One of the questions I’m struggling with now is something that lots of new game creators run into – should you buy art for your game? Of course, there’s two sides to that story, and I just fell on the wrong side.
NO! Don’t buy art!
When you ask most game designers where they stand on the question, you’ll hear that you should definitely not, never-ever purchase art for your game. “Publishers don’t care about your art,” they say, “and they’ll just replace it with their own artist.” That’s what I bought into, and I still actually think it’s true, in many cases.
That’s because often, art takes a backseat to the mechanics – does the game work? If not, no amount of art is really going to save it (unless it’s from a really good IP). This focus on mechanics, rather than art, is a good thing – after all, the mechanics are what make a game fun and replayable and etc etc.
Plus, says everyone, when you put too much time and effort into your art assets, you’re showing the publisher that you’re “too finished” and that you’re so proud of your baby that you won’t want to make any tweaks or changes. When you show up with a game that looks too nice, it could be a sign that you’re inflexible.
Plus, getting art for an entire game can cost you thousands of dollars. Yikes.
But wait…why NOT buy art?
This is literally the extent of my artistic and digital skills. The pinnacle of everything I have achieved can be seen in this card.
At first, I fell in line with the “don’t buy art” crowd – after all, it makes perfect sense. Then, Cool Table got accepted into the Tabletop Deathmatch, and I thought, “Okay, I need to put enough design time into this to get it off of index cards, but it doesn’t need to look great. It just needs to be functional.”
So when I finally saw my episode of the Tabletop Deathmatch (especially the rough cut), they spent a large chunk of time talking about the art and how bad it was. That was incredibly disheartening to me. I didn’t realize that we were supposed to be so far along, and that your art was an important component of this.
And they were absolutely right – my demo copy of Cool Table last year was a mess. The colors were all over the place and everything was bland and flat. I did the best I could, but it just wasn’t enough. I’m not an artist. My rudimentary skills in Inkscape are laughable, even a year later. I make stuff, but I’m not an artist.
So this year, I worked and reworked my cards and tokens and demo copy, and finally got the game mostly presentable and slightly more-well-designed, but it was still missing life. It was missing the cliques. For Cool Table, theme is important – perhaps not as important as mechanics, but it’s still a key piece of the game. And I’m definitely not capable of drawing these highly-specific cliques (nor are there images I can draw from online – YOU try finding a goth-kid-wizard-math-genius!).
After worrying about it a little, I finally decided to just pay for art. My artist friend, Cynthia Lee (who is amazing), is giving me an incredible deal (and she’s doing it incredibly fast!) and I’m absolutely thrilled. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s a really, really good way for publishers and playtesters to get to see a nice, better-executed game. After all, understanding the Geekroids is critical to game-winning success.