Want Free Art For Your Kickstarter?

That is: Art upfront, to display in your Kickstarter, be it concept sketches, mockups, or poster art, with payment after your Kickstarter concludes. Some basic art is relatively essential to the success of a Kickstarter (particularly for a game), but it can be hard for indies to afford upfront sometimes. It's possible. But, it's not free for us to make art (art takes time, and time is money: we have to pay our artists' salaries, after all).

For us, this is an investment.

And as investors, we have to look at it like an investment. If you've ever seen the popular shows Shark Tank, or Dragons' Den, you know there's more to business than a concept. A risk like this is dangerous for us, so we have to see some evidence that it will make returns. We can only absorb the costs of the art upfront if we are reasonably sure the Kickstarter will get funded. The evidence we need to see is in part the evidence that your backers need to see: That which will inspire confidence in your potential backers will also inspire confidence in us.

Stuff your backers (and we) need to see:

Stuff we need to see (but your backers won't consciously worry about):

This isn't Just an Arbitrary List of Demands

This is a recipe for success at any Kickstarter project. Show the backers what they want to see, and make a product that has the best chance of appealing to the backers and earning the support it needs. Whether or not you want to work with us, ensuring all of these things will give you the best chance of success in your Kickstarter. If you have all or most of these points pretty well covered, then you have a really good chance of success, and we'll be best able to take the risk in helping you up front, work with you to see your project to funding, and then on to completion. If you don't, focus on your strong points, and fill in any gaps you can: No previous completed games? Do a few quick, small projects. No progress on your current game? Take some time to whip up a demo with programmer or placeholder art. No matter how you may fall short of these goals, we'll do our best to help you (and can give you advice if you ask for it), but we will be limited by the risk that entails. We may only be able to provide a quote and link to your project if it's risky (although, as always, we can make art for you if you have a small budget to offset the costs).

Style Guide: Colors

Colors are one of the main issues you need to deal with in a style, and it's not always easy, but a few tips can help simplify things. 1. Use a color scheme tool. For example: http://paletton.com/ These tools are great for selecting appropriate colors for characters or factions in your game, or even whole environments. While one environment or another don't need to match, it's good to keep the colors within a single environment compatible. 2. Use contrast when you need it, and avoid it where you don't. If you want the player to see something, contrast it with the environment. Characters need to stand out, so might enemies (unless they're hidden), and items that can be interacted with. Try to keep the background more muted in terms of contrast so that things on it can stand out without getting lost. This is particularly important in side-scrollers, where you want a lower-contrast background (less variation in light and dark), and higher contrast characters. Outlines can also help with this, but can be complemented with careful color treatment. 3. Coordinate tone and saturation in your entire game, except where deliberate. Some games are bright, some are darker. Some are greyed or browned out, while others are vibrantly saturated. Generally speaking, you want to stick to these general ranges in your game, from characters to environments, and throughout the entire game with some consistency. Except where you deliberately violate this for effect: something to be tied in very intentionally to theme and game play. Some games have dealt with black and white worlds, where the characters bring the color back. Others may make things get dark in some areas where things get serious. Sometimes certain enemies have uncannily realistic coloring against a cartoony theme just to bring out the creepy. The important part is, when you deviate, do it knowingly and very deliberately, as part of your game. 4. Pay careful attention to lighting, particularly baked lighting drawn into 2d graphics. How do highlights work, what color are they? How about shadows? Try to keep the tints and tones consistent. In a 3d game (or high effect 2d game), you'll also want to look at the effects of your shaders. How do you paint the gloss and occlusion into your textures? Try to find ways to do it consistently. And only vary the way the lighting works, or your shaders, from area to area very deliberately to tell the player something important about the game.

Making Free Assets Work.

There are a profusion of free (public domain and creative commons) art assets for video games on the internet. There are also even more assets that haven't been released formally, but are languishing on some Deviant Art page somewhere, and that (if you ask) you may be given permission to use for free. Sounds great, right? Well, it isn't always. There are three main problems with free assets:

1. Most of it is really, really bad.

There IS great are out there, great free art. But it can often be like finding a needle in a haystack, because the amount of bad art it competes with. It takes time to find the right art, or something good enough to pass, and time is money. Sometimes it's cheaper just to contract a sprite rather than digging through the internet to find what you're after.

