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Me and my friends are programmers.We decided to try ourselves in game design. As we don't want to find ourselves in debts, we decided to avoid investors. We want to develop and publish a couple of simple 2D games to test the ground. So we collected some humble funds to pay artists and for some other stuff like Unity.

The question is: what is more expensive - 2D sprites or 3D models for 2D games (not mega visual rich)? The question is adressed to artists and modelers and to everyone who has expirience hiring them. Thanks in advance!

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    \$\begingroup\$ This depends entirely on the quality/quantity/features involved for each. Some quick research with the type of models/sprites you have in mind should give you estimates for their prices. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Jul 26 '13 at 3:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ 2D Sprites is more expensive. but if it was for an iPhone games it would be cheap.On the other hand 3D is less expensive, easier and faster and Of course the quality is much much better.And what you have done in 2D can be used in 3D as well.The more it looks realistic, the BETTER :) . \$\endgroup\$ – Psycho 4 Physics Jul 26 '13 at 10:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Psycho4Physics Realistic isn't always BETTER. I do not want a realistic human looking Mario, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – jumpnett Aug 20 '14 at 21:06
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As always, it depends.

Game art is a very deep field, so in my opinion you should find a well rounded artist partner to help you, instead of hiring people to do do specific jobs.

Regarding 2D vs 3D, in fact, as Quacks says, creating a 3D model is much more complex than creating a 2D drawing, and therefore more expensive.

However, animating in 2D is increasingly more complex than in 3D as the amount of frames increases, because you have to make a complete new drawing for each frame, while in 3D you it is much simpler. Also, making changes, and creating variations of existing data is easier in 3D than it is in 2D.

In fact, I'd dare say that a very compelling reason why fully animated 2D games are not as common today as they were say, in the 90s, is that 2D is simply too expensive.

However, this also greatly depends on the game you're making. Graphical data for an action platform game is probably cheaper in 3D, while for a puzzle game it may be cheaper in 2D.

Nevertheless, remember that you will need 2D assets regardless of whether your game is 2D or 3D, for the menus, GUI, web/box art among many others.

Also, keeping all of the art consistent and interesting is a very complex task, which is why I recommend you to get a well rounded art director, or become one yourself.

Regarding costs, the skills associated with making 2D graphics are vastly different from those required for 3D, and there are no standards in pricings, so your best bet is probably to ask for estimates. However, knowing what to ask for is difficult by itself, which is yet one more reason to get yourself an art director.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Also: Customization is much more difficult in 2D than 3D. Allowing the player to unlock 5 different outfits for their character is much easier to do if all you're doing is attaching a model piece to your avatar, rather than redrawing all their animations. \$\endgroup\$ – Katana314 Jul 26 '13 at 3:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Katana314: yep, that's why I said "Also, making changes, and creating variations of existing data is easier in 3D than it is in 2D." \$\endgroup\$ – Panda Pajama Jul 26 '13 at 4:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1: 2D animations are significantly easier than in 3D even with a decent number of hand-drawn sprite frames. 3D animations are quite a bit more involved than just animating a walk cycle or a jump and typically require way more frames of animation plus interpolation to look good at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Jul 26 '13 at 9:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sean makes you wonder why even 2d animated shows are mostly CG made and not hand drawn these days... \$\endgroup\$ – Panda Pajama Jul 26 '13 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sean let me put it this way. Changing the angle at which all objects are drawn at, say because of a design change, may imply a complete redraw of all assets, effectively doubling the cost of the art, while doing so in 3d simply implies changing the position of the camera. \$\endgroup\$ – Panda Pajama Jul 26 '13 at 12:58
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2D is cheaper; much cheaper. Reasons why:

  • Significantly less work is required in the 2D pipeline
    • "just" draw the frames (or the skeletal pieces if using 2D skeletal animation) and the character is ready to drop in
    • No need for multiple materials for normals/lighting/etc.
    • Animations can be much simpler (few frames, no IK) but still look great in 2D
    • 3D has many parts, usually handled by separate specialized artists in bigger projects
      • Concept artist
      • Modeler
      • Rigger
      • Animator
      • Texture painter
      • Lighting and FX
      • Potentially a whole team just for VFX (particles and the like)
      • Usually separate teams for character vs environment art
    • 2D art for one character is typically all done by the same person
      • Maybe separate artists for characters vs environments
      • More artists more directly correlates to more content
  • The level of expertise is much less overall in 2D
    • Hence you need less people in the pipeline
    • 2D artists are cheaper on average, especially when accounting for skill level
    • There are less things (like lighting) to have to handle
  • Programmer/designer time is significantly cut down in 2D
    • With 3D you need to do with a larger number of external tools/integrations
    • Engine support to handle the assets exported is much more complicated
    • Physics is way easier, which does impact art and design requirements
      • Hit box definitions
      • Physics materials
      • Character controllers (animation combinations and transitions)
      • You need significantly more animations just for a basic 3D model to not look like crap
      • You need animation blending, animation trees, etc. in 3D
    • There is significantly more project-specific training required of both programmers and artists regarding the engine and supported features
      • Not all 3D models are created equal, nor are all 3D engines
      • Meshes, textures, materials, animations, etc. all generally must be made a certain work to work with a particular engine
  • Tool investment is cheaper in 2D
    • Consider the investment of ZBrush, Max, PhotoShop at a bare minimum for 3D
      • The Free alternatives will typically cost you more in training in my experience, both programmer (for plugins/APIs) and artist
    • If you outsource you don't pay for this directly, but it does contribute to higher fees for 3D work
    • 2D has a lot of cheap or free tools, and Flash and PhotoShop often being the only big ones
      • Those aren't even needed for the retro sprite work
  • Art consistency is somewhat easier to achieve in 2D
  • Iteration is easier in 2D
    • Much easier and more reliable to preview sprites out of engine
    • Sprites can be started before the engine is up
    • Fewer people in the pipeline means more rapid changes to a model
  • 2D gameplay is simpler
    • Designers and programmers spend more time on actual gameplay

The last time I saw a company cost analysis on this stuff I saw six-figure numbers for the differences between 2D and 3D for just a few dozen characters. You can maybe do better, especially if you're not operating at a AAA scale, but I really doubt you'll get 3D cheaper and not have it be completely unusable garbage.

Notice how many indie and hobby games have gone 2D. It's simpler way easier and cheaper all around.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're over-simplifying this, and you're probably comparing high-end 3D work with low-end 2D work. I disagree with most of your claims, but especially with "The level of expertise is much less overall in 2D". Try asking one of your 3D artists to draw the massive amount of sprites in a game like KoFXIII and watch them cringe. Animating in 3D is much easier, since you can preview and tweak as you go, while in 2D you actually have to know what you're doing before you even start drawing. If 2D was indeed "much cheaper" as you claim, we would be seeing more 2D games by AAA studios. \$\endgroup\$ – Panda Pajama Jul 26 '13 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm comparing commercial-grade 3D from a small (under $1 million budget) project to very high-quality commercial 2D. You see less 2D from commercial studios because it doesn't sell, same as you don't see text adventures any more even though they're clearly massively cheaper. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Jul 26 '13 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that when your budget goes up, your 3D does not so much become more complex but rather there's simple more of it. Same with 2D. Making super intricate models compared to mediocre models doesn't necessarily sell games (though it helps in some genres), but having significantly richer environments and more characters definitely does. Which is, of course, way cheaper in 2D, but way more rewarding and engaging to the player (and hence more valuable) in 3D. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Jul 26 '13 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ In my specific experience, in a game I worked on 3 years ago (I work at one of the 5 biggest game developers in Japan), making everything hand drawn in 2D was just so expensive that everything was made instead into high-poly 3D models and then pre-rendered into sprites which were then included in the final game. This was a mid-size game at about 4m budget, with less than 1/5th of the staff into art, and actually only 2 dedicated 3D artists. You can't just say "2D is cheaper every time", it always depends on the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Panda Pajama Jul 26 '13 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, both, having done both. I also though have no experience with making games in your country, so fair enough, the metrics may be different. Maybe you guys actually pay your 2D artists reasonable amounts. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Jul 26 '13 at 18:07
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2D sprites should be significantly cheaper than 3D models.

The main bulk of the work on 2D sprites would involve creating a sprite sheet (each frame of the sprite's animation) and that's about it.

3D models however require a lot more attention, especially when they need to be animated. Textures, rigging, animation and possibly normal maps are going to require a lot of time and specialized skills.

Source: I used to work for game company in production. Our concept artists could create a beautiful piece of work much faster than it took 5 people working on getting a single character model in game (granted they were probably more complex than what you are looking to do, but even basic models take time).

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