Art is a very overlooked and underpriced area of game development. So much that when someone is prepared to spend money to create a commercial game, they expect to not pay more than $500-something on all art. That includes everything, from spritesets, to large portraits, to drawn backgrounds, to actual tilesets.

Right now, I’m going to discuss tilesets. Those shiny, pretty tiles people use to create maps with. Exactly, how much would a custom tileset for RPG Maker VX Ace cost?

Long answer: it depends on the quality, detail and size of what you’re requesting.
Short answer: a lot more than $500.

Many times I have been offered a whopping $700 to create a custom tileset for someone. What you are asking for, is for an artist to create the entire game. In other commercial games, there are several artists working together, dividing the work load. But in the RPG Maker scene, you are asking one artist to create all of the tiles in the game. This is a lot of work. This is something a lot of people don’t understand: you are commissioning a single person to draw the entire game for you.

Got that? Ok, let’s move on.

First, let us realize that creating a tileset takes time. A lot of time. If you want a full TileA1-5 and TileB-E for interior AND exterior, you are looking for around 500-800 hours of work. We’ll do a quick calculation, taking minimum wage (round it up for euros and dollars). We’ll take $7,50 and €8,50 – which will obviously differ around the world. For 500 hours, that’s a whopping $3750 and €4250. This is the minimum you are expected to pay!

So we’ve got the minimum wage out of the way … now to realize artists won’t work dirt cheap for you. They will have hourly rates, some going up to as high as $35 an hour. Don’t expect to find someone who will work minimum wage for you, we all have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and it’s not going to cut just paying the bare minimum. Not to mention since it will be custom, and most likely exclusive, they aren’t allowed to profit from the work anymore after it is done, so the price is much higher than if it were non-exclusive (they could sell the tiles afterwards).

Sure, you can hire someone inexperienced to drive down costs. They work cheap, and probably have no experience with pricing, so you can get a deal. But their work will also be sub-par, not to mention they work slower and they might actually abandon their projects. If you want high quality art in a timely manner, you’ll have to dish out the cash for it. Experienced artists work faster, and deliver high quality artwork.

For example, there is a huge difference between this:

And this:

Art quality is huge, and not something to dismiss. Not only do these artists produce high quality art, but they will work more efficient, and get more work done in less time. However, that’s also why they’re pricey. They know they’ve got good skills, and will not settle for minimum wage, nor for the deal that inexperienced users will jump at.

Then what can you expect to pay for a full custom tileset, from an experienced artist? Again, it all depends on the artist and the amount of work needed. For example, you might get your tileset much faster if your artist is working in cartoony style with less detail, or they might work longer in a pixel-art style with a ton of detail. But let’s say your artist asks $30 an hour, and they’ll spend about 600 hours on your commission. That’s $18,000 people.

Yes, $18,000.

Of course, you can cut down on the workload. You can ask for a full Tileset (TileA1-5 and TileB-E) instead of exterior and interior, and you might cut down the work to about 300 hours. That’s still $9000.

How can you cut down on costs?

Help out the artist by knowing exactly what you want in your game. Please don’t tell them you want a full custom tileset, and be done with it. Be specific, very specific. First, figure out the kind of maps you want in your game. Then, start keeping a list together. Divide your maps, and list what kind of objects you want in each map to appear. For example:

NPC interior house

  • walls, floors, windows and doors
  • tables and chairs
  • beds
  • bookcases, shelves, trunks and other furniture for storage
  • barrels, crates, sacks etc.
  • candles, lamps etc.
  • decoration items like paintings, potted plants, banners etc.

Having a list like this will help your artist greatly to determine what needs to be created, and they might actually get you a much better estimate on eventual costs. When they know exactly what they need to create, they don’t have to come up with their own ideas and add more time in creating their work, and thus driving up costs for you.

I’ll give you an example of my own work speed. I’ve created a small tileset, enough for the interior of a shop and a regular home, as well as an exterior for a small village with trees and cliffs (no water). This took me about 60 hours to complete. Had I charged $30 an hour, this would have cost $1800. That’s not even enough to cover an entire game, but only a couple of maps.

An example of the interior I made:

That took about 20 hours to complete. That would already be $600 just for the interior of a house and a shop. Imagine several different maps – homes, shops, villages, cities, castles, dungeons, caves, mountains, forests, ruins, oceans etc. Say each of them take about an average of 30 hours to complete, that’s roughly 330 hours and $9900 with a $30 hourly wage.

The bottom line here is; tilesets are expensive, and anyone looking to get a custom tileset for a measly $500, they’re in for a reality check.

Also … don’t forget taxes. Artist have to tax their shit, so expect about 20% more on the final price.

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