Can you make a living selling video game art?
Maybe you just don’t care about the rat-race, the corporate life, or how Game studios are run. Maybe you just want to do your own thing, living peacefully in a nice house on the beach. Working from home, being your own boss, doing what you love. And still getting paid on your own terms. We have some ideas that may help you.
The short answer is – Yes. Yes, you can.
If you have a skill that is in demand, you can make a living off of it.
If you can create something that is of high value to other people, or to businesses, in particular, you can make a living doing that.
The main obstacle to this used to be getting access to people that pay for those skills or products.
But the internet, e-commerce, and online marketplaces have solved this problem.
Yes, of course, there is a “but”.
If it was easy everyone would do it.
The truth is that there has to be a defining factor that makes you WORTH paying for. That makes your art worth it.
On top of that, you need to have the focus and determination to make this work. If you’re not looking for employment, then you are, in every sense of the word, a businessman or businesswoman.
Even if you’re not starting a company, you are a business-person, and you need to start thinking like one.
You cannot rely on a company to find work for you. You have to find your own work. Pitch clients. Market yourself. And protect yourself from being scammed.
You need to proactively move your business in the direction that you want it to go.
Here are some factors that will help ensure your success.
This factor is perhaps the most important and the most obvious.
You need to be good at what you do.
You need to know how to create high-quality artwork that people actually find worth buying.
Your very first goal should be to tirelessly train yourself. This is your passion after all, so it won’t be that hard. You’ll enjoy every moment you spend perfecting your craft.
But remember, your art is not only about pleasing yourself. You need to create what other people want to buy. You need to train yourself accordingly.
Game Development and Engine Knowledge
Assuming that your primary goal is to sell Game Art to Game Developers, this is an essential factor.
Once you know how to make something pretty, you need to learn how to make something usable.
You should have a basic understanding of Game Development and Game Development workflows – especially the artist’s workflow.
Your art, whether its 2D textures and sprites or 3D models, should be optimized for the most popular platforms.
It should essentially be plug and play.
If your customer buys your art and is able to drag and drop it into their engine of choice, they will be very happy with your work.
They’ll come back and buy more.
They’ll even leave you great reviews and refer you to their developer friends.
That would be a wonderful start to a Game Art business.
The third step is efficiency. Once you’re doing your work really well and pleasing your customers, you need to streamline your process.
You need a pipeline, templates, and more. This ensures that you do the same quality of work faster each time.
Time is money.
The less time each job takes you, the more time you have for more clients and more work. Or to train yourself more.
Bonus tip – Many successful freelancers suggest charging per project and not per hour. Efficiency is one of the key reasons for this. This incentivizes you to become faster and more efficient, rather than making you feel like you need to work lazily in order to get paid what you deserve.
In the end, clients pay for the result and not for your time.
There are a variety of art styles that are in demand. Art can be 3D, 2D, realistic, cartoon, low poly, high-detail. You can sort Art Styles by genre too – modern, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic, anime, etc.
Look out for a future post on Game Art Styles!
Say it with me – Market Research.
The first thing any business-person should do is discover a need in the market.
You should understand what the market needs and how what you can provide fits in. This is often called product-market fit.
There are already a thousand “3D crate and barrel” packs on the market. It would be a waste of time to make yet another.
Perhaps you can find a theme or genre that is underserved.
Or you might connect with a specific developer that needs something, and that helps you determine what you sell in the long run.
Maybe you can figure out what every other Game Artist is doing wrong. There are a lot of cheap 3D fantasy characters out there, but maybe there’s a key animation they are missing.
If you make a 3D fantasy character and deliver what the current options available to developers are missing, you’ll set your work apart.
Freelance or Marketplaces
Should you sell your work to one person/studio, or put it on a marketplace and sell it to many?
If you’re putting your work on marketplaces, your goal is to create assets that you think are likely to be popular. They should appeal to the needs of many so that they are likely to be bought by multiple developers.
This allows you to have passive income. As long as you maintain them and they continue to be popular, you continue to generate income from them. However, it takes hard work, marketing skills, time, and luck to establish your assets and have a reliable income from them.
Here are some marketplaces you can look at –
- Unity asset store
- Unreal asset store
If you work as a freelancer, you can charge high rates for your work as you are giving the clients exclusive rights to your work. You will not be able to reuse or resell them legally. In this case, you don’t have passive income, but you are guaranteed some income once you sign on a client.
You can look for potential clients in your own network, or at least start establishing a network.
You can use platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr. However, these markets have a bad reputation for being a “race to the bottom” – everyone bids against each other and whoever does the work for the least money wins.
It is possible to get started without industry experience. It will be more difficult. You won’t know for sure what the standards are in the industry for your work. Clients may feel that it is risky to hire you if you are untrained and untested.
You can make up for this by training yourself and learning from experienced people. You should display your best works very clearly in a portfolio.
You should be prepared to work on a few projects for a low rate or for free – only if you’re sure that they provide some great experience for you. You have to constantly improve yourself and your work so that you’re not stuck working for cheap forever.
On the other hand, experienced people are hired as consultants to push a project to the finish line. They are likely to be valued and paid very well.
Clients will see you as a less risky hire. They will feel like they can count on you to produce exactly what they need without much guidance.
Look beyond the Games Industry
You may have already considered this – there are other industries besides Games that require artists.
There is a trade-off here. These other industries have a higher demand for artists, but there may be more competition as well, as artists are more easily found for these industries.
You may be better off being really good at one specific thing – Game art – rather than diversifying and being a generalist.
Here are some industries you can try –
- Graphic Design
- Web design
- Marketing materials – brochures, landing pages, and more
- A lot of Serious Games exist as well. They comprise simulations or training experiences in industries such as Health, Transport, Art/Entertainment, ArchViz, and more. There are great opportunities in these areas and less competition. They are also likely to pay well, as the result is not dependent on a variety of factors as is the case with commercial games.
Some final tips
There is a lot that you can learn about to increase your chances of success. Here are some more ideas you can research to find out more
- Networking – Make friends with other freelancers to learn from them and work with them. Do the same with prospective clients and they will remember you in their time of need.
- Portfolios – A portfolio is the best way to sell your work.
- Work/life balance – Your health, mental and physical, will affect your work.
- Discipline – You won’t have a boss to make you work hard.
- Expenses – You need to manage your own expense. You won’t have benefits or guaranteed work. You’ll file your own taxes.
- Branding – Goes along with the idea of being a business person.
- Have a backup plan.
It can be overwhelming to try and do everything on your own. Proper guidance from Industry experts can be exactly what you need to ensure your success. Check out MAGES’ Game Art Diploma courses here.