You've got three main options when it comes to procuring game art:
- Make it yourself
- Find someone to do it for free
- Pay someone to do it
In this article we look at the third option; paying for art. This means spending some money but you'll receive commercial quality art to your specifications. This article is from the point of view of a project manager, designer or programmer but could still be of interest to you if you're an artist.
Buying art is a good way to improve the perceived quality of your game. And art is a far better buy than programming because it's self-contained and it's easier to judge quality without being an expert.
Does It Make Sense for Me to Buy Art?
Hobbyists: it's ok to spend money on your hobby. Think how much photographers spend on cameras, rock climbers on membership and travel, painters on paints and canvases - game development is cheap! Buy some professional art and your games will look a thousand times better compared to using assets found online or made yourself (assuming you're not a skilled artist).
Professionals: high quality art will widen the audience for you game. If you know exactly what you need commissioning art can be relatively cheap. If you don't know what you want it's better (and cheaper) to have someone on-board full time. If an artist is on the project from the start then they'll offer their own suggestions and insights. Games with an artist onboard from the start will look better than games switch-out placeholders with commissioned art.
Most people reading this want to know: "what are the ballpark figures for getting art done for a game?". Well I am going to summarize the numbers I've had experience with to the best of my knowledge. Then we'll go through the steps of buying art.
Here's lesson one, by the way:
Lesson 1: Prices are in US dollars. Online, most artists use US dollars.
Guide prices in this article are in US dollars. Note: Expect to pay +5% in fees and currency conversion costs.
Artists often charge a set day or hourly rate and there's quite a spread on the price range. The prices listed are for commercial quality, bespoke art with exclusive rights. Remember these are only figures to give you a ballpark idea. These numbers are as of 2016.
- Human Sized. High-poly. Full rigged 3d model from concept art. Texture maps for diffuse, specular-smoothness and occlusion. $3k - $7k.
- Human Sized. Low Poly. Diffuse only fully rigged 3d model from concept art. $500 and up.
- High-joint Walk Cycle - $80 - $100
- Low-joint Walk Cycle - $40 - $60
- High-joint Attack, Flinch Die and Interact set $300 - $500
- Low-joint Attack, Flinch, Die and Interact set $150 - $250
The term joint is used interchangable with the term bone. If you're not familiar with either of these terms, they describe how a 3d model can be manipulated during animation. The greater the number of the bones the more things that can be moved - just like in real life!
My recent knowledge leans more towards JRPGs so these numbers are slightly slanted that way too.
- Tileset for a 2d map - $150 - $400 (depending on the number of tiles)
- Pixel art Combat Backgrounds for JRPGs $100 - $250 for small resolutions,
- Digital art Combat Backgrounds for JRPGS - $250 - $500 for 1080p
- JRPG NPC with basic walk cycle animation - $60 - $150
- 1960 x 1080 fully painted splash screen - $250 - $500
- Small player portraits - $30+
- Single 32x32 enemy - $25+
- Single 64x64 enemy - $50+
- Single 128x128 enemy - $100+
Think these numbers are crazy? Let me know on twitter @HowToMakeAnRpg. My source for these numbers is what I've paid myself and what I know from the industry / friends in the industry. Always interested to get more data from people with more experience. Thanks to Heyman Yau, 3d Modeller and Animator and Aidan Price, Game Designer and Producer for helping me out with their experience of art prices too.
Lesson 2: English is the global language. Well done if you're reading this, you'll be able to easily buy art online.
Before You Start
Before you go shooting off emails and spending money; do a little prep and your first venture will be more successful.
Know Artist Roles
Let's say you're a programmer; can you write a one page app for a webpage using React, setup a server in FreeBSD, write a ray-tracer AND write a Lisp interpreter that spits out x86 opcode - no right? Much like programming, art has specializations and while some roles have overlap some do not. For instance, you'll be hard pressed to find an 3d animator who also does digital painting.
Here are the broad roles
- 3D Character Artist - makes humanoid creatures ready for animation
- 3D Environment Artist - makes castles, military bases etc, props and levels
- 3D Animator - can take a rigged creature and add the animations (idle cycle, run, walk etc.)
- 2D Digital Artist - usually this is digital pianting
- 2D Pixel artist - able to create low-resolution pixel art and usually do some animation to.
There are many more roles but these are the common ones.
Know What You Want
The more you know about what you want the more efficiently you'll be able to get it. For an artist to give you estimates they need rough numbers on:
- Number of bones / joints
- Texture resolutions
- Palettes / number of colors
- Frames of animation
You can find these numbers with a little research online or by pointing to an existing game for reference.
Reference from other games and artists helps your outsourcer understand the style and look you want to achieve. When getting into hiring an artist we'll get more precise about this by creating an art brief document.
Have a Budget Up Front
A budget stops you going "art-mad" and buying more than you can really afford. It happens to the best of us! Even if you blow your budget at least you'll know you've gone over and can lay off the gas.
Note that as you make the game you will want to add things and make changes. Budget for this upfront!
(My initial budget for the How to Make an RPG book art was $1000 and I spent $2701. That was with an upfront budget and tracking costs! Who knows where I would have ended if I'd just jumped in). It's likely you'll be better than I was!
The Art Brief
The art brief is the document that tells the artist what they need to do. For a single game you'll have lots of art brief documents. I usually carve up the work so that one "art brief" is one job for one artist. Work out what you NEED and then what's nice to have. Send out the art briefs you need first.
