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I'm part of a small business (so very limited constraints) working with a very talented, professional game artist and will need to provide all necessary equipment. The artist has asked for the following setup (which to me seems super expensive):

  • Latest graphics targeted high-end laptop with matching keyboard
  • Large drawing tablet
  • Ergonomic mount for the tablet
  • Vertical ergonomic mouse

Do they really need all of this? Why?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The software they use should have minimum/recommended hardware (CPU, GPU, RAM, etc.) Compare that to the specs on the laptop they requested. You may be able to cut that back, but bear in mind that if they're doing CPU/GPU-intensive rendering operations, you'll save time with better gear (and time==money). The gear they physically interact with probably has less wiggle room... my niece is an artist, and she makes thorough use of a fancy Wacom tablet. \$\endgroup\$ – fadden May 4 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ If being mobile is not a requirement, I would suggest to stay away from laptops as their performance is limited by an amount of heat they can dissipate. Also, similarly specced desktop will be noticeably cheaper. \$\endgroup\$ – n0rd May 4 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Assuming that both you and your artist are somewhat well-paid professionals, I would wager a guess that the paid working time (because that's what it is) that you spend discussing this issue will probably already cost a significant fraction of whatever it is that you are hoping to save. In other words: it's not worth it. However, I second n0rd's comment: mobile workstations are freakishly expensive, and neither very good at being mobile, nor very good at being workstations. If you can get away with a "proper" workstation at all, go that route. \$\endgroup\$ – Jörg W Mittag May 4 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or look at it this way: the workstation will probably be used for about 2 years, until it is replaced. And, let's say it is 4000$ more expensive than what you are willing to pay. That is about 1 month's salary for a well-paid professional. If the more expensive machine allows the artist to be only 5% faster, he will already have saved more than one month of work during the lifetime of the machine. Plus, if you really spend 6000$ on a machine, it can be re-purposed as a fairly beefy office machine for almost a decade. \$\endgroup\$ – Jörg W Mittag May 4 at 22:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm also surprised at the request for a laptop (with no apparent request for one or more external monitors) because most good developers and artists tend to prefer at least one reasonably large, high-resolution screen. (23" 2.5K is about my minimum truly comfortable size, and my standard working environment is a 27" 4K monitor. Many developers I've worked with prefer two 27" 4K monitors.) \$\endgroup\$ – Curt J. Sampson May 6 at 2:09
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First of all, saving on work equipment is often saving at the wrong end. Giving your employees suboptimal equipment does not just hamper their productivity physically, it also hampers their productivity psychologically because they do not feel valued.

But on the other hand, if you just ask your employees to pick out any equipment they want and don't give them a budget, then it is to be expected that you get a Christmas wish list with everything they ever dreamed of working with.

what are some budget-friendly and reasonable substitutes for these?

Ask them. We do not know what your artist really needs. Maybe they are working with software and techniques which require that much equipment. Maybe not. "Game art" can mean anything from low-fi pixel art (which you can do on a 10 year old office PC) to cinema-quality pre-rendered 3d movies (which might require a million dollar render farm in the basement).

So asking them "Do you really need all that stuff or could you do with less?" Or "We got a buget for your equipment of $xxxx, would it be possible to stay within that range?" can't hurt. But if the answer is "no, I really need all that stuff", then you should trust their judgment. They know best what equipment they need to give you their peak performance. If you don't provide them with the tools they need to give you their best work, then you can't expect to get their best work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ might be useful to link Joel Spolsky's article on topic joelonsoftware.com/2006/09/07/a-field-guide-to-developers-2 \$\endgroup\$ – aaaaa says reinstate Monica May 4 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aaaaaa While the article has a lot of useful advise about how to keep developers happy and productive, the part of it which is relevant for this question ("Toys") is just a single paragraph of a very long article. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp May 4 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for giving them a budget to work with but not choosing for them. \$\endgroup\$ – technical_difficulty May 4 at 22:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ you get a Christmas wish list with everything they ever dreamed of working with. I can't upvote this otherwise excellent answer because of this sentence. It is my experience that the vast majority of professionals with more than a couple years of experience will ask for things that will actually affect their productivity. Nothing on the list that OP provided is even out of the ordinary. The laptop could possibly be replaced with a desktop for cheaper, but everything else (and even the specs of the laptop) probably are legitimate necessities for optimal performance from this employee. \$\endgroup\$ – GrandOpener May 6 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ A laptop is probably not a good idea, unless they need the portability. However, multiple monitors will increase their performance by a measurable amount. \$\endgroup\$ – Programmdude May 7 at 7:41
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Laptop is a waste of money, everything else is acceptable.

Ergonomic mouse and mount for tablet is a must. If he is going to be drawing for 8 hours a day, he will need it for health reasons.

Large drawing tablet is also acceptable. It's easier to work with a large canvas.

In regards to the laptop? Why? High end laptops are 4 times the cost of a high end desktop. Explain this to him and show a cost comparison.

