The Twitterverse was all abuzz yesterday about this post, in which a cynical game producer advises skipping the professionals and trolling Deviantart to find game artists. A few of the comments really set people off:
These guys aren’t used to making a lot of money for their work so they will be more appreciative of the chance even if they are being payed slightly less than what professionals are payed. Second of all, they’re better... Unless you have a specific price you want to pay in mind, ask THEM what they are willing to charge for the project. This usually causes people to give offers that are lower than what you normally pay, and will make them happy.
If an artist knows how much their artwork will increase the value of the game they will then feel they deserve that amount of money. This is not how a market economy works, you hire whoever is able to do the best job for the lowest amount of money, anything else is a loss of money on your end.
The original post has garnered 948 comments so far, and there's a lively discussion going on at The Beat and Colleen Doran's blog as well. Meanwhile, Bleeding Cool has another cautionary tale, about Bluewater Comics offering an artist two copies of their Justin Bieber comic in exchange for the copyright to the painting he posted on DeviantArt.
It's not exactly a news flash that publishers will exploit creators and pay them bottom dollar whenever possible; that has been a built-in feature of comics publishing, and publishing in general, from the get-go. This video game guy was just being honest, and it's true that a lot of young artists who post on DeviantArt would probably be thrilled to have their art featured in a real game, payment or no payment.
The comments at The Beat are full of suggestions for artists on avoiding publishers like that. It's not always easy to figure out the going rate for freelance work, unless you have a lot of friends in the biz, but it's time that we all started acknowledging that the business end of things is part of the job of being an artist, and only chumps starve in garrets. Art programs should include courses in basic business practices, and artists should be using the internet or their local libraries to learn about the more worldly end of their profession.
That said, your first gig is bound to suck. It's the nature of the beast. Even a reputable, ethical publisher is in the business to make money, and that means limiting exposure on untried talent. I'm all for taking that first job for cheap, if it will give the creator visibility and a connection to a reputable house. Unfortunately, neither Bluewater Comics nor Christopher Gregorio's games is going to do that, which is why artists need to know their markets as well as the going rates.
One last thought, though: If Mr. Gregorio really thinks he is getting better work for bottom dollar, he is sadly misguided. He might get a couple of nice drawings for cheap, but over the long haul, you really do get what you pay for.