To a new indie developer, 3D games hold the highest appeal. However I want to discuss a little about the cost of 3D games and why it's essential that your first game be far more simple.
Here on DA, on Upwork, on Animator's Network, and even sometimes in the industry itself you'll find people offering game design jobs at extremely low prices. "7 models, textured and rigged for $300!" Whoa... wait, do you know how much time goes into a single model? "Oh, but the assets are low poly, only 8,000-12,000k tris! Should only take a couple hours." Silence
Let's talk about modeling first. Since I assume you've probably already developed your concept art... right?
Regardless, to model a single low poly object, say something between 500-1000 tris takes me about 4 hours. When people hear the term 'model' they think 'make', however, modeling is only part of the process. When you first build something it's blank, stark with no colour, no textures, no movement. Literally made of digital clay. When charging for freelance work, I base my quotes off of $20/hr. This is an AMATEUR price scale. I am an amateur!!! I want to stress this because despite the last 3 years I've had training at school, and working at my internship, I'm still a newbie in the industry. A professional should charge somewhere near $40/hr for this type of skillset.
Low poly is considered anything under 20,000 tris. I expect every 1,000 tris to take me about 4 hours. So that 8,000-12,000 tri model would take me about 32-48 hours and it would cost $640-$960 just for the model, no texturing, no rigging. Ok, so you lower your tri limit. "1,000 tris please?" Still at least $80 for a very simple model that looks like this:
But now you need it textured! Texturing can be extremely complex depending on the level of detail that you need. There can be up to 5 different types of textures that go into a single model and it takes a lot of know-how to produce a texture that will work effectively in an engine. Ironically, some textures don't even display properly in Maya, so there's a lot of guessing. I usually stick to 2-3 texture per model. A diffuse map, specular map, and normal map. Sometimes you can skip the specular map. You can read about texture maps here
. On average, 1024x1024 textures take me about 8 hours for a single 8,000 tri model. For 1,000 tri models I use a 512x512 map and reduce it to 256x256. Still takes me about 4 hours to get everything right. That's because you have to test the model, over and over as you work it.
You can see the 3 different types of textures I mentioned in this thumbnail.
So now that 1,000 tri model jumps to 8 hours of work and $160 just for colour. Higher poly models will often be exported to a sculpting program like Zbrush to get finer detail in textures. This can even triple the time it takes for texturing. So what's missing? Rigging.
Oh god, how 3D modelers loath Rigging. It is a career all it's own and if you can Rig you have a guaranteed spot in games the rest of your life. The time it takes to rig an object is variable depending on how much control you need to make your animations. For Game Objects, models should never exceed 60 bones. The average character has 30 bones and most other objects have 8 or less. However, most of the time is not spent on the bones, it's spent on the controls and the scripting required to make a Rig that animators can use. There are 4 layers to rigging. Mesh>Bones>Controls>Attributes. Each point of a tri has to be attached to a bone and could be effected by up to 5 different bones at varying weights. Then each bone must be attached to a control that the animator can move. And each control can have attributes that change the way an animation works.
Want to learn how to Rig? Get a Digital Tutors
membership. It is well worth the $500.
Presently it takes me at least 30 hours to Rig a character, regardless of tri count. I'm working on that. But say for instance, it only takes a Rigger 8 hours to Rig that 1000 tri character. The cost doubles again to 16 hours of work and $320 for something so simple. To populate a small 3D house with objects (barrels, book cases, beds, tables, walls, lights, books, npcs, etc) requires between 30-60 objects to look presentable.
So on the lowest end of the cost scale, imagine paying $320 for 30 objects for the Inn that your player starts in (and only stays in for about 30 seconds). That's $9,600 for one environment.
Ok, so you'll save the money and build it yourself, right? Even if you're as experienced as I am, it would still take you 480 hours to complete that single scene, not including animations or game scripting. If you worked 8 hours a day, 5 days a week it would take you 12 weeks to complete. 3 months for a single section of your game that you can't even play yet.
Last year I worked with a team of 6 for a school project. Each of us had specialty skills in each necessary profession: Programmer, Modeler, Rigger, Animator, Game Designer, and Concept Artist. We spent 6 months working on a single level of a 3D sidescroller. We finished half the level and considered it a huge success.
Save your time, save your money. Make your first project something practical and obtainable. 2D assets are widely available, far cheaper, and can be used in the same engines as your 3D project. Make your first game a success by focusing on the gameplay and good marketing. Once you have the money and the time to manage a huge project, then graduate to 3D games.