the project.

Time savings are equally vital. Having an outsourced team handling art creation in parallel with in-house development means the project moves faster. An outsourcing game art studio can also take over tedious non-development tasks like porting assets between tools or implementing artwork into the game engine.

Quality assurance is built into most outsourcing pipelines. Revisions and feedback cycles ensure the art is delivered to spec. Most outsourcing studios also do compatibility testing across target platforms. These QA processes are hard to implement solo when relying on individual freelancers.

Potential Challenges of Outsourcing Game Art 

Of course, outsourcing game art production isn’t without its difficulties. Handing over a large portion of your game art to an external partner requires careful management.

The number one concern is maintaining consistency in visual style and art direction. Outsourced artists won’t have the same personal connection to your game that in-house creatives do. That means ensuring the outsourcing studio properly understands and implements your creative vision and style guide. Misaligned art can happen if communication breaks down.

Communication Challenges

Communication itself can pose challenges when working across time zones, languages, and cultural barriers. Make sure to clearly communicate expectations, provide abundant reference materials, schedule regular review calls, and allocate someone to coordinate daily with the outsourcing team.

Protecting Intellectual Property

Protecting IP is also crucial when sending game designs and art offsite. Reputable vendors will have solid data security and NDA policies in place, but it’s worth doing due diligence regarding asset privacy and protecting your intellectual property (IP).

Timeline and Budget Overruns

Quality and timeline can drift if not managed properly. Scope creep or specification changes mid-project can quickly inflate budgets and derail schedules. Stick to the agreed-upon scope and have a change management process in place.

Cultural Differences

While cultural variation can provide helpful new perspectives on art direction, it may also lead to misinterpretation of cultural references and themes. Give outsourcing partners as much context for your game’s setting and influences as possible.

Tips for Successfully Outsourcing Game Art

Follow these tips and strategies to ensure your outsourcing game art goes smoothly:

  • Do thorough research on potential vendors. Look at portfolios and client lists. Ask for references you can contact.
  • Clearly communicate the visual style and creative vision upfront via a style guide. Provide abundant references like concept art, screenshots from similar games, and real-world reference photos.  
  • Establish expected formats (file types) and technical specifications. Provide style templates and pipelines early.
  • Have a change management process for spec changes and scope creep. Agree on how emergency changes will be handled.
  •  Build schedule contingency into the timeline and budget. Assume delays or rework may happen.
  • Maintain constant communication. Schedule regular review calls. Designate outsourcing coordinators on both sides. 
  • Use project management tools to collaborate. Shared drives, task boards, and asset databases.
  • Plan for some degree of back-and-forth in the feedback process. Avoid micro-feedback that Boggs down progress.
  • Create central references for colors, models, materials, etc, to maintain consistency.
  • Implement testing requirements – visual QA, playtests, and compatibility across target platforms.
  • Agree on milestone payments, not 100% upfront. Plan payments around deliverable sign-off.
  • Start small if outsourcing for the first time. Do a pilot with non-critical assets to establish the relationship.

Top Countries for Outsourced Art Production

Certain regions around the world have thriving game art outsourcing ecosystems featuring top talent, offshore pricing, and specialized services. Good options include:

Eastern Europe – Poland, Ukraine, Romania. Talent pools built from former USSR CG studios. Expertise in realistic 3D art for AAA titles. Language and timezone challenges. 

Southeast Asia – Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines. Lower cost 2D and 3D generalists. Developing game dev communities. Smaller talent pools for specialized skills.

China – Large talent pool and game art specialization but higher prices. Language barrier. IP risks require caution and vetting.

South America – Brazil, Colombia, Argentina. Creative talent and offshore pricing. Limited specialized game art pools. Language barrier. 

India – Very low prices, but skill levels inconsistent. Best for 2D art or simple 3D assets. Heavy language/culture gap.

When choosing a country, consider art style needs, language abilities, time zones, and cultural fit, along with cost savings.

In Summary

For most indie studios, game art outsourcing is a necessary solution to accessing skills cost-effectively. When done right, outsourcing enables small teams to achieve AAA quality art without exploding budgets and timelines. Just be sure to thoroughly vet vendors, maintain excellent communication, assign project coordinators, and implement QA processes. Outsourced art production should feel like an extension of your in-house team.

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