I’ve been a freelancer for a few years now. That means I do work for hire. I move from company to company like the littlest hobo of game developers doing whatever needs done here and there. It’s not a glamorous life, but it’s an exciting one.
My motivation for becoming a freelancer was that I needed control over my workload, because I wanted the time and freedom to make my own games independently too, which is difficult when you’re working for a company full time.
It can be a tricky road, the whole freelancing thing, but for myself it’s been reasonably smooth sailing, and I think that’s largely down to the principles I set out for myself when I started. So I’d like to share them with you, along with some other stuff I’ve learned along the way.
1. Build your Confidence and Never Stop Learning
One of the main benefits of being a freelancer is being in control of your workload. Unlike a company employee, if someone approaches you with an unreasonable amount of work and wants it finished in a week, you can simply say ‘No thanks’ and not accept the contract.
This is also known as ‘Living the dream’
But, while it’s great to be able to say ‘no’, you should also put some thought into why you said it. Is it because it was unreasonable, or is it because you, personally, weren’t up to it?
There are a lot of freelancers out there, and most of them know more than one aspect of the game development process. It’s much harder to find freelance work in the games industry in a narrow field such as ‘Server Manager’ or ‘Logo Designer’, and they’re normally going to want someone with experience.
Most clients will want someone flexible who can cover more than one base. There are people out there who have a wide spread of knowledge and you need to be in that field too. For that reason, you should never stop the process of self improvement. Not only will you widen your contract options, you’ll enjoy the process, and contribute towards building your own confidence.
Another reason for building up your skill set is that for freelancers, the consequences of failure can be more severe than for employees. You can be dropped in an instant if you’re not meeting the requirements. Not only will you not get paid, but your reputation may be damaged, and that might make it difficult for you to get work in the future.
When you take a contract, you need to be sure that you can fulfil it. So keep building up your confidence and your ability.
2. Remember why you’re freelancing
The thing that puts most people off freelancing is that there is a chance, in fact a certainty, that there will be periods where you’ve got no work. During these periods, it’s easy to panic and grab the first contract that comes along, one which you aren’t really interested in, and often for cheaper than you would normally charge.
My advice would be to hold fast and stick to your rates and principles. If you became a freelancer so you had the freedom to control your workload, then what’s the point of having that freedom if you’re not going to exercise it.
Contracts do come along. I’ve turned down far more than I’ve taken on. If it’s not the right one for you, you don’t need to take it on.
A second piece of advice I’d like to share about the reality of freelancing, is that you should try to draw a hardline between work which is yours, and work you’re doing for someone else, and try and avoid crossing it. This is, I think, more important than for full time employees.
It’s easy to feel pride of authorship for your work, especially if you’ve made something that a lot of people gain enjoyment from, but it’s important to remember that if you’re doing work for someone else, then you are there as a facilitator and it’s likely that your time with the project will eventually come to a sharp end. You have no control over the project, or it’s future, so you need to be prepared to sever that tie and move on.
3. You will lose in life, just don’t lose the lesson
One unfortunate reality of being a freelancer is that you may occasionally get taken advantage of. And just to put this into perspective, I don’t just know one developer who has been ripped off, I know TONS, and I could write a whole other blog post about this subject alone. For the purposes of this piece though, I’ll stick to the bottom line…
If something doesn’t smell right, walk away.
Talking costs nothing, so engage in as much dialogue as you can upfront and don’t start work until both you and your client are happy with arrangements. If you become uncomfortable, talk it out and don’t continue until you are both happy.
If a client fails to pay you, under no circumstances should you do any more work with the promise of being paid down the line. It almost certainly will never happen.
Although you’re technically protected by the law to some extent, getting into that whole legal quagmire can be stressful and will usually end up costing you more money than the contract was worth. Personally, I think it’s better to nip it in the bud early and move on. Spend the time working on another contract. You’ll feel like they’ve won, but it will be better for you in the long run if you just walk away.
Oh… and beware of revenue shares.
The advantage of straight up work for hire is that you’ll definitely get paid, but if the project does well then you won’t see any extra cash, which can suck if you did a lot of work towards it. Sometimes, however, you may be offered a revenue share.
