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Game art studio and the magic of outsourcing

We’re entering a new era of human cooperation. Decentralized systems like block-chain, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, open-source software like Linux, p2p communication tools like Jami and Tox and last but not least, modular outsourcing models of media production like game art studio see more attention amongst both users and experts each year.

 But what is this new decentralized world that’s dawning on us from the horizon, why is it important, how will it change our lives and how does it affect the game industry particularly? In short, how organizations such as a game art studio would be affected in an increasingly outsource favored world?

These questions are important to us, as a game art studio, but they should also be important to anyone who has anything to do with the game industry.These changes are revolutionary, and if they’re not addressed and discussed, like other revolutions, they would cut many corporate heads under their sharp guillotine blades of change and innovation

Hubspot Tweet About Game Art Studio
A tweet by Kieran Flanagan, VP Marketing Of Hubspot

So it’s only natural that we, at Pixune, a game art studio, consider these issues and discuss them. But you, as a customer, or even an individual interested in gaming and the industry should consider them too. Of course, Pixune is not just a game art studio and we provide other services such as game development and game design, but let’s forget about those for now and focus on the art. Naturally, the first two questions that come to mind are:

  • Why should I outsource my project at all?
  • Among all the different things I can outsource, why should I even consider outsourcing such a subjective matter as the game art?

To answer the first question, we will take a look at the recent trends of outsourcing and the growing need for a new structure of global cooperation and collaboration in the new world. The rest of the article will address the second question and of course, will elaborate on other points that might come to mind.

Brave new open source world: the logic behind outsourcing

The truth of the matter is, the days of closed source, monolithic and single vendor companies in various fields, especially fields related to IT, tech and art are almost over. We are entering a new world of open-source cooperation of smaller modular studios that provide specialized services with more reasonable prices than giant companies. They’re way more efficient.

This trend, of course, is nothing new. People who have experience in the movie industry, for example, are aware of the fact that for a long time, even mega-companies such as Warner Bros don’t own studios, equipment and production crew themselves.

Warner Bros Studio
Even huge companies like Warner Bros. outsource to smaller studios

Instead, these days up to 95 percent of movies and TV shows are outsourced, from VFX to set design and stunt teams and even the casting process. Even the cameras are rented.

Game Art Studio Outsource

But the trend goes far beyond the movie industry, and it’s not just about outsourcing to one single big company. No, this is about a revolution in the basic structure of creating processes in tech, art and all the fields that need mass cooperation.

Similar to the way that an operating system like Unix(Linux) is designed by a modular structure of tens of thousands of different programmers who code, debug, test and run different parts of the OS, the basic structure of these fields too are changing into a new format.

Ubuntu Mass Online Collaboration
Ubuntu Linux is an example of mass online collaboration for a huge project that no single programmer or even company could’ve accomplished this effectively.

As this “Raconteur” article argues, in 2008, 42 percent of the Forbes G-2000 largest global businesses outsourced IT to single companies, but now that has declined to just 15 percent. This means that not only the world is going towards an outsourcing model, but it’s shifting away from the old outsourcing that gave away everything to be done by giant companies. Instead, what customers are doing recently is giving every aspect of their projects to the best studio they can find and use all the finished component parts as they see fit.

popularity of outsourcing
Since the recession of 2008 and the huge wall street bailout, people have realized that a monolithic and inflexible model like huge banks in the US is doomed to fail eventually, hence the increase of favorability in outsourcing and modular cooperation.

Outsourced IT Functions

What about the game industry?

Well, like any other field, gaming has changed too due to this new model. Perhaps even more than any other industry since game production is a massive cooperative effort.

Even giant game companies like EA Games, Supercell, King,‏ Ubisoft, 2K Games, and‏ Blizzard outsource the design of some parts of their games to other studios and have no problem getting exactly what they want from them. The shift is happening and it’s happening fast.

Outsourced Game Art Studios
All these giant game companies, and many more, outsource various parts of their projects to game art studios

And why shouldn’t it? Although the idea of doing all the different complicated tasks of making a game might seem tempting at first, once you start the process, you will understand that it’s really inefficient and near damn impossible. In this article, we’re gonna show you why and when is it better to outsource and once you do it, what will happen behind the curtains. We will specifically focus on the art aspects of a game and will discuss the process of outsourcing them to a game art studio.

What is a game art studio?

A game art studio is a service provider in many artistic design aspects of a game such as character design, background design, prop design, UI design, etc. basically anything that has to do with a visual component of the game can be outsourced to a game art studio and can be handled by them. Game art studios work in close association with game developers and they are usually a part of a larger game studio. Pixune is an example of such an organization that is itself a game studio and includes a game art studio inside its structure. 

