Recommend
8 
 Thumb up
 Hide
16 Posts

BoardGameGeek» Forums » Board Game Design » Board Game Art and Graphic Design

Subject: Spec work in game publishing rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
As a new/prospective publisher, one of the most baffling aspects of the process is the artistic and graphic design of the game. I have no artistic competence myself, and have a limited understanding of the process that a publisher typically goes through in commissioning artists for design and illustration work; yet, it's clearly extremely important to get this right, since a game's visual presentation can make or break the game's initial success. I was corresponding with an artist this week on a somewhat unrelated subject, and a hypothetical situation somewhat like this came up:

Suppose I have a project that needs a game board illustration (ie a map), a box cover illustration, and 20 pieces of piece art for cards. And say my overall budget is $5,000 (or whatever). My question was, would it be customary/appropriate to approach an artist and solicit a couple of concept sketches, with the expectation of offering a contract for the full job if the sketches were compatible with the vision for the project?

His answer was that such a request would likely be viewed unfavorably by the artist, and that they would consider it "spec work". Knowing little about this, a quick google search revealed that there are entire websites (lots of them!) devoted to "spec work", which overwhelmingly decry the practice.

Now I found this fascinating -- although of course, given my lack of familiarity with the artistic industry, my surprise shouldn't really be very surprising. But nevertheless, it was surprising, for at least two reasons:

- Without a couple of concept pieces, how does a publisher know that the artist can deliver the right "look" or "vision" for the project? Presumably the answer to this is "by looking at his portfolio"; at least, that's the best answer I can come up with. And surely this is crucial for determining which artist you approach in the first place. But imagine that I'm instead working on a feature film, and I want to cast the leading role -- surely I wouldn't just look at the past movies that a prospective actor had appeared in -- I'd want to have him come in to do an audition, to read through some of the script, etc, to make sure that he can deliver the performance I need in the specific film that I'm making.

- In game publishing, the very most important component, the game design itself, is done on an entirely speculative basis. A designer will typically invest hundreds of hours into developing his game, with no guarantee (and really, not even a ton of hope) of remuneration. And if he is fortunate enough to receive a licensing contract, he will likely receive a royalty that is, say, 5% of the wholesale cost of the game. For a $50 MSRP game, with a wholesale cost of perhaps $20, the designer's cut per game is $1, and a pretty successful game will sell through its print run, meaning the designer stands to make perhaps $3,000 -- less than the hypothetical $5,000 that the artist received in guaranteed funds!

I certainly am not advocating or suggesting that artists should work on a speculative basis. I guess I'm just expressing my surprise that artists wouldn't like being asked to "audition" for what, for a publisher, amounts to a fairly substantial portion of a game's production budget. Obviously, I'd expect the reasonableness of such a request to increase the more pieces are being requested -- asking for previews for a $150 card illustration seems much more unreasonable than asking for previews for a $3,000 multi-piece project. My surprise is that even the latter case seems to be perceived as unreasonable.

I'm very interested in participation in this discussion from the artists in the community, or from publishers, as to their views of this subject in general, and their answer to the question it ultimately gets at, "how do you find an artist for a game project?"
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Pete Belli
United States
Florida
flag msg tools
designer
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Quote:
A designer will typically invest hundreds of hours into developing his game, with no guarantee (and really, not even a ton of hope) of remuneration.


This might be the answer to your question.

Time is money to a professional graphic artist because his or her output has commercial value in the larger marketplace. The board game designer's effort (unfortunately) has little or no economic value.

One suggestion: art students might be willing to contribute to your project if they can use the material to enhance their portfolios.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rich Shipley
United States
Baltimore
Maryland
flag msg tools
badge
the liberal unsavory type
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jwarrend wrote:
- In game publishing, the very most important component, the game design itself, is done on an entirely speculative basis. A designer will typically invest hundreds of hours into developing his game, with no guarantee (and really, not even a ton of hope) of remuneration. And if he is fortunate enough to receive a licensing contract, he will likely receive a royalty that is, say, 5% of the wholesale cost of the game. For a $50 MSRP game, with a wholesale cost of perhaps $20, the designer's cut per game is $1, and a pretty successful game will sell through its print run, meaning the designer stands to make perhaps $3,000 -- less than the hypothetical $5,000 that the artist received in guaranteed funds!