Revenue shares can be included in a contract to sweeten the deal. You might even consider dropping your rates a little if you’re getting a percentage of the profits. Just be aware that these things can be quite difficult to maintaining the long term.
If a client offers you a large revenue share but won’t be paying you for your work, you should be very cautious. Yes, if the project does well then it will be the gift that keeps on giving. But you’re under no guarantee that the project will do well, or that it will even be completed at all. Only do this if you can afford to take that risk, and you’re confident in the product and the client.
Incidentally, if anyone ever offers you something called a ‘Capped’ revenue share with no money upfront, you should consider it an insult. Make no mistake, this person knows exactly what they’re doing, and you’re being exploited. Capped revenue shares offer you neither of the advantages of work for hire or a standard revenue share. You’ll get nothing upfront and if it does well, they’re the only ones who will benefit long term.
My advice would be to hand them a list of charities that you donate to, and ask them to note that their name isn’t on it.
4. The Tax Man Cometh
A wee word about taxes.
When you start as a freelancer, you’ll need to register as self employed, and every year you will get taxed on the money you’ve earned. So you need to squirrel a bit away (around 30% – 40% to be safe).
But you knew that anyway right?
What ends up taking a lot of people by surprise is what happens in the first year.
In the first year of self employment, the government will bill you immediately for the year you’ve just worked, and they’ll assume you’re going to earn about the same next year too and will bill you for that right there and then as well, and at least half of next years will need to be paid by the following January. This means that in the first year you’ll effectively get a ‘Double’ tax bill.
This will only happen in the first year, because after that you’ll have already paid part or all of the previous year anyway, and if you don’t earn as much the following year then you’ll get part of it back, but it’s worth mentioning here because it certainly shocked the hell out of me that first year!
If you’re starting as a freelancer, I hope this advice helps. Remember though, this is just my own opinion based on what I’ve learned and experienced. Yours is a different story, and your principles may be different. But I would definitely recommend that you do think about them, write them down, and stick to them.
If you stand facing an amp holding an electric guitar, you’ll start to hear an increasingly annoying ‘ringing’ noise known as audio feedback, or the ‘Larsen Effect’. The guitar pickup detects a sound coming out the speaker, feeds it back to the speaker, hears that same sound again, amplifies it and amplifies it until you’re deafened by the same sound amplifying itself over and over.
This is what it’s like in the games media whenever a big story breaks. The blogs and twitter feeds become a frenzy of noise with the same opinions being preached to people who already share the same view.
This year has barely started, and we’ve already had two major frenzies, first when every single outlet told us how Dungeon Keeper was the reason everything in the games industry was going to shit, and then again when hysteria and supposition about Flappy Bird led the creator to remove the game because apparently it all became too much.
We know, it’s rubbish…
I want (And as a developer, need) to engage with the games media, but I find it almost impossible. Every site seems to thrive off propagating hate and stirring up anger.
So if you’re a big name in games coverage, I plead with you to consider this…
For every article or tweet you write about how Candy Crush is destroying the app store, you probably left ten cries for help from small indie developers who are reaching out, struggling for coverage, festering away in your ‘Ignore’ box.
Positively protest the media frenzies by dedicating the time and effort you would spend on that article to instead covering new and upcoming unheard of developers rather than adding to the circus. Spread love, not hate. You never know, you might have Rorschach’s Journal sitting in your inbox. And at the very least, you’ll make someone’s day.
Or alternatively you could just write another article about how my opinions represent everything that’s wrong with indie developers today.
I’m in the comedown phase of the Global Game Jam, Glasgow leg.
For those not lucky enough to have a lifestyle which allows them to work on their own projects full time, it’s easy to become cynical about developing games.
For this reason, the institution of ‘Game Jamming’ has never been more important. At a time where the soulless indifference of the ‘business’ of games is in the spotlight, we find a fortress where passionate developers get to be just that. Developers.
You only need to look at the number of entries with ‘Candy’ in their title to gauge just how strong the feeling is on this subject.
Candy Panda Saga
Anyway, the theme this year was a sentence…
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are”
A challenging theme, to say the very least!
We drew from this the notion of people who see themselves as the centre of their world, where everything else, no matter how beautiful, dangerous or emotionally challenging, was not really important. The kind of people who take ‘Selfies’.