The advantages of working with a game art studio

Now the first question that comes to mind is, why should I give the visual soul of my game to someone else? What are the benefits of outsourcing the design of what is essentially the display window of my game to an external body which I don’t even know?

Benefits Of Outsourcing
These are just some of the benefits of outsourcing.

There could be different reasons to do such a thing, but there are 3 main benefits that’ll show themselves right out of the gate.

  •  Modular structure:

This is something that has been discussed briefly earlier. If you have any experience with programming or have studied system theory, then you surely know how a modular structure of any system increases its efficiency by a magnitude of a zillion.

A modular structure means breaking down the project to smaller, easier to supervise and more manageable parts. These parts work independently and don’t affect or disturb other parts.

Even better, there is a “graceful degradation” model in such systems, meaning even if one module is completely destroyed, the other ones can continue working without a fluke until the damaged part is handled and joins the rest of the team.

Outsourcing different parts of your project to different(and even same) specialized studios that are the best in their respective fields makes your project modular, instead of the old monolithic model that usually malfunctions under pressure.

  • Price and communication:

First of all, it’s true that if you find your own artist, you would probably pay them less than a game art studio for the same job. But is it really the same job? Is there the same level of guarantee, communications, assurance and quality control with a single freelancer? I think not.

Furthermore, the real price of hiring an artist might seem better and cheaper at first glance, but there is a shadow price there, hidden from plain sight.

The thing is, the hiring process to find the right artist and then managing them constantly would eventually even out what price benefit you might think you’ve gotten by hiring your own artist rather than outsourcing to a game art studio. This, of course, might not always be true, but the exceptions here don’t necessarily disprove the rule.

But there is even more. It all depends on the country you’re working in. hiring an artist in the US, Canada or many European countries would often cost you more than you can imagine. On the contrary, if you hire a game art studio from an Asian or eastern European country, it could be even cost you cheaper than working with a freelance artist in, say, California. We will discuss this in more depth later on.

  • Artistic diversity:

When you hire an artist, you’re stuck with them, their taste, their , and their talent. If, for instance, you like their work in designing cartoonish and over the top fantasy characters, but need realistic and practical designs for a certain part of the game, there isn’t really anything you can do about it short of getting another artist involved and paying double for just doing that.

With a game art studio though, you can judge the different designs and sketches they offer you and you get to pick and choose between them. They have more than one artist and hence, more than one taste and artistic voice and you can always get exactly what you want for any prop, asset, character and visual aspect of the game.

  • Risk prevention

All right, suppose you have a team of artists, you have a release date for the game, a deadline, a limited budget and a whole lot of stress. Now some of your artists pass the deadline, one of them accidentally deletes their entire work, another one has a death in their family and can’t continue working, and suddenly you have a failed project on your hands. You have spent your budget and there is nothing you can do but to give up.

Working with a game art studio prevents all of that. There is an assurance in working with such a body in well-defined legal terms. Even if a global disaster happens, at worst, you would get your money back and there isn’t any huge risk at play. You can relax and focus on your vision rather than having anxiety every step of the way.

Addressing your concerns on a partnership with game art studios

All right, you don’t have to tell us. We really do understand that you might still have your doubts about outsourcing your project to a game art studio. It’s completely understandable.

 There are even instances when it’s better not to do it, and we’ll address those later on. But the common worries and concerns about such a partnership usually can be explained and addressed easily and are not that much of a big deal. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

  1. It’s too expensive in comparison to hiring my own artists

Look, we’re not gonna try to fool you. Yeah, sometimes that’s the truth. Sometimes, and I stress, only sometimes, working with a game art studio is more expensive than working with a handful of artists. But it’s not always the case. It all depends on the circumstances and the context.

Furthermore, the finished price of any project always depends on the efficiency of the pipeline and the design process. We have an optimized pipeline that lowers prices in comparison to other studios.

And finally, there is the matter of artistic diversity that has been addressed above. If you’re forced to hire 5 different artists just to get the different props of the game, there would be a surplus on the price that eventually catches up with your budget.

Outsourcing to a game art studio prevents that and simplifies the process to a one-to-one tunnel of communication with a single price that can be negotiated. This, in practice, can even save you some money in many instances.

  1. It’s hard communicating what I want. It’s easier to talk to someone in my office

Is it though, really?

First of all, we’re in an age of remote communications and there are many ways such as skyping, using Trello, discord, Asana, Jira, Slack, cloud storages such as google drive or Dropbox and many other ways to simulate the experience of working with a team as if they’re in your office.

