58: Ubisourcing

"Some people hear "outsourcing" and go completely nonlinear. Often, these folks feel personally threatened that someone in India or China will take over their own job. We're just starting to hear that note of fear in the electronic gaming industry, where "offshoring" (subcontracting production work to overseas studios) is quietly becoming standard practice - fostered, in great part, by Ubisoft." Allen Varney addresses Ubisoft's role in the practice of software "offshoring" in "Ubisourcing."

Ubisourcing

"Western developers have offshored technical and minimally creative jobs: audio, music, art assets and animation"

Are you serious? Art, music and audio not creative?

I must be in the wrong ****ing industry.

Bugger me. There's more. I had to post after reading that line before, but it get's worse:

"Right now, these offshore studios are writing music and making low-poly objects. Will they be happy doing that forever?"

God forbid anyone be happy with the lowly drudgery of making game music! Someone get Marty O'Donnell in here. He needs to see this...

Minimally creative? Are you daft?

Try playing Silent Hill 3 with the sound muted. Or maybe give God of War a spin without all those fantastic animations and character designs.

Yeah, that's hilarious. I can't think of anyone who actually makes games who would characterize art, animation and audio as "minimally creative."

Based on this article, I'm going to go ahead and guess that Varney has no understanding of the role of independent contractors in the game industry. Just because something isn't done in-house doesn't mean it's "outsourced."

Actually, that's the exact definition of "outsource," Ian.

And really, I'm calling a 15-yard penalty for pile on, here. Not to speak for Allen, but the way I read what he was saying was in the context of the type of art and music that doesn't require all that creative a vision, which is why you wouldn't bother trusting it to your core team in the first place. This could be stuff like low-poly background art or low-key background music you don't normally hear during extended gameplay sessions. Is there room to be creative there? Sure, there's room to be creative in project planning, too. But it's not exactly Rembrandt.

Everybody: Sorry! Sorry! When I stupidly typed "minimally creative," I was actually thinking "minimally supervised." I absolutely don't believe, nor mean to imply, that art and music aren't creative.

Sorry again!

Joe:
Actually, that's the exact definition of "outsource," Ian.

Not in the context of this article, it's not. Outsourcing, as used in the article, refers to hiring foreign talent to perform work more cheaply than it could be done domestically. This is most definitely NOT what is being done when most audio and art work is contracted out to independent contractors.

But Allen has very kindly clarified, so it's all good.

Regarding outsourcing vs. offshoring, stay tuned for a forthcoming Escapist, where I discuss the increasing use of offshored companies and contractors in game production. As much as 65 percent of all current game projects are using outsourcing, according to some estimates, and more and more of that business is being farmed out to Russia, Eastern Europe, India, Israel, China, and Vietnam.

BTW, sorry for getting all knee-jerk there. It's a something of a sore subject. :)

APVarney:
Everybody: Sorry! Sorry! When I stupidly typed "minimally creative," I was actually thinking "minimally supervised." I absolutely don't believe, nor mean to imply, that art and music aren't creative.

Sorry again!

Thanks for the clarification, in that context, it is true that elements of game production that don't need constant supervision are the easiest to outsource. Voiceover and music come to mind on the audio side. They're kind of "fire and forget" elements that can be tasked to an outside source, then taken back in once the work is complete.

As for my second comment above, your clarification casts things in a new light - you're right, once a company can handle say, music for you, then it's a short step on to v/o and sound effects. Same with art, it could start at simple texturing, then works up to complex level and multiple asset creation. How long before design and code gets included? By that time you're into offshoring, rather than outsourcing.

Oh, and my apologies for the brusque tone in my first comments; working at the coalface in game audio breeds a kind of cynicism beyond that of normal man...

Lovemoose:
"Western developers have offshored technical and minimally creative jobs: audio, music, art assets and animation"

Are you serious? Art, music and audio not creative?

I must be in the wrong ****ing industry.

In my opinion, it's not a terrible stretch to call it "minimally" creative to draw a mundane object that you've been told to draw, in somebody else's style, for use in a setting and manner that still another person has decided upon; nor to record a realistic and common sound effect per another person's request. There's creativity involved in these tasks, yes, but not much.

If outsourcing/offshoring is a concern to you, then really, there's only two defenses. One is to make sure that your employer relies on skills that you have but somebody in another country probably will not. The other is to perform tasks that can only be done in person. Both of these things are becoming harder, and for some people, it's very unsettling. Still, the cost-effectiveness of outsourcing is losing its relevance as wages in the popular offshoring countries for technical labor are driven up (to say nothing of the costs of doing business with people in another time zone who may speak a different language).