The concept was inspired by the website ‘Selfies at Funerals‘, a website which showcases people taking photos of themselves at perhaps the most inappropriate of times (And which actually shut down when David Cameron and Obama took a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s Funeral). The gameplay is inspired by the photography minigame from ‘Dead Rising’, and the style by ‘Proteus’ and ‘Katamari’.
The world is ending, there is chaos all around, yet your objective is to take selfies. You get bonus points for taking them in front of rare and interesting things, and even more bonus points for variety (Everything has a category). So… Elvis Presley standing in front of a Stonehenge monument with a UFO flying overhead would score big!
The main character is a photorealistic image, but the background is deliberately simplistic and inconsistent. This was to symbolise that the character is the only ‘Real’ thing in their world. There is all this remarkable stuff happening all around them, yet half the view is obscured by their face.
The game got a great reaction, and everyone who played it left with a smile on their face. I’d definitely say this is the most fun I’ve ever had at a game jam. So… same time next year!
You can download and play the game from the ‘Global Game Jam’ page here : Link
(Can’t be bothered to read, link is at the bottom)
It’s been a long time since I did a Jam, so I decided to participate in Decembers Ludum Dare. First time I’ve ever taken part in Ludum Dare, and the first thing that struck me was the number of rules they have. Maximum of 48 hours, starting with a blank canvas, no using code or assets you’ve previously made, must work alone, no outsourcing… they all really help to level the playing field.
Anyway… the theme was “You only get one”, which after a few rounds of voting won by a huge margin. I came up with the idea of bonding charged particles together, but only one at a time. I called it “One Bond”
Initially, it started as a puzzle game where you would connect particles of opposite charges together in order to clear them from the screen, but over the course of the first day, as I added more features, I started to draw comparisons between the bonds and interactions of the particles in the game and other things. The movement of the planets, the wind, and people all over the world. So it became a game about ‘Particles and People’
The whole thing came together fairly easily after that. All I had to do was think of something that people do, and then try and analogise that in the game. For example, people often lead us to where we want to be could become a level about particles steering other particles to their correct partners.
The results for the competition came out today, and ‘One Bond’ came in 27th place of the 1,284 entries (14th place in the innovation category), which I’m very happy with indeed.
I’ve decided that I’d like to turn it into a full product that this will most likely be the next full release from Smiling Bag. I’ve already made a whole bunch of changes to it (Most notably that you can now have more than one bond, so I guess I need to think of a new name!). Look out on this blog or my own Twitter feed for more information in the near future, but until then you can play ‘One Bond’ in its current form online.
Play ‘One Bond’ : Right Here
Ducky fuzz is a simple game about juggling ducks on the ocean by controlling the waves, avoiding sea mines collecting as much bread as possible. Easy to play, difficult to master.
It’s a simple game, but it’s packed with content. Along the way there are many extra challenges to achieve. How many ducks can you juggle at once? Can you travel over 1000 nautical miles? Can you safely detonate 100 mines?
There are also puzzle stages, where you use a set number of ducks to clear a level, gaining a star rating depending on how well you did. And completing these challenges will unlock new duck costumes and special powers. You’ll see some surprising characters on your journey!
The game is an extension of a game I made a while back for the Experimental Gameplay Project called ‘Whistle Wave’, in which you controlled a wave by… well… whistling. Whilst the whistling thing didn’t really work, the idea of bouncing about on waves was appealing, so I wanted to go back to it.
The game is almost finished. Release date is currently ASAP, although begin the xmas period, there’s very little chance I will make an iOS launch before the 25th unless I rush it out, which I don’t want to do. Which means that Android people, you’ll probably get it a little sooner (before xmas), iOS people will need to wait a little longer. For more information, watch this blog, or follow us on Twitter.
Until then, here’s a trailer! And if anyone would like to cover this game and help out with promotion, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Just what is in the Smiling Bag?
I recently visited an exhibition of work by the artist Sister Corita Kent. She produces a fantastic body of work which was great to see up close, but it was her process that I was most interested in. As with most artists, their working process is the most important and interesting thing about them. I believe she was very conscious of this.
She came up with a list of rules , which can be summarised jovially as “there are no rules”, but there is a definite theme of finding, acknowledging, and respecting your references and role models running throughout them all. Particularly;
“GENERAL DUTIES OF A STUDENT:
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR TEACHER.