With the variety of options, sketches, silhouettes and designs we provide for you, there would be effectively no difference between this remote way of communication and sitting next to your own artist and choosing between their different designs.

 This can even save you the trouble of buying and renting an office and all the equipment and costs that come with it. In this modern and ever-expanding model everyone can do their job from their homes with the same level of efficiency. And you can always ask us to redo any design you want or do it with a different scheme of colors.

But there is even more: because of our experience and our technical knowledge, you won’t have to explain the obvious to us. If what you want is a routine project, we will understand you quickly and get it done as fast as possible.

 If it’s a more complex project, don’t worry. We would talk to you, and then talk to you again, and then talk to you even more until we get exactly what you want and get on with it.

We already have more than 40 successful art projects for different customers. This fact alone is enough to disprove this notion that communicating the needs of a project via remote channels is somehow harder than in-person communication.

  1. You might not care about my project as much as my own team might do

Nope! You know it as well as we do, anyone who enters the gaming industry isn’t doing it just for the money. It’s one of the least rewarding and most complicated modern industries and if you want to make some cash, there are many other easier ways to do so.

Anyone who enters this industry should really have a profound love and affection towards this unappreciated medium of art and storytelling. We are not an exception either. We grew up with Super Mario and Castlevania. We have memories with Max Payne and God of war. We love games and our work as game artists and game designers.

Like any other artist, be it a writer or a singer or a movie director, when we finish a project, we’re proud of it. We put our souls into them and then put our best works on our walls, and look at them with pride every day, enjoying what we have achieved.

So rest assured, we would treat you just like a teammate. We might even disagree with you about some of your artistic choices, discuss the different matters and revision the design times and times again until we get the nitty-gritty of the project properly and can be confident that this is something we can call “our work”.

The final word is of course and always yours and yours alone, but we care about what we do and the result for us isn’t just money, but also the satisfaction of, in the words of great Neil Gaiman, “making good art”. But if you’re not convinced with this emotional argument, then look at it from this marketing standpoint: we never would want a bad design in our CV. Our portfolio is our identity, our soul, our existence. Our credibility comes from our CV, and this credibility is like a high tower we make stone by stone. Each and every project we do is not just a project that is done solely for the sake of money, but one of those stones that eventually form the way we’re perceived in the industry. We know it very well that this is a very cruel industry, especially to studios that make a fuzz for a short time and then, a few years later, through the word of mouth and because of their bad CV, die out before they can stand on their feet. We are not here just to play for a little while and then disappear in the oblivion of hundreds of failed studios. We’re here to stay, and we know the way to do that is to have a tall but strong tower of professionalism and innovation. So rest assured, we know this better than any other studio: If we half-ass a project, it’ll ruin our integrity and reputation and will be a stain in our CV. So we try our best to do our best in any project that is assigned to us, and honestly, so does any other professional game art studio.

  1. It’s not a good business plan for a long term partnership

On the contrary. Outsourcing to a game art studio works the best when it’s done in a long term partnership. After we do our first project together, we will know you better. We’ll understand your taste, your ambitions and the kind of project you specifically want. After that first project, when you tell us I want a crazy, funny or badass character, we will immediately understand what you want. So if you’re gonna outsource, aim for a long term partnership and know this: we will eventually become a part of your team.

  1. But I want to design my own characters

Well then don’t outsource the character design. No one ever said you should outsource all the art in your game to a game art studio. You might have a very specific idea of a character or a design that you feel the need to do it yourself or have your artist do it. Fair enough.

But usually, the workload of a game project is so much that you may not find the time to do everything and if you try to do that, the things that are important to you wouldn’t be the best versions they could be.

So isn’t it better if you outsource the other parts of the art to a game art studio and focus on what you want to do yourself? Or focus on the programming and the technical stuff and make a game without a single bug?

That’s the great thing about the modular structure of outsourcing that was discussed earlier. You can disintegrate the project, assign its parts to different people, then sit back, watch the gears shift in this modular factory, manage them and focus on doing what matters to you the most.

What services does a game art studio provide?

So far, we have discussed the logic behind outsourcing and explained why it’s a good idea to outsource the art aspects of your game to a game art studio. But what exactly do we do in such a studio?

Game character design:

Designing 2D and 3D characters in various styles such as real, surreal and fantasy, in different genres such as dark fantasy, high fantasy, science fiction, shoot’em up, point and click, side-scrolling, etc. you can visit our game character design page, see our former designs, read notes about the process and get an idea of what we do and what you should know before ordering your characters.

