Game art outsourcing is an efficient way to flexibly increase the size and skills of your game development team. However, it’s a decision not to be taken lightly. Finding a partner who is both reliable and passionate about your game is essential but can be tricky. This is why we’ve created this outsourcing guide highlighting how, why, who, and some common pitfalls.
We recommend bookmarking this guide, to keep handy during your hiring process.
When to outsource to a studio and when to hire your own artists
Hiring employees or freelancers is different to working with outsourcing studios or production teams. We cover the difference between working with a freelancer vs an outsourcing studio in the paragraph below. Knowing when to hire and when to outsource can be a tricky thing to work out so here are some key points to help navigate this decision.
Assess your need
If you’re looking to hire for several different skills, ask yourself “are you able to hire multiple artists and even more so, manage all of them every day?”
If the answer is “kinda” or “no”, then an outsourcing team might be a good option. You’ll be able to hire for multiple services quickly and have a project manager provided to ensure the project runs smoothly.
Will there be ongoing work? Maybe a large scope of work that you know will take over a year.
For this, you could hire artists or partner with a studio. This is a choice and you should weigh up the time saved with a studio (quick scaling of a team) vs the cost savings of hiring (however this is not always cheaper in the long run and it comes with extra project management).
If you need final deliverables, but haven’t nailed down a brief and you won’t know how to approach the challenge without experimenting with art styles or optimisation?
Typically, this might be best left to hiring an individual you can work with very closely. It can be tough to integrate a studio with your internal team and therefore poses a challenge for this approach to work.
If it’s a case that you are unfamiliar with the process or scope, this might hint you need proper consultation. A studio is a great choice to gain important experienced advice. As Elliot Callighan from Unlock Audio puts it, “let those who know how to do it help you determine your needs”.
Budget, quality, and timeline
When you’re on a tight schedule and there is still a large amount of work left to do there is a great opportunity to combine two powers. Your internal team + studio support.
If you’re on a tight budget then get creative with your hiring method. Revenue share along with payment is always an option to hire employees or freelancers. Consider potentially co-developing with another studio to combine your skills. We are offering this as a new service in 2023! You can find more information on our co-development partnership on this page.
Perhaps you have a team, but their skills aren’t quite enough for a task or you have a skill gap.
Here you have the option of working with a freelancer or an outsourcing studio.
Hiring an individual freelancer will take time to properly vet them, and you might not be able to afford it going wrong. This could leave your budget and deadlines vulnerable.
Hiring most studios might be out of the question if the job is too small, this will be a question to ask when contacting them. At MLC we’ve blended the two options together: A vetted freelancer, backed up by a 100+ team. You’ll get that flexibility and speed of the freelancer, with the assurance the job will be done at high quality, and reliably.
How working with a studio is different from working with a freelancer
Working with a studio, if chosen right, allows for quick expansion of your team where there may be skill gaps, whilst also enabling you to increase the quality of your game efficiently.
A good game art studio will have its processes down to a T for collaborating with partners, and workflows in place to ensure smooth transitions between artists and teams. Best practices and well-tested results make all the difference to your game’s success. Good freelancers have this too, but it can be tricky to get their availability.
Studios have the resources to quickly replace artists should someone be struck down with an illness or is incapable of working. When working with a freelancer, you’d have to wait until they were able to work again which, if you’re working to a deadline, can be risky.
Freelancers are flexible and passionate, which can help you with budget management with relatively low capital commitments. You could even find someone indispensable to your game’s development as a member of your own team eventually. Studios can sometimes be slow and heavy on budget, but the quality is expected to be higher. MLC is a network of freelancers so we pride ourselves on having the ‘closest to freelance rates’ you’ll find in a studio.
An outsourcing studio will likely have a large skill set, with in-house experienced project managers and producers. This means less time sourcing and managing talent to work on your game and more time doing the part you love. Putting time management accountability on someone else for part of your game can be critical to managing your stress.
Where to find art outsourcing studios?
Recommendations 🗣️ – Asking other developers or studio heads for recommendations for outsourcing studios. This is a solid way to hear first-hand experience of working with specific studios.
Search 🔍– This kind of goes without saying. Searching on both social media and search engines is a great way to find some reputable art outsourcing studios. We recommend checking out the studio’s visual profiles on ArtStation and Instagram to check the quality of past work. Discord and Twitter are also great resources for finding game art outsourcing studios.
Social listening 👂🏼 – Following hashtags on Twitter or Instagram can provide you with examples of the work produced by studios. You can follow specific skills such as #3DCharacters or more general such as #OutsourcingStudio.
DON’T 🚫 – Take the first studio you come across, always make comparisons and weigh up your options, it’s a worthwhile time investment. Our experience has shown that studios who cold-email (on LinkedIn, email or other areas like ArtStation) are generally less experienced and you should be wary.
Once you have a list of studios that you have either been recommended or like their work, it’s time to do your due diligence. Things to check:
Reviews ✅– Reviews are a great source for checking the experience other game devs had working with a studio. Look through to see their most popular mentioned traits or skills, as this can give a great insight into well-recommended services. Check out our 60+ 5-star reviews 😉
The studio’s values 💖– You’re going to be trusting this studio to be part of your game development, their values must align with your own. If they’re not published on their website, don’t be afraid to ask.
