Making a technical art consultancy firm?


#1

With a friend of mine we are exploring the idea of creating a consultancy firm. We’d specialize in solving technical art related problems in Unreal and Unity for companies who don’t have the time or the knowhow to R&D certain systems.

For example a developer might want to implement changing weather but ran into difficulties. They could hire us so we deliver a solution tailored for their needs. Everything from asset authoring guidelines through shaders to particle systems and example scenes. The documentation would explain how things work so they can tweak it quickly internally.

We would like to know the opinion of the community:

  • Does this seem like a financially viable business proposition?
  • Would you hire such a company?
  • Are there such companies you know of? (So not full fledged studios with programmers and artist who produce commissioned products, but companies focusing on R&D.)

#2

Morning, I’d say definitely yes having setup a similar thing a few years back with Red9. We’re more tech anim based rather than engine based but I think you’d be surprised just how many companies there are out there crying out for help. There seems to be a larger push for outsource or contract help for the mid level companies so go for it, and if you know any Lumberyard I can point you to a gig now :wink:

cheers

Mark


#3

I did something like this about 10 years ago, it’s possible but it’s a demanding business.

It’s doable, but it will take some time to really find your client base. The big marketing problem is that the companies which really need your help are often the least likely to be able to recognize the fact that they need your help. Smaller outfits – particularly those which are geographically isolated and out of touch with industry best practices – and indie studios without much production history are the best clients for this kind of work; they are also the least likely to realize that it’s what they need and often they will be reluctant to pay for what they really need.

Often consulting business work best if you have a couple of reliable clients – typically people you already know from past work – who can provide a little stability and help spread the word. It company X will keep you busy for a few months out of the year you’ll be able to work on finding new clients without worrying too much about paying your bills.

The first few jobs are the hardest. Once you get going and get some word-of-mouth advertising it becomes much easier. It helps if you can get clients in hub areas where there are several companies close by. Since people move from job to job within those areas your reputation will spread faster there. Ads cost money, and are very inefficient; in a small industry like ours a good reputation and good contacts are far more valuable.

A lot of work in this kind of thing goes into just drumming up new business. Expect to talk to ten companies for every job (at least!). Any time when you don’t have a contract you’ll need to be out trying to get meetings. Giving talks at shows like GDC or Gamescon is a good, so is writing articles for Gamasutra or Develop. The big thing is to go out and look actively for business; even in the age of the internet its not likely to come looking for you.


#4

@Mark-J Thanks for the input. Shame I haven’t used Lumberyard. :slight_smile:

@Theodox Yeah makes sense what you are saying. We could really use a business person doing the networking and meetings and shi… Anyone interested? :slight_smile: Otherwise I would be happy to write articles, I do that anyway on my site.


#5

The big marketing problem is that the companies which really need your help are often the least likely to be able to recognize the fact that they need your help. Smaller outfits – particularly those which are geographically isolated and out of touch with industry best practices – and indie studios without much production history are the best clients for this kind of work…

I can identify firsthand on the difficulties in convincing a studio to invest more in art tools and content pipeline development. It’s difficult for people that haven’t seen or experienced a superior pipeline and tool set to appreciate the value of such improvements. Fortunately in the case of my company, the decision makers here at the studio are smart and receptive to employee input (and persistent badgering on my part :grin:). As a result, we’re beginning to make the significant investments internally needed to elevate our content production apparatus to a point where we’re better able to compete in the broader industry.


#6

I just recently converted my overactive freelance into a full LLC on the general subject of creative software technical services and the only thing I have to add is that ultimately because its a services company all of its value is derived from the people you have to do the work. It’s not going to really grow equity or be sold, or offer any kind of Silicon Valley valuations, Like other have said the companies that appreciate what you do likely will just want to hire you, and the people who don’t know they need you don’t want to pay.

My recommendation is to look for design firms and productions houses that have project based hiring needs who would appreciate beiing able to throw something over the fence and have it solved. I have the most trouble with clients that want you to take over large parts of their production and you become enmeshed with their whole development process in a bad way, or they don’t really need specialized services, they need a babysitter that can be there everyday.

At the end of the day I’m doing the same things I did as a sole proprietor now under the blanket of the company and the only big benefit I’m looking at is that I can sub-contract work to people I know more easily than doing it all myself. Ultimately its all about personal relationships, and I had a similar desire to find a “business guy” to take over that aspect - but it turns out that people will send emails to the people they’ve worked with in the past more readily than pursuing cold contact / web advertising.


#7

Thank you guys, you’ve been really helpful!


#8

It’s also a really good idea to have a lawyer or experienced business owner to help you with contracts and so on. Very small differences in the structure of a deal can make very big differences to how good or bad the outcomes are for you. It’s a specialized skill that takes time to develop on your own, and you’ll be negotiating the money portion of any work with business people rather than tech people – don’t go in too naively.


#9

This is a really good point, we’ve spent thousands over the last few years on lawyer fees, going through contracts and especially Master Service Contracts with big companies. The larger the company, the tougher and less in favor their base contracts are but it pays to fight your corner!

In our case because a lot of what we do includes bespoke code we have to be very careful to retain ownership, if we’d have signed some of the base contracts we’ve been sent in the past then technically my children would now be owned by a multi-national!!