Let’s be honest — it’s almost impossible to have deep knowledge in every field, be it game development or accounting. So from time to time, you’ll need certain professionals to help you out.

And it’s totally okay – nowadays the practice of contracting out a number of tasks to third parties is becoming more and more popular.

As you may already know, it’s called outsourcing, and it’s used by a lot of game companies such as Square Enix, Blizzard and Ubisoft.

Over the last decade, outsourcing has become a common thing in the gaming industry with companies growing huge and gamers craving for more.

As a matter of fact, its so common that many game studios like Bethesda, PopCap Games and Guerilla Games even have a position of an outsourcing manager.

There’s also an increasing number of indie startups that seek professional game development services. As a result, a vast amount of games you love were made with the help of outsourcing providers.

AAA games built with outsourcing

Are you a fan of “God of War”? The main winner of The Game Awards 2018 is a great example of a successful partnership with third-party providers. For example, the game’s end level art was contracted out while Santa Monica Studios only did the optimization.

Another great example is Guerilla Games with its “Horizon: Zero Dawn” – the best-selling game during its release week in the UK and Australia, the second most popular game in Japan, the chart-topping game on PlayStation Store in March 2017.

The development of “Horizon” began in 2011, just as the “Killzone 3” was released, and during the six years of it, nineteen outsourcing companies from all around the globe were working hard to create the game you now enjoy.

It took two years and sixtyfive game development specialists to build eleven enemy robots and it’s only a 1/3 of all the game’s robot types.

Only “Thunderjaw”, the biggest one, took six artists and about four months to create. Character modeling, facial animation, motion capture, interface design, environmental assets are just a few examples of what Guerilla Games chose to outsource.

3D art, some of the levels’ design, coding of “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End“, “Forza Motorsport 7“, “Star Wars Battlefront II”, “Need For Speed Payback”, “Far Cry 4”, “FIFA 17”, “Mortal Kombat X”, “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3” were also made by external partners.

aaa video games

In most cases, AAA video games takes a lot of time and money to make.

Hidden Outsourcing: Why some companies prefer not to disclose their Outsourcing partnerships

Usually, you can discover whether a game was outsourced by looking at the credits: if they take a half an hour to read, it becomes almost obvious.

According to the International Game Developers Association’s crediting guidelines, «any person who has contributed to the production of the game for less than 5% of the project’s total workdays in development (or 30 days, whichever is least) may be provided with credit in a “Special Thanks” section, which may be tiered with an “Additional Special Thanks” section».

However, that’s just a recommendation, and some publishers choose not to mention indie game studios they worked within their credits.

And it happens for a number of different reasons, but mostly due to the fact that sometimes studios don’t want to confuse their customers and want to be fully associated with the game they publish.

There are people who follow brands and decide what game to purchase based on the development studio.

These people would rather buy a game made by Epic Games than by an unfamiliar company based in Serbia.

And, on the other hand, there are also small studios gaining a good reputation that are asking not to be mentioned in the game’s credits so that they won’t be associated with it if it flops.

So, if your favorite game’s credits are short, don’t take it for granted that it wasn’t outsourced – the publisher might just have not wanted to include any external partners in the credits or didn’t get permission to do so.

There’s even a name for the cases when a third-party provider stays anonymous – they call it white label development, ghost development or secret team.

For example, the Nintendo DS version of a classic tower-defense game we all know – “Plants vs. Zombies” – was a white-label job for a small Japanese studio that preferred not to disclose its name.

Why game development companies turn to outsourcing

A lot of game development companies adopt the outsourcing strategy at launch to reduce costs and end up fully integrating it into the company’s policy due to the profits and flexibility they got out of it.

According to the GSA report, 70% of buyers surveyed said they expect to increase their use of outsourcing, with 35% planning to do so significantly. Meanwhile, 84% of service providers expect the outsourcing industry to grow; 37% believe it will do so significantly.

the outsourcing industry

In other words, the outsourcing industry should become rather interesting in the next five years.

But why do the majority of large companies outsource certain game dev tasks?

Well, according to Brandon Gaille, the most common reasons are:

Cost reduction, which was chosen by 44% of respondents. It’s the most obvious advantage as well, as it stems from the difference in wages between different companies and countries.

Access to IT resources unavailable internally (34%). The explanation is simple – you just don’t need to hunt, hire and train people or buy and maintain expensive equipment, once you chose to hire game development studio with its talented specialists and up-to-date facilities.

Release of internal resources — which means focusing on the core processes while delegating time-consuming and complicated tasks to external companies — rounds up the top 3 with 31%.

why outsource

Here are a handful of reasons why you should outsource your project.

Nevertheless, to get the most out of outsourcing, experienced companies follow simple rules, that we recommend you to use as well, once you decide to work with indie game devs.

Firstly, you’ll need to plan everything out carefully so that you find the best team possible. Make research by reading forums and websites like Quora, LinkedIn, Clutch.co and make a preliminary list of companies you’d like to work with.

Then check their websites and social media, their portfolios and testimonials. Contact the companies and ask about the technologies they use, their experience and costs.

Remember that a good development studio won’t be cheap, so think about quality before costs. It’s also important to use the latest tools and technologies as the gaming industry is changing and developing constantly.

So make sure that you’ll be in touch and get a response from them whenever you’ll reach out. Monitor the game dev process regularly and report mistakes instantly so that you are sure that your game is doing well and is the one you initially wanted.

So, to summon things up. Nowadays it’s getting more and more common for game publishers to contract out a number of tasks to external companies, and it’s a profitable deal for both sides.

Huge companies like EA make lists of small game developers which focus on a wide range of aspects and reach out to them whenever they need help with a new game which they are making.

And by that, they ease the process for themselves so that they don’t need to hire new staff spending a lot of money and time, and also they help smaller companies gain experience and take part in making of a game that will most probably enjoy commercial success!

And with that said, in this article, we told you about the role of outsourcing in-game development, provided with examples, reasons, benefits and pieces of advice.

So feel free to contact us (Knock Games) if you have any questions left. Good luck!

Robin Ek – Editor

/Katherine Misiuk
Knocknock Games

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