2. The stuff that is good and easy to find is easily recognizable.

Occasionally there are compilations or great art packs, but those are very easily recognizable. "Oh, these are from Wesnoth!" a savvy gamer will say. Wesnoth doesn't suffer from that, but your game will, because it looks about as unprofessional as using a subdomain on some free host with forced banner ads for your website. Even if the assets are fair game, it makes it look like you just ripped somebody off and didn't do any work on your own.

3. Mixing and matching looks terrible.

If you're lucky, you'll find some good obscure free art that everybody and their grandmother hasn't already made a game with. Great! But, there are no cave tiles here... it's just a town. And where are the penguins? No problem. You search some more (possibly for several days), and you find another source for cave tiles and another for penguins. But the cave and town tiles are in totally different styles, and they look terrible together, and none of them work with your penguin sprites! This is the final and most serious problem for using free art assets. The lack of comprehensive assets in any one style will force you to mix and match, and make it not only very obvious what you did, but possibly make the game unplayably ugly for many players.

Solving The Problem

#1 and #2 are hard problems to solve, but within limits, #3 can be partially resolved. Some tips: 1. Choose pixel art. Pixel Art, unlike other art, is easier to edit (3d is easier still, but not ideal for indies since it takes more know-how), which can help you harmonize the look of otherwise disparate assets and make them look like they belong to one game. 2. When you choose characters, pay the most attention to their proportions. Look for the same head and body size; this is something that's virtually impossible for you to edit as a non-artist. Changing the head and body size usually means starting over, even for a seasoned artist. 3. Look for art of the same resolution. For pixel art, this is made easier because there are some more or less standard sizes. 16 pixels, 32 pixels, 64 pixels: they generally fall into powers of two out of tradition, and because most pixel artists are basing their stylistic decisions off older games. It is possible to change the size of the art, if the proportions are the same, but usually only by scaling down the largest assets (otherwise, your pixel sizes will change). This works better for environment than characters, because it can cause serious issues with faces and other details. Protip: If you down sample them, make sure the mode of your images is INDEXED color, so it won't increase the number of colors and make the asset more blurry. It may also be useful to change the method of downsampling, depending on the asset (e.g. Nearest Neighbor) 4. Remember that colors can be changed easily: ignore them when making your selections. It doesn't matter if the art is dark and grimy, or bright and colorful. You can easily change this in pixel art by adjusting the palette. Just focus on the above points of resolution and proportion first. 5. Tiles are more forgiving, focus efforts on sprites. Environment is mainly an issue of color and contrast, which is easy to change by adjusting your palette. Focus on matching sprites most, since this will be the greatest challenge. Worst case, it's also cheaper to commission environments from a pixel artist than sprites, due to animations.

Style is NOT copyrighted.

