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I was having a conversation with someone who believed that components of a games code where subcontracted out to programmers in different countries where it would be cheaper, then assembled by the local company. I understand that people often use pre-built engines but I would think that making the actual game would require people to work closely in the same studio.

I couldn't find much clear information on this when I looked, does anyone know?

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3 Answers 3

It happens. They are still "companies" so any kind of business move can be possible, including paying some foreigners to do a module of the game.

A recent famous example are the boss fights in Deus Ex : Human Revolution. They were made by another company than the Eidos team.

However, it is not common in the gaming industry, because it's harder to maintain coherency with a lot of people that are foreign to the core team. It happens mostly on very big projects where outsourcing graphics is not a problem for example, or outsourcing some modules like graphic rendering.

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Thank you, this is very helpful. –  Darv Apr 14 '12 at 6:23
    
*Addition, is the core team usually working from one location. –  Darv Apr 14 '12 at 6:33
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Actually, this is a poor example. The outside team produced exactly what they were asked to produce. The problem was that Eidos asked them for what they got. The design came from Eidos. –  DeadMG Apr 14 '12 at 15:31
    
The question is more about is outsourcing done by game companies than the effect of outsourcing on games. I removed the part about alienating the players to reflect that. –  Klaim Apr 15 '12 at 6:41

It does happen, though it's rare that it is done to save costs by outsourcing to cheaper countries, as with business software. In games it is usually one of the following:

  • An entire studio located in a different country to make franchised games based on an existing engine (eg. Ubisoft Shanghai making half the Splinter Cell games). This is indeed cheaper, but the result is not 'assembled' back home - the whole product, more or less, is handled by the other studio.
  • Studios with specific skills being contracted for specialist work. (eg. the Deus Ex: Human Revolution example where the boss fights were given to an FPS AI company.)
  • A studio might just be too small to finish the work on time, so they pay for another studio to take on some of the work (I have been involved in this myself), often one located nearby or owned by the same publisher.

I've seen cases when art assets were contracted out to companies on the Indian subcontinent, and heard of them being outsourced to China too. But I've never heard of part of the game code being contracted out like that - I think game code is considered a core competency of game developers and when you start subcontracting your supposed core competency to a cheaper place, that would indicate that you have some problems with your whole business.

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+1 for making clear that on the programming-side this rarely happens to save money, but that it happens much more frequently on the art side (especially on small/budget games). Oh, and here's another example of "outsourced code" at Ubisoft. –  Laurent Couvidou Apr 14 '12 at 13:01
    
"I've never heard of part of the game code being contracted out like that" is a very American/European-centric viewpoint and "I think game code is considered a core competency of game developers" is a very programmer-centric viewpoint. –  user744 Apr 15 '12 at 9:26
    
The first was a subjective statement and clearly phrased as such, so I don't think there's a problem. As for the second, I stick by it - a game developer that can't or won't produce its own games, whether by code or by tools, is a largely superfluous entity. You don't outsource the key part of your project. –  Kylotan Apr 15 '12 at 10:54
    
The key part of the project is the game holistically, not the tools, not the code (which is just another tool). –  user744 Apr 15 '12 at 15:01

Yes, in some companies subcontracting is very common. Particularly in Japan. Tose does contract work for an unbelievable number of companies - some Japanese studios consist only of concept artists and designers. Mistwalker outsources almost their entire engineering process.

From Gamasutra's Interview: Tose: Game Development Ninjas:

GS: How many people do you employ?

MA: 800 in Japan, 200 in china.

GS: How come we've never heard of you until right now?

Koichi Sawada: Well we're based in Kyoto, right? So we're ninja. You can't find us! But in the past 26 years we've worked on 1,100 games. Including partial games.

...

GS: Do you have a breakdown of what percentage of your staff does what?

SC: Our Chinese operation has a higher percentage of partial work, whereas the Japanese studios do more full development. Companies come to us if they need models, or maybe some animation. Right now, we're also making all of our artists in China hybrid artists. Which means they can do both 2D and 3D, so that at the end of the year, every artist should be able to do 3D art.

GS: How many dedicated 2D artists do you still have in China at this point?

SC: Maybe about 40.

GS: In Japan what are the majority? Programmers?

MA: Programmers and artists.

From Return Of The Ninja: Tose's Stealthy Outsourcing Progress:

How many developers are working at Tose, now that you've opened more studios?

It's 1,000 in Japan, 200 in China, and two in the U.S.

...

Are there any plans to do any more original IP out of Tose in the near future?

We already make original games for publishers, but we will not own the IP of that project.

Will it be based on ideas generated from Tose, or from the publisher?

From both. It depends on the project.

Note that Tose isn't doing mobile and web games, for which outsourcing is well-known - they're doing A to AAA games, sometimes the entire game, and having the publisher take credit for it.

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