Category Archives: Artist Career Tips

CrunchCast #15! Applying for jobs, schools, concept art and crazy talk!

This week’s CrunchCast is online and Chris Holden, Bryan McConnell and I discuss the ins and outs of applying for work in the games industry and why it can take so long, the quality of various art schools and what you can get out of attending, the importance of concept art as a secondary skill and then devolves into crazy conspiracy talk. Check it out below or at http://www.crunchstudios.com!

smArtist tip: Art directors don’t cut the checks.

Contract artist tip: Your client’s contact point for art management and direction is rarely the person that cuts checks. Their endgame is getting art done and in game, not closing the contract out and getting you paid. It’s not personal, it’s simply the role and it’s easy to forget that the contract ain’t over till the check clears. Get adminfinance’s contact info and deal with them directly if you can. And be nice! In my experience, admin and finance are often ignored, and a little kindness can go a long way.

Presenting the CrunchCast!

Hi, everybody! I wanted to pimp out a game development video podcast my good buddy Chris Holden has put together. I’ve been a guest on it several times now and I’ve had a blast with him talking game dev, portfolios, breaking into the industry, and so on. The language can get pretty salty. I present to you…

THE CRUNCHCAST!

And here’s CrunchCast #13, the most recent episode:

I’ll be posting these weekly as they’re recorded. Hope you guys enjoy it! If you have any questions you’d like answered on the podcast, email contact@crunchstudios.com!

The Art of Getting Noticed – video speech and text

Hi everybody! I spoke at the IGDA Microtalks a couple months ago on the subject of job-getting, being noticed and generally how to market yourself better as an artist. I had a great time and there was a fantastic lineup of speakers, all linked from the video below and all of which are worth watching.

Here’s my ten-minute speech, and below is the text of the speech:

Here are the slides: Jon Jones – The Art of Getting Noticed presentation slides

Last time I spoke at the MicroTalks it was on the subject of how to price and value yourself as a contractor and when to fire your boss. I was going to do another talk along the same lines, but in honor and sympathy of the two layoffs Austin has had this week, I wanted to talk about how to market yourself as an artist — be you contract or full-time employed — to help give you a leg up on the competition.

(SLIDE 2 – WHAT THIS TALK IS ABOUT)

I’m going to go over some techniques for building a great portfolio, standing out in the crowd, and how to increase your chances of getting hired using some basic marketing techniques.

For the purposes of illustration, I’m going to use character artists as an example.

(SLIDE 3 – DIFFERENTIATE)

First, DIFFERENTIATE.

Most character artists I’ve seen make the same four models: Space marine, naked man, naked woman, and character from a recently released movie.

If everyone’s making the same basic character, how is anyone going to stand out? Being an artist that creates high quality assets is important, but quality should not be the only differentiator between you and another artist. You want to seem relevant, but also unique and memorable.

Consider this: If a potential employer is looking for a new artist, in a “market” where there are hundreds of space marines, how likely is it that your space marine is going to be the very best out of all of them? Not very.

I see three ways to strengthen your appeal:

(SLIDE 4 – FIND A GAME AND CHOOSE A STYLE)

1) Find a game and choose a style. Pick specific games that embody a stylistic archetype, and make art that fits it. The more successful the game, the better!

For example, the Battlefield series and all 170 Call of Duty sequels are a good baseline for war game realism.

Mass Effect or Gears of War are good examples of sci-fi — clean and Star Warsy versus gritty, beefy, neckless soldiers in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic hellscape.

Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield Heroes are good examples of carefully calculated cartoon stylization.

World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion and so forth are good examples of the different flavors of fantasy. Which, now that I’ve said it out loud, sounds much dirtier than I meant it to.

On the Facebook and iPhone side of things, do a little Googling and peruse the App Store top ten to see what’s most popular, and imitate that. Frontierville and Angry Birds come to mind.

The goal is to be relevant and match the pattern of what an art director or hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Let’s be honest… most games fall into those categories, and investing too much time in creating art for edge case genres and styles when you’re trying to create a well-rounded portfolio could be a waste of time.