Style is an important part of any work of art, and while is a serious faux pas in the art community to copy a style (particularly of an independent artist), style itself doesn't fall under copyright protection. Neither style, nor particular methods of working, can be protected by copyright (which is one reason many artists are reluctant to share their techniques). That is not to say that these things are completely without protection, which is what Trademarks, Patents, and Trade Secrets are for. Trade Secrets mostly protect against corporate espionage, and don't typically apply to games. If you're not employed as a spy, you don't need to worry about this. Patents deal with methods of production, or product functionality (like your game mechanics) and there are a lot of patent trolls out there who file patents on absurd or obvious things (like "a game where you drive a car from location to location and get points") and then try to extort creators to pay them off under the threat of law suits. Generally speaking, anything that is 'obvious' or that has been done before (and not patented by the original creator) is not a patent that will hold up in court, and patent threats only function based on the time investment and high legal fees that would be needed to win the case. In the case of art (as opposed to mechanics), however, it would be nearly impossible to prove a particular method was used to produce the art (even if it were patented), so patent trolls aren't particularly interested in that. From a legal perspective (to say nothing of bad taste), trademark violations are really the only thing you need to worry about when copying others. Trademark applies when you copy another product so exactly that a reasonable consumer might be confused, and mistake your product for the original. If you copy World of Warcraft, when looking at your game would somebody who wanted to buy World of Warcraft be reasonably likely to mistakenly buy your game instead? If not, then you're probably safe. Gaming companies, even the big corporations, are remarkable among industries for being particularly (and admirably) non-litigious. Unless you violate copyright by literally ripping off their exact graphics and putting them in your game, copying styles and even game mechanics down to an absurd level of detail has never been a serious risk. The most telling case history on the matter is found in the case of EA vs. Zynga on their alleged copying of "The Sims Social", which was dismissed with prejudice in 2013, and on the trademark of DOTA by Valuve for "DOTA 2", which Blizzard challenged, and which ended with the companies settling and agreeing that they can both use the name "DOTA" or "Defense of the Ancients"; Valve for their commercial game, with Blizzard retaining the right to continue to use it in branding fan-made mods, as in the original. Industry precedent has produced a very strong environment of creative freedom in the game industry. Unless you're actively trying to violate somebody's IP, it's very unlikely that you will do so by accident by merely copying a style, and even the slightest changes or improvements to game design are defensible. That said, it is sometimes better for non-legal reasons to develop your own style and unique mechanics (particularly for indies, the market may appreciate it, and see your game as more original and interesting as a great way to stand out), but that's another topic entirely, and one for you to consider in terms of your market analysis. Disclaimer: We are artists who happen to know quite a bit about copyright law, but we're not lawyers. This article is for general information purposes only; if you need specific legal advice, seek legal council.

What Makes A Good Style Guide?

A style guide is the bible of art style for your game. It includes all of the do's and do-nots. Making a good one isn't always easy, and it's really easy to leave out crucial information that seems obvious to you (from the perspective of knowing your creative vision), but isn't obvious to others. The best Style guides have endured a trial by fire, having passed from artist to artist, or art studio to art studio, being updated with each SNAFU. Given enough time, your style guide will reach that state too. But how do you get started?

Basic Description:

Start with a basic description. Use simple English where possible to avoid any communication barriers, and spend some time describing the world and feeling of your game, along with any inspirations so the artists can get into the right head-space for making the art. Artist terminology can go a long way in explaining something in fewer words, and since many artists you'll work with are classically trained, this can be an easy way to communicate, but make sure to also include simple definitions of those terms in case there's a communication breakdown or mistranslation of one.

Examples:

Show some ready-made assets or mockups for your game. You don't need a lot of them, but a few examples can do wonders for understanding and show exactly what you want without any miscommunication that may come from description alone. If you don't have any examples made up, at least show some references from other games, but don't forget to highlight what you like and don't like about those games styles. A bunch of random references with different styles from each other give little to no real direction without making it clear what's good or bad in those references.

Rules:

Itemize the rules for you art, and illustrate them as much as possible. When it comes to art, whenever you can, it's best to show rather than tell. A picture speaks in all languages, which is particularly good for art outsourcing to other countries. Some common rule sections explain: Your style guide is a living document; don't forget to update it with your experiences, and any new things you learn about how it has been interpreted or misinterpreted. Almost every time you need a revision, that's a chance to improve your style guide and save time and money in the future.

Five Reasons NOT to Outsource

There are a lot of advantages to art outsourcing, and for many projects it's a really great option, but outsourcing isn't always the best option for every project (or every part of every project). There are certain situations where hiring locally may save you money and time, and knowing which circumstances fit that bill is key to efficient management.

#1 Lack of clear creative vision.

