Professional Services
Order outsourcing

Emilio Santos on Benefits & Challenges of Outsourcing

Emilio Santos, the founder and CTO of Threedee.io, showed how the company's software allows users to easily create and customize procedural 3D buildings, discussed the advantages, challenges, and trends of outsourcing, and explained how to organize effective communication between clients and outsourcing partners.

Emilio Santos is the founder and CTO of Threedee.io, a company aiming to empower the creation of high-quality 3D worlds through innovation. The team developed a 3D procedural modeling software to achieve this goal and allow users to make 3D content at the highest possible quality without hiring a large team.

We asked Santos about his views on outsourcing, the challenges this field faces, and some tips on how to organize effective communication between clients and outsourcing partners.

Santos's background is in game development, he's worked for AAA studios for a good part of his youth.

"Then, basically, I saw the problem: making big games takes years. Look at GTA 6 – it's going on 10 years and a couple of billion dollars. It's very hard to create environments that are large and diverse. So, we're trying to help people create environments in a way that's affordable and fast. There are stories in the industry where teams spend a couple of months with nothing to do because they don't even have an environment to work on. 

So, basically, we've been working on this for three weeks, and we are at the point where you can walk around. You can create all different types of buildings: industrial, high-end residential, casinos, stuff like that. All of this environment is being created automatically. The user will provide us with a map, right? So you just say, 'Okay, green will be a type of building, a tall building, and red will be some other type of building.' With only this information, we build basically what you saw. Every building is unique; every building is different, so we don't have the problem that many studios have, where they have to repeat the same building over and over again because they simply don't have a way to create that. 

So this is our tool, and here you can basically play with your building however you need. You can change the shape of it. Want to make it bigger? Then we're going to build on that plot, and basically, without any knowledge of 3D modeling or anything like that, we let the user configure their art in the way they see fit. So, you come here, you model your building, you can say, 'I want a different type of skin. I want more floors.' Let it finish for a second. You can say, 'Okay, I like this skin better.' Now you have a completely different type of building. You say, 'Okay, 38 floors is too much. I want 20.' And once it's finished, it will render again, just 24.

And then you can do a whole map. The workflow is: you give it to us, you select the buildings that you want, you put it on the scene, you press a button, it creates the whole scene, and then you can go building by building and adjust what you don't like. You export to Unreal Engine and – boom – you have it in Unreal, and you can start working without that much work. 

We have all sorts of buildings. You see a gas station, you see commerce. And then, basically, that's our idea to start growing. Right now, we have 35 types of buildings, and each can create infinite variations. Every building fits on any plot. If you want a triangular building, it's not a problem. You just draw a triangle, and we'll build on it.

The idea is that companies can outsource their environment needs to us, and then that would save them a bunch of time and money. What we generate is standard, like FBX, and standard format, so you can even get this once it's generated and load it in 3ds Max or whatever, and then make it. But we have put 80% of the work in for you, and then you just put the final touches. And if you don't like something, you can always click a button, and we're going to give you a brand new variation of it. So you can choose, you can find exactly the type of buildings that you want, and then go from there. We generate interiors. You can come to one of the buildings, it has stairs, you can go inside, you can go upstairs.

Interiors are a big problem. Traditionally, they take a long time to make. All our interiors are customizable. It's just up to the user to come in and get it done right, add the tables, add the props they want. We can handle large interiors. So that is, in a nutshell, what we do.

And that's what we're aiming for, to enable people to do that kind of work. City Skylines is a very cool product, but it's very expensive. It takes years and years to develop and isn't accessible to everyone, especially small studios or teams that can't hire 20-50 people to do the modeling. Those are the people we can really help."

Outsourcing is a large field nowadays and can really optimize work processes. We asked Santos about reasons why game studios should consider outsourcing today, and he named three.

"The main reason is cost. And the biggest cost, not only in gaming but in almost every industry, is labor. When we encounter a task that we're not experienced in, we turn to freelancers. We use platforms like Upwork ourselves; we've also used Fiverr in the past. That's one good reason because you can hire somebody for just a month. After that, you get what you need done. You keep your core team intact without needing to expand, which is very, very expensive. You would have to pay people full-time, regardless of whether you need their skills at that moment.

Accessing expertise from real experts without having to hire them full-time is a significant advantage. And generally, you can say it's not only about saving money but also time. This is a business where time is of the essence; you need to get your game out as quickly as possible. And that's a great reason to outsource to us. We are very fast and we can get your project moving quickly. You get your environment ready, and then you're left with doing your real game, which is what developers prefer to focus on rather than spending months designing.

When you follow the normal workflow right now, you give a building to a designer, they work on it, they come back to you, and there might be things you don't like. For example, you might say this building should not be so tall; it should be 20 stories at most. In a regular workflow, the designer would have to go back, break down the building, and adjust it. That's going to take time. Whereas with our software, it's a matter of clicking a button to adjust. So, saving money and time are two very good reasons.

The third is expertise. For small studios, it's almost impossible to hire high-end talent, those who work for big names like Electronic Arts or Rockstar.

So, those are the three reasons: you can get real experts, save money, and save time.