That's because the game is your labor of love, not the artist's. To the artist, it is another job. If you want a professional, expect them to act professionally, and working for free is not professional.

Some game artists are also game designers and will do the art for their project the same way you do the game design - on spec. That doean't mean they owe this to anyone else.

It would seem the way to approach this is to find an artist through looking at their work, then offer to pay for a sample that would hopefully lead to the larger project.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
pete belli wrote:

One suggestion: art students might be willing to contribute to your project if they can use the material to enhance their portfolios.


Just as a point of clarification, there isn't a "my project" in view - for this thread, it's an entirely hypothetical question. And the overarching question isn't "how does a publisher get inexpensive/cheap artwork", but "how does a publisher convince himself/herself that an artist's work will be compatible with the project's vision?" -- it's about how to find the right artist.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
rshipley wrote:

That's because the game is your labor of love, not the artist's. To the artist, it is another job. If you want a professional, expect them to act professionally, and working for free is not professional.


It depends on the discipline, though. (I'm not arguing with you here, just talking this through...) In many fields, it's not uncommon to have to prepare a bid, proposal, project plan, audition, etc -- in some sense you're doing this "for free", but more correctly, most projects (in those fields, anyway) bill at a rate that includes the fee and overhead, and presumably some of overhead goes to pay for the time spent working on future bids/proposals/auditions/etc. In those fields, it's just a necessary cost of doing business -- you can't be hired to do Job X unless you can first convince the customer that you can do Job X. So I don't think it's a matter of professionalism at all, although maybe the conventions of this particular industry are just different.

Quote:
It would seem the way to approach this is to find an artist through looking at their work, then offer to pay for a sample that would hopefully lead to the larger project.


That seems like a good suggestion!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Byron Collins
United States
Suffolk
Virginia
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Jeff,

I'll share my "search process" for finding the right artist for the box art of an upcoming sci-fi game we're doing...

- The designer and I pored over many sci-fi art websites in line with the subject of the piece... for example, conceptships.blogspot.com.

- We then picked our 10 favorite pieces of artwork that best fit the style we are going after in our game. This led to more research on "our" top rated artists. All of them had a website / blog with an online portfolio.

- After confirming the list with each other and deleting a few either based on comments from me or comments from the designer, we ranked the list blindly 1-5 per image.

- I summed the rankings we both assigned.

- I e-mailed the top three artists based on our winning rankings.

- Artist #1 was too expensive.

- Artist #2 received a contract for the box art after multiple e-mails and a phone call.

The process above took time on my part, but it's time well spent. I also made sure the designer was involved since the choice may set the look of his game.

I would not request samples of anything in order to choose the artist. Those samples exist in the form of existing works - many are shown off in portfolios and blogs and/or game art. You should be able to get a good idea of the artist's level of proficiency and style by viewing his portfolio. However, an artist's work flow for most any project typically includes initial/concept sketches of whatever it is you're commissioning. Those sketches are a quick way you can verify what it is he's going to do and are a quick way the artist can keep you up to date on his progress - providing a deliverable that meets the concept in stages until the final piece is complete.
12 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rich Shipley
United States
Baltimore
Maryland
flag msg tools
badge
the liberal unsavory type
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jwarrend wrote:
It depends on the discipline, though. (I'm not arguing with you here, just talking this through...) In many fields, it's not uncommon to have to prepare a bid, proposal, project plan, audition, etc -- in some sense you're doing this "for free", but more correctly, most projects (in those fields, anyway) bill at a rate that includes the fee and overhead, and presumably some of overhead goes to pay for the time spent working on future bids/proposals/auditions/etc.


I've done bids and proposals and the work I'd put into them would line up with the amount of the project and the confidence I had that the project would actually happen. An artist's portfolio and a cost estimate is fairly equivalent for a small job.

Quote:
In those fields, it's just a necessary cost of doing business -- you can't be hired to do Job X unless you can first convince the customer that you can do Job X. So I don't think it's a matter of professionalism at all, although maybe the conventions of this particular industry are just different.


These sorts of things are always a matter of position and perspective. A struggling actor will go on as many cattle-call auditions as he can - a known actor is invited and probably compensated. A business is willing to spend some money to attempt to land a multi-million dollar contract. An architect may be willing to create a prototype to compete for a prestigious building or memorial. An artist asked for a sample for a small game company? Cash up front.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
frontlinegeneral wrote:
I'll share my "search process" for finding the right artist for the box art of an upcoming sci-fi game we're doing...