If you don't know what you want, or can't decide, you can't just rely on the outsourcing company to guess at what you're after. If you try, the odds are that what you get won't mesh with the vision you had for your project (it's almost always true that a project creator has a creative vision for the style, it's just a little cloudy sometimes), and a lot of time and money may be wasted making the art by starting again from scratch each time the style needs to be revised. Art isn't the most expensive thing, what's expensive is starting over again and again to change art, and it's a serious project killer. A clear creative vision is key to avoiding that pitfall. The one exception to that is if you're not invested in the project's creative style (say, for example, you're only concerned with the mechanics), and you literally don't care what art style is used, as long as it looks good enough to sell (as a replacement for programmer art or free art for example). And when I say literally, I literally mean literally. For example: If you're making a match three game, and you don't care if the game is based on evil anime cupcakes, film noir styled spiders, or crayon-drawing styled hair pieces, then outsourcing could be right for you despite not having a clear creative vision for the art, because in that case you can rely on the creative vision of any random artist who gets assigned your game at the outsourcing studio. In a situation like that, what we would do is turn over the game to one of our artists, and tell them to have fun with it. That's kind of what we did with Lowly Blocks. It can work, but only works if you're sure not to be particular about what you get. But let's say you ARE particular about how your game looks (beyond just looking good) and you do have some kind of creative vision for the art, but it's not clear. What do you do then? Everybody wants their own unique style, but it's much easier said than done. In practice, copying an established style is much faster and cheaper than developing your own. So, the easiest thing to do is bite the bullet and commit to an existing style, even if it may not be exactly what you want. For example, if you say "World of Warcraft style", any artist or art studio is going to know exactly what you want, and be able to deliver if they have talent (See: Style is not copyrighted). If you can reference any existing game or franchise like that, or collect concept art that hits the nail on the head for the style you're after, that's all you have to do. If you can't find anything that scratches that itch, however, or don't want to copy an existing style, things become a little more complicated. In the very least, you need some mockups or samples of how you want your game to look, and ideally a style guide. An outsourcing company can technically help you make a style guide, but this is one of the weaknesses of outsourcing, and we don't recommend it unless you're having trouble finding anybody else who can do so locally. Something like that takes numerous iterations and feedback cycles, and while in most cases outsourcing is faster and cheaper than hiring a local artist, due to poorer communication at a distance, time differences, and the slowness of feedback cycles, you will probably end up paying more and spending more time than you would doing it in-house, or hiring a local artist who can meet you at Starbucks and draw and revise the art in person until they've helped you nail down what you're looking for. A few hundred dollars well spent on a style guide will save you thousands over the lifetime of your project, and once you have the style guide prepared, outsourcing is easy if that's what you choose to do because the studio you bring the style guide to will be able to read it and know exactly what you want.

#2 Simple but extremely technical art.

This may not be the entire project, but for parts of a project where the art needs art very simple, yet need to be made to certain exacting or rapidly changing technical standards based on feedback from programmers and designers, the costs of communication barriers and revision time can easily exceed the savings on making simple art out of house. A common example of this is User Interface art for a video game. Lots of buttons, sliders, corners, edges, pieces that need to line up in a certain way, and have to look good in a number of configurations in the game. These are really simple art assets that don't benefit greatly in cost when comparing between an outsourcing studio and doing them in house. What is $3 for a button compared to $2 when you spend half an hour explaining the technical requirements of the asset and all of the pieces it has to be cut into? Where the bulk of the expense is in communicating the specific functions and needs of the assets, and the assets themselves take very little time or artistic skill to make, you're better off doing them in-house if possible.

#3 Extreme Urgency

Art outsourcing with a studio is fast. Based on the larger body of talent put to a problem, it's much faster and easier than contracting and managing a freelancer, and often faster than doing the art in-house, particularly when you don't have many artists on staff and you need more man-power to finish something. However, getting started with an outsourcing company, explaining the art requirements, and the company getting the artists accustomed to your needs and doing any needed art tests to confirm the style, signing the contract, wiring the deposit... these things take time. The first week with any outsourcing job is going to be slow. If you need something urgently, as in by the end of the week or worse yet tomorrow, outsourcing usually isn't your best bet. If you have less than a week, your best bet is to look to local talent. It will be much more expensive, but those turnarounds are possible face to face if you can pay for the overtime. If you have more than two weeks, then outsourcing starts to become much more viable as both a time and cost saving measure.