Bongo Bill:
In my opinion, it's not a terrible stretch to call it "minimally" creative to draw a mundane object that you've been told to draw, in somebody else's style, for use in a setting and manner that still another person has decided upon; nor to record a realistic and common sound effect per another person's request. There's creativity involved in these tasks, yes, but not much.

Okay, fair enough, but it wasn't qualified in that manner in the article.

To date, Western developers have offshored technical and minimally creative jobs: audio, music, art assets and animation...

On behalf of all the audio content creators that have worked on games for the last 40 years I'd like to say thanks for minimizing our contributions with one thoughtless sentence.

DChan:
I didn't read the thread.

Hey, chief. Allen addressed this five posts ahead of yours.

As a reminder to everyone, reading the entire thread before you post is your ticket to rational, intelligent discourse!

That's all well and good Joe, but how about correcting the article then? It's already going around the audio community. Even then I absolutely disagree that music or sound should fall into that category. Of course there are elements that aren't as important as others in the game, but even "background" music needs to be done well or it can jerk the player out of the immersion of the game. Audio reinforces everything, it makes weapons seem powerful, it makes dialog seem important, it makes action seem more intense. Because it's so visceral and not as obvious as super duper shader effects people tend to forget this.

DChan, I absolutely agree with you that music is an important element of the whole game experience. But it is a provable fact that musicians need less supervision than some other creators involved in the production process. What is your objection to "minimally supervised"?

By the way, if my mistake is already going around the audio community, I would take it as a favor if you would relay my apology to those interested.

The sentence isn't addressing the importance of the tasks in relation to the game as a end product Chan. I'd say that the sound effects for the clash of weapons can be created just fine without being under the direct supervision of the people who have the "vision" of what the game is supposed to be like at end product. They can tell the management overseas to make the music guttural, gritty, morose, or even melodic without hearing it during creation. They can send scripts / scenes / needs to them without needing to be there. At the other end you've got core programming you need to be on top of every step of the way.

Look at it this way, a music piece that isn't quite right yet, can be written without incurring harmful changes. If a seemingly small change to the code needs to be made and it breaks five other things, your whole project can be pushed back another month. The artistic elements also have to mesh with each other, but when they don't the game doesn't get pushed back from domino effects.

I'm sure that Alan wasn't trying to suggest the artistic elements are unimportant. The sheer ignorance in that statement ought to make you think of what was trying to be said (or what you're inferring in this case). We all know that the music and the sounds are an important part of a game.

Ultimately, we did not correct the article and opened the subject for discussion on the forum for the very reason you mentioned: It's already going around the audio community. If it's a copy and paste of that section, our changing it in the article will make no difference. If it's a link to the article, emailed links are rarely unaccompanied by commentary, in this case, likely describing the unintended sentiments of the article. And for those who've already read the article, they will not likely go back to re-read an article to find a one word difference. Ultimately, we felt changing the text wasn't the real issue - we felt a discussion should be had and an explanation made.

What can be done to fix the problem is to link the same people who were linked the article because it was upsetting, to this forum thread where any frustrations can be discussed and/or allayed.

APVarney:
DChan, I absolutely agree with you that music is an important element of the whole game experience. But it is a provable fact that musicians need less supervision than some other creators involved in the production process. What is your objection to "minimally supervised"?

By the way, if my mistake is already going around the audio community, I would take it as a favor if you would relay my apology to those interested.

I did, post your correction. What I object to is the idea that it's okay to have the creation of sound and music (let's not fuse the 2 because they are actually 2 different disciplines) are just as influential in and influenced by the creative process of making a game. Of the projects I have been invovled with the more involvement the audio team had in the process the better the end product was. Now, I'm not saying that everything has to be done in-house as this is not realistic given the costs of making a game now. However, contracting doesn't have to be arms length either. The process of having a core team with contractors being brought in for critical portions of a production happens all the time in the movie industry and it is one of the few things that can be paralleled in game making.

May I remind you that Silent Hunter III and Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII are produced ENTIRELY by UbiSoft Romania? Now... so, let's say that the creative work is just "assumed" by the nations who provide the Big Brothers. They need fresh air in their productions exactly for that creative part, which comes from those "offshore" production teams.

From my point a view this article could have been alot more if some more research "on the other side" would have been involved.

 

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