Something that’ll give you major relevancy points is creating a series of characters or environments or objects of a consistent style within one of these styles. If you can show that your work is consistent and you can stick to a style, then great. It’ll be easier for an art director to imagine you as a good fit for an open art position for a game in that style.

Be relevant!

Another option is…

(SLIDE 5: 2) MAKE A MOD)

2) Make a mod. Or at least a new character or level that 100% fully works within a game engine along the lines of UDK Unreal engine. As a side note, I’ve heard designers have gotten great results — in the form of “jobs” — by creating modules for Neverwinter Nights.

The real power in creating a mod and integrating art assets into an actual engine is showing that not only can you tart it up in MAX and generate sexy renders, but you can actually tweak and iterate upon it so it works in-engine. It demonstrates you can take a piece of art to final, make it look great in an engine, and have the technical aptitude to understand the engine’s tools and technical constraints and get great results.

Again, this is another way to show you’re relevant. Honestly, maybe 1 artist in 20 actually does this, which should tell you what a great opportunity it is for you to stand out in the sweeping sea of sameness.

(SLIDE 6: MEN IN GAMES ALL LOOK THE SAME)

Now, what you have to do to balance out being relevant with being unique is to find ways to jazz up or create interesting variations on existing concepts and styles. The state of modern games — particularly action games — is as such that if you’re a male character, they all look like Ben Affleck and the dude from Avatar had a giant bald muscled baby with an angry squint developed through years of staring at the sun and grimacing stoically.

(SLIDE 7: WOMEN IN GAMES LOOK RIDICULOUS)

And if you’re a female character in games, it’s even dumber with broad strokes — no pun intended. You are white, have a 12-inch waist, sport a couple of surgically-attached pumpkins and wear no more than 8 square inches of clothing. Also, you spend a suspicious amount of time running and jumping unnecessarily.

(SLIDE 8: BE CREATIVE)

Try to make characters or environments that fit within a certain style, but have unique characteristics that make it stand out from the rest of the crowd. Design a believable modular weapon for a sci-fi game and plan out potential usage cases for it, taking into account whether it’s first-person or third-person, how and where to put detail in it based on when the player will be viewing it most often, etc. How does it reload? Can it handle multiple types of ammunition? Are there modifications you can make to it like adding a silencer, scope, or a lightsaber bayonet?

Some other ideas: Design a base character and a series of swappable armor pieces for it, taking into account how other games handle different pieces of armor intersecting. Make a convincing female version of a character race in a game that doesn’t have one. Choose a really interesting setting you haven’t seen in games before for an environment piece and plan out gameplay for it.

Let’s face it; managers hiring artists are going to look through dozens of portfolios to find a worthy artist. If you’re making exactly the same art exactly the same way as everybody else, what reason does this manager have to remember you?

Look at what other people aren’t making or focusing on, look at what games are most successful and large-scale, and tailor your portfolio and personal projects toward meeting those needs. The easier it is for them to imagine you being an artist on that project, the better your odds.

(SLIDE 9: NETWORK!)

3) NETWORK!

Were you the kid in high school who sat alone in a corner, ignored everyone and filled his sketchbook with drawings? Once upon a time, I was That Guy, and that’s one of the fastest ways to fail in this career, second only to having no talent and just above never bathing.

Maintain your focus on art but focus on breaking your shyness, anxiety, antisocial behavior, whatever it is that holds you back. Keeping completely to yourself leads to failure and ruin. Period. You HAVE to network and be social to be able to pursue opportunities. If you’re not, someone else will, because they’re willing to get out there, talk, learn, and sell.

Woody Allen once said that eighty percent of success is showing up. And if you can’t trust Woody Allen, who CAN you trust?

To put this in perspective, every contract and every job I’ve ever gotten was the result of having known a guy that knows a guy. That has always stemmed from my involvement in the video game art community and attending all the game development parties and mixers that I can. No cold calls, no internships, no open assault of job applications. My career was created entirely through networking, though I’ll grant that I have been extraordinarily lucky at times. Still, this can work for anyone, because the more people you talk to, the more likely it is that opportunities will literally come to you.