Great stuff Byron, thanks!

Quote:
Those samples exist in the form of existing works - many are shown off in portfolios and blogs and/or game art.


So, there's a corollary to this -- namely, that an artist would probably have a tough time finding work outside of the styles represented in his online portfolio -- if an artist has a very "cartoonish" style, there's no way I'd hire him sight-unseen to do a project that called for very realistic artwork, for example. I guess that artists are probably perfectly well aware of this and provide a broad spectrum of stuff in their portfolios.

Quote:
However, an artist's work flow for most any project typically includes initial/concept sketches of whatever it is you're commissioning. Those sketches are a quick way you can verify what it is he's going to do and are a quick way the artist can keep you up to date on his progress - providing a deliverable that meets the concept in stages until the final piece is complete.


That's a good point; and I suppose there are clauses built into the contract that let you back out if for some reason the sketches aren't moving in the right direction...
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Tome
United States
Unspecified
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmb
Another item to consider, sites like deviantart (http://www.deviantart.com/)

Sites like this can be a valuable asset to find just the right artist for almost any type of scenario.

Though you will add the tasks for monitoring and tracking the art/artist that fit your (or your games) needs/tastes. Once you see a handful of artists that you feel might be the right fit, contact them and see what they would want as payment (and as you mentioned, have a list of what you want created available as a reference point for the artist to use for their estimate)

Also keep in mind, artists and those that understand the entire printing process are not always one in the same (many do understand but not always). This is a huge area to make sure you dont run into issues, but hopefully you can leverage other people to make sure your printing processes/layout are ok, but having an artist that understands both is a value add (imo).
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jason D. Kingsley
United States
Conroe
Texas
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Perhaps one, simple approach to the question would be to view it from an artist's standpoint. Let us presume the scenario you mentioned was presented. In hopes of getting the job, an artist isn't going to simply present a "sketch", especially if they know other artists are submitting work, too. They would put their best work forward, right? In order to do that, time discussing the basics, some details, and rights to the sample art would be important. Perhaps a revision would even be necessary after a piece was presented, or maybe our mystery client asked for multiple examples. Even on a small project, the amount of time and energy to accomplish this well would be significant. It is a potential job, but several hours of work with no promise of compensation upfront or commitment later? For one project, maybe this does not sound terribly drastic, but what if this situation was the norm? Multiply that scenario. Add up the man hours spent for numerous inquires over months and years and consider the mental, emotional, and financial investment of the artist each time, and it would be devastating, draining, and absolutely unsustainable. The reality is that this does happen, which is why there are websites like you mentioned so adamant about the subject. In the end, no one truly benefits. Mutual respect, honesty, good communication, and a solid contract are foundational for a strong, beneficial work relationship dealing with art… honor each other by remembering that both parties are on the same team and the success of one depends on the other.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Byron Collins
United States
Suffolk
Virginia
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Well said, Jason. Any artist I work with knows that I take care of them as the publisher and they seem eager for future projects. I think that's the goal. Build good publisher/artist relationships, compensate them accordingly, and you'll save yourself a lot of work and effort in the long run. That goes for designers as well.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
spindrift wrote:
Perhaps one, simple approach to the question would be to view it from an artist's standpoint.


Good points Jason. I agree with much of what you said, except that this:

Quote:
Add up the man hours spent for numerous inquires over months and years and consider the mental, emotional, and financial investment of the artist each time, and it would be devastating, draining, and absolutely unsustainable.


...is, in my opinion, an exaggeration. Most industries work this way, including the one I'm in (scientific research), and sure, it's discouraging when a proposal doesn't get funded, but I don't think the bids and proposals process in and of itself drives anyone out of business (presumably, failing to land any proposals will, of course!). Actually, in a way, I find the act of proposal-writing to be enjoyable and stimulating -- you're trying to put together a creative solution to a challenging problem, and it's neat to come up with something that you think has a good chance of working and of being funded. Obviously it's a let down when a proposal doesn't get funded, but it's a great feeling when it does. I don't think the art industry would collapse if it worked this way. That doesn't mean it should work that way, of course.

Quote:
Mutual respect, honesty, good communication, and a solid contract are foundational for a strong, beneficial work relationship dealing with art… honor each other by remembering that both parties are on the same team and the success of one depends on the other.