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR FELLOW STUDENTS.”
Although she was, in fact, a teacher, this could be taken as acknowledging any kind of influence in your life and work. And this doesn’t, nay shouldn’t, have to come from the same field that you’re working in. Independent film maker Jim Jarmusch has this to say on the matter;
“…Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows…”
So… learn to recognise your influences and references. Actively embrace them. Here are three people, among many, that I believe have influenced my own work over the years.
David Lynch – Film Director
I’ve been a fan of Lynch for as long as I can remember. From him, I take his uncensored, stream of consciousness approach to directing. For him, the creation of a movie isn’t a one way process, or two or three even. The direction of his films can be changed based on spotting a red car on the way to the office, or someone fluffing their lines on set, or even a dream he had the night before. He once famously integrated set dresser Frank Silva into the plot of Twin Peaks after he accidentally trapped himself on set!
Incidentally, the name ‘Smiling Bag’ is a Twin Peaks reference.
Bill Hicks – Comedian
From Bill hicks I take his fearlessness of failure. He knew the material he was producing would have a limited audience, and to this day he hasn’t yet found a particularly strong following in his home country. A lot of other comedians would have changed their act or given up all together. But he didn’t. And the discovery that, in some parts of the world, people ‘Got’ him, was enough for him to keep going.
Jim Henson – Puppeteer
This is my favourite picture of Jim and Kermit. Now, take a good look at this picture and tell me how many people are in it.
That’s right… two.
From Jim Henson I take his ability to create fun from very limited elements, in this case a piece of green cloth and two ping pong balls, by simply injecting a bit of his own personality into it. Jim was such a master at this, that he effectively gave his creations life! And while there were some large technical challenges in producing the Muppet Show, the funniest stuff, the real magic, was always in the performance and the dialogue.
So… what’s in the Smiling Bag?
Of course there are more, but those three are at the top of my list. And the first thing you might notice about them is that none of them are in the field of videogames. Of course, many in this field do influence my work, but I think too many people these days, especially in the games field, draw from influences which are close to what they’re making themselves. And while that does still create originality, it’s never as potent as when it comes from somewhere else entirely. To close, I’d like to borrow one more quote from Jean-Luc Godard, again via Mr. Jarmusch actually,
“Always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’”
So the answer to the question “What’s in the Smiling Bag” is ‘everything I’ve ever seen, listened to, read, experienced, done… it’s a bit of all the people I’ve mentioned in this blog, and many others. It’s me.’
What’s in yours?
I Am Level is out now on Android and iOS! Download Links are at the bottom of this post.
Platform : Android, iOS, Web
Client : None! This is an independent release.
My Role : Concept, design, art, programming
Additional Credits : Music by Malcolm Brown, Additional art by Sam Phillips, Malcolm Brown, Alex McGivern and Ross Kilgariff
Description : Flick, bounce, and roll your character through the bizarre yet stylish world of ‘I Am Level’ in this original mix of pinball and platform game. Tilt your device to get the ball rolling, then tap or hold anywhere on the screen to fire off pinball bumpers, springs, and doors. Clear the screens to unlock more of the map, and level up your player to unlock new costumes.
Tilt your device to get the ball rolling, then tap or hold anywhere on the screen to fire off pinball bumpers, springs, and doors. Clear the screens to unlock more of the map, and level up your player to unlock new costumes.
“Oh wow, this is wonderful” – PC Gamer
“I Am Level is one puzzle platformer that I had to force myself to put down. The beauty is in its visual simplicity and complexity.” – TouchArcade (4/5)
“I Am Level is the one game this month – probably this year – that completely restores my faith in iOS game developers.” – Arcade Life (9/10)
“I haven’t played a game like it before” – CalmDownTom (4.5/5)
“I Am Level is extremely good fun and has bags of charm in its retro aesthetics” – Retro Spirit Games (8.5/10)
“I Am Level has this wonderful charm that will keep you challenged and intrigued for hours.” – JayIsGames
“An addictive wee way to spend a few short minutes on the toilet” – square-go (4/5)
Where to get it…
Android Version : Google Play Store
iOS Version : App Store