Find a message board or website that focuses on art and start posting. Comment on other peoples’ work, give helpful advice, be friendly, and make friends. Build a network of friends and acquaintances and surround yourself with them all the time. Be social. Network. Thrive.

So get out there, make friends, and create a presence. Always be there. Always have a voice. Always have a personality. Be yourself. Never make enemies. The guy whose mom you said was so fat that even THX can’t surround her could be your boss someday. I’ve actually heard of this happening many times, so don’t shoot off at the mouth and hit yourself in the foot. And never use mixed metaphors.

I’ll say it again: If you think you can succeed by not networking, you’d better be a world class talent that lays mushroom clouds with every step, or you’re in for unnecessary difficulty scoring a job.

So that was a series of steps you can take to improve your professional standing, increase your chances of getting hired, and to make it dead easy to see what a great fit you are for a job.

Thanks very much!

The Art of Getting Noticed

Hello, all! Here’s article for artists seeking employment, contract or full-time. It focuses on using basic marketing techniques to stand out in the crowd, give hiring managers something to notice and remember, and filling out your portfolio most enticingly. This article is based loosely on my Marketing for Artists article from years back, but I’ve developed and refined my ideas vastly since I wrote that, so this is a much better article comparatively.

I gave this ten-minute talk at the IGDA Microtalks in Austin, TX on Friday, June 24, 2011.

Here’s a link to the slides. I’m not really a Powerpoint kind of guy so don’t expect anything fancy, as it’s always been about the writing for me.

The Art of Getting Noticed

In honor and sympathy of the two layoffs Austin has had this week, I wanted to talk about how to market yourself as an artist — be you contract or full-time employed — to help give you a leg up on the competition.

I’m going to go over some techniques for building a great portfolio, standing out in the crowd, and how to increase your chances of getting hired using some basic marketing techniques.

For the purposes of illustration, I’m going to use character artists as an example.

First, DIFFERENTIATE.

Most character artists I’ve seen make the same four models: Space marine, naked man, naked woman, and character from a recently released movie.

If everyone’s making the same basic character, how is anyone going to stand out? Being an artist that creates high quality assets is important, but quality should not be the only differentiator between you and another artist. You want to seem relevant, but also unique and memorable.

Consider this: If a potential employer is looking for a new artist, in a “market” where there are hundreds of space marines, how likely is it that your space marine is going to be the very best out of all of them? Not very.

I see three ways to strengthen your appeal:

1) Find a game and choose a style.

Pick specific games that embody a stylistic archetype, and make art that fits it. The more successful the game, the better!

For example:

  • War game realism – The Battlefield series and all 170 Call of Duty sequels are a good baseline.
  • Science fiction – Mass Effect or Gears of War are good examples of sci-fi — clean and Star Warsy versus gritty, beefy, neckless soldiers in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic hellscape.
  • Cartoony – Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield Heroes are good examples of carefully calculated cartoon stylization.
  • Fantasy – World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion and so forth are good examples of the different flavors of fantasy. Which, now that I’ve said it out loud, sounds much dirtier than I meant it to.
  • Facebook iPhone – On the Facebook and iPhone side of things, do a little Googling and peruse the App Store top ten to see what’s most popular, and imitate that. Frontierville and Angry Birds come to mind.

The goal is to be relevant and match the pattern of what an art director or hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Let’s be honest… most games fall into those categories, and investing too much time in creating art for edge case genres and styles when you’re trying to create a well-rounded portfolio could be a waste of time.

Something that’ll give you major relevancy points is creating a series of characters or environments or objects of a consistent style within one of these styles. If you can show that your work is consistent and you can stick to a style, then great. It’ll be easier for an art director to imagine you as a good fit for an open art position for a game in that style. Be relevant!

Another option is…

2) Make a mod.

Or at least a new character or level that 100% fully works within a game engine along the lines of UDK Unreal engine. As a side note, I’ve heard designers have gotten great results — in the form of “jobs” — by creating modules for Neverwinter Nights.

