Develop speaks to Rabcat to discuss its ten years in a rapidly changing business

The evolution of outsourcing

Rabcat has been providing art outsourcing to high profile development studios for a decade. As the firm celebrates its tenth anniversary, we catch up with senior staff.

Wolfram Neuer, art production chief (left); Thomas Schleischitz, CEO (right)

How has art outsourcing changed in the ten years Rabcat has been in business?

Schleischitz: Outsourcing has faced a major shift since we founded Rabcat in 2001. Back at the beginning, we were mostly involved in various productions for Xbox and PS2.

In those early days, it was possible to cover the complete art demand of a title with a handful of artists. Today, with a production headcount of 35-plus we are barely able to provide 10 per cent of the complete art package for a typical current-generation triple-A production.

For example, creating a vehicle for GTA Vice City suitable for Xbox was a pretty short task. Just spend a few days; done. Compared with this, it’s a very different beast to produce a racing car for Test Drive Unlimited or even Forza Motorsport 3.

I am not allowed to get too specific regarding this topic, but you can take it from me, it’s far more time consuming. It’s not about man-days any more; today it’s about man-months.

Besides the constantly increasing time and effort that has to be put into state-of-the-art content production, the whole game market itself has experienced an epic change. Unfortunately, both publishers and developers of boxed titles learned it the hard way that gamers are no longer exclusive to consoles. Browser-based games flooded the market extremely fast and claimed a huge market share.

It’s certainly a crisis for many traditional publishers and developers, yes, but it could be a great opportunity as well.

What of Rabcat’s work and achievements over the past decade are you and the team most proud of?

Schleischitz: First of all, we are really proud of the fact that we have been in business for 10 years in a very successful way. I’d call it a seal of quality if a company survives in this ultra-fast moving industry for a decade.

But, no doubt, the biggest achievement is of course the team that we formed during the last few years. At the end of the day, it’s due to very loyal, professional and passionate people who enable Rabcat to stay competitive.

They are the reason for top development studios to book us. For me, both our track record as well as our client list is a testament to the quality of the work we do.

How is Rabcat expecting to have to adapt and change to satisfy developers’ needs?

Schleischitz: As mentioned before, we are in the middle of a fundamental change. As any industry, our industry is driven by money as well and video games investment has changed fundamentally, shifting to online and mobile products. Many major console players are having serious trouble adapting to online and/or mobile, and are not able or willing to make proper investments.

At the moment, most of those productions are equipped with comparatively small budgets. With regard to our business model as a dedicated premium art vendor, I assume it will be simply impossible to compete against vendors from low-wage countries when it comes to low or mid-budget productions for the growing online and free-to-play section.

So, what shall we do or how do we have to adapt to stay competitive? A frequently-used argument is if you want to compete against China you have to go to China and establish a team there. To tell the truth, this is – for several good reasons – not the solution I believe in.

Fortunately, I definitely notice a significantly rising demand for visual quality for browser-based games. As soon as the market requests higher quality, budgets will raise as well.

That’s why I am confident that we will add some quality-orientated browser-game companies to our client pool in the course
of 2011.

Could you give us an overview of how Rabcat’s outsourcing model works?

Neuer: We have numerous internal QA steps on the artistic and technical side. Multiple specialists are responsible for guiding our team in their field.
Both our art director and dedicated lead artists take a look at each asset and project every single day, and are also responsible for the final approval before the client receives our model.

In addition, the art department receives support from project managers who take care of all projects from a financial and organisational perspective.

We do take our internal QA very seriously at Rabcat. It’s our highest priority to make sure that each asset looks as good as possible under the project’s given constraints.

And it’s equally important to us to deliver a constantly good quality and a consistent
art style.

In theory Rabcat’s outsourcing model is probably not that different from the approach used by our competitors in the high quality art segment.

But it’s our extreme attention to detail that distinguishes us from the all of the other outsourcing studios.
Our team is highly motivated and shows initiative to deliver an asset that works perfectly for the intended purpose. That’s why our clients trust in our services and keep coming back.

Providing art assets must mean you have to stay constantly at the head of the curve. How does Rabcat stay on top of the rapid and complex tech developments in game development?

Neuer: It’s really not that hard for us. We’re lucky to have a team that is very interested in learning new techniques and workflows to improve their artistic and technical skills. But we do have a platform in place that lets our artists share their knowledge evenly across the team.

We do arrange internal workshops and initiate discussions on a regular basis. Attendances at tradeshows and conferences keep us connected with numerous other industry professionals.Furthermore, we’re also having beta testers for tools in our team, which helps to know where the trend is heading to. This in combination with 10 years of experience helps us to cover a wide range of tasks no matter what the art style.

In recent years outsourcing’s reputation seems to have changed for the better. Why do you think the industry is now far more positive about outsourcing?

Neuer: Due to the growing complexity of creating games and the increased expectations in regard to their visual quality, game developers previously had only a few options to meet these demands, without choosing to begin working with an outsourcing partner.

That’s why most game studios already had experience with outsourcing, or at least familiarised themselves with this topic. In the early stages of this trend a lot of mistakes had been made.

But by now it is common knowledge that it is important to choose an outsourcing partner very carefully, and that the developer itself needs to be prepared for a cooperation as well, in order to outsource art assets
most efficiently.

The industry also realised that a reliable outsourcing partner could benefit their developer in more ways than just providing cheap assets.

Outsourcing – when it is done right – enables full cost control over a package of art tasks. Ideally you don’t have to care too much about the production ready assets that get delivered.

And game development studios can compensate their need for ramping with an external team that has proven to work together efficiently.

The facts detailed above have resulted in a changing perception in regard to video game outsourcing.

Game developers realise the value they are getting out of outsourcing services and are treating them to some extent as part of the team, which in the end benefits both the parties involved.

About MCV Staff

Check Also

22 fantastic winners and the lovely things people said about them – from last night’s IRL Awards

[Apologies but we don’t yet have the photos back from our photographer, so I’ve stolen …