Outsourcing efficiency really depends because outsourcing is a double-edged sword. The main issue you encounter is a loss of control, and that's a significant difference. Sometimes, if you choose the wrong freelancer, they can deliver poor-quality work, and then you're left with nothing but wasted resources. So, it could be cheaper and at least twice as fast. However, there's a risk involved. You can't be sure if a freelancer's inadequate work will set you back, both financially and time-wise. This has been a common issue in the industry. We work a lot within the metaverse niche, which is a bit different from traditional gaming. Often, these clients may have the budget but lack the expertise. They've never developed games before and want to create a large metaverse but don't know how. They resort to outsourcing. Sometimes it works out, but when it doesn't, the consequences can be severe. However, in the best-case scenario, when outsourcing works well, it can indeed save you two to three times in terms of both cost and time."

So outsourcing can be extremely useful if done right. Next, Santos told us about the top areas where outsourcing works better than handling things in-house, especially when working on an AAA project at a big studio.

"That comes back to expertise. Some areas of game development are highly dependent on specific expertise, like optimization. For example, if your game is running slow and you don't have someone who has worked at Epic Games, you lack a true expert in that domain. In such cases, outsourcing is advisable, especially if you choose someone with a strong reputation. Hiring a real expert can save you a significant amount of money and effort. The main reason to outsource is the lack of in-house expertise. Attempting to do something in-house without the necessary expertise can lead to excessive costs and little to no progress. Experts have those 10,000 hours of experience in their field.

We often outsource for animation systems and other complex tasks that we don't have the in-house talent for. It's better to outsource these tasks, learn from the experience, and then have your team build upon the work of these experts rather than starting from scratch. If we don't know how to do something, we hire someone for a few weeks, learn how they did it, and then our in-house team takes over. This approach helps bridge the gap in expertise, which can be challenging for smaller teams.

Another reason for outsourcing could be scale. For instance, in a large game, you might have simple but voluminous tasks, like adding environmental props or detailing a whole city. If you don't have the manpower, it's more feasible to hire a temporary team. This strategy is not just about expertise but also managing the scale of tasks that are too large for your current team.

Realistically, there are about eight productive hours per day per person. You can't make people work 24 hours without compromising the quality of their work. I've been overworked many times in my career, and it's not sustainable.

Burnout is a real problem. Overworking your team leads to burnout, and productivity just collapses. Outsourcing is an excellent method to prevent burnout, ensuring tasks are managed without overwhelming the core team."

Of course, it's not positive all around, so we asked Santos about the challenges studios can face when outsourcing. 

"A major challenge in outsourcing is trust. This isn't unique to gaming; it's prevalent across industries. In the early 2000s, many companies outsourced to India due to cost-effectiveness, but often the quality didn't meet expectations. I personally know of two or three significant projects that had to be restarted from scratch because the outsourced quality was subpar. Communication barriers and time zone differences also pose significant challenges. Establishing trust is crucial. Initially, you might have to work with multiple vendors until you find a reliable partner. Once you establish a trusted relationship, outsourcing can become much more efficient. However, failure in outsourcing can lead to disastrous outcomes, including wasted years and resources on a product that fails to meet standards, making it a complex situation to rectify. The risk of needing to start over because the software development has gone off track is a substantial concern in outsourcing."

So how do you handle issues with communication in this relationship? Santos offered some tips on how to organize effective communication between clients and outsourcing partners.

"First off, sharing a common language significantly enhances understanding. As a native Spanish speaker, we’ve found it much more effective to collaborate with partners from Latin America. This common linguistic ground facilitates clearer communication. While many in India speak good English due to its colonial past, the situation can vary in other regions, like Eastern Europe, where many game studios are now turning to outsourcing.

The key tip is to ensure clear communication before hiring. It's crucial that your instructions are understood exactly as intended. Misinterpretations can lead to wasted efforts and diverging from project objectives.

Constant engagement is my second tip. Maintaining regular contact, perhaps two to three times a week ensures that the project stays on course and that the implemented work aligns with your expectations. Miscommunications, even over small details, can significantly derail a project.

Lastly, check the reputation of your outsourcing partners. If they’ve listed previous projects, reach out to those clients to gauge their experience. A team with a proven track record is more likely to deliver quality work.

We often start with small tasks to assess a freelancer’s capabilities. This approach minimizes risk before committing to larger projects. If their work meets our standards, we can proceed with confidence.

Determining the expertise of an outsourcer is challenging, and as I mentioned before, one approach is to rely on their reputation. Start by assigning them smaller tasks. If they fail to meet expectations, you've only lost a small amount of money and avoided a potentially bigger mistake. This strategy has proven effective for us; what you're looking for is a stable, long-term relationship, which is crucial for projects that span months or years. Begin with smaller tasks to familiarize yourself with the outsourcer. Eventually, you have to place some trust in them and hope for the best."

Outsourcing has its own trends, and while there are surely many of them out there, Santos mentioned one he's personally seen often.

"It's hard for me to say definitively, considering we're a startup and relatively small. Our approach to outsourcing has been on a much smaller scale, sometimes working with just one individual rather than entire teams, which larger companies might do. So, I might not be the best source for identifying broad industry trends.

However, based on my observations and conversations, one trend seems to be specialization. Teams in Latin America, for example, though I've never hired them, I've spoken to some. They aim to excel in specific areas, making themselves highly attractive to potential clients. This specialization can give them a strong reputation and a portfolio of prior work that showcases their expertise.

For instance, there are studios that focus exclusively on RPGs. That’s all they do, which makes them a great option for RPG projects. Their specialization provides confidence to clients because they can demonstrate their expertise with examples of past RPGs they've developed. In contrast, a generalist studio claiming to handle any type of project might not inspire the same level of trust."

Emilio Santos, Founder & CTO at Threedee.io

Join discussion

Comments 0

    You might also like

    We need your consent

    We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more