In a digitally-connected world, the differentiations between “work” and “play” get blurrier by the day. We hear stories of how famous YouTubers quit their jobs to pursue their hobbies, and how DeviantArt superstars make money from commissions. Independent game studios rise all around us, and there are more and more ways to support our favourite creators. However, many young and growing producers find themselves asking “how do I get paid?”
It’s a fair question – everybody needs food on the table. It can understandably be frustrating and daunting for creatives to leave their day jobs and chase their passions. You want to do what you love, but you don’t want to starve to death in the process. Thankfully, there are myriad options to get paid as a creative, and many
1: Independent Game Development
Independent game developers are multiplying like rabbits these days. With so many ways to distribute games, and as development tools become less prohibitive to access and use, small game-development companies are finding a much more competitive edge against the industry heavyweights.
2: “Dependent” Game Development
Imagine this – you are an established but small game developer, and you don’t have the money to pull off your latest game idea. You need someone to fund your game, but you don’t want to show your cards to the community in the form of crowdfunding. You need a publisher. Publishers will fund and market your game, so long as you return a cut of your earnings in the process. For medium and large studios, this is the way video game projects obtain their monetary support. A studio will pitch a game idea to an investor or publisher to convince them that their project is going to make them money. Successful studios will have access to a large sum of money to be paid throughout the project’s development, and in return, the studio will prove to them that their project is running on-time, within budget, and at the highest quality. Publisher funding can be a double-edged sword, however. A publisher can outright refuse to fund your game, and there’s no promise that publishers will be knowledgeable or passionate about gaming at all. Even if your studio gets funding, it isn’t unheard of for a studio to abruptly shut down development half-way through, as was the case for the fabled Star Wars: Battlefront 3, and many games before and after.
Sometimes the gaming community knows what it wants, and they’re willing to pay you to make it happen. Crowdfunding allows the community to contribute money toward creators and projects that they want to see finished. These days, there are two major crowdfunding platforms that creatives use – Kickstarter and Patreon. Kickstarter (and familiars like IndieGoGo) allow customers to pledge money towards conceptual ideas that they want to see created. Over the course of 30 days, users will pledge their money to the project, and when the crowdfunding round finishes, if the donations reach or exceed the goal, the fund is successful, and they receive the money. Kickstarter received a bad reputation of late as disgruntled customers needed to face the harsh reality that the projects they fund don’t always reach completion. There are many instances where a project failed, ran out of money, or didn’t work out as promised, and there is little legal recourse considering that users of the site are technically “investing” in an idea. Kickstarter failures like these include games such as Yogventures, the $500,000 funded project by a small team of developers that couldn’t deliver (Reed, 2015). On the other hand, Patreon is an alternative crowdfunding platform where users make monthly donations instead of a one-time pledge. Patreon allows some creators – like Jim Sterling (Sterling) – to live off a stable month-to-month income from users. This type of funding is designed to fund creators, instead of funding creations.
4: Salary Work
Salary Work to be the baseline for larger game development studios that are publisher-funded. Salary work gives you the same paycheck every fortnight. While salary workers have a luxury of a guaranteed, consistent income, as well as holiday pay and benefits, it can open the door for unpaid overtime work because your pay isn’t time-dependent. We’ve seen many horror stories from game developers who don’t get paid overtime (or others that think that they don’t deserve to, ugh), but – contractually speaking – a stable job and income might be worth the ethical risk.
5: Contractual Work
Lesser known, contractual workers are team members hired by a studio for a fixed duration of time. Often, when a studio is going through its “crunch time”, it will seek out talented developers to pitch into the team. For example, Dr Iain McManus, a former lead A.I. programmer at 2K and Irrational and current Lecturer at SAE, was already an established developer during his time at 2K Australia. Irrational Games contracted him to work over the crunch period working on AI for Bioshock: Infinite. McManus’ contract meant that Irrational was able to hire a skilled but expensive worker to join the team to get Bioshock: Infinite out the door, in as fit a state as possible. For most studios, the attraction of contractual employees is that the studio can have the power of a large team for crunch time, and thin out the numbers after completion when the project has shipped, without firing them and paying severance. For the workers themselves, contractual work is guaranteed work, but with uncertain job prospects after the tenure expires. Contractual employees do have the potential to be hired as regular workers after the fact, and subsequently, get the holiday pay and benefits that their contracts don’t include.
What is the best way to get paid? Well, it depends on the work you do. You need to ask yourself “What am I worth?”. If you think you’re worth a salary and have the skills to back it up, then a studio might have a place for you. If you are starting out, you mightn’t be worth anything until you can prove to your customers that they should pay you for your product. If you have a killer idea and people trust you, crowdfunding is the solution. If you already work at a studio but need money to make your game happen, a publisher is your best avenue.
Thankfully, it’s getting easier and easier to find to make ends meet in a connected world. Notch mightn’t have taken the world by storm with Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) had there not been active internet communities and digital payment solutions available to him. Similarly, hugely successful projects like Wasteland 2 (inXile entertainment, 2014), Pillars of Eternity (Obsidian Entertainment, 2015) and Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments, 2015)would not exist if not for Kickstarter, enabling skilled developers to leave their studios and follow their passions on Kickstarter.
Allen, M. & Te
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Brennecke, A. (2015). Pillars of Eternity (Version 106). Irvine, California: Obsidian Entertainment.
Fargo, B., McComb, C., & Ziets, G. (2014). Wasteland 2 (Version 1.0). Newport Beach, California, US: inXile entertainment.
Persson, M. (2016). Minecraft (Version 1.10). Sweden: Mojang.
Reed, C. (2015). 5 of the Biggest Video Game Kickstarter Failures of All Time. The Cheat Sheet. Retrieved 13 June 2016, from http://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/5-of-the-biggest-video-game-kickstarter-failures-of-all-time.html/?a=viewall
Sinclair, B. (2012). LucasArts wanted Star Wars: Battlefront III to fail, says dev. GameSpot. Retrieved 13 June 2016, from http://www.gamespot.com/articles/lucasarts-wanted-star-wars-battlefront-iii-to-fail-says-dev/1100-6375176/
Sterling, J. (2016). Jim Sterling is creating The Jimquisition. Patreon.cpom. Retrieved 13 June 2016, from https://www.patreon.com/jimquisition?ty=h