The real power in creating a mod and integrating art assets into an actual engine is showing that not only can you tart it up in MAX and generate sexy renders, but you can actually tweak and iterate upon it so it works in-engine. It demonstrates you can take a piece of art to final, make it look great in an engine, and have the technical aptitude to understand the engine’s tools and technical constraints and get great results.

Again, this is another way to show you’re relevant. Honestly, maybe 1 artist in 20 actually does this, which should tell you what a great opportunity it is for you to stand out in the sweeping sea of sameness.

Now, what you have to do to balance out being relevant with being unique is to find ways to jazz up or create interesting variations on existing concepts and styles. The state of modern games — particularly action games — is as such that if you’re a male character, they all look like Ben Affleck and the dude from Avatar had a giant bald muscled baby with an angry squint developed through years of staring at the sun and grimacing stoically.

And if you’re a female character in games, it’s even dumber with broad strokes — no pun intended. You are white, have a 12-inch waist, sport a couple of surgically-attached pumpkins and wear no more than 8 square inches of clothing. Also, you spend a suspicious amount of time running and jumping unnecessarily.

Try to make characters or environments that fit within a certain style, but have unique characteristics that make it stand out from the rest of the crowd. Design a believable modular weapon for a sci-fi game and plan out potential usage cases for it, taking into account whether it’s first-person or third-person, how and where to put detail in it based on when the player will be viewing it most often, etc. How does it reload? Can it handle multiple types of ammunition? Are there modifications you can make to it like adding a silencer, scope, or a lightsaber bayonet?

Some other ideas: Design a base character and a series of swappable armor pieces for it, taking into account how other games handle different pieces of armor intersecting. Make a convincing female version of a character race in a game that doesn’t have one. Choose a really interesting setting you haven’t seen in games before for an environment piece and plan out gameplay for it.

Let’s face it; managers hiring artists are going to look through dozens of portfolios to find a worthy artist. If you’re making exactly the same art exactly the same way as everybody else, what reason does this manager have to remember you?

Look at what other people aren’t making or focusing on, look at what games are most successful and large-scale, and tailor your portfolio and personal projects toward meeting those needs. The easier it is for them to imagine you being an artist on that project, the better your odds.

3) NETWORK!

Were you the kid in high school who sat alone in a corner, ignored everyone and filled his sketchbook with drawings? Once upon a time, I was That Guy. Hopelessly shy, didn’t understand the importance of networking relationship-building, and just kind of schlepped along thinking my talent is all that I needed. Sadly, that’s one of the fastest ways to fail in this career, second only to having no talent and just above never bathing.

Maintain your focus on art but focus on breaking your shyness, anxiety, antisocial behavior, whatever it is that holds you back. Keeping completely to yourself leads to failure and ruin. Period. You HAVE to network and be social to be able to pursue opportunities. If you’re not, someone else will, because they’re willing to get out there, talk, learn, and sell.

Woody Allen once said that eighty percent of success is showing up. And if you can’t trust Woody Allen, who CAN you trust?

To put this in perspective, every contract and every job I’ve ever gotten was the result of having known a guy that knows a guy. That has always stemmed from my involvement in the video game art community and attending all the game development parties and mixers that I can. No cold calls, no internships, no open assault of job applications. My career was created entirely through networking, though I’ll grant that I have been extraordinarily lucky at times. I don’t say this to brag, just that your chances of getting what you want and succeeding are MUCH easier if you learn to value networking. This can work for anyone, because the more people you talk to, the more likely it is that opportunities will literally come to you.

Find a message board or website that focuses on art and start posting. Comment on other peoples’ work, give helpful advice, be friendly, and make friends. Build a network of friends and acquaintances and surround yourself with them all the time. Be social. Network. Thrive.

So get out there, make friends, and create a presence. Always be there. Always have a voice. Always have a personality. Be yourself. Never make enemies. The guy whose mom you said was so fat that even THX can’t surround her could be your boss someday. I’ve actually heard of this happening many times, so don’t shoot off at the mouth and hit yourself in the foot. And never use mixed metaphors.

