25 April 2012

How To Hire An Artist For Your App Or Game

Get your art prayers answered!

You’ve developed your game or app, but you aren’t a graphic designer. Or (in my husband’s case) your go-to artist is way too busy to take your project. How do you find an artist to hire for your graphics?

Easy – just go where the artists are! There are hundreds of hungry and talented artists out there waiting for your job posting. All sorts of artists, with all types of styles and hourly rates.

But… if you aren’t an artist, you have no idea where the artists hang out.

Fortunately, you are reading this article and will soon be able to find all the artists you need :] Here is what we’ll discuss:

  • Budget
  • What To Include In The Job Posting
  • Where To Post
  • Choosing The Right Artist

Also, at the end of the post is a link to an example of one of our job postings.

 

Budget

The first thing to think about is your budget. Hopefully, you’ve hoarded a few hundred dollars (or a couple thousand, depending on how ambitious your game/app is) to spend on graphics. In general, you should hire the best artist you can afford.

Revenue Share Vs Set Dollar Amount

A revenue share compensation means that you promise them a percentage of your sales of the game.  The pro is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money up front.  The con is that you have to send regular payments to this person for a long time (assuming you make money, which we hope you do!).  An appropriate revenue share for an artist lies somewhere within 10-20%, depending on how much work is involved.

Most artists will prefer the cold hard cash option, however, because unless they know you and believe in your project, they will want guaranteed money for their work.

This means setting a dollar amount on the whole project.  The amount will vary widely based on complexity and amount of art needed, the skill of the artist, and their hourly rates (you won’t pay them an hourly rate, but their hourly rate will affect their estimate for the whole project).

If, like us, you have no idea what the appropriate amount to pay would be, leave it up to the artists! Instead of defining the compensation for the job, ask the artists to respond with an estimate. You will get a wide range of estimates, but in general better artists will charge more.

 

What To Include In The Job Posting

Explaining the job clearly will go a long way toward getting you the right artist for your project. Here’s a rough template:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Explain the type of app or project – include a picture or example or demo/beta if possible
  • Give an overview of the art requirements
  • If time is an issue, mention your timeline
  • Ask for them to email you (make sure to include your email address!) with information, including:
    • a link to their portfolio
    • their bid for the project
    • any other information you might want (do they need to have an iPhone or iPad? Ask them if they have one.)
  • Finally, list out the full art requirements as completely as you can.

 

Where To Post Jobs

Each of these sites has a page or forum thread explaining how to write a good post and guidelines for how to use the site, so check those out as well.

If you know of another great place to post jobs for artists, let me know!

 

Choosing The Right Artist

After you craft your post and put it up on the job boards above, you will hopefully get at least a few bids. We usually end up getting over a dozen, more if the job is large or cool. So how do you pick?

First, trash the rule-breakers. You will find that many people do not read directions and will only link to their portfolio without answering any of your questions – most importantly, the estimate. Just trash these emails – if the artist can’t follow directions, he or she isn’t going to be a good person to work with.

Then, go through each portfolio. See if the style of art matches what you want in your game. If an artist does mostly clean, cute vector animals, they will probably not be very good at gritty, realistic dungeon graphics. Try to find examples of the type of art you want: characters, backgrounds, toolbars, UI elements. If you like certain artists but don’t see examples of the type of work you need in their portfolio, ask them if they have done anything like your project before.

Next, make a list of the artists whose work you like. Include their estimate. Arrange them in order of preference.

Choose between quality and price. This part is up to you – get the best you can afford, but don’t break the bank! If you want a certain artist but can’t quite afford him or her, think about cutting down your requirements to lower the estimate.

Write a contract. Once you choose your artist and the two of you agree on the scope of the work and the price, write up a contract so that everyone’s on the same page (and you are protected should things go wrong). The contract doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should spell out what images they will be giving to you, on what time schedule, when they will be paid, and how.  Both parties need to sign the contract.

Finally, go back to your job postings and either delete them or update them. You need to let people know that the position is filled, so that they don’t waste their time and you don’t continue to get emails from hopeful artists!

