We only had twelve seats to fill. The team was split evenly between between artists, designers, and engineers. Basically, we had enough engineers to take the Halo engine and bend it to our will, enough artists to prototype and manage contractor submissions, and enough designers to write and script levels.
We assembled our core team very quickly. The prospect of trying to recruit and relocate 45 game developers to Chicago is daunting for a startup. If it costs roughly $10,000 to recruit and relocate for each position, then we saved $330,000 by keeping the team small. It’s also hard to convince a publisher that as soon as they write that first check, 20 more people will come to work the next day.
There was also this great side effect to our model that when contractors didn’t work out, we could simply fire them, which may sound cold and heartless, but the fact is that hiring presents a risk. When you bring someone on staff you create a semi-permanent bond. To break it is intellectually and financially expensive. When we had contractors that weren’t cutting it, they were fired and we moved on. No one had to relocate. It was just business. No hard feelings. That fact made us quite a bit more maneuverable in terms of staff.
In addition, since our whole model is set up to find and manage contracted talent, we were able to add extra contractors when we needed to speed up production. We found ourselves pretty late in the game without enough scenery objects and no main menu. If we had to rely on already scheduled internal team members to handle these tasks, we’d have been screwed. We were able to find a lot of help externally to complete these two parts of the project.
The market for independent artists, designers, and programmers in the game industry is definitely growing. It’s still small though, especially compared to film or television, where everyone is independent. Finding great talent is really important to us though, so we took advantage of all the tools we could to locate talent. We created a database of every company we could find that was doing contract work. We populated it with my personal contacts and those we found through resources like Gamasutra.com and Conceptart.org. We then began to make calls, evaluate reels, and meet with potential hires. Ultimately, and this should be no surprise, we had the best luck with the people that we had history with or who had experience with the tools we were using.
5. The Internet.
We had contractors all over the world contributing to Stubbs. SourceOffSite and instant messenger were invaluable tools for us. An important part of our process is making iteration time as short as possible. The more versions of something we did, the better it turned out. Giving our contractors the ability to create game-ready assets remotely and put them into our source control database allowed us to review submissions immediately, in-engine, and in the form that end-users would see.
Once we had that process set up, the feedback loop with the contractors tightened a lot. We also used online forums to develop concept art. I never thought in a million years it would make sense to do concept art with contractors, but it worked great. For our main character, we were able to get different artists to contribute their ideas simultaneously, which we could review and white-board online in real time.