I’ll say it again: If you think you can succeed by not networking, you’d better be a world class talent that lays mushroom clouds with every step, or you’re in for unnecessary difficulty scoring a job.

So, that was a series of steps you can take to improve your professional standing, increase your chances of getting hired, and to make it dead easy to see what a great fit you are for a job.

Cheers!

How NOT to hire an artist

I was browsing Reddit earlier today, as is my morning routine, and I came across an article called How to hire an artist (archive link). This article has been widely panned and criticized by artists and people with the capacity to think, and rightly so. The more I read it, the more it irks me, and I wanted to issue a point-by-point response.

Original article link.

How to find an artist:

I recommend looking through art sites such as Deviantart for an artist which suits your taste, or any other site that has a decent art community such as Newgrounds. There’s a few reasons you want to find an artist this way. First of all, they’re cheaper. These guys aren’t used to making a lot of money for their work so they will be more appreciative of the chance even if they are being payed slightly less than what professionals are payed.

That’s a bit misleading. I know many extremely high-rent, talented and quite expensive professionals that host their work on DeviantArt and these other sites. Just because they’re on this site doesn’t mean that they’re automatically cheaper. There’s going to be a wide spread of artists at all skill levels and price points.

Second, stating openly that going cheap is the top priority when looking for an artist is dumb. Art is NOT a commodity. Matching the artist to the task is important. If I’m contracting out creation of the game’s main character, I pay more for a better artist to do it because more eyes will be on that asset for longer, and it’ll be scrutinized very closely by players.

But if I’m looking for basic background props like crates and barrels, I tend to look for lower-cost volume vendors. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for, and learning how best to allocate your resources to achieve your project’s development goals is important.

Sometimes budgets are limited and you need to hire inexpensive artists. Nothing wrong with that. But in my experience, the world isn’t divided into “cheap, inexperienced artist” vs “expensive, talented artist.” Every contract is different and every artist is different. People are motivated by different things, and if your financial means are limited, you can still do a lot if you can find what it is they actually care about that you can offer them. I’ve gotten to work with extremely top-shelf artists on low budgets because:

  1. I can offer a steady volume of work over time that I can commit to contractually,
  2. We negotiate a specific number of revisions in the contract, and pay for all revisions above that number. This is SHOCKINGLY uncommon, and I’ve gotten unbelievable price breaks on this because it essentially removes the bulk of the risk to the artist. Getting stuck in infinite revisions and never being paid sucks, and showing up-front that YOU understand THEIR concern and THEIR risks and genuinely want to be fair goes a long way.
    This also forces you to assign a specific dollar cost to changing your mind on anything later, and will encourage you to get better at planning and making good decisions.
  3. I can negotiate their name in the credits. Sadly, this is also very uncommon. This isn’t a straw man, either — I genuinely do have to fight with my own companyclient to negotiate for this.
  4. I can offer them an opportunity to work on a type of game or with an art style they like but never get a chance to work with. I’ve gotten some awesome results from this. A lot of successful high-end artists sometimes get stuck on projects they don’t like and long for something different and fun, and being able to let them go totally nuts on something they can be passionate about and feel ownership over is enormously compelling.

Honestly, a predatory sort of tone comes through in the article that I really don’t like. I understand what he’s intending to say, but for god’s sake, you have to learn how to talk about it carefully. I’ve fallen into this same trap before with an old article of mine. You should be more mindful.

Second of all, they’re better. The quality of art you can find through this method is pretty amazing, and the vast amount of artists guarantee you will find something that suits your tastes and needs. Unless you have a specific price you want to pay in mind, ask THEM what they are willing to charge for the project. This usually causes people to give offers that are lower than what you normally pay, and will make them happy.

I don’t know why he thinks that cheaper, apparently inexperienced artists are going to be inherently better than seasoned professionals. I do agree that you can find diamonds in the rough and great talent rather easily on sites like that around which artists congregate, however.

The last half is actually a common negotiation technique: Whoever gives the first number loses. If you intentionally seek out inexperienced artists not familiar with negotiation and lead them into that trap, then sure, you’ll probably get lower prices. That doesn’t make it any less of a dick thing to do!

