Friday, October 25, 2013

It’s a Long way to the top if you want to Game Design…

By Frank Gori

I’m going to focus on the writing game design side but my advice should apply to art and layout as well.

So you want to Freelance… Something inside of you has clicked. Maybe it was the forums, maybe it was a nice compliment from a player at your gaming table, or maybe you just realized you’ve been playing tabletop rpgs for most of your life and have figured out you have logged that 10,000 hours it takes to be an expert on something.

Listen to this song it’s relevant to the article.

Now what? Write. It’s harder than it sounds but you need to start producing material immediately, even if it isn’t immediately useful the habit of writing is. Write character stories, start doing character builds, alter storylines in your favorite APs, and maybe get on some forums and share your work.

I say share you work because…

You need feedback. Writing is all about taking feedback and making your work better.  Not every idea baby that forms in your skull deserves to be put in front of someone and you’ll learn that when you start by putting them all in front of someone.

Writing takes practice. You might know the game better than most but that doesn’t translate to writing for it. You also need to be gracious about feedback even negative feedback. That doesn’t mean be a doormat for abuse, which can and will happen on the internet, it means learn to handle even shitty feedback because you need a thick skin.

You might be wondering…

How hard can it be? I can only speak for myself but I’m getting what one might call moderate success after about 10 months of working at it. I have a blog, I’m a partner in 2 start ups and scored a publishing agreement for both, I have stuff on a prominent publisher’s blog, I have publishing credits in 2 fanzines, and contribution credits in 3 established publisher’s printed lines (some of which are not yet released.)

I’ve been paid for my work on 6 occasions, not counting contributer copies. You need to put yourself out there allot to get anywhere, you need to put together an approach.

Once you have that you can…

Start submitting to publishers. Look for open calls, be prepared for allot of No thank yous and even more non replies. Publishers are busy and allot of them suck at communicating rejection because of it. Good thing you developed that thick skin right?

It you get some bite great, work it out but do not get cocky. Publishers hate cocky authors. The reality is…

Accept you will be writing allot for free. Try Wayfinder, Blogs, and fanzines. Get yourself contributer copies and start building yourself a resume. If you can handle the pace and insanity of constant deadlines try your own blog or more reasonably get a regular slot on an established one. Reviews are a great way to break in, as are GM advice content, or even something simple like item or monster design.

Save links and pdfs of your stuff, this will be useful later. Next you should look at…

Research Publishers. Buy their products if you can afford it, if not consume everything they let out for free, and read reviews summarizing their content. You need to know your publishers if you want to pitch them.

For that matter…

Social Media is really important. You need to be assessable and you need to be able to communicate to the audience you are building. For a writer twitter, facebook, pretty much everything google, reddit, pintrest, skype, and dropbox are all important tools in your kit. Being savy with communication technology is a huge upside in a designer.

For that matter so is…

You’re a salesperson as a writer. You’re selling yourself to publishers, and your ideas to your audience. That means being nice, that means keeping your ego in check, and that means when someone does publish something of yours you need to be willing to promote it.

If they make money off you you’ll get more work from them. There’s something in it for you and them so don’t be arrogant of course you’re going to promote products you’ve contributed to. That reminds me, you should buy this, its very good and deserves lots of sales. Don’t take my word read this review.

You might be a salesperson but don’t expect…

Game design doesn’t pay the bills. I’m not saying I don’t get paid, but I will say getting paid within 6 months of starting was an accomplishment. You’re not going to get paid anything near minimum wage for the time you put in for a long time.

The first payment I got I refused to use paypal so I could scan and print myself a color copy of the check. It also had a nice sticky note from the publisher saying nice things, they are in a scrapbook now. I’ve gotten paid more and more frequently by other publishers but I cherish that little piece of paper more than it was worth ($25) because getting it meant my words had value to someone.

One cent per word is an industry standard for small publishers. They don’t really make much and their profit margins are small. They have to pay for art to sell their work and art is way more expensive then written work, accept this as fact and deal with it.

This is ok because…

Write or Game design because you love it. If you don’t, it will show in your work and your attitude. If you want to make money as a writer approach ad agencies and write commercials. This will be a low paying part time job unless you really strike it somewhere but you need to pay your dues in the industry first.

This will eat time. Time your significant other might resent. Carve it out of time that doesn’t normally belong to them, maybe out something else aside. Communicate. If someone love’s you and this is your dream let them know and they should understand and make allowances for that. If not then its not a healthy relationship or you need to examine what time you do give to that person.

I have been paid a few times but I’m well aware that…

No one knows who the frak you are. Listen, people don’t read the credits on allot of game books. You probably do but that’s because you’re a writer, you aren’t a casual consumer at this point. Maybe you haven’t dealt with much rejection yet and got paid early. Maybe your started in a fury and got paid quickly a few times and maybe did some huge numbers on a blog, enjoy it but understand something very simple- you aren’t Kanye West. Don’t be an ass, you aren’t big enough to get away with it yet or really ever in this industry.

Don’t start lording your paltry publishing creds over your gaming friends. Don’t demand things form your publishers because you’ve had some success. Build good will and be a solid cotozen, the world has enough writers that let themselves turn into a-holes don’t be that guy or gal.

If you’re still interested in freelancing, read our open call and contact me. I’m partnering with d20pfsrd and we’ll be publishing under that name in conjunction with some of my other partners by the end of 2013.

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