#4 Project is very small

Similar to the urgency problem, or the simple/technical art problem, are very small projects. At a certain point, the costs of communicating the needs of your project and the artist becoming accustomed to the style and requirements exceed the budget for your entire project. Outsourcing is cheaper in most cases, but it's not cheaper when it takes two or three days to explain your project and get accustomed to the art requirements, and only a couple hours for the artist to finish all of the art. At that point, it's better to finish the art in-house, or hire a local contractor so communicating the project requirements will go more easily, and you're only paying the costs of the art itself. They'll be more per hour, but in these particular cases where you only need a few hours of work done, it will be finished so much faster that you'll save time and money overall. A very small project is also much easier to find an artist to finish for free. In most cases, free art is a myth, because no sooner does an artist agree to work for free than lose interest or find something else to do, but when something only takes a few hours to finish, it is possible to capitalize on the enthusiasm of an artist new to games looking for credit, and finish the game entirely before that spark fizzles out. The exception to this is if you can limit the needed specification communications by the nature of the project and its requirements. For style, if you literally don't have a needed style, or the style is an exact copy of some other style (see point #1). For the nature of the project itself, if the project is a pretty exact clone of some well known game (which makes the art studio immediately familiar with the requirements), or if your game is completely finished with placeholder art, and you can send the build with the art in an easily accessible directory where it can be swapped out and tested painlessly without any feedback needed (the artist can see right away if something is broken). In these cases, where you can explain what you need them to do for your small project in two or three sentences, outsourcing becomes viable again because you've eliminated the expensive elements of communication and feedback.

#5 If you're just trying to save money

Fast, Good, Cheap: Pick Two. Outsourcing isn't a silver bullet. Most of all, outsourcing is fast, but it's only fast when you've already handled the slow parts in-house or with a local contractor (particularly the ones that require a lot of back-and-forth and communication). See points #1 - #4. If you have a clear style guide and plan of what needs to be done, outsourcing can get it done in record time by applying more talent than you're able to dedicate in-house. But as far as good and cheap, in outsourcing as in all things, you get what you pay for. Outsourcing is much cheaper than a good freelancer, who will run $20-$30 an hour or more, but the best outsourcing, in the best-case, is only going to cut costs compared to hiring somebody in-house by 30-40%. No matter what country, good artists know what they're worth, and the market sets the price they can demand for their salaries. If you're only trying to cut costs, you may make the mistake of going with the cheapest outsourcing company you can find, and as a result, your project will end up costing more and taking more time because of all of the revisions. A cheap studio is either hiring bad artists and not controlling the quality, meaning you need to waste a lot of time and money redoing it, or they're struggling with an unsustainable business model, meaning you've just boarded a sinking ship. A failing company may only partially finish your project and go out of business, disappearing with your deposit in their bankruptcy. If you don't have enough to hire a quality studio, the best advice is to not hire a studio. If you only need cheap, and neither fast nor good are important, hire students or interns locally. Since they're just learning, they'll be very slow, will need a bit of hand-holding, and there will also be a few false starts before you find somebody reliable, but as far as price goes it can't be beat. If you don't need particularly good or consistent art, sometimes it's also possible to find limited free assets on the internet that have been released creative commons or public domain if your budget is very tight. See: Making Free Assets Work for some tips.

Conclusion:

We've been in the outsourcing Business for over a decade. Outsourcing is great for a lot of projects, and sometimes it's the only way to get things shipped on time and on budget, but based on our experience these are some of the reasons that projects (or parts of projects) can't take optimal advantage of outsourcing. There are exceptions to every rule, and it's always possible to make something work with clever management, but hopefully this list can provide some perspective. There may be others, and we'd really love to hear from you if you have ideas or disagree with anything here. We hope this article was helpful, -The Mighty Vertex Team Mighty Vertex

Lowly Blocks

Lowly Blocks Titlescreen Competitive block destroying madness brought to you by Benjamin Teitler and MVG; play against AI or with a friend.










