The Case For Outsourcing In The Game Industry: Part II

If you haven’t already, please check out part one in this series. This time I’d like to talk about the problems that outsourcing can solve.

People who have been in the game industry a while usually have a few common complaints. One of the missions of Tricky Fast is to help alleviate some of these issues, and I believe that solid outsourcing firms in general can help immensely.

Crunch is no fun.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone in games who has shipped a title and not had to work overtime. Some game studios are better than others about this for sure, but crunch time is still a very common occurrence. It’s also a huge morale killer for employees, and rightly so– they’re being asked to work more hours generally without getting paid more. Not to mention that the longer it goes on for, the less effective it is due to lack of sleep and burn out. From the employer side, crunch time is often seen as a necessity when an immovable deadline approaches (see the next point on estimating), or if the deadline is out of your control and is short to begin with. Outsourcing can help with this tremendously. Most outsourcing firms will have extra resources available at the drop of a hat. Recently, for a project that was re-scoped mid-development, a VP approached me to bring in 5 engineers to fix bugs so the internal team could concentrate on features and not have to work crazy hours to meet the deadline. Normally, bringing in talent towards the end of a project is a bad idea, but this is one way to make it work. Additionally, with outsourcing, as long as one contract resource is up to speed, like I mentioned in part I, the outsourcing firm should be able to ramp up new resources without dragging down their client with beginner questions.

Estimating is hard.

… But it’s not impossible. Making games is a creative process, and it can be hard to estimates time on that, but as long as the general idea of the game is in place, it is nowhere near impossible. I spent the early part of my career developing software outside of games, and when I first started in the game industry, I was surprised at the lack of focus on improving estimation ability. As with crunch, some places are better than others at this. While it may not be a huge problem for studios to estimate incorrectly, it’s something that outsourcing firms absolutely must get right (or as close as possible). For those that work on a per project basis, underestimating means losing your profits on a job. Even working hourly, if you go over budget, the client is not going to be happy. Because of this, successful outsourcing firms are likely to be very good at estimating.

There’s so many layoffs.

The game industry is a lot like the film industry in terms of working with a team to produce a piece of entertainment and then moving on to the next thing, but in some ways, the game industry ended up evolving to do this in the worst way. In films, most people are hired for a specific film and know that they’ll have to find new work afterwards. I know from friends in the film industry that this is pretty annoying, but the flip side is in games, you get hired as an employee, and companies often try to keep staff through multiple projects. However, a lot of times, they end up having to fold when a project doesn’t go well since they can’t support the staffing costs. Other companies that don’t try to do that will have layoffs after wrapping a project. Both options seems worse because employees tend to assume their job is more safe than a contractor. It’s also difficult for those with families because working in the game industry means you generally have to move every couple of years to chase the next job. Anyway, this is one of the areas I believe outsourcing can help the most. Some studios provide a great example of how this can work by keeping a core group of employees and bringing in outsource help as needed. It reduces the financial burden during downtime because there’s no need to keep the contractors around, but also maintains the core knowledge and company vision through multiple projects with the core team. From the employee side, if you’re with an outsourcing firm that manages things well, the likelihood of being let go after a project is much lower because there’s usually another project with a different client to move on to.

Finding qualified talent is difficult.

In a future post, we’ll discuss our hiring process, but I’m not referring to that here as much. We’ve seen many local game companies look for a position for a year or more before being able to fill it. That’s partly because the pool of qualified individuals is small, but also because as I alluded to earlier, getting a new job in games often means moving, and many times, people would rather find something outside of games than move. Where outsourcing can help here is that since we are already remote from our clients, there’s no reason to limit the applicants based on geography beyond being in the US / Canada. There’s a lot of benefits to both sides with this aspect of it. Since we can work with people in lower cost of living areas, they don’t need to charge as much as someone from LA or SF, and we can pass that savings on to clients. From the employee side, they don’t have to move, which is a huge benefit. The other problem is that the hardest talent to find can be ones that you don’t need indefinitely like very niche fields, and it’s expensive to hire people. It’s also expensive to let them go. Instead, with an outsourcing firm, you can bring those people in, have them do their job, and then send them on their way until you need them again. It’s a huge savings considering you only pay them for the time you need. We’ve done this multiple times in the past where we brought in a very experienced AWS scalability expert for a short period of time to address problems our clients were having scaling their game servers.

Now, if you’re set on hiring an employee still, outsourcing can help with that as well. We are often asked to fill a position temporarily until the company can hire internally, and this is a great use of outsourcing. Your company can take their time to find the right person, but they will still be getting work done and making progress on goals in the meantime. Plus, sometimes our temporary help will be interested in taking a permanent position.

There are certainly many other problems that can be solved by outsourcing, but those are the biggest ones that I’ve seen in my years in the industry.

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