Character design from one of Pixune games
Character design from one of Pixune games

Game Character Animation:

We animate your characters in a software of your choosing: Adobe Animation, Unity, Spine, makes no difference. Characters can be animated in any framework you like and with the specified style of motion, you would order. Take a look at our animation samples to get an idea of what we do and read the notes and important point on that page.

Game Environment Design:

Designing the environment of the game in various styles and genres such as Top-Down,‏ Side-Scrolling,‏ Isometric and any other genre you would like and designing the backgrounds in different genres.

Pixune Game
Game background designs from a pixune game, crazy clowns. See all the backgrounds here

Game Assets / Props Design:

 From game weapon design to designing vehicles, objects, game icons, interactive locks and so on. These assets form the fabric of the game and the extreme care in designing them pays off in the suspension of disbelief in the gamer’s experience. We would design these props in the engine of your choice that you’re developing your game in it: unity 3d, Cocos 2d, game maker, etc.

Pixune Game Weapon Design
Game weapon design from a Pixune game: crazy clowns

Game Weapon Design

Game UI design:

 Designing the UI and UX for tablet, mobile, console or pc games. In any style you’d like, be it a flat one or a glassy one. We have sample UIs in all styles which you can see on our UI page.

Pixune Game UI
UI from a Pixune game:

 

Other:

 Basically, any visual related thing that you can think of can be done by a game art studio. Storyboarding, making game trailers, cut-scene animations, icons, anything. Just know what you want and leave the rest to us.

Pixune Design

Who works in a game art studio? What do they do?

A game art studio is an organization of itself. many people are working in such an organization. Some of them are…

Game character designer:

These are the people who design the various aspects of your characters. From their shapes and their facial expressions to their skins and clothes. This artist should have a deep understanding of human and animal anatomy.

Pixune Game Character Design
Game character design from Creepy town, a pixune game

 

Especially in 3D games, they’re responsible for designing concepts and providing 3D model sheets and silhouettes. Furthermore, these artists should be creative, so they can imagine and design aliens, monsters and surreal designs that don’t have a basis in reality.

Environment designer:

All the exciting, scary, fun, dystopian backgrounds and environments in your favorite games are the results of the tears and sweats of these artists. Environment designer should have a good understanding and knowledge of lighting and perspective.

pixune

UI/UX designer:

The user interface is a very important part of the game that usually goes unnoticed by developers. But the first impressions are important and the UI is almost always the first impression the gamer gets from the game. This may come as a surprise to you, but UI artists actually have a very difficult job.

pixune game interface
User interface of crazy clowns, a Pixune game

 

All the pop-ups, menus, dialogue boxes, and titles in the game are designed by them. They should be both a good graphic designer and a talented game artist. They usually are well-versed and educated in shape language, color theory, layout, and UX. Their work has the most psychological impressions on the gamer and they can usually make or break a game.

Prop/object designer:

 These guys design all the objects and props of the game. Weapons, vehicles, glasses, basically any inanimate object that can be touched or interacted with is designed by these guys.

This task, in smaller projects, is usually done by a character designer or environment designer. But in a game that a weapon has real importance to the story and gameplay, you will need a guy who is a gun geek and even reads journals about them: enters the game weapon designer.

 So sometimes prop design and object design can and should be really specialized.

Game Design Pixune

Pixune Design Game

Animators:

These artists make your characters alive and move them around the game. In 2D games, they should be specialists in 2D software such as Spine or Adobe after effect and in 3D games, they should be educated in their 3D counterparts like Maya, 3Dmax, and Blunder. Each animator should at least know the 12 rules of animation, should have a basic understanding of dynamics and cinematics and should have their own vision and artistic theory on the movement.

Rigger:

Rigging is a technique used in skeletal animation for representing a 3D or 2D character model using a series of interconnected digital bones. Basically, it means creating the bone structure of the character which will determine the way they’ll move around. In smaller projects or 2D projects, rigging and animating are usually done by the same person, but in bigger projects, a separate person does the rigging.

Art director/creative director:

The art director is responsible for determining the general art style of the game and should control all the other art stuff so they match the chosen style by the customer.

The art director should be professional in a few fields of game art design (like shape language, color theory, digital painting) and should be at least familiar with other aspects of the art (animation, UI design and so on). Furthermore, they should have high social skills and be able to break the tension, unless they want all the artists to kill each other within the first week of the project.

Game Character

3D modelers:

 They should transform model sheets and concept arts into 3D models in Maya, 3D model or other 3D software.

They should be able to design a beautiful and exciting 3D model and meanwhile, use the least amounts of polygons and meshes as possible, which, as I said before, isn’t easy. In fact, this job is so hard and complicated that they’re usually required to become specialists in a specific 3D modeling field, for instance: character 3D modeler or game weapon 3D modeler and so on.

