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GDC: How Do You Outsource Successfully As A Developer?

Carey Chico, Pandemic’s executive art director, shared some of the studio’s hard-won experience at integrating outsourcing providers into its development process at the GDC 2009 Outsourcing Summit.
Pandemic has been working with outsourcing providers for seven years. The studio first got its feet wet during the production of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and has been working to integrate outsourcers into its development process in the years since. Carey Chico, Pandemic’s executive art director, shared some of the studio’s hard-won experience on how to build a successful relationship with outsourcing providers at the GDC Outsourcing Summit. He began by describing the ways that the process can go wrong, leading to increased costs, time, and aggravation. The failure to provide a complete list of assets required and slow concept art production can hobble a project at the outset. Once the process gets rolling, being slow to respond to the outsourcer’s revision requests increases the outsourcer’s costs. Outsourcing extremely complicated, buggy assets also drives up the costs and lowers the outsourcer’s morale. “And of course, crappy art. But you work through it,” Chico reassured. To make the experience smoother, it is important to work up a detailed and precise content and creation guide that both sides can refer to. Studios also need to be extremely clear in the technical details of how they expect finished assets to be delivered. Asset creation begins when the development studio provides concept art and this is often the point at which things can go wrong. Accuracy should be the primary focus. Good concept art has dimension, scale, and a minimum number of reference photos. Handing off a wide range of reference photos can result in the outsourcer basing their work on a specific image from the set that was meant only as a general suggestion. “Maybe you want to give the outsourcer creative freedom but you need to be as simple and as clear as possible. You want their art to reflect your art,” Chico said. Once the assets come back, the revision process should be equally clear. “As a studio, you don’t want to hand something back to an outsourcer and hope that they fix it,” Chico warned. Have a revision process already in place in which assets are reviewed by the art lead or a prioritized system in which the art lead takes the top five assets and leaves the rest to the art team. Aim for a one-day turnaround and assume a single revision before calling an asset done. “Revision shouldn’t be an iterative process.” Animation is the exception, generally requiring two revisions. “Don’t expect it to work after one review,” Chico said. Outsourcers local to your time zone are preferred for animation jobs. While not as cheap, their shortened delivery cycle makes iteration less painful. Chico also emphasized the importance of building a relationship with your outsourcing provider. “Beer is important.” Your production team should take a trip to the outsourcer’s studio and spend time training them to match your level of quality. Building a personal relationship with the outsourcers at the start of a project can ease communication problems further down the road. “It’s about vested interests,” Chico said. When giving feedback a studio should be clear and consistent. All revision requests should sound like they come from the same person. The language should be simple and precise as well as use consistent subject definitions. Outsourcing is a fact of life for game developers and making the process work is crucial for success of studios on both sides of the equation. “They’re not really an outsourcing provider, they’re a part of your team,” Chico said.

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