Game Industry Outsourcing

During a recent project, one person I interviewed told me about how big outsourcing is becoming in the video game industry. Apparently entire divisions are located in Poland, China, and Latin-America. Obviously this is no different than what goes on in the movie industry, where holding a financial ruler to every project and making a studio increasingly time efficient led to a distributed – rather than centralized – production process.

What struck me was how art studios compete: it’s all about cramming as much spectacle into a box as possible. Says the president of Shadows in Darkness:

“What we do is make something that looks like it’s five million polygons but we do it in five thousand. You see, when you’re making an animated film, there are no limitations because the film doesn’t have to run on a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 which have very real limits to their memory and graphics. What makes game artists so special is that we can take the same quality art and scale it down — using a process called ‘normal mapping’ — to fit within the constraints of a console.” (source)

Interestingly, the money-making does not happen by getting expensive art work for a low price: “you usually get what you pay for.” Instead, “the real savings is in between projects. [...] Why would you want to keep us on your payroll if the work is done?”

This opens up a whole bunch of ideas on post-industrial production processes. And, relatedly, could have some interesting implications on fan-made mods. I’m just guessing here, but if it’s true that outsourcing will double from the $1.1b it is now to $2.5b in 2010, there is some real money to be made by game companies through employing their number one fans. On the wings of the “user-generated content” frenzy, it would seem that outsourcing and fan-art make great additions.

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