Ket called me one day and said, “Good news, I’m coming into Columbus next weekend so let’s try to meet the artist.” Ketner’s transition into Chicago was still underway, and after his visit to Ohio the following weekend he wouldn’t be back for a long time so there were a bunch of things that we wanted to address while he was home. We planned on doing a number of things that day, finishing up some paperwork that formed the company, getting a business account at a bank, working on our game, and also getting a face to face with the artist we had been talking to. There were some mistakes that Ket and I made in preparing our company but I don’t think it’s necessary to cover those mistakes. One of the reasons is that every state is different, and obviously every country is different. I have no idea the requirements in the different districts of Italy for example, but all I can truly say is make sure you understand the requirements to form a business. I may mention in a later post one of these mistakes when we formed because it caused a bit of a problem later on, but this problem got worked out (eventually) so my best advice for anyone is just understand your local requirements because if you don’t then it can cause problems. I also had the advantage of having a very good accountant who I worked with on my other business and he was going to be our accountant for No Echo as well and he helped fix some problems that I was unaware of at the time. I’m not saying go get an accountant, but in all honesty it really helps to have someone who is an expert in taxes and especially tax law so you don’t make a mistake that will cost you a ton of money or possibly something worse!
After speaking with Ket about his upcoming visit I immediately sent an email to the artist that Ket and I had been corresponding with. Here’s my advice on finding an artist early on in your project… don’t do it. The mistake was that Ket and I had not worked out all the details with our game, it was far from finished, and on top of that we didn’t realize at the time that we had made a game that wasn’t going to be successful. What we thought was that things were moving ahead with our idea, why not go find an artist? If we find one now then he can work on the artwork so by the time we’re ready to go we won’t have to wait on artwork. This is a mistake that we were far from the only people to make. At Origins in 2016 I met Jordan Goddard and his partner Mandy Moulin, two game designers out of Indiana who were also new to the game design world. Shortly after Origins I looked them up online and found an interview Jordan gave to Popular Mechanics about being a first time designer and he mentioned that this was also a mistake they had made in their game. They had artwork completed before they were finished which ended up costing them money that didn’t need to be spent. You can read the interview here.
So with our faulty thinking on finding an artist we began our search. There were so many places to look to find an artist, and what we decided was that we wanted to find someone who could be cheaper, so we had the great idea to find an art student in an art school. I posted a job opportunity at a Columbus area art school and received some interest right away. Some students sent us their work and it wasn’t what we were interested in but one guy in particular really nailed what we were thinking in his sketches. I told Ket confidently, “This is the guy! He’s perfect with what he’s done!”. We made arrangements to meet with him while Ket was in town and so we had our meeting. We didn’t give him an amount beforehand, and didn’t ask for a quote. We thought we’d just meet and discuss terms at that point because we thought we had a good idea on what to offer but who knows… maybe he’ll come in for less. This isn’t the worst business idea, this happens all the time in the business world where people negotiate contract work and both sides are wanting to get the best deal. The problem is that if we had simply asked him before about a quote we would’ve realized very quickly that we were never going to come to terms.
The artist showed up for our meeting and we spent about an hour discussing the game, and some details into how many revisions, format, etc. Then we said, “Okay, what are you looking for in compensation?” His response, “I need $6,000, and $1,500 of it right now to start working.” Ket and I just stared at him. We were not prepared for that.
Here is what we were prepared for, and this shows how naive we were about this process. We thought we could offer $500 up front, and $1,500 throughout the process, and then we could offer him a percentage of our initial funds raised through our Kickstarter campaign, and we agreed that 15% would work. (I’m embarrassed to write this because so many of you are shaking your heads) This made sense to us at the time, we could budget for it, and it opened up the door for the artist to make a lot more money possibly on the back-end. Turns out he wasn’t interested in the back-end. He gave us his price and it wasn’t negotiable.
What the artist didn’t know was that right before he arrived Ket had been talking with his brother-in-law who lived nearby, Josh. Josh was somewhat in the Kickstarter scene and had developed some mobile app games, and worked in the graphic design and sound industry, and told us “Do NOT give that guy what you’re thinking. He’s a student, there’s no way you should be paying him what you want to pay him because you can find someone a lot cheaper.” Josh thought what we were offering was too much, let alone when he found out what the artist was demanding afterwards. So Josh’s words were ringing in our ears as the artist sat across from us with his non-negotiable terms. We spent about 15 minutes trying to negotiate and he wouldn’t budge. We finally agreed that it wasn’t going to work and that was that, and then he left.
I want to wrap this post up so I’m only going to mention a few more things here as lessons learned. What we should’ve done was have a completed game, play-tested, and perfected before we had artwork started. (Keep in mind, when I say ‘perfected’ I mean have your project almost perfect. Allow yourself to be able to change something if you need to, but most of the project should be near completion, near perfected.) This mistake wasn’t learned for quite some time even after this encounter. When it came to the artist what we should’ve done was not go for ‘cheap’ and find a student. The thinking was sound, but you get what you pay for. If you’re working with an art student you have to realize how much they don’t know about their own industry. I eventually found the professional artist for my game, and I won’t go into detail about what I paid him, but I can promise you that I paid him less than what this art student demanded. What we also learned was that no artist, with any intelligence, is going to take a back-end deal on a first time game designer. Not being successful never entered into our minds so why wouldn’t an artist take a chance on making a lot more money, what if the game is a huge success? If it’s a proven game designer then this deal makes sense, but no game designer who is successful would ever make this deal. So if you’ve got this idea anywhere in your head remove it now.
It turns out that we weren’t finished hiring bad artists but we did learn some things from this encounter. If you’re somehow an art student reading this I would encourage you to think it through a little bit more as well, because the last time I checked the art student we met was working part-time at a business in Columbus doing caricatures. He had an opportunity to get his foot in the door, help his portfolio, and gain experience, but he wasn’t interested in any of those things, and to be honest, I’m kind of thankful.