 

Example Job Posting

Here’s an example of one of the job postings we wrote for a recent project.

And here’s a PDF in case that link is expired.

 

Have Something To Add?

If you know of another site to post job offers for artists, or if you think of something that could help people trying to hire artists, please let us know in the comments!

Category: Articles, Tutorials

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17 Comments

  1. Chia Tan says:

    Hi Vicki,
    Nice post. In fact this is a big issue, developers looking for artists. What would be a range/budget for graphics for a simple game without animation? I have received estimates in the range of $5000+ which is crazy.

    How should a developer create a list of things to be done and how should they provide a list of art to be made? Should it be on a per UI element basis or a per screen basis? Some artists quote on a per graphic element and have quoted >$20,000 for graphics that could be done in under <$500 and these are established artists.

    So how do you find the best one for the job and give them a list of what needs to be done. Some samples will be helpful.

    C

  2. Mike Berg says:

    This is pretty directly related… I made a post on a similar topic; “How to effectively communicate with designers” http://weheartgames.com/2010/09/how-to-effectively-communicate-with-designers/

    I would suggest that another form of payment would be to provide a very specific list of assets required, get an estimate (not a quote), and then pay by the hour. Many (most?) development projects change as they are being developed, and much of that requires extra work on the part of the artist. You need to keep an eye on the time spent as you go along — your artist should provide status invoices as often as you like, daily even.

    In my opinion this not only protects the artist but keeps them interested and motivated to do a good job. If they end up working well past their quoted price, interest, motivation and effort will drop off real quick. I know it does for me.

    • I agree with Mike, but would like to also add that if the graphic requirements change, that should be stipulated in the contract and would require a new contract or a new quote at the very least.
      It’s easy for “non-artists” to change their graphic plans and makes for a lot of extra work, intended or otherwise.

      This quote from Mike “If they end up working well past their quoted price, interest, motivation and effort will drop off real quick. I know it does for me.” is dead on!

  3. vwenderlich says:

    Good points, Mike and Laughing Gull – most of the projects we’ve hired art for have been small and clearly definable; i.e. they don’t change and are completed quickly.

    That’s a great suggestion for larger projects where the artist and developer are working together for a longer period of time. And yes, contracts are there to protect the artist as much as the developer – so artists, make sure the scope is very clear or there are provisions for when/if the project changes!

  4. vwenderlich says:

    @Chia Tan – I provided an example (at the end of the article) of a listing we wrote for a recent project. Check that out to see how we wrote up the list of art needed.

    As for quotes, a “simple game” even without animation can easily be in the thousands. It takes time to make the backgrounds, characters, UI, etc – it all adds up.

    Artists – what would you say? How much would a simple game cost?

  5. Mike Berg says:

    The short answer is, it’s impossible to define a price for “simple game” with just those two words describing it. As a contract game artist, I need to see not only a list of game elements, but will even ask for a prototype of the game; whether it’s paper or digital doesn’t matter too much — a working prototype is certainly a bit better.

    If I get a list of required assets from a client, and *also* have a clear understanding of the vision for the game, I will usually be able to see right away how that asset list will need to grow. It’s very easy (and common) for developers to underestimate the amount of *art* required to make something look good and work well, and the amount of *time* it takes to create it.

    When starting this conversation and providing this kind of information to your artist, you should be able to see right away if the person you’re talking to grasps the vision for your project, and is capable of understanding not only what needs to be done to complete it, but also the entire game design and development process.

    I think that initial conversation is definitely important. If you’re providing a list of assets and a project description and they come back to you with a quote but haven’t asked you ANY questions about your project, that would be a red flag (to me, at least). I can’t imagine quoting on an entire project without having a *very* clear idea of the developer’s vision for the entire project.

  6. Hi,

    Am in the same boat, can program games and have a list of games I want to create but no good at graphics.

    My problem with listing job offers is giving too much information away and someone stealing my idea.

    Dave

  7. vwenderlich says:

    I’ve thought about Chia Tan’s quote question (how much does a simple game cost) some more, and here are my thoughts: you can get it done cheaply, for sure. For a couple hundred dollars, even. But you won’t be working with an experienced artist – you might be able to find a student or beginning professional willing to take the work for that little.