As others have said, employees need to be able to work at their best, but at the same time they need to understand the realities of the business budget. Ask the artist to draft a cost comparison between the cheapest and most expensive items he wants. Once he returns the comparison, draft a budget and then return both to the the artist and let him choose where he wants to allocate his resources.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Laptop is a waste of money." Depends. If you expect the guy to be able to bring his computer to meetings, maybe not. \$\endgroup\$ – jpmc26 May 5 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ When you're talking high-end processors and graphics cards, it's cheaper to buy a powerful desktop system and a cheap laptop than it is to buy a laptop almost, but not quite, as powerful as that desktop system. Not to mention which, carrying around a lightweight low-power notebook with long battery life is a lot nicer than lugging a heavy "desktop replacement" that needs to be plugged in to power frequently. \$\endgroup\$ – Curt J. Sampson May 6 at 2:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ If someone requests an unusual mouse, they may have (or be concerned about) repetitive strain injury. It's better to pay for the ergonomic mouse, than to lose the employee because their hands are too sore to work. \$\endgroup\$ – Robyn May 6 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Robyn, ErgonomicMouse is less than 30-40€. If someone wan't one just by 5 of them. It's cheaper than a back toner. \$\endgroup\$ – xdtTransform May 6 at 7:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CurtJ.Sampson Not to mention that having just a powerfull desktop and a somewhat weak notebook is more than enough if all meetings are in the office (or arrange to get a VPN). A simple VNC or an RDP connection is enough. I would put the money saved from the laptop into a quality display. \$\endgroup\$ – Ismael Miguel May 6 at 8:16
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When making graphics you, usually, want to be able to layer a lot of assets. The more you can layer the richer the image is likely going to be and the more exciting it usually is.

How much power one needs depends a lot on style, user and art direction. However, I would like to point out that you do not want your artist to be hardware constrained under any circumstances. At the end of the day, your artist easily costs you more money than your hardware. If your artist is sipping coffee all day waiting for his tools to respond, then it's not money well spent. You are literally "saving" money from productivity, which actually even more costly.

Now artists, usually really need screen estate. So having a big screen or 2 is actually a productivity increase. Personally, I wouldn't supply artists with laptops, because big power laptops are not really portable. So any benefit you'd get from a laptop is lost. I would supply them with a good ergonomic desk and monitors though. And a separate laptop if they need to work from outside the office.

A tablet is a highly personal thing. Some need it others don't . Ask what tablet the artist is using now for his art. This lets you gauge whether or not they actually use a tablet at all or just thinks he needs one. Only an artist that is currently working on a tablet needs one. Acclimatizing to using one is a very slow process so unless artist already has a tablet workflow i would not get one. This said you should still have a tablet for those that do and for ones that need to transition due to workload.

At the end of the day you need to trust your artist. That also means trusting what they request is a really needed. You can negotiate cheaper or let them spend the budget. Just remember at the end of the day art is expensive.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I doubt that the number of layers you can use is much of a constraint on any modern hardware. \$\endgroup\$ – user253751 May 6 at 21:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Immibis Layering is not the same as using layers. Layering can be about adding complexity in various ways such as how fast the brush interaction is. See brushes blend pixels in layers. How fast the brush interaction is in a 20 million polygon displacement map is slightly different than a few layers in photoshop. Layering can be running a a procedural generator to generate fur and trees. Or stamping a million particles. \$\endgroup\$ – joojaa May 7 at 3:56
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The additional cost of the mouse is unlikely to be significant compared to the drawbacks of having one with poor ergonomics. That, and the tablet stand, are definitely not worth questioning unless they are crazy expensive (at least $300 each with obviously comparable models available for significantly less money). The tablet is in much the same boat; depending on what sort of "art" we're talking about¹, this is likely the single most critical tool your artist will be using (note: I have some experience here).

Depending on the artist, they may or may not want some form of tablet/screen combination. Even though that could get quite pricey, my inclination would still be to go with whatever they are most comfortable using. (The flip side is if they're just trying to leverage you to get "shiny hardware". You could guard against this by asking if they have prior experience with the hardware they are asking for, or, as others have suggested, just give them a budget and ask if it's possible for them to work with that. BTW, this is basically how my own employer works; we get so much $$ to buy hardware and can more or less spend it however we think is most appropriate.)

(¹ Painting of any sort is best done with a tablet. Someone doing level design might not need a tablet, and a modeler may or may not, depending if they also do texturing or if the "modeling" involves "sculpting"/"3D painting". However, any sort of raster graphics is likely to benefit from a good tablet, and if they're doing something whose analog equivalent would involve hand-held tools, a tablet is almost certainly going to be worth it.)

As noted... the real question should be about the laptop. If they don't need portability, a desktop is going to be a better value. That said, depending on what they're doing, art work is pretty good at hogging resources, so it's not unreasonable to want a respectable system.

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