If I’m working with young and inexperienced artists, I prefer to be fair, be open, and try to teach them the ropes (within reason) as we go. If I’m in a position to help educate them on the job to become better and more effective artists, that benefits both of us and, in a broader sense, the industry as a whole.

I like working with smart, experienced people, and if I can do my small part to help people learn to be more effective professionals, I’ll gladly do it. Every young artist I shepherd along is going to be a better artist for his next client, and so on. We’re all in this together… and I’m not a fan of milking the informational advantage I have over the artists just to save a few bucks.

The obvious downside of this, though, is what if that artist figures out you’re screwing him? All he has to do is talk to another artist. Losing an artist in the middle of a contract or a project sucks! If you approach the beginning of the contract with openness and mutual respect, you’re more likely to retain that artist for the long term, which benefits you and your project enormously.

Think long-term and don’t get caught in the trappings of short-term sacrificial gains… it always pays off to play it straight and honest.

How NOT to find an artist:

Do not look for either professional artists, or an artist that has done a lot of game design work in the past.

This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Don’t hire experienced professionals? This guy must not value his time at ALL.

I think of it this way: I’d rather pay 20% more for a professional that’ll deliver exactly what I want the way I want it THE FIRST TIME because he knows how to make game-ready assets, than to spend VAST amounts of my time managing and tweaking an inexperienced artist’s work because he doesn’t know how to develop usable game art and I have to teach them as I go. I’ve been caught in this trap before and I hate it. This piece of advice is bad for artists AND managers.

The problem with artists who do this as their full time job is that they’re usually expensive. Compared to what you can find through art sites, these guys tend to cost an arm and a leg.

Did it occur to you that they might be expensive for a reason? (hint: It’s because they know what they’re doing and will save you time on endless revisions and novice mistakes. Everything costs.)

Artists who have done a lot of game design work are also bad for a similar reason, they know how much flash games can earn so they expect a decent percentage of the profit.

I’ve been involved in managing dozens of projects of all kinds, including Flash-based games, and I’ve never had a single artist ever ask me for percentage of the game’s profit. Nor would I ever consider offering it.

Most intelligent artists see “I’ll pay you a percentage!” as code for “I am cheap, this game will never launch and I will waste your time but act as though you are my slave because of Massive Future Profits!”

This is another side effect of working only with inexperienced artists: They’re naive enough to think that’s actually a good deal! Most smart, professional, effective artists are strictly work-for-hire because they’ve made that mistake in the past.

There are certainly exceptions to this. I’ll be the first to admit that my experience is PC and console-heavy, and less Flash-based games. But the general principle here still holds true.

Artist payment:

Make it clear to whomever you hire that they will not be payed until ALL the work is completed, unless it is completed by a predefined date, and unless it matches or exceeds expectations.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about artist payment. In general, yes, payment is received when the work is completed. Specifying a due date for the work is a given. Meeting or exceeding expectations is also, naturally, expected and specced out clearly in the contract beforehand. However, for example, what if it’s a multi-month project?

In my experience, artists going longer than three weeks without some money or payment will disappear and never speak to you again. If you’re asking an artist to do an enormous amount of work for which he’ll be paid only at the end, he’ll likely never start or be slow at it.

My favorite way to structure a contract is to divide all the work up into discrete work units that the artist can invoice for every two weeks as long as the work comes in on time and is approved. That way, it’s essentially a steady bi-weekly paycheck. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different contract lengths and payment schedules, and two weeks is the sweet spot. It keeps motivation up tremendously, and I always push hard for that payment schedule.

Finally, don’t forget that, as a manager, the artist is taking a risk by working with you if you’re a new client. Artists get screwed all the time. If you can understand that and meet them in the middle and show that you’re honest, trustworthy and understand their concerns, they’ll be easier to work with and you won’t have to worry nearly as much about artist turnover.

The assumption that an artist should be grateful to be so honored as to be paid to work in the presence of your magnificence is insulting and demeaning. I’d like artists to want to work with me on my project. I’m not special just because I have money.

