Near the beginning of each year, as an "External Game Development Director", I expect to get an onslaught of request from external vendors to meet or discuss prospective working relationships. There are many talented companies out there that offer outsourcing services, or have made it their core business to specialize in specific types of work that my team doesn't have the time to focus on. The thought of working with external "domain specialists" is an attractive idea considering the skill sets and experiences of these teams. However, with all this talent out there, how do you choose which external vendor to partner with?
Looking to make the choice:
I found myself in that very same predicament a few years earlier, after a long Christmas break and back in the office with four calls lined up in a single day to speak with prospective vendors specifically specializing in Animation, 2D, and 3D asset creation for PC and console games. I had pushed off speaking with them for a few months as my team had not clarified their requirements and it was difficult to gauge their needs at that time. But in the new year, we were closing in on our fiscal year-end, and there had been a lot of discussions about future budgeting, so I felt it was time to reach out and discuss some high level plans with a few vendors.
Having already gone through a high level check of each vendor's portfolio, I was confident that there was some good talent and infrastructure so it was worth an introductory call at the time.
One by one I went through each call going through the same evaluation criteria I went through with all vendors. At the end of the day I found myself exhausted and wondering, "Why was I continuing to spend time on business calls with new vendors when I already have an ongoing relationship with existing partners?".
It was true, I had spent several years working with a select group of vendors in the Shanghai, China area. Even so, I didn't want to discount any talented prospects outside the region. After all, I always went where the talent was, seeking out any potential that would help my company. My primary concern was ensuring we engaged with scalable, flexible, and talented resources while mitigating risk in the process.
Being able to manage risk for large scale external production was the reason for all my decision making.
So what made me feel safe working with vendors in the Shanghai, China region? My thoughts took me back to my first massage in China a few years back.
Bringing it into perspective:
In China, one distinct cultural difference is that they don't normally expect tips. I had learned this going out a few times in China at various restaurants and staying at a few hotels, however this changed when I went to my first massage session. My boss at the time had told me that I should expect to give a tip, contrary to his previous advice and I didn't understand why (Whether this is normal behaviour in China or not, I can’t confirm).
During the visit to the spa, it was explained to me that the sheer volume of massage sessions that a masseuse has to work on in a single day was substantially more than their counterparts in other parts of the world that I was familiar with such as Canada, or the U.S. and even though it's very difficult for them, they do their best to give the same effort every time regardless of volume.
This made sense to me, and I made it a habit to tip my masseuse after a massage. After that first session, I began to ask more questions about their workload, which eventually made my decision to work primarily with external game development partners in the Shanghai, China area. Sounds unusual I know, but here are a few things I found out.
The sheer volume of people getting massages could lead a masseuse to give up to 100 massages per week.
The repeated work helped to train a masseuse really quickly. Someone just starting out in the business could become an expert within a year.
The volume and repetition of work broadened a masseuses experience and understanding of their profession. (i.e. work across different body types and client situations such as pain, problem areas, etc.)
At a very young age, a masseuse with at least three years of experience was at an expert level and had a good chance to prepare for opening their own Massage Spa, increasing the number of Spa's in the city to meet demand and further maturing their industry.
Relating it back to our Industry:
I came to a realization that the above four insights can also be applied to game development in the region. The Industry in Shanghai has had similar circumstances that have resulted in;
- an abundant amount of talent.
- easily accessible resources and vendors in one geographical location. As a client, this is especially important when needing to work onsite with multiple external teams.
- further maturity of the industry helping to promote better Infrastructure support, consolidated knowledge and experience at the vendors.
Unknowingly, my decision was made then, and in retrospect the Game Industry in the Shanghai area continues to flourish. Similar trends (Game Industry and not Massage trends) are becoming visible in other regions like India, Europe, South America, and South-East Asia.
Whenever I evaluate criteria for working with an external partner, especially when dealing with large scale production, I now always refer back to that first massage in China and ensure that my evaluation not only considers the vendor, but also the dynamics of the region in which they're situated.