Collaboration Type 🤝– Think about the type of collaboration that you want to have with the studio. A full partnership where the studio contributes to ideas, deliverable-focused if you simply just want the assets, or perhaps something in between. Does the studio you are looking at fit that type of collaboration?
Response times ⏱️– Get in touch with them, are they responsive and provide helpful and thorough answers to your questions? We recommend that responses to your questions should come 1-2 days after you’ve sent them for a good standard of speed. Quotes under $50k should also take no longer than around 5 working days to acquire, if this takes longer the studio could be showing signs of a lack of speed or a poor workflow.
Services 🎨– Chances are you’ll need many different creative services throughout your game development and release. Check if the studio provides a majority of the services you expect to need. This can help save time later down the line.
However, if they do provide “everything”, are all services to the standard you expect? If you’re hiring a studio to be a specialist in a certain skill, check their work in the area you’re looking to outsource to them. Be sure to check their reviews for their most popular mentioned traits or skills.
How to Brief
To begin work of any sort with a studio or freelancer, you will need to provide a creative brief for the services you will require. We promise you, the quality of the brief you provide directly influences the quality of the work you will receive. Spend a good amount of time on this part. A good studio should be able to appropriately guide you in this process.
We will be following this guide with another post on how to assemble a great brief, so keep your eyes peeled.
Some things an art outsourcing studio will need to know:
- Some background on your game and gameplay.
- The art style of your game – Is it stylised or realistic, for example?
- References for the work you require, even animation, with ideally what you like/dislike about each reference. Be as thorough as possible with this, key references needed are: Art style, fidelity level and game narrative/gameplay (to understand ratio and camera positioning).
- A deliverable list: Make a list of all the files you’re expecting to receive.
- Technical specifications including: Required file types, optimisation requirements, software limitations and game engine version.
- A deadline, or at the very least, a rough timeline.
- Your budget for the brief.
Once the brief is put together, a quote can be compiled and sent out to you. Always make sure you check payment terms before accepting your quote.
Each studio may have a different workflow but you should make yourself aware of the next steps early in the process.
Recommended Outsourcing studio for Game Developers
There are many amazing studios out there, however, we’re listing a few that we highly recommended.
MLC (This is us) – Art and Animation Production Team.
MLC is a passionate art outsourcing studio partnering with game developers to create beautiful experiences that tell a story. We give you the flexibility of freelancers with the scalability and stability of an outsourcing studio.
Our extensive network and range of services support the whole game development journey. We cover art, design (2D and 3D), character creation, concept art, environments, animation, UI/UX, and more.
Our experienced team is a collaboration of talented artists from around the world who go the extra mile to deliver exceptional quality with passion.
Motif Music Production – Music Composition and Sound Design for Video Games
Composers Alberto Sueri and Johnny Moutzouris formed the Motif duo in 2017, following the completion of their studies in MSc Composition for Screen at the University of Edinburgh. It was their mutual fascination for the intrinsic timbral qualities of sound that prompted them to join forces, always with the intention of creating elaborate sonic works.
Since then, they have been involved in composing original music for a multitude of visual projects including films, documentaries, video games, and advertisements.
Music choice is an important consideration in both game design and trailers – we’ve worked with Motif Music and are always thoroughly impressed by their work.
Unlock Audio – Game Audio Production
We believe game audio should not be driven by asset counts or iteration limits. It should be about creating audioscapes that support the developer’s vision and incite emotion in the player.
With over 35 years of combined game audio experience. They provide music, sound assets, voice-over, mixing, and implementation using an innovative process and pricing that guarantees you get a great result.
By aligning game audio with the larger development process, creating exceptional experiences and using transparent business practices, Unlock Audio is the ideal partner for mid-level developers.
TDR was set up in 2017. Since then, they’ve grown ‘know-how’ and their equipment cupboard alongside it. TDR specialise in all things video and are a perfect partner if you’re looking for a trailer, game cutscenes or animated artwork (although you’ll need the artwork prepared first, you can ask us about that 😉).
We’ve worked with TDR on many trailers and animated artwork briefs and can’t recommend them highly enough. The team is incredibly professional whilst also approachable – just check out their awesome work on their website. It speaks for itself!
Overall, outsourcing your game art can be a fantastic way to reduce bottlenecks during your game’s development. Providing an efficient and/or cost-effective way of increasing the quality of your game visuals and reducing the production time.
The process of finding a reliable art studio can be time-consuming. However, if done right, means you have a long-term partner for all the creative needs you may come across during your development journey. Having this invaluable resource can save you hours of searching for freelancers and team members.
We’ve made this handy checklist of the top 10 things to ask when reaching out to a new art outsourcing studio. We’ve taken the liberty of putting together a list of these questions you should ask and outsourcing studio.
Good luck with your search!
If you need help with the creative side of game development, we offer both ad hoc art services as well as monthly creative support. So, get in touch, and let’s start a beautiful partnership.