In this world of cheap mass market cross platform game engines like UDK and Unity, the barrier of entry to creating a polished game have never been lower. Except of course when it comes to art that is. Take a quick look at GameFromScratch's 3D application list for an idea of what kind of prices we are talking about here. There have been a few options on the lower/cheap end with Blender and the GIMP being the two most popular free options. There are a few other options, like the MacOS only Cheetah, the now-defunct Silo or Shade Basic available for a hundred dollars or so. The next jump up is to applications like Modo and Cinema4D, both with a price tag nearing or over the 1000$ mark. From this point we jump drastically to the various Autodesk applications, all with a price tag in the many thousands dollar range.
Simply put, if you are creating your first game, perhaps a mobile title on a truly indie budget, if you don't like Blender or aren't breaking the law, you are pretty much screwed. Sorta.
Autodesk Maya actually has an incredibly interesting option available. You can now license Autodesk 3D Studio Max or Maya 2013 for 90 days for a price of 199$. Yes, that is a full commercial license, so you can ship a game and make money on a 90 day license.
1. What are Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya 90-day fixed term licenses?
90-day fixed term licenses*, sometimes referred to as “project licenses,” are fully
operational, commercial licenses of Autodesk 3ds Max 2013 or Autodesk Maya 2013
software that enable a license holder to use the software for a period of 90 days only.
2. Can an Autodesk 3ds Max or Autodesk Maya 90-day fixed term license be used
for commercial purposes?
Yes, unlike the free, 30-day trial which can be used for evaluation purposes only, you can
use a 90-day fixed term license of either Autodesk 3ds Max 2013 or Autodesk Maya 2013
software in production for commercial purposes.
You can read the complete FAQ here (PDF LINK). You cannot renew the license, so be sure that you can complete your project in 3 months or you will need a full license. You can however also get a 30 day trial of either Max or Maya ( which you can't ship using ) to get started, giving you a total of 4 months to create your game.
That covers you on the 3D side, what about Photoshop? Well, you have options there too… The Photoshop CS suite normally has a price tag around a 1000$. A while back, Adobe started offering their software on a subscription basis for about 50$ a month. Interestingly enough, since then they have started offering Photoshop for as low as 20$ a month ( with a year commitment ), or for 30$ a month on a pay as you go basis.
Also like Autodesk, they offer a 30 day trial. Therefore, if you are able to create your game in less than 4 months, you can legally use Photoshop and Maya (or Max) for a total price of 289$ ( 199$ + 30$ x 3 months, + 1 month trial ).
Four months might not seem like enough time, but it is actually a reasonable development window for a typical mobile game, especially if you are working full time. Hopefully your game will then be successful enough to justify and pay for full licenses for both products. Another interesting side effect of both license structures is they give a credible ( and affordable ) pathway for pirates to go legit if they are using pirated software.