Tips for hiring artists in game development

Tips for hiring and working with artists in game development

In the 9 years I’ve spent developing SuperTrucks Offroad, I’ve worked with over 20 freelance artists. Those hired were a mix of UI , character and environment artists.

Here are some lessons I’ve learnt along the way that if I had known from day one, would have saved me thousands of dollars..

Pro Tip 1

Don’t find one artist to work with, then go all in with them…

I made the mistake many times of looking at several portfolios, seeing one I liked, sent an email or two back and forth, confirmed availability, and then paid them 50% upfront for doing the entire UI or environments for the game…

Lo and behold, what they come back with wasn’t what I wanted at all. I’ve drawn diagrams, done screens in Balsamiq Mockups (great tool), and communicated very clearly the look/feel I was going for, yet the artist never gets it right or the work just doesn’t look good at all. So being the stand up guy I am, I finish working with the artist and pay him the remaining 50% on completion and end up with something that looks pretty average but nothing I’m ecstatic about.

Now trust me, if you are not ecstatic about something in your game and its your passion project, you’re going to want to fix it and its going to nag the fuck out of you until you do…

Solution

Find 3 or 4 artists whose portfolios look good and get each artist to do a sample of work which will allow you to evaluate their ability to deliver, communicate and work with you. Get the artist to quote you on both the sample work, and to quote you on the entire job.

It may cost a little more, but once each artist has delivered a screen, you can now pick which artist not only did the best work, but the artist that had the best communication, turnaround time and attitude to make any changes you wanted. This is the artist you want for your entire project.

PS : Don’t be a dick and expect artists to spend hours working on samples for free, they have lives and families to feed, too…

Do not underestimate the importance of good communication when working with an artist. If an artist has poor comms or has one line replies to your lengthy emails, 
move on and find somebody else. 

Pro Tip 2

Work in small milestones

Lets say your budget for your UI is $5000. You agree to pay the artist 50% upfront, and 50% on completion. Bad situation. I’ve read many, many horror stories of artists being paid big chunks of money upfront, only to not deliver, or take weeks to deliver a single 3D model that should have been a couple of days work, or in general they just stall and don’t even bother to communicate. If this happens, you’re immediately $2500 out of pocket, and wasting time and energy trying to chase up this person. Not only is this costing you time and money, but its taking focus off your project. I’ve been in this boat before, and its horrible.

Solution

For a $5000 budget, work in small milestones of $500 each. Draw up a contract that details exactly what is expected from the artist in each milestone, and by what date the milestone is to be delivered by and the amount to be paid once the milestone is received and that the work has been completed to your satisfaction. If the artist wants money upfront, pay them $250 upfront for the milestone, then $250 on completion of the milestone.

Your risk here is then only $250, Not $2500!

Pro Tip 3

Make it clear you own all rights to the artwork once each milestone has been paid in full.

The last thing you want if you release a successful game, is some artist coming out of the woodwork claiming they have rights to your game’s artwork and they want compensation or licensing of some sort. This does happen, so protect yourself.

Pro Tip 4

The artist must send you all source files once all work has been completed and paid for.

I had a guy do the race tracks for SuperTrucks Offroad, several months later I needed him to do some changes but he told me he wasn’t available for any work and I should get someone else. I found somebody else, and they requested the original Maya/Max files, as well as the source PSD textures.

I asked the previous artist for the source files but he no longer had them, he had ‘lost’ his backup. Needless to say, a lot of work by the new artist could have been avoided, and money could have been saved if I had been able to provide the source files.

Pro Tip 5

Get a contract drawn up with all the above terms and conditions, and get both parties to sign it.

Have the names, company names, physical addresses and contact numbers of each party on the contract.

If any changes to any milestones are made, whether via email, skype or other medium, UPDATE THE CONTRACT TO REFLECT THESE CHANGES AND GET THE DOCUMENT RE-SIGNED. The last thing you want in a dispute is a he said/she said situation. The contract should always be the single source of truth.

Remember the contract is there to keep you out of court…


I have a sample/starter contract template drawn up here, that you are free to download and alter/use as you wish for your own purposes. It is the contract I now use whenever I deal with any artists.

Note : If you read it, you will see it is fair to the artist as well. Nobody is getting screwed over here.

It’s not a fancy legalese infested document, but it does account for all the above situations, and should avoid most disputes. Its really nice having a single point of reference either you or the artist can look at when anything goes wrong.

Good luck!

If you have any tips you’ve learned when dealing with artists, feel free to comment below!

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