China Art Factory

It used to be that a blockbuster game could be made by 9 guys working 12+ hours per day for a year. The early DOOM and Quake games were built this way. The budget for these games was in the low millions. Even a few years ago developers could build and market a title for less than US$5mil and compete effectively with other games in the market.

Seems those days are quickly passing. Development costs for Next-Gen HD console and online games have skyrocketed. We are seeing fewer games at increased size (budgets), more ship dates, and decreased time to market. Typical development budgets are now averaging US$20mil with marketing budgets to match, bringing the total cost to retail for many new games to something around US$40mil!

In the midst of all this massive growth publishers are having a hard time hiring and retaining the armies of people required to build these products. Big games require big development teams. And teams, like armies are a burden when there is no war to fight or product to build. Companies like EA have learned the hard way that they can’t hire someone for a 40 hour week and expect to work them for 90 hours a week. Something’s got to give.

More and more publishers are looking to outside production houses to solve their labor shortage issues. Art outsourcing revenue is set to reach $1.1 billion by the end of 2006 and will grow to $2.5 billion by 2010. These staggering numbers represent close to 40 percent of the total game development spend. And the majority of this work is heading to China and India.

People often ask me why I’m in China. The simplest answer is that this is the best place to build armies. In a country of more than 1.3 billion people (nearly 20% of the world’s population) it isn’t difficult to build factories on scales of tens of thousands of workers. The factory that created the Alice toys, for instance, employed something like five thousand people to assemble, paint, and package each individual toy*. The human assembly line is still more cost effective than automation, at least in places like China.

When looking at where game and film production are going in the US and around the world it is clear that only a factory approach to art asset production will satisfy exponentially increasing demand from the market.** To that end I’ve been working with a collection of industry leaders in China to build the world’s biggest and best art outsourcing factory.

We’re in the early stages now, recruiting our generals and captains. Right now we’re particularly interested in senior game modelers and texture artists willing to live and work in Shanghai. If you’re interesting helping us to build something truly great, then please drop a line:

HR (at) VYKARIAN (dot) COM

After posting, Ken Wong commented on the following:
*The way this is written it implies each toy had 5000 people working on it. Actually, yes. And after each toy was made, those 5000 people were shot and put in the dirt. That’s China for you.

**Factory does not and should not imply low quality or slave labor. Our first and foremost goal is to create HIGH QUALITY. The issue here isn’t cost, it’s scale.

One response to “China Art Factory”

  1. I think there are a few other strategies to offset budget inflation, like creative in-game advertising and episodic content, but outsourcing seems like its going to be part of the future of game development.

    I’m looking into development on the DS, which costs only about 700-900K, but I’m having trouble finding good 2D sprite artists and digital painters. Will your firm offer specialized contracts? Also, I understand hiring experienced people offsets quality issues in general, but I’m concerned about having distinctive art direction come from a big firm, that is, I’m concerned there might be a degree of homogenaity in the styles that are produced. What solutions or advice do you have addressing these concerns?

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