Outsourcing has become a common solution for the gaming industry. Finding external studios to help you with any aspect or even full-cycle game development won’t be a problem these days. But before you make your final decision, you should know more details about game development outsourcing.
WHAT ARE GAME DEVELOPMENT OUTSOURCING STUDIOS ALL ABOUT?
After beating Super Mario 64 (1996), players got to see end credits that lasted about 3 minutes, presenting the team of thirty-two developers. To endure through the end credits of Grand Theft Auto V (2013), you have to sit still for 53 (!) minutes. How do you think all those names really work in Rockstar studios and its departments? Of course, not. The majority of the developers credited for GTA V, as well as other major AAA games, usually work in game development outsourcing studios that support the core developers. Why outsourcing has become so popular in professional gamedev, what problems it solves, and how to tackle this beast – read in today’s blog entry.
WHAT IS GAME OUTSOURCING EXACTLY?
Prominent analysts published a report for the 2020 External Development Summit that mainly focused on researching how game producers cooperate with game development outsourcing studios. The statistics for the piece were gathered from more than 200 articles and publications provided by leading gamedev studios and publishers from all over the world. 90% of developers admitted that they use outsourcing services to some extent.
For most of them, however, it is not a necessity but a convenience question.
Sometimes game companies need to scale up human resources for a project to get something done ASAP. You cannot just take an extra team of seasoned artists and 3D animators out of thin air, but you cannot let middle and junior specialists do the job either. In such a troublesome scenario, instead of searching and testing new candidates in a mad rush (keeping in mind all those paperwork and other arrengements), you just go to a game outsourcing studio. They will provide you with anything you might need.
Almost all renowned studios that make AAA games are not afraid to work with third-party companies. Some of them are hiding such facts and some talk about outsourcing openly. In most cases, it is practically impossible to deduce who made what in the final build. Especially if we are talking about something big like zones in an open world.
People that work in outsourcing companies are rarely credited for their contribution (as co-creators) but the impact they make cannot be underestimated. Many well-known GaaS (game-as-a-service) projects rely on third-party developers to produce content for regular patches and updates.
At the end of the day, it does not matter how game developers perceive outsourcers because their services will remain in high demand as the complexity of development grows. The majority of modern titles are graphics-heavy, incredibly detailed, and packed with sophisticated game mechanics. So a helping hand in the form of outsourcing studios will always be needed. We believe this niche will be expanding massively in the next few years. After all, it is also a clever way to shave off some project costs.
MAIN BENEFITS OF OUTSOURCING
If you take a closer look at outsourcing activities and routines, you will find a bunch of logical reasons to go for it, even if you are the best game developer company in the universe. Even if it is not the case for your studio, here is what you need to consider when building a game project and thinking about outsourcing.
# 1: Everything under control
After delegating your entire project or its fragments to partners, you can be sure that the development process will go as scheduled. Given, that you are working with a reliable game outsourcing studio that will inform you about every minor detail, success, and failure. From the moment the contract is signed, this third-party organization takes care of everything from setting deadlines to assigning tasks to departments and individual creators. Most studios provide regular development reports to keep employers updated.
#2: Organized team
Every outsourcing company knows the strengths and weaknesses of its employees. It gives them an edge when it comes to sorting out and assigning tasks to achieve maximum efficiency. Therefore, you are dealing with a bonded team of programmers, designers, artists, QA engineers, and other specialists with particular skills and knowledge to do any job. Besides, game companies that have worked in the industry for years have established communication and streamlined processes, thus making development less troublesome. Sure, you can always form your own in-house team of testers or concept artists but don’t forget to factor in the time needed for them to unite and know each other. On top of that, you will have to evaluate specialists individually and learn their traits.
#3: Scalability without limits
When time is of the essence, outsourcing at least some parts of the semi-finished project can make a huge difference and let you complete it before the deadline hits. Outsourcing companies have a knack for planning and desire to satisfy the employer in every way imaginable. For example, if during the coding phase it becomes clear that more programmers are needed, an outsourcing studio will solve the issue much faster. Such organizations always have a dedicated HR/HH department that makes personnel hunting a breeze. In most cases, they can pull an extra workforce out of the hat like a magician in that famous rabbit trick. There is no magic here, only clever management of internal resources.
