On the ethical treatment of artists

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by Adrian Lopez, Aug 11, 2010.

  1. Adrian Lopez

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    Jon Jones has written an excellent article on the subject of how not to treat an artist (edit: forgot the link). I agree with most the points he makes and with his focus on treating others with respect, but there still remains the fact that not all indies can afford to pay professional rates and I'm therefore curious about how published indies manage to find artists willing to work on a limited budget.

    The rates I've seen quoted for art assets are significant enough that I can't afford them at this point, but I know there are people here who have positive working relationships with their artists despite being stuck with an indie budget.

    How, then, do you find artists who are willing to work on an indie budget without exploiting those who are either naive or desperate for work?
     
    #1 Adrian Lopez, Aug 11, 2010
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2010
  2. Backov

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    Usually when discussing an article, or the points that it raises, links to said article are appreciated.
     
  3. Adrian Lopez

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  4. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Usually when you say someone's written an excellent article, you post a link to it. :) (EDIT: I see you and Backov beat me to it. Good article, though I think it would have been more productive for him to mention the bad one only briefly, and then write about the right way to do things, rather than doing a point-by-point slagging of the moron who wrote that abomination.)

    Anyway, as an artist working in the games field (both digital and physical), I can tell you that it's simply a fact of life that if this is what you want to do, you have to charge rates that indies can afford. The hourly rate I base my quotes on is 1/3 to 1/2 what a similarly qualified graphic designer would be asking for if they were working for corporate clients in another sector.

    And most experienced indies (and the more realistic newcomers) are happy to pay the prices I ask for. On the other hand, I've encountered plenty of people who will show e.g. a piece of AAA or high-end indie art that would have probably taken 10+ man-hours, and say that $50 is what they think it should cost.

    I don't think this is so much a matter of them thinking that freelance programmers should make $85/hr. and freelance artists should make $5/hr., as it is a matter of simply not being an artist, never having worked with an artist, and not understanding how long art takes. They probably think the piece should take about 1-2 hours and are basing their $50 guess on that.

    On the other hand, I do sometimes get the impression that many programmers around here feel that programming is a more valuable skill than art, or that artists are naturals, and didn't have to put as much time and effort into developing their skills as the programmer did. Or that art is more like fun than like work. None of which is true.

    But overall, I'd say that the problem is mostly a combination of tight budgets and a poor ability to estimate how long art takes. On the artists' side of things, there is the problem of inexperienced artists charging ridiculously low rates (both disappointing clients because of their lack of experience, and creating false expectations about what things cost), and, on the flip side, the problem of artists coming from other industries, and expecting that they can ask the same rates as they did there.
     
    #4 AlexWeldon, Aug 11, 2010
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2010
  5. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    This is indie land and everybody should be acquainted with the fact that many projects lose money. Look at the game stats on game producers site, realize that a lot of those are in the upper echelon and do the math. Let's make up a hypothetical quickie RPG and do some really rough back of napkin stuff.

    Lets say the game nets 2K in income. Clearly not a hit but I suspect that a lot of dev's don't hit that mark. Here's a hypothetical asset list for that game.

    $250 for 5 cut screens, $50 each. I'm going to keep all of my #'s really low here.
    $2500 for 5 level maps, each level containing a 100 piece tile set at $5 per tile. Good luck finding that rate.
    $300 1 hero animating (walk, run, couple attacks, death)
    $1600 8 monsters animating
    $350 sprites
    $25 particle generator software, developer hacks up own particles.
    $300 for 10 minutes of composed music
    $50 for 16 sound effects from Sound Rangers

    that looks like about 5K to me for an asset list/count that I think is unlikely to attract 2K in net sales and if you look at announced rates for music and art then I think all of the costs listed are low balled but... you get my point.


    Game development in a studio is a high risk scenario. When I was at Atari I remember some producer telling me that 9 out of 10 games lost money and that the hits had to carry the rest. No wonder we see a lot of sequels. Game development, especially indie. game dev., is high risk territory and very few folks ever hit it out of the park. If you are not the principal on a project and you don't like risk and want to work regularly in this segment then something has to give. I know I'm going to catch flak for this but there is a reality disconnect with some folks wandering into the indie. game business looking to work at home in the entertainment business in indie. land without taking on any risk. I've bitten my tongue a lot in the past few months when reading various diatribes about how people need to be paid $25 to $50 per hour for their work when I know damn well that if that $ # comes to pass that 19 out of 20 developers are going to lose a lot of money paying for assets or, often, projects won't even complete after a lot of spend.</rant>
     
  6. Vino

    Vino New Member

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    Hahaha. Dickbag. That's a good one.

