Weekly Content Blog #10: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 2

This is part two of a three part series.
Part 1: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 1
Part 3: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 3


In part one I talked about some of the costs and risks related to creating art for an RPG. More specifically I outlined the groundwork I laid for Shadows of Adam early on in its life, so that its art could grow organically within the scope of the project and the budget of our team. As both of those factors grew, so did our art requirements. In order to cover this new demand we looked to outsource some of the work to freelance contractors. In part two I will talk about the overall outsourcing experience, what kind of costs to expect when seeking outside help, and how outsourcing helped shape Shadows of Adam.

Dummies Guide to Outsourcing

The first rule of outsourcing is that you need to hire outside help in order to outsource your work. This can be achieved in many ways; posting ads, reviewing portfolios and sending emails, or drawing from your own list of contacts are just some. For Shadows of Adam I knew of two communities where lots of talented pixel artists post their portfolios, so I chose to check out pixeljoint and pixelation and email the people I was most impressed with. The average rate of a pixel artist is in the $15-40/hr range, with the higher end reserved for professionals in the field. It’s important to know what the expected costs are for the quality of art you are looking for. You can’t expect Metal Slug quality graphics when you’re only paying $15/hr to get them. And even if the artist is capable of creating that quality at $15/hr, odds are it will take them at least twice as long and look half as good as an artist charging $40/hr. This is not even taking into account your ability to provide direction and feedback, and a client’s ability to infer direction, apply feedback, and reliably produce art cohesive to the project in a timely manner. The point is that you get what you pay for. A professional artist is going to cost a lot more than a novice, but they also come with greater security that your investment  in them will be worth it.

Tiles and Tribulations

After some deliberation it was determined that new tile sets would be the biggest bottleneck for our project moving forward, so we recruited for that task specifically. I received a few replies back. Not everyone was immediately available, or fit the standard + price point I was looking for, but I did find somebody relatively fit for the job that was ready to go. His first task was to create a tile set for Dradora, the castle city. Below is a side by side of the new tile set for Dradora, and our first town of Adam.

AdamDradora (2)

The first thing you might notice is that the palette changed, and the level of detail slightly increased. Neither of these were planned changes for the game at this point, but the artist’s struggle applying the original palette to a city theme, and their own personal style produced those results. Overall we were happy with this new direction as a team, and felt that it was close enough to the existing art that nothing already made had to be changed. For the second time the art in Shadows of Adam evolved organically without incurring greater costs. Unfortunately the budding artist took on a more demanding project soon after starting the second tile set for us, and so parted ways with Something Classic for greener pastures.

Winds of Change

Upon losing our first outsourced artist to another company (one of the major risks of outsourcing skilled artists at a cheap rate), we set out to find a replacement to continue work on our next needed tileset, the Wind Tower. I found a skilled and willing artist after another round of emails, and work on the Wind Tower proceeded. During this time more grays were added to the palette and it nearly doubled in size from where it started, more details were added to the tiles beyond the new standard set in Dradora, and the art was taking twice as long to produce. Our new artist’s test round was wrapping up and they were unable to finish the tile set in the eight hour window set aside for them. I was starting to wonder how to keep the game’s palette and style in check while keeping the art costs sustainable. Almost serendipitously an artist I initially contacted in the first round of emails -and really wanted to work with- came around to let me know that they were finally available. After talking about the game’s current art direction and needs, they set out to finish the wind tower and unify the palette that was getting out of control.

Wind_Tower 13

Above is a shot of the Wind Tower that they produced from what was started by the other two artists. The palette was transformed into what it is today, and the style of the game evolved for the third and final time. The biggest changes were in the palette (which got a lot warmer and multi-functional through increased color count), the perceived volume of objects (everything is weighted relative to its importance), and the increased application of small details which are more prevalent but also softer.  Not only was our client able to produce amazing art, but they were also able to provide a fully functioning tile set in the same amount of time that our other prospect was able to put out half the work of similar quality. We were ecstatic to see these results, and decided as a team to hire this artist for 80 hours to rework our existing tile sets, and finish up all the outstanding tile sets. In an effort to save costs, I reworked the rest of our existing assets using the new art direction and palette.

80 Hours Later

Eighty hours later and we have about 3/4 of all the tile sets needed for the game. Animations, interactive level entities, and miscellaneous art demands cut into the time scheduled for the tile sets and we came up a little short of our goal for the funds allotted. On top of that, our new artist also had greater demands elsewhere, and so was currently unavailable to finish up our tile set needs. Fortunately we had more than enough to keep us in production from May to the end of June, which is when the artist’s next block of availability will be. In the interim we have found another top caliber artist to assist us in other areas of the game. Overall Shadows of Adam’s art budget has far exceeded our original expectations, but the results have been worth it every step of the way, and the costs have always scaled with the type of game we ultimately hope to produce.

Tangle 4brashear3

Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope that this post has been informative in regards to some of the costs and processes involved in outsourcing your game’s art. Next time I will talk about the upcoming future for the art in Shadows of Adam, and wrap up this mini blog series with a neat little bow. In the meantime feel free to ask any questions about this series or anything pertaining to them in the comments or on facebook or twitter.

Part 3: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 3