Well said!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Liu
Taiwan
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jwarrend wrote:
Good points Jason. I agree with much of what you said, except that this:
Quote:
Add up the man hours spent for numerous inquires over months and years and consider the mental, emotional, and financial investment of the artist each time, and it would be devastating, draining, and absolutely unsustainable.

...is, in my opinion, an exaggeration. Most industries work this way, including the one I'm in (scientific research), and sure, it's discouraging when a proposal doesn't get funded, but I don't think the bids and proposals process in and of itself drives anyone out of business (presumably, failing to land any proposals will, of course!).

I think the main difference is the scale of economies, in the construction & architect business, each project is worth maybe hundred thousands, if not a couple millions to the company, so doing a bid proposal is only a tiny fraction of effort to them.

jwarrend wrote:
I don't think the art industry would collapse if it worked this way. That doesn't mean it should work that way, of course.

Most Graphic Design houses & cermercial companies are big enough to work that way.

However, most artists that you see on the web are freelancers, they work for themselves and have to make out their bills each month. I think that a freelance artist probably can't afford to risk too much commitment on a project that maybe or may not pay the bills this month, since the amount of effort to draw a proposal is pretty much the same as the real deal, if the artist wants to put his best work forward to maximize chances of winning that proposal.

I agree with Byron, these days an artist's portfolio on the web should be able to represent his skills and styles well enough for a owner to decide on. If their portfolio can't represent themselves, well that's their problem. If I really need a sketch or art sample though, I will tell them and compensate costs upfront.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joe Mucchiello
United States
Edison
New Jersey
flag msg tools
designer
Jeff, the portfolio system works. I did RPG PDF publishing back in the d20 boom. So I've been where you are with no one to illustrate my book. I can tell the system works because most great artists are booked months even years into the future. And most good artists are also booked months into the future.

The thing you are missing is that most publisher have a stable of "goto" artists that they call to see if they can fit in projects. If Artist A can't do it in the time frame I need, I go to Artist B. The other benefit of this is as your professional relationship with the artists grow you learn not only what they can do but what they can't do. Maybe you know Artist C is always ahead of deadlines, except in March. So you don't give him work around March.

Your problem is you have no stable. So you have to look through portfolios to find artists with styles compatible with what you want your game to be. It sucks. But once you get a few projects under your belt, you will build up a stable. (Admittedly, with RPG publishing, you don't need a single artist for each "project" so it is much easier to try out (and pay) multiple artists. For non CCG/LCG games, you probably want a single artist doing the work. And that means it takes longer to build up a group of artists you are comfortable with.)
____

I fear your real problem though is what you need is not only an artist but a graphic designer. If you have "no artistic competence" does that also mean you aren't good with design? If so you have an additional problem. The guy who makes the pretty pictures is not always the guy who combines pictures and text into eye-pleasing layout. Combining them into one person saves money. But it is more money going to that other guy and less money staying in your (unpaid) pocket.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
WAN CHIU
United States
Arcadia
California
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmb
From an artist's perspective...

8 
 Thumb up
0.04
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Xander Fulton
United States
Astoria
Oregon
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jwarrend wrote:
Most industries work this way, including the one I'm in (scientific research), and sure, it's discouraging when a proposal doesn't get funded, but I don't think the bids and proposals process in and of itself drives anyone out of business (presumably, failing to land any proposals will, of course!). Actually, in a way, I find the act of proposal-writing to be enjoyable and stimulating -- you're trying to put together a creative solution to a challenging problem, and it's neat to come up with something that you think has a good chance of working and of being funded. Obviously it's a let down when a proposal doesn't get funded, but it's a great feeling when it does. I don't think the art industry would collapse if it worked this way.


Depends.

Thing is - your industry is scientific research. It's science. It doesn't change if you are feeling happy or sad or motivated or not. You can still plug through another proposal after hundreds have been turned down, using the right words in presentations (since the correct buzzwords are all defined), identifying the right document templates, etc. The vast majority of professional work (a few decades of experience talking) is wrote busy-work, even at the millions-of-dollars level, and can progress regardless of the previous success or failures of the worker.

Art doesn't work that way. Even very "technical" art, if it's going to have any impact at all, needs to have some buy-in from the artist's soul. And that means constantly chasing after potential contracts by doing demo work that is never accepted is a rather bad idea, as it wears down the artist and can really damage his/her ability to be inspired to do interesting and clever things.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.