Outsourcing Game Development

Outsourcing Game Development

November 28, 2023
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Making video games takes a lot of time and hard work. Outsourcing is a great way for game studios of all sizes to get help when they need it. Big studios may have enough money to hire the people they need to make multiple games every year, but they may still need extra help during crunch time or if they only need a particular skill set for a short period. Small studios, especially new ones, may need help making and launching even just one game within a certain timeframe.

Bringing in outside experts gets you the help you need and gives you a fresh perspective. It can also help the team feel energized and motivated during long projects. Hiring a third-party company or individual can also give studios access to specialized skills, such as porting games to multiple platforms or implementing complex features.

Working with freelancers or contractors can help improve your game, lower costs, and speed up your time to market, but the process involves more than just hiring someone, anyone. This article will give you a quick overview of game development outsourcing so you can decide if it's right for you and your team.

The Game Development Process

Whether you're a AAA studio or an indie studio, game development will always have three major phases: planning, production, and post-production. Each phase needs specialized roles and could use outsourced individuals to fill them.

Planning

Planning or pre-production is phase one for every game company. It’s where an idea is born and takes shape. At this point, your team is pretty lean. Your main goal is outlining what type of game you’re producing and creating a proof of concept for how you hope to make this dream a reality.

If you are a large studio, you most likely already have a team of artists, designers, developers, engineers, writers, and project leads to help with pre-production. If you are an indie studio, you will more than likely have individuals owning multiple roles. In both cases, planning can take up to a year and will involve storyboarding, prototyping, and budgeting to decide what specifics will move on to the next phase. 

Production

If planning is the most important for establishing a viable proof of concept, then production is the most labor-intensive phase. Creating a game takes the same individuals from the planning phase and adds sound designers, voice actors, game testers, level designers, and modelers, to name a few. This phase contains several stages your game will go through until it's ready to launch.  It's worth noting that you will spend most of your funds in this phase, with production time ranging from one to four years

Post-Production

You've made it. You have a game you've taken from idea to reality, and now it's time to distribute and market it to the masses. You'll also need to keep your game fresh, perform maintenance, monitor bugs, make updates, and perhaps provide new or free content to your players. 

What Can You Outsource?

Historically, art or minor programming were the most common outsourced needs. Now, you can outsource almost all aspects of game development.

In the early 2000s, the cost of creating games started to increase. A lot of studios began looking for cheaper ways to continue making high-quality games. In 2006, a report by screendigest found that outsourcing for artwork had grown by 40%. Studios outsourced work for various reasons, including overflow, specialization, and volume. As the game industry grew, so did the number of service providers that offered talent to studios. These service providers helped studios fill job openings and find people with the needed skills. A recent study from the External Development Summit shows that in 2023, both spending on outsourcing and the variety of outsourced tasks increased.

Outsourced game development services currently include, but are not limited to:

  • art
  • animation
  • cinematics
  • game development for PC, web, mobile, and console
  • engineering
  • UI/UX
  • QA
  • motion capture
  • audio
  • engineering for cloud-based game development
  • localization needs
source: Reddit

Finding talented contractors is also easier than ever before. There are many online platforms, like Upwork, Facebook, Reddit, ArtStation, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram, where contractors can showcase their skills. Attending industry events and networking with peers are also great ways to connect with potential outsourcing firms or individuals.

Four Things to Consider When You Outsource

If you've determined that outsourcing is right for your studio, there are a few things that you need to consider before beginning a new relationship with an external provider or in-house contractor. 

Find the right person or agency

Take the time to get to know a contractor or freelancer before you hire them. Assess their communication skills, ability, attitude, and flexibility. Ask their past clients about their experience working with the person or company. If responsiveness or commitment is lacking, it may mean they're not a good fit. Remember that they may have other jobs, so hiring them may not work if you need something done quickly. This may seem like a lot of upfront work, but it will help you find the right person for the job and avoid problems later.

Set expectations and communicate

View outsourced developers as integral team members when you begin a new collaboration. Work together and try to understand each other. Be open about what you need and communicate promptly. Make sure all team members know who to talk to, how to reach them, and when to ask questions. This proactive approach will minimize problems and frustration and set a strong foundation for your project's success.

Be mindful of the law 

There are several legal factors to consider when working with an in-house contractor or an entirely external provider. One of the most important things you'll need is a solid legal agreement in place. You can find templates online, but it's best to talk to a lawyer specializing in tech, entertainment, and video game law. 

