Project: Outsource Everything

I’m in a unique position in my job where I have a modest budget to spend on outsourcing art for my game. I have complete control over where, how and when I spend it. I have to jointly art direct, manage the game’s art, manage my artists, critique and approve or disapprove their work, handle budgeting, scheduling, and every other tiny little aspect of art including documentation, asset integration, bugfixing, and little super-tiny tweaks to polish each individual asset I receive. And I’m managing 25 to 30 artists right now — by myself — that puts a huge burden on me. But why should I take all of that on myself? I shouldn’t.

I think something I’ve failed to consider until the past month or so is… I’ve been limiting my scope. I’m thinking more in terms of outsourcing assets, instead of outsourcing processes that create assets.

Why draw the line at pure art asset creation? Why not outsource integration, or organizational work, or the small snippets of fiction I need for outsourcing creatures and their animations? Why not simply outsource an art lieutenant to handle sub-management tasks? Hire a small firm — or a single guy — to handle all my marketing materials? I get to spend my budget however I please, because my boss trusts me with it. Wouldn’t this be a smArter way to run a project in my situation?

I’ve been learning this whole time how to be the mind that controls the hands. Why draw overly strict lines at what I will or won’t let hands do? I don’t have time to do everything that I need to do and I take way too much on myself. I need to open up and be willing to start outsourcing smaller tasks. No one says I can’t do it. I certainly have the power. Why not use it?

So I realized that I could, and SHOULD, outsource more than just basic art. I can outsource the entire processes that create them. At this point, I understand the whole project inside and out, and how to communicate the specifications of any kind of work that I would need someone to do. It just never occurred to me to look for dedicated asset integrators, or people to handle the other various tasks I take on myself that aren’t as easily classifiable. I know how to spec out work, send it to an external contractor, communicate with him clearly and get exactly what I want in a reasonable timeframe. I should leverage that and expand the scope of what I outsource.

Not many people are in a position like I’m in. I may as well make the most of it, have fun and do what others won’t. 🙂

It’s still early, but so far I’ve been contracting out a lot of organizational work and full soup-to-nuts asset integration to various studios and people that have been doing an incredible job so far. It’s moderately technical work, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time training them and getting them up to speed, but it’s starting to smooth out and the results have been great. So far I’ve:

  • Character and Creature Trees remade. Had my Character Tree completely redone by an artist with a background in print. He rearranged everything, set up smart and logical layering system in Photoshop to ease updating it, made it completely print-friendly and made it ten times easier and faster to work with. Then I had him recreate my Creature Tree with the exact same format.
  • Weapons Tree made. Had the same artist create a Weapons Tree from scratch, which involved rendering out every single weapon in the entire game and organizing it into a PSD the same way the Character and Creature Trees were made.
  • Ramped up dedicated asset integrators. Set up a small studio with a developer’s build of the game, got it running (which is massively difficult), and I’m sending them work now to get started learning how to integrate assets into the game from start to finish, so they can send me assets that work 100%.
  • Outsourced particle effects work. Got a team of Korean artists up and running with our proprietary particle editor. I had to record several tutorial videos, write a lot of documentation, record sample videos of our existing particle effects, hire a particle effects concept artists to render out the effects in Photoshop, and do a lot of careful back and forth. Now they’re churning out incredible particle effects at a rate and level of quality I wouldn’t have imagined possible. I seem to be the only person that’s outsourcing particle effects like this, because I have’nt been able to find anyone else that’s been crazy enough to try it. 🙂
  • Made Marketing happy. I hired an artist to make marketing renders of every art asset in the entire game, so I never have to do any rush jobs for marketing.
  • Hired a polishing artist. I had an artist to go over every icon file we have in the game and give it a coat of polish to bring them all up to a more consistent level of quality.

And that’s just a start! My future plans include:

  • Armor set integration. I want to hand over full character armor sets for complete integration and bugfixing by an external artist. This is BY FAR the most technically demanding aspect of this project’s art production, and if I can do this successfully, then by god, I can do anything.
  • Give them Perforce. I love the idea of giving a small group of dedicated asset integrators Perforce access to a special branch of the project that I have control over. Then they can submit their changelists, and I can selectively integrate those changelists to the main branch instead of having to do every tiny little thing myself.
  • Ramping up some dedicated world-builders. I want to set up one studio to churn out absolutely nothing but new environmental art content, and do it in such a way that each subsequent asset teaches them another requisite skill for working with our engine’s technical constraints.
  • Find a dedicated bugfixer. Once I get my asset integration studios fully ramped up and working with us, I’m going to send the more technical bug fixes that pop up to them to take care of.
  • Find a standards enforcer. I like the idea of getting someone to go through and rename huge swaths of project files and update all the scripts to reflect the proper file naming conventions, and to propose to me new ways of building onto those standards and maintaining them.
  • Drop in world integrators. Once I get the world-builders set up, I want another team to hand that off to that’ll take that finished art and handle all the scripting, integration, testing and intensive bugfixing work. That way, they’ll hand me perfect, finished product.

    (IMPORTANT NOTE: The reason I want them to be separate from the world-builders is that I don’t want the world builders to *ever* get bogged down with the super technical bug fixing work. They should make game-ready assets to hand off that people who do nothing but make those assets work at any cost. The integrators will propose guidelines changes to me to send back to the world builders and improve the workflow.)

Who says you can’t outsource this shit?! 🙂

Over time, I think half of this whole workload will simply disappear from my plate and I won’t have to worry about everything as much. Which will be nice, because I could use a relief from my generally high levels of stress.

It’s going to be an interesting few months. My ultimate goal is to be doing nothing but management and direction, and have people and teams in place to handle everything below that. It’s going to be tricky, but my job wouldn’t be much fun if it wasn’t, now, would it?

One thought on “Project: Outsource Everything”

Leave a Reply