When hiring individual engineers and programmers for your team, it gets more complicated to find flexible experts. Some may be proficient with Java, others with Python or Ruby, but have about zero experience with other programming languages. Limiting yourself to a number of specific technologies is never a good idea.
#4: High-level expertise only
Outsource game development companies are filled to the brim with all kinds of hardware and software that can be used for game development (mobile, console, desktop, VR, etc.). Your studio may lack some of those or just find it unnecessary to buy at the current stage. Hiring an experienced studio gets you unlimited technical and human resources. Skilled game designers and managers that have been through dozens of projects have perfect understanding of the most common development strategies and issues that usually occur. They will help avoid most mistakes and suggest tested, effective solutions. This might save you time during the testing-and-fixing stage.
#5: Save big
At first, hiring a dedicated third party to work on your project might seem too expensive. However, if you take into account all primary, secondary, and operational costs, it turns out your initial assumption was actually wrong. First and foremost, you will stop spending funds on hiring and training new staff and renting bigger offices for them. You also reduce the costs associated with paying legal fees and taxes. And don’t forget about saving on:
• Software licenses;
• Hardware (laptops, desktops, and consoles);
• Equipment (monitors, desks, chairs, etc.);
• Social packages;
• Food, water, and other everyday consumables for the office.
HOW TO WORK WITH A GAME OUTSOURCING STUDIO EFFICIENTLY
As a project owner, you can outsource any part of your work to a third party. The best part of doing it today is that you can do all of that without even meeting in person. Remote work in IT, game development, and many other spheres have become common these days, so you don’t have to worry about delegating tasks to specialists that are located half a world away. Just remember to consult with your potential partners and check out their portfolios. Decent game development companies will advise you whether you really need a massive outsourcing unit or the tasks at hand can be done with a few selected professionals.
Mind studio specialization
After checking the portfolio of your outsourcing partners, it should become clear whether they are the right choice for the job. So if you are doing a simple project in the three-in-a-row format, then it would be logical to seek a studio that specializes in casual games. Likewise, don’t go to casual game makers with a plan to make a realistic shooter like Tom Clancey’s Rainbow Six Siege.
Arrange quick tryouts
It is normal for companies to give small test tasks to candidates that would like to join their ranks. If you are not sure about an outsourcing studio’s expertise, ask for a quick personal demonstration of the core skills. For example, a few concept arts or simple animation for a character based solely on your description. This way, you will understand how creators “feel” the job and what standards they have.
Be mindful with full-stack development
Development of the entire project by the third-party hands is not something unusual. However, it requires specific preparations. We recommend you divide the project into several key components and present them to the implementors. When you have a clear understanding of the individual tasks, you can plan ahead accordingly and set up more accurate development estimates. Keep in mind that some game studios may lack expertise in certain areas, so clarify such aspects before signing a contract.
This aspect is often overlooked, but it can reveal enough information about your potential partners before you even get to know them. Most likely, your inquiry will end up in the manager’s mailbox, and you should keep track of response time. If you don’t get an answer in 24h or receive an automatic general response without specific you have been asking about, then consider it a red flag. It is highly likely that this type of attitude will be preserved throughout the project. It is better to abstain from rush decisions and not pick the first studio that gets in touch. Take your time, chat with the business representatives, browse portfolio, and ask questions!
Inform your team
If you have an in-house team working on the project, let them know that some parts of the project will be outsourced to a third party. Make sure that team leaders and managers have the means to contact the outsourcing studio and stay on the same page throughout the development. Outsourcers will need a lot of specific information to do their part, so managers must be able to provide it within a reasonable period.
Formalize approval process
Make sure to inform your outsourcing partners about the rules regarding approval processes on the project, especially those that take a lot of time. Such information is crucial for planning and setting achievable deadlines. During the first weeks of any new project, outsourcers will require tons of materials from your team. It is normal. Once all processes have been formalized, the development process will pick up speed like a rolling stone. Be patient but don’t tolerate any signs of slack.
TYPES OF OUTSOURCING MODELS
Each outsourcing case is different. You must consider a multitude of factors such as current development stage, type/amount of work to be done, needs of your team, etc. Game development outsourcing studios can join at any time when you need them – even in the concept phase, or hop on the back of your internal teams to get into the code details, assets design, QA flow, or anything else. You have a variety of cooperation models to choose from.