You can see an art brief I've used in the past here.
Tips when creating an art brief document:
- Put the most important information first
- I like to say, very briefly, who I am and what I'm using the art for
- Add contact information
- Start with a brief bullet point list of what you expect the artist to deliver
- Add your specifications: format, size (polycount, resolution) and file type
- For each piece of art add a section with heading, include:
- A description of what you want
- Some reference art
- Ideally describe what you want from each piece of reference art - the colors, the dimensions, the texture, just the head etc
- Try to think of any questions the artist might have and try to answer them.
Don't make your art brief a novel. As a general rule people do not read these of kind of documents closely; they skim them, and fill in the details themselves (I've definitely been guilty of this). Try not to be impatient if you end-up answering questions over email, that are covered in the doc, as this is very hard to avoid!
Finding an individual artist you work one-to-one with is generally going to be cheaper than going through an agency unless that artist is in high-demand.
For 3D try these places:
- Polycount Check out the forums, see who's posting stuff you like.
- CGTalk Again check out the forums for people's stuff you like.
- Sketch Fab (a lot of 3d artist use this for hosting)
For 2D, specifically PixelArt, try these places:
There are two strategies for buying art:
- Push - you find the artist
- Pull - you try to make the artist find you
Push is where you reach out to an artist you've found and like and pull is where you post a job ad and try to lure in a promising artist. My advice is to do both. Generally you'll do better with push because you've found the artist who makes art you like, so that's a great starting point.
Go to where artists hang out and have social media profiles. Get the contact details of the ones you like, make an inquiry using an art brief or ask about hourly / daily rate. Search until you find artists that can do what you want within your budget.
The pull strategy is putting out the call that you have paid work, then sifting through the replies. The easiest way to do this, is to register for one of the art forums, read the rules and then post an ad for paid work. You should never have to pay to post this kind of ad!
With pull you'll get a lot of art you don't like but you'll be exposed to many artist you'd be unable to find otherwise. A lot artists are just these guys you know? They're not mad SEO experts, many don't have a webpage. One of my artists has seemingly no online presence and sent his portfolio as an email attachment. Yet he's very good.
Self-promotion and talent don't have much correlation.
Your ad should:
- Be precise about what you want
- Describe your preferred contact method (email, PM etc)
- Describe the information you expect from the artist - day rate, portfolio, availability etc
- Give an end date (if you make a lot of ads, you'll likely get a lot of replies. Good to have cut off.)
In my ads I also mention that I only pay after the delivery of final art work. This is pretty standard. If possible use an email address like jobs@[youdomain] because you will get a lot of mail. It's nice to be able to easily filter it.
Remember: it's ok to ask questions. You should feel confident in your choice of artist and in their ability to carry out the work to your requirements.
Keep on top of what's going on. Every art brief should have milestones and end dates, if these are missed then you need to make new ones and you need to keep on top of what's happening.
In my experience the process goes like this:
- The artist agrees to do the work for a certain amount for a given date
- The artist sends you some in-progress shots
- You sign-off or ask for adjustments
- The artist delivers the work and you pay.
Occasionally an artist will go quiet and you'll need to chase them up a little.
While communication is usually in English many artists will not be native English speakers. When writing email:
- Keep your sentences short, clear and simple
- Use bullet point lists
- Be explicit about what actions you want them to take
- Always ask if they understand what you've said and what they should do
Be a good client: try to respond to mail promptly it helps you both and builds a good realtionship.
A fixed price will be easier for you to budget but usually puts more work on the artist. Most artist have an hourly or daily rate. If you ask for a fixed price they'll generate estimate how long it will take, with a little buffer and then give you that number. If you go for a hourly or daily rate, ask for a cap - where the artist stops working after a certain amount of money has been spent. Then you can review what's been done and see how things are going. This helps you stick to your budget.
When Is it Right to Haggle
These are lessons I learned the stupid way. When I first tried to buy art I was thinking that I should strive to get the best price possible but it's important to remember in most cases these artists are one man operations not anonymous corporations. They're not giving you an inflated price. It's best to accept their price or walk away. You can try and reduce it but if you want to work with that person in the future it's not going to get you off to a good start.
In my opinion the only time it's appropriate to discuss the price is when you've got a lot of work for them to do. If you're providing full-time work for months then they may be happy to give you a discount
Some artists are open to reducing their fee a little if they get a profit share. No one but the most green artists (or a close friend) will accept full profit-share in exchange for their fee (due to being burnt by previous clients). Personally I'd avoid this altogether as it becomes messy to work out. Indie game developers are gun-ho and laissez-faire about this type of thing but a profit-share really should be backed by a legal agreement with a contract.
Pay promptly and pay the agreed amount. Those are the two golden rules.
Lesson 3: Paypal is preferred way to pay for most artists.
- Create a Paypal account exclusively for this project
- When sending a payment Paypal let's you add a note: specify exactly what you're paying for (e.g. 1 fully rigged soldier with textures, a dagger model and an assault rifle model). It makes keeping track of your expenses easier.
- Track your expenses in your own spreadsheet
What if I Don't Like the Art or Change My Mind?
Discuss changes with the artist but you should still pay! That artist has spent X amount of hours laboring on your behalf, they should be paid for that work. If the work is unsalvageable, count that as a lesson about doing more research and then don't work with that artist again.
I hope this and has been useful and your games will be all the more beautiful for it. If you want to see more articles like this then consider following me on twitter @HowToMakeAnRPG or signing up to the mailing list.