We've created a monster (on a tight budget)

by Matt Walsh , Resn

“I need the best website possible, with mobile, e-commerce and a gamified interactive experience and all for the ABSOLUTE lowest price, I’m thinking 6k.”

This is a line from an actual client with a successful international business, in response to a quote for a project that would take numerous developers, designers, and project managers more than three months to complete.

If I cut the production to 25% of the required resources I’d still be paying less than minimum wage – but of course I can’t get quality staff for minimum wage.

Therein lies the problem.

We’ve created a monster by accepting low budgets but delivering high quality projects. A false economy of epic proportions that will lead to our industry’s demise. Consumerism culture – we like that, we want it now, and we don’t want to pay for it – is rearing its ugly head into our jobs and livelihoods.

Let’s take heed from the VFX (visual effects) industry; because that’s where we’re headed.

The Matrix: there were other films before it, but in my opinion that’s the one that started the “I want it now – just add it in CGI” trend. From then on everyone was calling for CGI and each year the effects had to be bigger and better for less. The end result is that movie productions now ask why they should pay 100+ employees good salaries and overtime when they can ship the work overseas for half the cost and no overtime. By allowing this to happen the VFX industry has essentially destroyed itself.

A case in point is the recent closure of Rhythm & Hues. The landmark visual effects house filed for bankruptcy just a week after winning the Oscar for best visual effects on Life of Pi. How does an award-winning company that has contributed to one of the most visually stunning films in recent years go bankrupt? It’s not the fault of the viewer – they have no idea what it costs to do these sort of projects. It’s the industry’s fault.

We have the same urge. We need money to survive: equipment and talented individuals add up to huge overheads. Yet we fear that if we don’t take a job for a ridiculous price, then someone else will. We give in to the client’s bullying to make the project happen no matter what the cost to the company. Our excuse, and the client’s selling point, is always the same: “If we cut the budget on this one we promise to help you recoup it next time.” But the next budget comes in just as small and with even more work.

Or even worse, the next job doesn’t come at all and we’re left taking the hit.

The VFX industry is hurting and I feel its pain. We need to take heed of this example and apply it to ourselves. Nearly everyday I look at AgencySpy and I see more and more layoffs. Let’s stop looking the other way, because these are our people and we need to address this problem together. Let’s stop undercutting each other or shipping stuff overseas for a few bucks. It’s not worth it. The short game may seem great because you’re able to buy a new Audi, but guess what? You’ll be on your ass in three years driving an 87 Honda Civic – because the industry can’t maintain this much work for this little money.

This rant was inspired by a recent email I received. It was from a production company, much like mine, that is making the move to becoming a boutique agency. They're part of my community. At least, I thought they were – until the mail posed the face-slapping, anger-inducing question of whether we knew of any cheap vendors in India or China they could partner with!

I couldn’t believe how quickly they were able to sell their peers down the river for a few extra bucks.

This is an unsustainable way of doing business. We need to learn from the VFX industry.
We need to unify.

This isn’t a rallying cry to start a union or to rise up, but it is a warning. We’ve created this problem and we are going to have to fix it.

How do we do that? By providing the ABSOLUTE best quality of work, across multiple mediums, for fair prices. So we can treat our employees – and our peers – with the respect they deserve.