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19 Sep 2013

Outsourcing the Game Development Process

When it comes to developing your game, you can’t do everything. Sure, you may have an in-house team that can seemingly develop everything, but even then you are going to run into challenges that have every member of your team scratching their heads and murmuring to themselves, “…ummm…what?” In addition, if you’re a one-man developer that is trying to get your game off the ground? Forget about it: you will (probably) be unable to develop every single aspect of your game. And even if you can? How long is it going to take you to develop your game, and how great is it going to be if you are attempting to juggle a million different facets of your game simultaneously?

Something has to give, and there comes a point in which you need external help. There is nothing wrong with this: in fact, outsourcing parts of your game is one of the smartest decisions you can make during development. Yet, while it is a smart move on your part, you may pay for it later if you do not hire the right individual from the get-go. Keep a few of the following tips in mind when outsourcing your work to someone, and save a ton of grief (and money) later.

 

Briefly: Where to Find Candidates

Currently, the most popular platform is Elance, with sites such as oDesk and Freelancer.com being popular as well. You can post an ad to these places, yet when you are writing your ad, ensure you are clear about what you want from the candidates. Be straightforward about the project, and you will attract candidates that are serious about working for you.

Quick note: Ignore generic proposals. For example, when I need to outsource some work to a writer, I post an ad and always instruct the candidates to begin their proposal with a phrase, such as ‘Super Mario’ or ‘I’m ready to work.’ These instructions are placed at the very end of the ad, so I can tell if someone read the proposal or if someone is applying to a ton of different projects, pasting generic proposals, and failing to read the entire project. When I see these proposals, I deny them immediately because honestly, they only want a paycheck and could care less about the details of your project.

 

Communication is Key

There is a reason why many refuse to outsource work to people that do not natively speak their language. Sure, someone overseas may have the skills that you are looking for at a fraction of the cost of someone from the United States, United Kingdom, etc., but if the two of you are unable to communicate properly? You might as well be throwing that money away. Communication is vital – in fact, it is the most important part to successfully outsourcing your work. Michelangelo may have been the greatest living artist when he painted the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, but if he had been unable to communicate properly with the curator of the project and thought he was supposed to paint images of livestock instead of Biblical figures, the project would have been a mess. Again, communication is key, and without it, the most talented individual alive will not be able to provide you with the results you are looking for.

How do you know if the two of you will communicate well? Speak with them on Skype, or you know, the old-fashioned telephone. You do not have to talk about anything in particular either; just shoot the breeze, ask them about their day, discuss the project if you want, but above all, ensure that the person you are interesting in hiring can communicate properly. It really is that easy.

 

Ask For Samples of Work

This is a no-brainer: always ensure the potential candidate has samples of work at their disposal, and also has proof the samples belong to them. If someone tells you they helped to animate an Angry Birds game, don’t take their word for it. Instead, ensure they provide you with proof.

 

Provide Them With an Incentive

The worker you hire is initially going to see your project as ‘just another project.’ The chances are pretty fair that they have other projects they are focusing on as well. While this means they must be doing something right because they are getting regular work, it also means the focus of your project is shared with the individual’s other projects as well. Always assume the individual hired is not only working for you (hint: 99 out of 100 percent of the time, they are not), so what can you do to ensure they treat your project with the importance you require?

Give them an incentive to go beyond your expectations. Not every project deserves an incentive, and of course, every project needs to be accomplished to your specifications, but if you know your project is going to be a bit intensive and may take up a great deal of someone’s time? Provide them with an incentive to ‘motivate’ them a little further. I’ll give you an example:

I once worked as a ghostwriter for an author who wanted a book written that featured a few hundred business tips. He told me exactly what he wanted per page (again, communication is key), yet he told me if the book was picked up by a publisher, he would give me a small percentage of each sale after the project had ended. So not only was I getting paid a fair rate per word, but if it was picked up by a publisher, I would have an extra avenue of income for a time after the project had ended.

Unfortunately, the book failed to find a publisher (last I heard he was thinking about self-publishing), but my point is this: I worked after-hours for this guy due to this incentive, almost nightly. My free time is valuable to me, too. There comes a point every evening where I have to get up, shut my office door, walk into my living room, and let my mind unwind. Yet I burnt the midnight oil for this client for a few weeks, trying to get it ready for him to pitch, and it’s all because he gave me a reason to go well beyond the call of duty.

Yes, the individual you hire should always meet your expectations, but never expect them to give 150% just because you want them to do so; instead, give them a reason to go the extra 10 miles.

Milestones

If you have a large project, it can seem intimidating to anyone. Instead of telling your hire that you need a project completed in a month, split the project into small milestones. For instance, if you hire an artist to draw certain three-dimensional objects for your game, create weekly milestones that instruct them to send a certain amount of objects to you weekly, bi-weekly, whatever is suitable for your project. It will put them on a proper path to completing your project in time; plus, it’s always easier to focus and complete smaller goals than one, humongous goal.

 

Treat Your Workers Like People

As a writer, I am always receiving new work from the various clients that I have. They are outsourcing this work to me, whether because they do not have the time to write the content themselves or they lack the skills to do so. Whatever the case may be, there have been a few of them that treat me solely like a cog in their business, which is perfectly fine – after all, I am just another professional that aims to deliver them with quality work at a price that is reasonable to them.

Yet, the point where the relationship starts to go sour is when they begin thinking of me as a literal cog instead of a human being. One such example is from a few years ago, in which a client literally demanded that I work for him on Thanksgiving, fully knowing I was at my in-laws’ home to celebrate the holiday. The project wasn’t anything time-critical mind you – it was work that could be completed to perfection and sent to the client a day before deadline. The client didn’t care: I needed to work on Thanksgiving for whatever reason. Of course, I didn’t, I finished the project before the deadline, and told him to find somebody else.

The moral of this story is when you hire somebody, you need to treat them like a person. It can be extremely easy to think of the person as solely an email address, as a PayPal account, as an entity that sends you lines of text in Skype. There is a real person on the other end that is (hopefully) aiming to provide you with the best work they can, and believe me, they want a quality working relationship with you just as much as you want your game to be amazing.

Talk to them, ask them about their day, and assure them that if there is anything you can do to help them out, to come to you. Whenever I outsource work, I always assure my writers if an emergency comes up or they need to take a day off, to let me know and we will try to work around it. I also let them know I am interested in their day or what is going on in their life. In short, be pleasant to them, and you will be amazed as to how much this raises their morale. They will bend over backwards even further to deliver the results for your game that you need because, in the world of freelancing and working for yourself, having a client that is respectful and treats you right is a rarity. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

 

We live in an incredible time in which we can outsource almost any facet of the game development process and have it completed, sent back to us, and ready to be implemented in the game. Take advantage of the ability to outsource, as it will save you headache, time, money, and so much more. Choose your outsourced workers wisely with the tips above, and you will be on your way to completing your game sooner rather than later.

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