How We Work

Flash Art, Pixel Art, Concept Art, 3D Modeling, Texturing and UV mapping, Animation At Mighty Vertex, we pride ourselves on helping our clients every step of the way; from initial idea, to final delivery of completed assets, and beyond, to edits and support. To get started, we just need to know what you need. If you have your own concept art, we can work with that; if you don't, we can work with you to understand what you need, and either produce concept art for you if your needs are very specific (for example, "I need this specific character, with a particular look"), or on occasion move directly into producing the art assets you require with an understanding of what you want if your needs are more general (for example "I need a green frog of some kind, I'm not particular about species, details, or style"). Provided Concept art: If you have concept art, this is the best and safest approach: we can replicate the style and detail with utmost precision- even from photographs. We can move onto figuring out what kinds of assets you need, provide you with a quote, and guarantee quality- if we do wrong by the concept art, we'll fix it at no cost to you. Concept art not needed: In some cases, if your needs are very general and you aren't particular about the details, and you don't have or think you need concept art we can work from our imaginations and fill in the unknowns with reasonable guesses. If you ask for a frog, we can make a frog, but it might be a tree-frog, a bull-frog, a tropical poison-dart frog. The danger in that is if it turns out you were making a fishing game and needed a bull-frog and we made a tropical tree frog it might not make any sense. We can only fulfill the details we're given, and sometimes our artists won't know the difference between different species of frogs. Unlike with concept art, where a picture says a thousand words (in every language), working without a concept can be prone to minor miscommunication and differences of interpretation- less so with Mighty Vertex than with other outsourcing studios, due to our expert art direction, but nonetheless always a possibility- if getting a tree frog instead of a bullfrog, when the species wasn't specified, would pose a big problem, concept art would be the way to go. If you're working on a smaller or more casual title, though, and you want to save money and time, without sweating the small stuff, this is definitely the way to go. With this method, you can simply order, as in the example, "100 various fish, amphibians and turtles" for your fishing game, and let us handle the rest. Concept art production: This is the most complicated part of the process, but we pride ourselves on being able to get you exactly what you need. We can work from written descriptions you provide, from references to other literary works, or from a combination of descriptions and photos of other things, real or imagined, that are similar to what you want. If your needs are very specific or hard to explain, this can take some time. The production and review cycle involves us getting an idea of what you want, and then producing a number of concept pieces (from one to a few dozen) that you can critique, explaining what you like and don't like about them. After the review, we go it all again, iteration by iteration, until it's just right. Production and review can take several days, or even several weeks if you need something very specific (depending on how frequently you can check your e-mail and get back to us with comments). While limited, if you're in a hurry we can also do some real time consultation by Skype or shared screen, where we can work with you to better understand your needs. The major drawback to real time consultation is scheduling- depending on where you live, you may have to come on line in the late evening, or the very early morning, when you wouldn't usually work. If you need us to work around your schedule, let us know, and we may be able to accommodate this. Quote: While we're happy to give you an approximate quote up-front, or at any time, in order to give you an exact quote and start work we need the concept and the technical specifications of what you need. If you don't know your technical specifications (polygon count, normal mapping, texture resolution, and the rest), we can work with you to suggest art assets that will work for your title and engine of choice. We also offer a number of discounts, particularly for larger project discounts, and if you're an indie or free project, we may be able to make a special deal. Payment: For projects under a total of $500 U.S.D, we accept payment upfront. For those projects over $500 U.S.D., we accept 50% of the project cost upfront as a deposit after signing, and the remaining 50% as the balance after delivery of assets. We're happy to break up the projects into certain smaller milestones for smaller iterations of payment. After final payment, all rights to the graphics are completely transferred to you- MVG only reserves promotional rights (e.g. to show examples in our portfolio/gallery); if you don't want MVG using the art for promotion before you publish the game (we don't always know when a game is being released), we can arrange this in the contract. For your convenience, we can accept payment by paypal (for the small added percentage of the merchant fee paypal charges us- 4%), or bank account wires for larger contracts.
➲ Want Free Kickstarter Art? ➲ Five Reasons NOT to Outsource ➲ What Makes a Good Style Guide? ➲ Style Guide: Colors ➲ Making Free Assets Work ➲ Style is NOT copyrighted ➲ Lowly Blocks ➲ How We Work