    The way I tend to think of artists (or any contractor) is that they're self-motivated and you really shouldn't be working with them if you don't trust them, so micromanaging them and holding them at arms length is really the worst way to go about it.
     
  7. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Yes, but it's YOUR project. Therefore, YOU make the decisions, and YOU take the risk. If you want the artist to take on the risk with you, and pay in profit share, then he's not a contractor, he's a business partner, and you should be making decisions about the project together.

    If you decide to buy a run-down house, renovate it, and try to flip it for a profit, do you expect the guy you hire to reshingle the roof to work for a lesser rate because you're taking a risk? Or to agree to be paid only if you manage to turn a profit? Of course not. So either you suck up the risk, or you find a friend who happens to know how to do some roofing, and convince him to join you in your venture.

    I charge $35/hr. because I want to work in the gaming world. Meanwhile, $70/hr. designing ads, logos, etc. for corporate clients would not be at all an unreasonable rate. But I don't like working for those people.

    If you think $35/hr. is high, consider that I spend easily twice as much time corresponding with potential clients, maintaining my portfolio, offering free advice here and elsewhere, and all the other things I need to do in order to find work. So, when you divide billable hours by total hours spent, I'm really making just over $10/hr.... less than I made batch color-correcting school photos at a photo lab.

    I'm at work six to seven days a week, usually at the computer at least ten hours a day - not all of it on other people's projects... I also make my own games, which, as you say, do not make nearly enough money to justify the time spent. But again, it's something I believe in. Last year, I made under $10,000, well under the poverty line. Good thing I'm happy living frugally.

    We're all in the same boat, doing what we love because we love it, not because we expect to get rich. But we need to eat and pay rent. If you're not willing to pay a rate that allows someone to do the job as their primary source of income, then you're only going to get hobbyists willing to work for you.
     
    #7 AlexWeldon, Aug 11, 2010
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2010
  8. JGOware

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    For every artist that charges 1000.00 for something there is a dozen who will charge 100.00. The problem is, the dirty dozen will do the job when ever the hell they want to and will ultimately say their dog ate their computer. That's really the only division I've witnessed over the years. Quality can be the same, but it's the reliability and professionalism you really end up paying for.
     
  9. Mattias Gustavsson

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    I remember a guy who used to hang around this place years ago, who had a second job flipping burgers, and each time he got his paycheck, he sent it straight on to his artists.

    My point is, that there's all sorts of ways to go about it, really, if you're dedicated enough. But it can be really hard to find someone willing to take the rather huge risk of working on art for no guaranteed payment.
     
  10. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I largely disagree with Alex on this, even though I've hired his services recently.

    Saying that you can make $70 an hour in job X is irrelevant. Go do job X then.

    By the same token I could quite easily triple my salary by moving into enterprise programming instead of making games for a living. I chose not to because there's more to life than money and I want to make games.

    The fact is, both artists and programmers need to attenuate their expected incomes to the field they're in, or move into a better paying field.

    Thankfully there are plenty of talented artists who will work for low end money just because they'd rather rustle up some aliens with their heads exploding than spend their days fleshing out poster ad's for a new brand of tampons or whatever.

    Finding someone who is both good and reasonably cheap isn't easy, but it's doable and is a no-brainer for indie coders. Don't start writing code until you find an art partner who is on your wavelength and isn't driven by money. Vice versa advice applies to artists too.
     
  11. lennard

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    "Yes, but it's YOUR project. Therefore, YOU make the decisions, and YOU take the risk. If you want the artist to take on the risk with you, and pay in profit share, then he's not a contractor, he's a business partner, and you should be making decisions about the project together."

    No argument there. The article denigrates the notion of an artist partaking in risk. As a dev. I have often gotten paid some money and taken risk to get a project off the ground. That can be a handy tool to enable limited funds to get cool projects off the ground while also allowing for merit to be rewarded if big $ roll in. In all my years in the industry I only had one of these lottery tickets pay off - but the one that did paid off our rental units so... sometimes it works.

