How to find and pay your artist fairly

There comes a time in a girl’s life when she has to make peace with the fact that she is no artist. That she will never be an artist. That she, in truth, sux so bad at the art thing, that the entire Universe decided to ban her from even dreaming to dream to be an artist.

Much wow, very help, THANKS!!!!
Much wow, very help, THANKS!!!!

And while – especially if you read Reddit or Gamasutra or Twitter or 9gag- you’d think there is an army of starving artists just knocking at your door FOR EXPOSURE, finding a proper artist tends to be a much harder task than expected. Because….

It is almost impossible to evaluate game art fairly

This is actually a problem that’s endemic to the entire world, not just gamedev and most certainly not just art:

It is very hard to understand what a fair price is especially for highly creative, very volatile and quite mysterious* work such as gamedev art. Now this has many reasons but I think the One Reason to rule them all is because we don’t talk about fair pricing. We actually don’t talk about rates and pricing and rev shares at all, its all done hush hush, secretly, with a sense of fear of losing the business, from both sides. What if the competition charges less? What if I can find a cheaper artist? What if Dragons exist?**

This is all quite daunting even if you really know exactly how to define the job. Unfortunately, in game development, it is close to impossible to predict the workload.

So here is a guide on

How to find and pay your artist fairly

Step 1:

Research and analyse fair freelance art rates aka Find the art pricing needle in the haystack the Internet is nowadays.

Its real easy to estimate your art costs: you do your best to define your style, for example by creating Pinterest boards with examples of what you want to do. Then, you search for artists with styles that you think might yield the result you seek. You hope they are kind enough to just list their rates on their website, or else you contact them, they say a price and all is set!***

For the record:

Here is the best article I could find about the cost of sprites.

Here’s a video game artist’s salary for 2016

Here’s the latest Gamasutra salary survey.

You’re welcome.

In reality, good artists are hard to contact and expensive. Some bad artists are hard to contact and expensive, some good artists are very cheap and easy to talk to and none of that matters, actually. What matters is to find a good fit and then to design the best way to work so that you are both very satisfied (read: HAPPY ♥).

Step 2:

Design your pitch aka This time seriously work to define what is it you really need from your artist

Now that you realised the enormity of the job you’re set to do, you need to step back, relax, and understand what you really need. Your aim is to clarify the work of your artist. Try to list down all the graphical necessities of your game. Calmly. Go for simplicity. Make sure to specify things like:

  • What platforms is your game for?
  • How will your menus look like and what will they allow eye-wise?
  • What resolutions do you want or need to support?
  • In what languages do you want to make your game available?

It also helps to describe the setting and tone of your game. Is it a dark game or a light game? Is this a colourful game or toned down? Some items might make it a little easier to think about such as:

  • Your game logo
  • Your game Menu Art
  • Your game intro splash(es)
  • .. and typically any art that you would have to create for your Store front, Kickstarter campaign, or even any event submission – use those forms to generate a task list!

Remember that you’ll need a small amount of work to test working with your artist, especially if you intent to ask for a proof of style. Using crowdfunding project examples as guidelines can be a good way to find your test workload.

Step 3:

Money aka Understand what you can afford and how is it smarter to use your limited funds

While there are a lot of artists out there just waiting to die of exposure, they are a bad deal and I strongly recommend avoiding to accept work for free, because… well, you know, they die and then you are left without an artist.

If you have no money at all to pay up front, you might be thinking about rev share. This is a good way to find an artist, and I saw great examples of that, but they do not come easy. Those kind of examples require you to really be worth working for, and it also requires to give your artist agency and creative freedom.

If you have some money, there are lots of way to explore cheap work. But I recommend against it – I shall soon explain!**** If you don’t have much money and find your self in a difficulty to negotiate with your artist, you can always offer a combination of up front payment and rev share.

If you have as much money as you want, you are probably not reading my blog. Just in case you do:  Hugs ♥

Step 4:

How to change the world

Now that you know What you need and What do you afford to pay, it is time to radically, drastically change the entire gamedev industry into something you would thrive in.

Simply change the world
Simply change the world

I did try to find an artist. Because I live in a pretty serious gamedev hub, I thought it would be easy for me to find an artist locally, but I also hesitated to ask around because I did not want business to ruin any friendships. Luckily, an artist friend came forth and asked about Heart. Papers. Border. His name is Pontus, he is a genius and he developed games straight down my alley (which you should BUY NOW, seriously!)

Proof that Pontus is a genius
Proof that Pontus is a genius

When Pontus first came to me, I think he would have offered to work for rev share. But I told him I have some savings that I want to use to pay an artist and I asked how does he charge. Like many freelance artists, Pontus charges an hourly rate. It’s a good rate, considering the quality he offers and his location (which is Sweden), but I was not confident it would cover my workload. I could’t really afford him. My funds are precisely 10000 SEK, which is exactly 1029 Euros*****

We agreed that Pontus would just come and work with me until my cash runs out. That’s how our late night gamedev sessions began – we both rather work together, and he is a night owl just like me. Sebi usually picks Pontus up at about 8 PM and drives him back home at around midnight. While Pontus is here, we listen to music, make really bad jokes, Pontus amazes me with his Illustrator skills while Sebi curses the hell outta coding and Unity, I watch and learn and unsuccessfully try to remind us all that we should WORK – but so far, the more we progress, the more fun we have. It feels right.

And it might just be the only reason I wish I was rich.

I wish I wouldn’t have the pressure that I cannot afford to pay Pontus fairly. He is an amazing artist and Heart, Papers. Border. fits him like a glove. That is how we invented retro alienism, dicksies and candy brutalism.****** 

Fair pay? Dammit, I’d pay Pontus 1000000 SEK if I could afford. Isn’t that why we build businesses? To relax and share the wealth and be generous?

Stuff Working In Heart. Papers. Border. YAY!!!
Stuff Working In Heart. Papers. Border. YAY!!!

This is why I told Pontus, look, I’ll pay you all I have, these 10000 SEK, and you do what you think its right, for you and for the game and for whatever. His art helped us really define what Heart. Papers. Border. is so Pontus is essential to our game. If he were to tell me tomorrow that he can’t do this anymore, we’d be in deep trouble, but I would still be grateful. The relationship Pontus and I managed to forge is what I hope will come to define game development.

I want to trust my fellow gamedevs, my friends. That’s the kind of world I want to live in.





*  There’s concept and game and 3D and 2D and sprites and UI and rasters and vectors and scalability issues and resolutions and platforms and a whole bipload of stuff that you have to consider. Real fun. 


*** There is a bigger chance for dragons to exist than this situation. 

**** I explained in Step 4

***** That is what Google tells me for today October 25th, 2016


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