    The artists who quoted you $5000+ weren’t trying to scam you; that’s how much it costs (if not more) to get great art. Artists need to make a living, and have to value their time accordingly. I know it takes me a long time to make art.

    There’s nothing wrong with hiring a less-experienced artist at the end of your project (when all requirements are nailed down) in order to save money. If it’s your first game, that’s probably what you need to do. And hey, beginner artists need to eat too!

    That’s why we ask the artists for quotes. Sometimes we need quality, and we’re willing to pay more. Sometimes we just need decent art, and choose a less experienced (and thus less expensive) artist.

    But if you know what art you need, and write a very clear job listing (and like Mike said, it’s important that you list ALL the art, so that the artist can figure out how much time it will take them), you can usually find an artist who will work within your price range.

    And then for your next game, you will have a better idea of how much art costs!

  8. vwenderlich says:

    @Dave – I totally understand that feeling of not wanting to share your awesome ideas! We used to feel this way too. However, your fears are ungrounded.

    The fact is, I don’t have time to steal your idea even if I wanted to (and I wouldn’t). I am far too busy working on my own ideas, and so is everyone else.

    Furthermore, the idea isn’t as important as the execution. You and I can take the same gameplay concept and come out with wildly different games. Plus, if you are already working on your game, the chances are low that someone would read your listing, decide to make a game just like yours, and get it to market faster than you.

    So don’t let that fear of having your idea stolen stop you from getting a good artist on your team!

    • Bob King says:

      What is not mentioned here is ownership of the art. Is this typically owned by the payer? Are “source” files typically included for future updates or does the artist typically keep those?

      Great post. thank you.

      • Mike Berg says:

        @Bob,

        This is something you should negotiate with your artist. It needs to be *very* clear right from the beginning. I’ve talked to too many devs who’ve been screwed over by having a falling out with an artist, and not having access to their working files. Personally (as an artist) I always include working files in the price because keeping them makes me feel icky, but many artists charge extra if you want to own the PSDs, AI files, etc.

  9. Standard NDA agreements are also available to download and tweak to your requirements. Most artists will just want to know when they will be allowed to show the comissioned work as part of their folio.
    Also with an experienced artists also comes the opportunity of adding to the excitement of the press releases for the game. Names and past projects can aid a lot

  10. vwenderlich says:

    Bob: usually, art made for a game is called “made-for-hire”, and the copyrights belong to the client (the payer) rather than the artist. However, the artist should be allowed to show the work as part of their portfolio (after the product launches).

    Make sure all of this is spelled out in the agreement.

  11. Tray says:

    Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for the article.

    One important part that is missing is that you never mention how much you were quoted for the project you advertised.

    Additionally details like how long it took for the assets to be ready and finally what the final cost was (if different from the estimate) would be even more informative.

    Of course, each developer has their own budget, but it would be nice to know what range of quotes you got, and what you ended up spending (as well as a small example of a few of the different assets you had created… like even a single game prototype snapshot combing a few of the elements …just to put the price you paid into perspective).

    Great artists can cost more but a solid example of what you got (and for how much) would certainly give readers alot more clarity on the subject (and their expectations). Especially considering your experience in this matter (ie: I am sure you got a good price since you know what is involved in the style you selected).

    I realize there may be some limits on what details/samples you can give, but even a little example of the cost per asset (and a few small samples) would be incredibly helpful.

  12. Grant Slender says:

    Some of the job boards have gone. Can you update the current places I should post jobs, and/or do freelancer or 99designs where you bid rank in comparison?

    G

  13. hunbun says:

    Hello!

    1. we just only need complete details and samples so we can get what you wanted :)

    2. most of the time, we’re cheaper and the guy you hired is not the real one who will work for you because they will post it to other sites and hire us (artist) in cheaper budget. :( SO better if you choose someone, try to share a screen with him/her through skype so you can check the quality of game arts you’re looking for and if she/he’s the real game artist.

    Regards,
    hun

  14. Mahbub says:

    Very good article. I loved it. Thanks much.

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