Outsourcing might not be top of mind for most Americans when they think of happy things.
But for video game developers, sending work elsewhere is a mark of good business.
== Experts at being needed ==
People make games, but not every developer has the right people for the job. In Houston, Dead Panic Studios fills the niche for artistry. Ron McLeroy, Mark Hendrix and Jeff Paulsrud create digital artwork for developers and others clients.
"I went to go open a bank account and met Ron. He was my personal banker," Hendrix said. "He was like, what are you doing? And I was like, I wanna do this. And he was like, oh, I do this, and he showed me some of the sculptures on his computer. That night, I was like, dude, we need to hook up; we need to collaborate; we need to do stuff, and it's been a fast friendship ever since."
The process of outsourcing to Dead Panic goes something like this:
-- A company will give the studio a written description of what they want.
-- McLeroy and Hendrix will talk with the company and send that info to Paulsrud in California to create concept art.
-- Back-and-forth discussion continues as Dead Panic figures out the final look of what the client wants.
"You can have a really great idea but if all you can draw is stick figures then you're not going to get that idea across as well as somebody like Jeff could do and give you more than what you expected in return," Hendrix said.
== Collaboration, not outsourcing ==
Sugar Land's TimeGate Studios, an independent game developer and the largest of the bunch in the Houston area, is no stranger to outsourcing. The studio has reached out to several companies in the US and abroad for services like motion capture, art asset building and voiceover work.
Robert Siwiak, TimeGate's VP of business operations, said it is better for them to outsource than go through the nightmare of having to hire a bunch of people on the fly.
"When we hire people, we want it to be in the long-term," Siwiak said. "We don't want to have those fluctuations that happen during the course of a project, so in some cases we do turn to external studios for that scalability."
TimeGate has also been on the receiving end of outsourcing. In 2010, Disney Interactive Studios contracted the studio to create the 3D mode for "Tron Evolution". More recently, the studio has been working with Dallas' Gearbox Software on the upcoming "Aliens: Colonial Marines".
In cases like that, Siwiak would rather shift the term from outsourcing to something more personable.
"Truly, it's more about collaboration than it is about just, hey, we're outsourcing this specific thing," he said. "You're really looking for partners. You're looking for people that can get in the same mentality as you and your team can and can be an added benefit to it."
== Getting into the game ==
As the game industry gets larger, so do the opportunities to jump in and make money. In the world of 3D art, Dead Panic hopes to grab their share of the take from larger, well-established companies like Blur Studios and Massive Black.
"We're finding a lot of excitement from people wanting to collaborate," Hendrix said. "We went to a seminar at UH called 3DCamp which was really awesome. Met a lot of nice people there, reconnected with a couple of people I had gone to art institute with. They were like, ‘Oh, you guys are Dead Panic! Man, I've seen you guys on Facebook!' And that was a nice ego stroke from guys I hadn't seen in 10 years."
Here in Houston, the game development scene is growing every year. You can connect with many of these studios through the obvious channels like Facebook and Twitter, but it would also be a good idea to get in touch with the local chapter of the Independent Game Developer Association. TimeGate Studios organizes the events and holds meet-ups every other month or so.
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