    The truth is that there are currently less $ kicking around than game developers/artists/composers but that there is no shortage of ideas or excitement for those ideas. If we, as a community, want to make cool stuff then sometimes sharing risk expands the amount of available work/projects while also providing some kind of equitable arrangement when a project does make real $.
     
  12. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    I think you mean you largely agree with me, because that's what I said. I *could* make that much in another industry, but I choose not to, because I want to work in this one, and doing what I love is more important than making lots of money.

    Lennard seemed to feel that 25-50$/hr. is high, and that artists should be willing to come down from there in order to work in this biz. My point is that those rates already ARE much lower than illustrators and graphic designers make elsewhere. We already HAVE come down, because we understand the budgets are tight. We can't come down any lower and still survive; if indie devs aren't willing to pay even that much, then most of us will have no choice but to go work in other fields, and then you won't be able to find an artist who isn't a hobbyist.
     
  13. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    What you're saying is nice, and a year ago, I was all about the idea of collaboration. But then I tried it.

    My experience with collaboration is that it's rare that two people come up with an idea together, and "own" it equally. The success of two-man teams like 2DBoy shows that it is indeed possible for it to happen... but you need real chemistry and harmony of vision between the people involved. Every attempt I've made at collaboration has ended up with the project being abandoned, because one party or the other lost interest, or no longer felt the project was worth the time investment (usually the other guy, though I've pulled the plug once or twice too).

    Unless you're so much on the same wavelength that you agree instantly on most decisions, either one person starts to dominate the creative drive behind the project, or else the design gets so watered down by endless compromises that the original spark gets lost in cliches and mutually contradictory design ideas.

    The games I make on my own may not make much money, but at least they get finished. Likewise, the projects I do for hire may not give me the same emotional high as working on something alone or collaboratively, but they pay the bills.

    Certainly, if you come up with an idea and then go look for an artist to work with you on it, it's not a joint project - it's your project. And that's usually what people do. In those cases, contract work is the norm, and IMO the best system.
     
  14. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    That's the bit I disagree with. I think 25 bucks an hour is plenty tbh. It's not really an opinion but an observation that you can get good art done at those kind of rates. And without resorting to abusing third worlders.

    If you make 25 an hour for 40 hours a week, you as an artist will make a year far more than a lot of your clients in indieland, and that can't be right whichever way you slice it.

    It's nowt to do with how you value yourself, or even how others value your work in the abstract. It's pure market forces. In terms of hiring yourself out, the bottom line is don't be the iPhone app.

    Rubicon could afford your rates for that crappy little sokoban rip because we had the money in the bank and needed something knocking out quickly so we could test a market. Looking hard at the finances, I doubt very much we'll make the money back that we paid you, nevermind getting something for gross profits. There'll certainly be no net profit after we also took a wage for the (admittedly very little) time we spent on it.

    (Note that I'm not complaining, just pointing out that the last time we worked together, you did better than we probably will out of it, even with your affordable rate factored in.)

    Also note that this is a more general statement and am not specifically aiming any of it at your personally. To be honest I think 25 an hour is a sane rate, but it's at the higher end of what people can actually afford up front.

    EDIT: Still sorry about that collaboration we had going for a while. I was simply too busy with paying work to give it the time it needed and I didn't want to string you along.
     
  15. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Sure, if someone gives me 40 hours a week for a month, I'll be happy to work for $25/hr. But you're ignoring what I said about a freelance artist needing to spend at least as much time (generally twice as much) communicating with clients and promoting himself as doing billable work. $25/hr. billable work works out to less than $10/hr. overall. 40 hrs. a week is pretty much the minimum I spend at my computer each week... often 60-70. But I consider business to be going well if I get 15-20 billable hours per week.

    Think about it this way. If I was working at an art house, I could do 40 hours of actual art per week because there's a secretary answering the phone, an accountant taking care of finances, a marketing guy advertising our services, an art director communicating with the clients and nailing down the requirements of the project, a logistics guy buying the equipment and keeping the office stocked with supplies, etc. etc. At a small art house, many or all of these might be the same guy, but regardless, as the artist, I'm just responsible for doing the art. So I can do 40 hours of art a week.

