They say people eat with their eyes, and kick-starters work exactly the same. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling- toy soldiers, a board game, a piece of technology… words just don’t do it. People want to see pictures!
From the outset therefore I realised that graphic design and art were key to the success of The Drowned Earth, or any tabletop wargame. This is before we consider the fact that the actual product of a miniatures game is not the rules, fluff or website images, but the actual miniatures themselves.
Language and Commissioning
I’ve dealt a lot with foreign artists while working on The Drowned Earth – there’s plenty of talent within the UK (where I live) but we live in an internet age, and there’s no reason to restrict yourself to commissioning art with a geographical bias. However, a language bias is another thing altogether. I have found people who’s work inspires me, and tried to work with them regardless of where they are from, or their level of English. Sometimes working with foreign artists and sculptors has been interesting and sometimes a frustrating process- the fault is mine. I learned French at school in theory at least, and can speak almost no French now. Likewise my Russian and Spanish are simply non-existent. Being a linguist would have been hugely useful in this project but I don’t have the skills. Overall I would say working with non-English speaking artists has increased my workload by x5 or more. I also think it’s not just language, but sometimes a shared cultural understanding which makes communication more effective- “imagine Arnie from Predator was a Dwarf” is pretty universal. “I want him to look arrogant and petulant at the same time, with a hint of swagger” is fairly complex not just in terms of language, but in cultural understanding of what that combination of attitudes looks like.
Would I do it differently next time? No. I love that the project is multinational, and think that diversity has brought a lot to the table.
What did I learn?
Well, I think the first and most important point, whether you’re hiring artists in your own language or not, is to be as specific as possible about what you want. Even then, don’t presume they’ll understand you. It can be a frustrating process when you’re not on the same wavelength, and sometimes I think it’s ok to pay up and chalk it down to experience. Ultimately you’re not buying art- you’re collaborating with an artist to make your ideas come to life.
For me, the surprising part was not just how much creative input I was often allowed to have, but how much was necessary for me to get the best out of the artists. Now, a slight caveat to that statement- every artist I’ve worked with has been different. In general though, I found that most artists wanted very clear direction, and did not want the freedom to “explore” my ideas. I think the reason for that is simple: they’re at work, and their job is to deliver a product that I want. “Artistic freedom” sounds great, but in practice that means meeting my ever changing expectations. In other words, it’s very difficult to please a person who doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want.
I of course, want their absolute best work. How can I guarantee this? Well, the simple answer is – think of a great idea, and communicate it as efficiently as you can. Don’t expect the artist to be a genius every time they work- if they are, you probably can’t afford them.
Once you’ve built a trust relationship with an artist I suspect the “freedom” aspect becomes more relevant. One of the sculptors I’ve been working with needs very little direction – he follows the concept art but just seems to look at it in the same way as I do. On the other hand, one of the 2D artists I hired knocked the first image he made for me right out of the park, while the few which followed it are nowhere near as impressive.
How much is enough?
The amount of art you need depends heavily on what your product is, and your sales strategy and expectations. I’ve seen miniature games launch with very little in the way of 2D art. I’ve seen some launch with only one or two sculpts, and a bunch of character concepts.
My strategy was simple- I wanted to launch with enough miniatures already sculpted to play the game with a modicum of variety. I wanted at least some of those miniatures to be fully produced in the final production material, in order to demonstrate proof of concept, and assure the backer of quality. I wanted each of these miniatures to have full colour concept art, and also provide at least 10 colour images as samples of the quality of art the customer could expect from the rulebook.
At least three of these images should be very high quality, and evocative of the world in which the game is set- this was very important to me – I believe strongly that one of the unique selling points of my game is the world itself: the background, environment, and flavour of the world. Thusly two things were essential: a decent sample of background writing (which I am working on myself) and several really good images.
Is that a winning formula? I don’t know. What I do know though, is that it isn’t THE winning formula. Every project is different, and I hope you already have a good idea of who your customer base is, and what sort of “Presentation” you think will appeal to them.
I can honestly say that commissioning art and sculpts has been one of the most fun parts of the project. It’s incredibly rewarding to see your characters, environments and world come to life in colour and 3D. It’s been trying, very expensive, and challenging, but I could still do it all day every day!
Next week: Marketing!