3D Game Character

3D Lighting & Render Artist:

In smaller projects, lighting and rendering are done by the same people. But in larger projects, they should be separated. The lighting, of course, guides the gamer’s eye movement and creates the illusion of landscape and is a very important part of the art design. In some projects (like Clash of clans) the 3D art is pre-rendered, and so there needs to be a render artist for this task.

These poor bastards are your personal carers. They care so you don’t have to. They might have a heart attack every week, and that’s just a good week. An account manager is the communication bridge between the customers (that’s you) and the game art studio (that’s us). If you don’t like the art of a piece of cloth in the game, you would yell at them. If a deadline is near passing, they yell at the artists. If you have any complaints at all, you would yell at them, and they, in return, would yell (or try to yell) at the artists. They’re really understanding, patient, charming human beings that sadly would leave us very soon and become old men and women before their 30s. They’re here so you don’t have to talk to each and every one of the artists separately. All you have to do is to have a chat with them and they’ll take care of everything.

account manager
Become an account manager, they said. It would be fun, they said.

Lead artists:

They are the artists that, besides doing their own jobs, handle and manage smaller artist teams that are responsible for a specific part of the art. For example, the UI might have a team of UI designers working on it, and one of them would be the leader of that team, hence the name “lead artist”.

 In smaller projects, this notion doesn’t exist at all, but in bigger ones, there is a need for breaking down the teams in this even more modular structure.

Project manager: they determine the deadlines and timing of the project and break down the project into smaller steps with a very careful and specific timetable.

 They’re usually in direct contact with artists, art directors, and account managers and in charge of the big picture scheduling of the project. If we see games like movies and art directors as movie directors, then these guys are our movie producers.

a pixune game
From a pixune game

Game developer:

A professional game art studio should have its own game developer. Game developers study the art of the game and share their experience of the development process with the artists. They can also function as a bridge between the game art studio and the programming team of the customer.

As we mentioned before, Pixune isn’t just a game art studio, but beyond that, a game studio. We have our own programmers and coders and we provide game development services as well as game art services.

 This fact results in a higher functionality in transferring the art to the coding stage in comparison to other studios. Even if you don’t want us to do your programming for you and hire us only as a game art studio, still, our experience in this regard makes for a more programmable art for your needs and the needs of your team.

Outsourcing vs doing it yourself: how to know what to do?

Ok, now let’s address the elephant in the room: does this all mean that it’s always better to outsource your art projects to a game art studio? Well, it would be disingenuous of us to say yes. There are some occasions when it’s better to do the project locally and by a team of artists, you hire yourself. These occasions do not occur that frequently and most the projects are better to be outsourced, but they do exist, and here are some of them:

  • If the scale or the nature of the project demands it: I mean, your project might be a really small one with the simplest art style possible that you can literally do it by windows paint. It might be that the simplicity of the art style is part of the charm, mechanism or the idea behind the game.

Or your game might be purely around a central idea or plot/text-driven and so it wouldn’t be that efficient to outsource the art to a game art studio and spend money on something that isn’t that important for your game.

Most of the time, though, the art might be the most important part of the game and the game developers have many different ideas about various objects, props, characters and environments in the game. So this rule doesn’t apply most of the time.

  • If you have a very limited budget: Ok, you should be realistic. If you have a shoestring budget and just want to stomp your feet in the gaming industry for the first time without spending much money, it wouldn’t make that much sense to outsource the art to a game art studio. Just contact us, describe what you want, and we will guide you about the budget you need. If your budget doesn’t fit your needs, it might be better to either adjust those needs or change your strategy to a local one.
  • If you can’t read this text: all right, the language barrier might cause some problems in the process. But don’t worry, if you’re already here and understood half of this article, it means that your English would suffice to go ahead and outsource your game art. This one applies only to people who can’t understand a single world outside of their native language (assuming that native language isn’t English).

Who is the typical customer of a game art studio?

  • If you’re a creative person with an exciting idea for a game, but don’t know much about art, and want to enter the game industry with a bang, you should definitely get in touch with us.
  • If you’re an indie game developer it would be better to outsource the game art and focus on the aspects that matter the most to you: the game design, the story, the gameplay, and programming.
  • If you’re a company that produces multimedia educational products, the chances are that you care the most about your educational topics and the learning process. But the art of your products can be just as crucial as the usefulness of them, so it would be a wise choice to let the people who are professionals do the art for you.
  • Advertisement agencies can be the customers of a game art studio as well.
  • Any other company, individual, corporation or holding that needs to produce any interactive media that has to look good on the eye can be a customer of a gamer art studio.

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