We’re all people, here. Fair pay for fair labor. One of my cardinal rules is NEVER to enter a deal that isn’t equitable for both parties. If I only have $X to spend and the artist wants $X + 20%, I try to find a way to streamline, simplify or otherwise adjust the scope of the work to make the cost make sense.

If we still can’t come to an agreement, I thank them for the time, and move on to try to find another artist. Often I’ll ask for a referral from the artist to someone that may be better-suited for the work. See, I want to establish long-term positive working relationships, and entering a deal where one side has vastly more upside than another is not kosher to me.

I’m not out to get as much as I can out of somebody, I’m out for each of us to feel we’re getting a fair deal and to have a long-term, positive working relationship. This benefits everybody. Artists get stability, I get great art at the right price and on schedule, and neither of us have to deal with the drama of replacing each other. Nobody likes churn.

Paying prior to the completion of the project is a bad idea for several reasons. Only paying for the finished work encourages the artist to finish their job faster, if you pay up front the artist has no motivation to finish quickly. Similarly, if you pay up front the artist could disappear and you may never get what you payed for!

This is HYSTERICAL to me. Have you considered that you have problems with artist turnover because 1) You hire only inexperienced, naive people you disrespect and underpay, and 2) You’re a really crappy manager that they want to escape from as quickly as they can?

This is a self-created problem. I have never had problems with artist turnover because I don’t treat them like ignorant slaves. There is a lesson to be learned here!

Keep them in the dark:

This relates back to what I talked about earlier. If an artist knows how much their artwork will increase the value of the game they will then feel they deserve that amount of money. This is not how a market economy works, you hire whoever is able to do the best job for the lowest amount of money, anything else is a loss of money on your end.

This is so deeply misinformed and ignorant that I’m actually offended by it.

One of the biggest driving forces behind an artist’s passion and motivation is the amount of pride and ownership he feels in his work. I remember that, having started in games as an artist, and I try to give that to the artists I work with.

Whenever possible, I explain to them the context of how important their work is to the game. I send them screenshots and news articles. I tell them what other parts of the game it’s influenced, I tell them how much the rest of the team loves their work, and I try to give them as much of a sense of ownership as I’m able to with the parts of the game they touch.

I’ve seen artists’ work transformed from merely average to truly excellent because they finally see the results of their hard work and the context in which it will be seen by players.

I’m passionate about the projects I’m working on and I try my ASS off to sell that and show other people why I’m so into it and why they could be, too, but I have to give them legitimate reasons for feeling that way. I go out of my way to try to foster a sense of them being on a team and being an important part of the project because THEY ARE!

Contract artists do not feel entitled to share in the profits on the games they work on. It is widely understood to be a simple work-for-hire arrangement. They get paid for their work, and then they move on when their part is done. Only an inexperienced amateur would even be irked about sharing profits and trying to seek it out later. Once again, this is another self-created problem from this article’s author. This is truly dumb and painful to read.

Timelines:

Give strict dates about when you need the art done (even if you don’t) and give consequences by deduction in pay if the art is not completed by the date. Unless the person you’ve hired happens to be very punctual, you will need strong motivation to make sure they finish the art in a timely manner. Try to only hire people ages 18+ (I may sound a little hypocritical here), kids are generally less reliable and have more IRL things come up that they can’t control. I’ve had several bad experiences with this.

Setting due dates is, of course, a given. Deducting pay, however, is a completely dickbag move, and I would never consider doing that to an artist. What if it’s YOUR fault as a manager that the art is late?

No intelligent artist would willingly choose to put his earnings at risk because you’re clearly incompetent and may change your mind or create more work for him on a whim. I’d never do that myself and I’d never ask someone to do it. Just because you’re in a stronger negotiation position by being the man with the money doesn’t mean you need to be such a dick to people.

If an artist completely blows a date, use the termination clause in the contract to end the contract and pay him for the work completed up to the date of termination, and then don’t issue any further contracts. Then find a new artist.

Artists either succeed or don’t, and I’ve NEVER successfully motivated an artist to be awesome through the use of threats. Even if it worked, I wouldn’t want to.