    When you're freelance, you have to do all those things yourself, but the only time you're paid for is the time you're actually in Photoshop, creating art. Those unbillable hours have to be factored in when you're computing what the freelance rate works out to if you're comparing it to on-staff wages. And likewise, for the art house, they might be paying their artist $15 or $20 an hour, but for sure they're not charging the client that, because they have to pay these people who are doing the other things related to keeping the business going, and they have to rent an office space, and keep the lights on, and so forth.

    Meanwhile, I'm aware that many of my clients won't make back the money they spend on my services. But it's not my place to tell people whether their game is, in my opinion, a winner... and going by the success of my own games, I'm not the guy to ask. I'll offer advice if I'm asked... but if you're paying the bills, you're calling the shots, for better or worse. If you want to hire someone to paint your house, you don't want him refusing to do it because he disapproves of the color; his job is to take your money and do what you tell him.

    (And regarding our collaboration, don't worry, that wasn't a dig at you... I've tried, and failed, at collaborating with several other people since then. Our project at least got further along than most of those.)
     
    #15 AlexWeldon, Aug 11, 2010
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2010
  16. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Alex, I don't care if you make $25 or $150 an hour. What I am saying is that most indies are going to lose a lot of money if they pay you $25 an hour for a year to make a game with them.

    At the end of the day the equation is # of games sold * unit profit (which in this day and age may be 69 cents if you are on iPhone) - cost to develop program - cost for developer to live has to be >= $0 more often than not for developers to survive.

    At this point you might trot out the notion that market forces should weed out the weaker members of the herd... and I would agree with that sentiment except that is in direct contradiction to the spirit of the original article that a lot of artists are pretty happy about. BTW, I would also point out that this is an indie. forum where members of the indie. game biz. discuss the real issues of our business.

    Don't shoot the messenger. But look at the #'s and realize that the message is real. I personally have been putting my money where my mouth is by paying to develop art packs that will reduce the cost of game development. And I think that is the real discussion we should be having - what mechanisms can we come up with that create equitable deals that reward talent, labor and risk.
     
  17. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I think you have it all wrong tbh, you're setting your stall out like a solicitor would, not a low rent (ie the target market, not your talent) game artist.

    Discussing stuff with the client is part of the billable hours and if anyone takes issue with that then I'd give them a wide birth. So that's covered and in your favour.

    As to marketing yourself? You do that outside the 40 hours you're trying to fill. I know it has to be done, but it's not your clients' problem, so you can't expect them to contribute to doing it.

    I was a freelance coder for many years and the above worked fine for me and all the clients I worked for, so I know whereof I speak on this. If you can't fill 40 billable hours a week, tbh it's probably because you're too expensive and only you can decide where to take that.

    Try to remember that there aren't many pro indies here that have 5K in the bank for art even though they're meant to. If you can work solidly for those then that's great, but they're going to be thin on the ground and you'll be in competition with all the other artists here for those guys.

    If you can't fill 40 hours with those clients and want to fill in with working for the masses of indies who make jack all, then you must realise that they can't pay you what you want regardless of how well justified your costs are. And that's it really.
     
  18. AlexWeldon

    AlexWeldon New Member

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    Lennard: I agree that other solutions need to be found. One guy around here was talking about making the indie game dev equivalent of a microstock photo site, and I was all about that. Except then he spazzed out cause a week went by and no one had bought one of the, like, three pieces of art he had available, declared the concept not viable, and took the site down. :rolleyes:

    Paul: I don't bill for talk time, except in cases where talking is a big part of the job like one I have now to write a design doc, where I spend almost as many hours with the client on Skype, brainstorming ideas, as I do writing the actual doc. Obviously that's billable.

    But for an art contract, the time I have to spend asking questions and requesting feedback, I don't bill for that. So that explains part of the difference in our ideas about a reasonable amount to charge. I could easily go down to $30/hr. or lower if I was billing for talk time. Just a different way of working. I also do small revisions - and large ones for things that were my fault - off the clock. So that'd bring us down to $25/hr. or lower if every minute in any way related to the job was being billed.

