The reality of being a Games Artist

I have just finished teaching the summer games course, an intense 3 days that serves as an introduction to games art production and the many tools that games artists use.

The students get a good idea of what’s expected of them as artists in the games industry and the different approaches and considerations of the development process.

Some of the students were concerned about the working conditions; I am quite candid about the realities of the games industry, perma crunch and bad scheduling but it’s not just games that is subject to sometimes grueling periods of production – most creative industries from Film and TV through to graphic design suffer from long hours and a lack of overtime pay.

Pay is always an issue. Remember it’s the suits and the managers that make the big bucks and if you want to make a lot of money then being an artist is not always the best path to tread.

However, if you want a rewarding and fulfilling career where you never stop learning, earn a decent wage and work with talented and varied individuals then being a games artist is a fantastic job.

Burn out is nothing to be proud of. Companies are getting better at realising that tired and unmotivated employees are going to get ill and not be as productive. Here are two examples of game developers’ approaches to a work/life balance

Gears of War 2 producer Rod Fergusson

I am a believer that if you’re going to make a great game, and there is that caveat, I believe that crunch is necessary,” Fergusson says. “I believe it’s important because it means your ambition is greater than what you scheduled out. Going in with that idea that crunch is necessary means you can plan for it. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Crunch should be driven by the ambition of the team, and not the inaccuracy of the schedule.” But he cautions that crunch should be managed by milestones, or some other regular method. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he says, though realistically “It’s a marathon for a really long time, then at the end it is a sprint.”

He also advises that people have limits. “Working later than 2am is a net loss. The productivity of the person who’s doing that to themselves ultimately ends us costing them at the end of that week,” he says. Epic has put a “go home law” in the company handbook as a result.

In complete contrast is, Relentless software – a Brighton based company which take work/life balance very seriously. Its 9 to 5, never crunch and never work a weekend mentality is achieved by being professional and organised and as such they have happy employees and a low staff turn over.

You will often see “you may be required to more hours that you’re stipulated hours” in a modern day contract. With this in mind, you must enter this industry with open eyes, by doing so you will be able to deal with the bad scheduling and burn out scenarios. Try to work efficiently, don’t look at the internet in work time, don’t chat all the time get your head down and do your work and you will get home on time.

Just as a bit of fun, here is an example of a contract between an artist and patron from the 15th century – we can see that an artist from this period had his own intense set of working conditions to deal with: Quoted in Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy

A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, Second Edition, Michael Baxandall

Be it known and manifest to whoever sees or reads this document that, at the request of the reverend Messer Francesco di Giovanni Tesori, presently Prior of the Spedale degli Innocenti at Florence, and of Domenico di Tomaso di Curado [Ghirlandaio]. painter, I, Fra Bcrnrdo di Francesco of Florence, Jesuate Brother, have drawn up this document with my own hand as agreement contract and commission for an altar panel to go in the church of the above said Spedale degli Innocenti with the agreements and stipulations stated below, namely:

That this day October 1485 the said Francesco commits and entrusts to the said Domenico the painting of a panel which the said Francesco has had made and has provided; the which panel the said Domenico is to make good, that is, pay for; and he is to colour and paint the said panel all with his own hand in the manner shown in a drawing on paper with those figures and in that manner shown in it, in every particular according to what I, Fra Bernardo, think best; not departing from the manner and composition of the said drawing; and he must colour the panel at his own expense with good colours and with powdered gold on such ornaments as demand it, with any other expense incurred on the same panel, and the blue must be ultramarine of the value about four florins the ounce; and he must have made and delivered complete the said panel within thirty months from today; and he must receive as the price of the panel as here described (made at his, that is, the said Domenico’s expense throughout) ; 15 large florins if it seems to mc, the above said Fra Bernardo, that it is worth it; and I can go to whoever I think best for an opinion on its value or workmanship, and if it does not seem to me worth the stated price. he shall receive as much less as I, Fra Bernardo, think right; and he must within the terms of’ the agreement paint the predella of the said panel as I, Fra Bernardo, think good; and he shall receive payment as follows—the said Messer Francesco must give the above said Domenico three large Florins every month, starting from 1 November 1485 and continuing after as is stated, every month three large forms.

And If Domenico has not delivered the panel within the above said period of time, he will be liable to a penalty of fifteen large Florins; and correspondingly if Messer Francesco does not keep to the above said monthly payments he will be liable to a penalty of the whole amount, that is, once the panel is finished he will have to pay complete and in full the balance of the sum due.

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Simon Fenton
Mon 24 Aug 2009: 9:05am

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