And hell, man, if you’re concerned about giving them motivation to finish in a timely manner, see my notes above on how to encourage an artist to care about your project and make him feel involved. Not all artists are motivated solely by money, or by threats of withholding pay.

You, sir, are a terrible client and encourage everything I despise. I hope you change your ways and start treating artists better. However, now that your article has been this well-publicized, I’d be surprised if you can find a competent artist willing to work with you. And rightly so.

For shame.

Tip for smArtists: Cover letter templates

Here’s a small post culled from a question I received in an email. This is by no means an all-inclusive guide or a how-to, but just a couple thoughts on the subject of cover letters.

Small disclaimer: The game industry is WAY more loose and laid-back than other industries, and it’s the only one I’m used to, so your mileage may vary if you’re in a different industry. Take this with a grain of salt and do what’s most industry-appropriate.

I was asked whether I have a standard, boilerplate cover letter or if I customize it for each company. Well, both, actually. 🙂 I always had two templates I worked from: one casual, one businesslike. When I make a cover letter, I always tailor it to each company to a point, but not so much that I can’t produce as many letters as possible in a reasonable amount of time.

If I was emailing someone I knew at that company, I’d go for the casually styled template and keep it slightly more conversational and loose. Leverage any rapport you can if you have it. Being completely businesslike has its place, certainly. But in a more casual industry like games, sometimes it’s better to be casual and approachable but professional. My own writing style could be an example of that.

However, if the cover letter is for a company I don’t have an “in” with, I’d use the more formal template and err on the side of being businesslike and professional.

In either case, this is how I approach customization-per-company. I’d include perhaps half a paragraph to one full paragraph about that company and their products. Always something honest and sincere, and never sucking up. It shouldn’t seem like it’s contrived or just a part of a template, and show some care and knowledge about the company. Pasting in their Wikipedia entry is not a good move. 😉

In terms of how to integrate that into the cover letter, instead of simply pasting in a full paragraph at the beginning or end, I’d try to weave at least one or two references specific to that company into the middle of one of your template paragraphs. It’ll seem more organic and less like it was simply copy-pasted. Be artful about it.

Finally, be *DAMNED* sure you’re not leaving in a reference to another company! ALWAYS work from the clean template when you write a new cover letter. Make the “fill in the blanks” portions of it BRIGHT red, bolded and underlined! Why?

a) you can’t miss them when you’re filling them in,
b) you won’t accidentally leave a part of your template exposed when you send it off.

Leaving parts of a template exposed or mentioning a different company name or product is extremely unprofessional, embarrassing and it’s almost always a deal-killer. Worse still, it’s funny, and your cover letter might be forwarded around to other game developers to laugh at. I’ve seen this. 🙂 Don’t be that guy.

Hope that helps!

Tip for smArtists: Making sure you get paid on time

Artists: Getting paid is important. If it’s a small studio, they simply may forget to mail off a check in a timely manner. That sucks. It’s usually not intentional. They got the art, which is all they wanted, so they’ve probably moved onto working on something else and aren’t thinking about it anymore.

One way you can counteract this is by setting an expectation as early as possible about when you’ll receive payment after submitting an invoice. If they don’t have a date in their head that you need to expect to be paid by, it’s more likely to slip their mind.

See, if you’re working with inexperienced clients, having a set of expectations you can subtly impress upon them can help give them cues on how to think and act. Here’s an example:

You: “Hey, when I submit my first invoice, what’s a reasonable timeframe to expect the check to be sent to me?”
Them: “Oh. A week or so after the invoice, probably.”

And when you submit the invoice, reiterate it:

“Okay, here’s my invoice. Based on our initial conversation about turnaround time on an invoice, you said to expect about 7 days. Is it reasonable to expect a check on or around [specific date]?”

Everybody trains everybody in their own way. 🙂 If you make your expectations clear and are polite and respectful about it, you’ll make sure your business gets taken care of and they learn how to deal with people more effectively and respectfully.

Managers: One additional way to treat your artists well is to tell them in advance exactly when they’ll get paid after invoicing you, and remind them again when they invoice. Setting and meeting expectations is good business. 🙂