Photo by ~Oryctes~
Someone just emailed me and told me that they want to follow their dream and make an RPG game. They are competent at programming, very knowledgeable of RPGs, and believe that they have what it takes to make an RPG game. They have also begun saving up money for the art and are prepared to live frugally to get the game done.
They wanted to know what sort of money they’d have to spend and what time frame it would take. Here’s my reply…
What “stage” are you at?
Firstly I checked our their site and I can see good examples of programming and a long history of programming, but no actual finished games (although their email does talk about making some games for fun).
My main worry when anyone talks about making an RPG is that it’s a BIG undertaking and that they should finish some smaller projects first.
Check out my 6 steps to massive game development success. I’d say you need to be on stage 4 (made a commercial game), but preferably stage 5 (successful commercial game) before undertaking an RPG if you want to make a return on your investment. If it’s just for the experience and “the dream”, then stage 3 (made a complete free game) should be OK.
Make an Art List
I’m not an expert on the cost of art for games because from what I’ve seen it varies wildly in cost and quality, but I do know first hand that if you spend more and get a good result, you game will most likely make more revenue.
The important thing to do is build up a list of what graphics your RPG would need, but before you can do that you need to decide on the scope of the game and what time you can put into making it (i.e. are you full-time or part-time?).
My advice would be to keep the scope down, so don’t make a massive RPG, make something smaller that you can handle in less than a year in order to get it out the door. For example I played a really great game on XB Live Indie Games today called Soulcaster, check it out. It’s an action game more than an RPG but it has simple graphics and didn’t last that long but was great fun. The pixel art wouldn’t have been that expensive and in fact the programmer did it himself according to the credits. I bought the game, it was worth the $3 or so for sure. I bet it didn’t take him a year (looks like 6 months or so from the blog), and now he can use the profit to make a second better game, and I’ll buy it.
So once the scope is decided, make a full-art list. This list could take you several days if you do it properly and of course is subject to change. Of course, to make an art list you really should have made design doc first, and that can take weeks.
Get some quotes
Now that you have an art list you can go about getting some quotes. The artists will no doubt ask a bunch of questions which will help you tighten up the art list. These quotes will give you a healthy reality check on how much it’ll take to make the game, and you may wish to descope at that point
2D or 3D
According to the email the game is going to be isometric. Therefore you are better off doing the characters in a 3D program so that once they are created you can then rotate and display them at all the angles required. If you add character animations you don’t want the artist to be drawing them all again at each different angles, you just want to re-render at all the different angles. However finding someone fast and competent in 3D on a budget is going to be a challenge as most of them will already be working for someone else if they are any good. I don’t have enough experience with 3D artist rates and how long it takes to offer any cost advice (but I’m hoping readers can help out) because I’ve only used 2D graphics for my games – although My Tribe (Facebook game I worked on) uses 3D people and it did take a long time to create the relatively small number of animated models, but there may have been some learning curve.
Alternatively you could try the old-skool Zelda semi-overhead view and do that with pixel art which may be less expensive. Still the characters need to be drawn at all 4 angles though, but it’s way easier to do than isometric characters.
Art Style Guide
Some of the games I’ve worked on have had medium 5 figure art budgets and have taken a professional artist around 10 months (others have had more artists and cost lots more) – and that’s just for 2D casual games.
An RPG does need a lot of content, but one thing that may help is to decide how high you want to set the art bar at the beginning. You can do this by creating an art style guide with the artist. Then stick to that so that the artist doesn’t spend overly long on some graphics and not long enough on other ones. Another good reason for an art style guide is if you loose the artist, the new one can check out the style guide to hopefully keep things consistent.
Also get the artist to do work in clear batches that you can evaluate, get right, and then plug into the game. Plus worst case, if they leave, you’ll hopefully have a complete batch.
Spiderweb Software is famous for great RPGs that don’t look that good, but the gameplay rules and they have a huge following. Remember that when making the art style guide.
Who to Hire?
You may want to hire more than one artist. For example, someone to do all the in-game graphics (or just the characters and someone else does the scenery), and someone to do all the title screens, dialogs and UI. Remember there’s a lot more to a game than just the in-game graphics, all that dialog stuff (especially in an RPG) takes an age to make.
You’ll get the best results by hiring a full-time professional who you pay partially upfront and partially on completion. Everything else is a compromise based on your budget. If you try to pay the professional just at the end, they may not do the work or may even stop working on the project – this is even more likely if they are hobbyist and part-time (always check out their track record). You might be able to pay someone half now and the rest from royalties. If you’ve made and shipped games before they should have the faith to work with you otherwise it may be harder to convince someone to team up with you for half-pay and/or royalties unless they are really very dedicated and/or want to prove themselves
OK, I’ve rambled a bit but I hope that I’ve generated some points for further examination. Also check out: How I sourced the art and music for my games.
If any readers have any further advice, please help out and post it. Many thanks in advance!