The contract should clearly outline what you expect to receive and when, and it should also include a service-level agreement.  Make sure to clarify ownership rights in the development process, especially if your freelancers use proprietary tools. You should also have a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to protect your confidential information and marketing plans.

If you're concerned about financial losses from leaks, get indemnity insurance. It's also vital to have cybersecurity safeguards, such as encryption and two-factor authentication. 

Stay within your budget

There are different ways to manage budgets when outsourcing. Smaller service providers may charge a monthly fee, possibly adding a 10% management fee. Freelancers typically charge by the day, which can provide financial flexibility if the project takes a long time. Larger service providers may have a price list with estimated costs.

Negotiating fees is common, so be prepared to discuss your budget and expectations. You can choose between project-based compensation for fixed-rate work or time and materials for more flexible, collaborative contracts.

Funding for Game Development Outsourcing

With a long history of helping developers take their games to the next level, Xsolla knows how valuable external help can be when developing a game. If you're seeking funding to help with outsourcing, Xsolla Funding Club (XFC) can provide financial support and networking opportunities to set up and grow your businesses. XFC is an exclusive matchmaking platform and helps game developers, investors, and publishers take advantage of benefits like:

  • Games industry conferences, pitch events, and demo days
  • Educational materials like webinars and articles
  • Exclusive pricing from co-development and outsourced studios
  • Opportunities to work with 180 active investors and publishers
  • Game funding that's 20 times higher than the industry average

Developers can also apply for the Trailer Investment Program (TIP), an additional resource within XFC for creating video game trailers. Trailers can be expensive to make but are often critical to the success of your game. With TIP, you could secure up to $250,000 in funding support and work with some of the top companies to showcase your game in its best light. 

Producing a game can be expensive and complicated, but partnering with agencies or freelancers makes it easier than ever to take games from planning through post-production. From art to engineering, outsourcing is often more cost-effective for studios to bring new games to market. Xsolla can be your next trusted partner, ready to support you with our wide array of tools and services - like Xsolla Funding Club. If your studio is ready for a helping hand, contact Xsolla's team of experts and book a meeting today. 

Making video games takes a lot of time and hard work. Outsourcing is a great way for game studios of all sizes to get help when they need it. Big studios may have enough money to hire the people they need to make multiple games every year, but they may still need extra help during crunch time or if they only need a particular skill set for a short period. Small studios, especially new ones, may need help making and launching even just one game within a certain timeframe.

Bringing in outside experts gets you the help you need and gives you a fresh perspective. It can also help the team feel energized and motivated during long projects. Hiring a third-party company or individual can also give studios access to specialized skills, such as porting games to multiple platforms or implementing complex features.

Working with freelancers or contractors can help improve your game, lower costs, and speed up your time to market, but the process involves more than just hiring someone, anyone. This article will give you a quick overview of game development outsourcing so you can decide if it's right for you and your team.

The Game Development Process

Whether you're a AAA studio or an indie studio, game development will always have three major phases: planning, production, and post-production. Each phase needs specialized roles and could use outsourced individuals to fill them.

Planning

Planning or pre-production is phase one for every game company. It’s where an idea is born and takes shape. At this point, your team is pretty lean. Your main goal is outlining what type of game you’re producing and creating a proof of concept for how you hope to make this dream a reality.

If you are a large studio, you most likely already have a team of artists, designers, developers, engineers, writers, and project leads to help with pre-production. If you are an indie studio, you will more than likely have individuals owning multiple roles. In both cases, planning can take up to a year and will involve storyboarding, prototyping, and budgeting to decide what specifics will move on to the next phase. 

Production

If planning is the most important for establishing a viable proof of concept, then production is the most labor-intensive phase. Creating a game takes the same individuals from the planning phase and adds sound designers, voice actors, game testers, level designers, and modelers, to name a few. This phase contains several stages your game will go through until it's ready to launch.  It's worth noting that you will spend most of your funds in this phase, with production time ranging from one to four years

Post-Production

You've made it. You have a game you've taken from idea to reality, and now it's time to distribute and market it to the masses. You'll also need to keep your game fresh, perform maintenance, monitor bugs, make updates, and perhaps provide new or free content to your players. 

What Can You Outsource?