One of the most popular outsourcing scenarios. Your team presents a concept, provides storyboard drafts, and shares pre-production elements with the hired team. External specialists will take care of coding, art, sound design, polishing, and testing. Furthermore, when the game is released, they may continue working on it if you need them to (patches, content updates, etc.). This is the most expensive (but hustle-free) way to make a video game, so if you have enough funds to cover the full development cycle, go for it.
When you want to have strict control over every detail, then collaboration in this format is the best way to go. Both your internal and external teams will follow the same workflow plan and won’t waste a minute on approving things. Co-development is for companies that have solid but limited technical expertise, so they would hire more employees to assist the core project team(s).
Let’s imagine you have an awesome team of top-class programmers working in your company. Their time costs A LOT. But some tasks for the new gaming project are way below their expertise and can be done by junior coders. So why not outsource some primitive tasks that are not tied to the game’s core mechanics directly? Beginner programmers will gladly take on such tasks, and you will save a hefty sum. Besides saving money, it is a very logical move that will allow you to redirect senior developers on really challenging tasks. Code outsourcing is usually limited to writing game components according to the set specifications.
Apart from code, games also need art, tons of art. Any game world contains thousands of different elements – weapons, vehicles, props, characters, equipment, and many other things. Some companies just don’t have enough designers and concept artists to cover the need for art on big projects. Then again, outsourcing comes to the rescue. Just write a list with assets you would like to have, specify the art style, give your partners general guidelines, and wait. Be sure to check that this external company specializes in digital art creation or there might be some unpleasant surprises along the way.
The VR niche is peculiar, and we can even say underrepresented in the gaming industry despite trying to make its way to the mainstream. VR games require unique graphic assets in rather extensive amounts. In addition, not all developers and designers are familiar with the peculiarities of VR. Going to a studio that has a bunch of released VR projects for consultation or outsourcing would be a good idea.
Even before your project is done, you need to test its components individually first, then in the complex. Not once, not twice, not even thrice. When the game is ready (or so it seems), it still requires thorough testing because a bug-ridden product will destroy your reputation. Small game studios usually have a few QA engineers, which is not enough to cover at least one version of the game. If there are multiple versions for different devices, then you definitely need to outsource testing duties to a company specializing in these processes.
GENERAL OUTSOURCING RECOMMENDATIONS
There are always a lot of tiny details so easy to miss during contract discussion. Some of them are annoying but harmless, while others may cause significant damage in the long run. For example, never neglect the NDA and never disclose any project details before the agreement is signed by both parties. Otherwise, your original ideas might get stolen.
Security and built-in protection are also the crucial ingredients for a successful game, especially if it is done entirely by outsourcers. Before approving the final version, make sure to test the presented build for compatibility issues and major bugs. Also, get your list of creative ideas and check how all of them were implemented. If developers failed to shape them to your liking, ask for revision. Ideally, such issues should not arise with reliable outsourcing companies.
If you are unsure which game development company to pick, do your research and compare customer feedback, watch or play a bit in their titles. Don’t hesitate to break the contract when an external company does not live up to your expectations or fails to meet deadlines and keep up with standards.
HOW TO FIND YOUR PERFECT GAME OUTSOURCING STUDIO?
There is no shortage of agencies and companies to satisfy all your game development needs. Judging by their previous works and communication, you can already know what to expect to some extent. But here are a few additional questions you should ask your potential partners after digging through their portfolios:
- What roles can they fill in your project? Or do they have enough resources to cover it entirely?
- What was their last project like (approximate budget, time to complete, their involvement in the process, etc.)? Did they manage to finish it on time within the expected time frame?
- Were there any unexpected issues? How did they resolve them?
With Argentics, you get honest answers and testimonials regarding any project. We always provide our clients with relevant information, regular transparent updates during development, and show what has been done at various stages. We love communicating with our partners and ensuring this process is both pleasant and informative.
Whether you are the best game developer company in a certain niche or a humble independent developer, the doors of our agency are always open for you. Partnering with us will help you get what you need to complete your game in time, no matter how complex it might be. Reach out for consultation, and let’s discover how we can be of service to you!