    I can't do that most of the time, though, because most clients want a fixed quote, not a by-the-hour deal. So I have to guess at how long it'll take me, and if they get fussy or I make a mistake, the risk is at my end. I can't remember now, but I think I did bring my rate down to $30/hr. for you because you wanted to pay for actual time spent (and still did not charge for talk time or small fixes).

    Also, I don't work exclusively in the indie game community. At my current rates, I'm getting about the amount of work I want from here. And I get a lot of repeat business, which is why you haven't seen me repost my portfolio in a while. If my rates were really prohibitively expensive and disproportionate to my value, I don't know why people would come back to me. I think I have a lot of added value in terms of my communication skills and broad background.

    I experimented with different hourly rates when I first started freelancing, and I found that although I did get more projects when I brought my rate down, the extra ones I was getting were the annoying, unprofessional clients, who didn't explain clearly what they wanted, asked for endless revisions, set tight deadlines then took forever to provide feedback, and cancelled projects partway through. Since I have other revenue streams, I'm happy to do without those gigs.

    Now, as Lennard has pointed out, what I am losing out on are the long-term contracts, as not many indies could afford, say, 100+ hours of art at those prices. Mostly what I get are small jobs, under $1000. That's fine with me. With my tastes, I'd rather have five small jobs than one big one. Small jobs also mean more discussion-to-work ratio, which also explains my higher rate. I know a lot of guys who charge 20-25$/hr. but won't get out of bed for a contract worth less than, say, $500. I, on the other hand, if someone comes to me because they need one icon for $15, I'm happy to do that kind of thing, even if it means spending more time talking on it than working on it, because it often leads to bigger jobs down the line.
     
    #18 AlexWeldon, Aug 12, 2010
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2010
  19. GDI

    GDI New Member

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    I'm loving the excellent threads in this forum.

    Though I live in the third world, I'm currently employing western artists for my project, for the simple reason that they understand copyright, as well as the art style is suited to the target market. Regarding working with people in poor countries -- the fact that I speak good english is already an indicator that my standard of living is at least equivalent to a middle-class westerner, even if my actual costs are proportionally lower. Maybe when I have that 'successful' first commercial game out there ('successful' as in completed and released; not that it makes thousands), I will take the risk of hiring my own countrymen -- but right now I know that as the project leader I am the weakest link in my project, and I must prove myself with the help of experts. Once I got that first sale out, then I can help more artists become more professional, for instance.

    That example 5K budget for the 'quickie RPG' is exactly my ballpark, with the addition that despite using off-the-shelf engines, I still aim to hire a programmer for $1000 later on to fix up my subpar scripts and tweak the mechanics. I'm learning creative ways to maximize art assets even if I'm using custom art for everything (the only thing off-the-shelf is the engine), at the very least, I want my game to look different.

    I echo the sentiment that single ownership of the IP is best, and you just pay the rest (but still motivate them as well at how awesome your project is). My experience in freeware taught me that sometimes you want to push, the other wants to pull, and vice versa -- and that's even when you are on the same wavelength. I can't emphasize how much knowledge and experience you get working on freeware with zero budget -- I learned to draw and compose my own music. So I understand how many hours it takes to create an asset and why professionals charge the way they do. In addition, you learn to easily identify people with whom you can work on projects together and others whom you will best avoid -- which you can easily get a hint from the negotiation phase or the way they post on forums.

    I don't know if I'm qualified to give advice yet, but generally I tell people my budget and we both work together to come up with the amount of deliverables and number of installments. I learned to cut back on expectations of how much quality art I can get, and the commissioned artist knows how much influence her work has on the final game. I've had to reduce the number of dungeons, for instance, and that not only put the quoted price back in my budget, but the artists themselves can safely say that they now can produce the assets within the allotted time.

    The way I work is I'm generous with others-- giving them the benefit of the doubt -- but strict with myself. I think 'unprofessional people' (talking as a 'non-profesional' myself lol) are the opposite -- strict with others but generous with themselves.
     
  20. Roman Budzowski

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    I think that ethical treatment doesn't have anything to do with the pay. I hired a lot of artists and always tried to be fair, which doesn't mean I pay more that I can afford. Sometimes I work with people that I need to pay more, but I love their work. Sometimes I'm lucky and find talented artist that's also very affordable. But very often I see great artists that I just can't afford and then we just wish luck to each other. That's it.
     

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