Historically, art or minor programming were the most common outsourced needs. Now, you can outsource almost all aspects of game development.

In the early 2000s, the cost of creating games started to increase. A lot of studios began looking for cheaper ways to continue making high-quality games. In 2006, a report by screendigest found that outsourcing for artwork had grown by 40%. Studios outsourced work for various reasons, including overflow, specialization, and volume. As the game industry grew, so did the number of service providers that offered talent to studios. These service providers helped studios fill job openings and find people with the needed skills. A recent study from the External Development Summit shows that in 2023, both spending on outsourcing and the variety of outsourced tasks increased.

Outsourced game development services currently include, but are not limited to:

  • art
  • animation
  • cinematics
  • game development for PC, web, mobile, and console
  • engineering
  • UI/UX
  • QA
  • motion capture
  • audio
  • engineering for cloud-based game development
  • localization needs
source: Reddit

Finding talented contractors is also easier than ever before. There are many online platforms, like Upwork, Facebook, Reddit, ArtStation, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram, where contractors can showcase their skills. Attending industry events and networking with peers are also great ways to connect with potential outsourcing firms or individuals.

Four Things to Consider When You Outsource

If you've determined that outsourcing is right for your studio, there are a few things that you need to consider before beginning a new relationship with an external provider or in-house contractor. 

Find the right person or agency

Take the time to get to know a contractor or freelancer before you hire them. Assess their communication skills, ability, attitude, and flexibility. Ask their past clients about their experience working with the person or company. If responsiveness or commitment is lacking, it may mean they're not a good fit. Remember that they may have other jobs, so hiring them may not work if you need something done quickly. This may seem like a lot of upfront work, but it will help you find the right person for the job and avoid problems later.

Set expectations and communicate

View outsourced developers as integral team members when you begin a new collaboration. Work together and try to understand each other. Be open about what you need and communicate promptly. Make sure all team members know who to talk to, how to reach them, and when to ask questions. This proactive approach will minimize problems and frustration and set a strong foundation for your project's success.

Be mindful of the law 

There are several legal factors to consider when working with an in-house contractor or an entirely external provider. One of the most important things you'll need is a solid legal agreement in place. You can find templates online, but it's best to talk to a lawyer specializing in tech, entertainment, and video game law. 

The contract should clearly outline what you expect to receive and when, and it should also include a service-level agreement.  Make sure to clarify ownership rights in the development process, especially if your freelancers use proprietary tools. You should also have a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to protect your confidential information and marketing plans.

If you're concerned about financial losses from leaks, get indemnity insurance. It's also vital to have cybersecurity safeguards, such as encryption and two-factor authentication. 

Stay within your budget

There are different ways to manage budgets when outsourcing. Smaller service providers may charge a monthly fee, possibly adding a 10% management fee. Freelancers typically charge by the day, which can provide financial flexibility if the project takes a long time. Larger service providers may have a price list with estimated costs.

Negotiating fees is common, so be prepared to discuss your budget and expectations. You can choose between project-based compensation for fixed-rate work or time and materials for more flexible, collaborative contracts.

Funding for Game Development Outsourcing

With a long history of helping developers take their games to the next level, Xsolla knows how valuable external help can be when developing a game. If you're seeking funding to help with outsourcing, Xsolla Funding Club (XFC) can provide financial support and networking opportunities to set up and grow your businesses. XFC is an exclusive matchmaking platform and helps game developers, investors, and publishers take advantage of benefits like:

  • Games industry conferences, pitch events, and demo days
  • Educational materials like webinars and articles
  • Exclusive pricing from co-development and outsourced studios
  • Opportunities to work with 180 active investors and publishers
  • Game funding that's 20 times higher than the industry average

Developers can also apply for the Trailer Investment Program (TIP), an additional resource within XFC for creating video game trailers. Trailers can be expensive to make but are often critical to the success of your game. With TIP, you could secure up to $250,000 in funding support and work with some of the top companies to showcase your game in its best light. 

Producing a game can be expensive and complicated, but partnering with agencies or freelancers makes it easier than ever to take games from planning through post-production. From art to engineering, outsourcing is often more cost-effective for studios to bring new games to market. Xsolla can be your next trusted partner, ready to support you with our wide array of tools and services - like Xsolla Funding Club. If your studio is ready for a helping hand, contact Xsolla's team of experts and book a meeting today. 

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