How Not to look for Work in the Gaming Industry
We’re not a big company, to be honest, we’re barely a company. What we are is two people who hire a handful of other people to make a handful of games and occasionally a little bit of profit. Despite that we still get people looking for a job contacting us in one form or another. We do hire a handful of other people, and are open to hiring more. We’re usually on the look out for artists and a reliable rulebook editor would probably be a nice name to add to the list, but generally we reach out to those people rather than the other way around. However, we’d like to make a few suggestions about how and when you reach out to people when looking for work in the gaming industry, if you choose to do so.
Timing is everything
First of all, don’t contact me looking for paying work when I’m running a live Kickstarter. Its predatory and unpleasant, plus you’re part of a crowd that I wouldn’t have time for even if it was just one person. Also, don’t offer work on a game that is either fully finished on a Kickstarter page or worse, has just completed its Kickstarter print run. Rules feedback on a game with a running Kickstarter can be fantastic, the offer to re-do artwork is less likely to be accepted.
We’re a tiny independent company, once we complete a print run it is often a year or more before that game goes out of stock and we need to do a second run. As such, the single worst time you could possibly come to us and offer to edit a specific rulebook for money would be immediately after a Kickstarter print run has concluded. This is for a few reasons aside from the sheer time between print runs:
1) We’ve just spent a large amount of money on developing this particular game. If it comes to a second print run, we’ll spend money on it again, but between those two times there just isn’t a development budget set aside for the game.
2) The game has just gone out to several hundred people, a large number of whom will, over the coming months feedback with opinions on clarity and rules questions. They will be the best indication of rulebook editing no matter what happens, so the next edition of any rules will be re-written with that feedback in mind, and then handed on to any editing that’s needed.
The last reason is that it indicates a lack of attention to our company and our needs. We just printed and released a game, an editing pass on that game is now largely useless, but we have games upcoming, with rulebooks that are online for feedback. If you’re only offering your services in relation to the most recent Kickstarter then that suggest you’ve only seen our most publicly visible current product, which doesn’t suggest you’ve really put the effort into looking into our company before deciding to work with us.
Understand the Market
I’m a game designer with two successful Kickstarted designs with development credits on games including one of the most successful tabletop miniatures games of the last few years. I still regularly offer in depth feedback to people who post their games and rules online often with pages of notes and those who reach out to me directly asking for feedback and I have never asked for any financial payback for so doing. I do this for three reasons, its good practice, its good for your profile (its odd how many people that won’t give out their free advice for intangible benefits will pay over the odds for advertising because of its intangible benefits) and I like doing it. I’m not alone in that respect, and bigger names than me do something similar. With that being the case, I’ve been mailed by people reaching out to me, who acknowledge that they have no direct or relevant experience but want to break into game design and development, but would like to be paid, up front, for their efforts.
I expect to pay people that I hire to do work for me, but those are people with portfolios of work, that I reach out to asking them to work on my project. I can imagine a situation where someone who had worked on rulebook editing for Fantasy Flight Games for ten years decided to go freelance and reached out to me offering their services and outlining their rates, that would be reasonable. I’m not going to pay for rulebook feedback from someone with zero experience of editing rulebooks, and I’m certainly not going to pay for that service up front.
If you do want to break into the field though, as I mentioned above, I have rulebooks that you can download online and re-write. I’m not going to pay you for that, but then I’m not ripping you off, because re-writing that rulebook is largely worthless to me. Not because its perfect, but because as I said, so many changes will be made from player feedback and so long will remain between now and a re-print that a current re-write of that book just doesn’t happen to be worth paying for to me at the present. But if you want to impress me without giving away the farm, re-editing an existing book could convince me to pay you to edit the next project that I’m working on, or the one after that.
The simple fact is that if you have no experience in the field and little more than a page of notes to offer, your contribution is not worth monetary re-numeration. If you reach out to me, unsolicited, to offer that page of notes but only if I pay you for them, that is not recognising the market value of the service that you’re offering.
Also, if you do show me an editing pass of one of my rulebooks, I had better be able to spot the changes you’ve made without needing to do a split screen between the two versions. Changing one word in ten wouldn’t pass when copying someone’s work in grade school, and it certainly doesn’t justify a paycheck.
Present yourself well
There are some ways that people looking for work present themselves with surprising regularity that I wouldn’t think needed to be explained as a bad idea, but just for the record, avoid these:
1) Being wildly insulting. It is shocking to me how many people seem to think that the best way to approach with an unsolicited request for work is to call me an idiot who doesn’t know what they're doing. I do know what I’m doing, and I work with other people who know what they’re doing. If you’ve never funded a Kickstarter, don’t approach me telling me that my Kickstarter page needs a ground level tear down and re-build, but that you’re willing to help for the low monthly fee of $xx, because I know how to make a Kickstarter page that funds, and its quite insulting to suggest that I don’t. If you’ve never edited a rulebook before, don’t make your first approach to me being to tell me that my rulebook gives you a migraine and that I need to learn what I’m doing, because its just rude. I’m not inclined to work with a stranger who just cold e-mails me, I’m even less inclined to work with one who cold e-mails me to be insulting. I’m not asking for every mail I receive to be full of false praise, but I will have to work with whoever I end up hiring and I would rather they be basically polite, at least until they know me. Also, bear in mind that if you tell me my current version needs ripping to the foundations and building back up, you’ll need to back that up with the work you then offer me to improve it. If you tell me my work is horrifyingly terrible then your re-edit had better be universal and impressive. If what you’re about to offer is a series of marginal changes that are largely matters of opinion you shouldn’t be coming on too strong about the changes that need making.
2) Being furiously impatient. Running a game production company is complex, and however much we might like to do what we want when we want to, there are legal issues to consider with copyright and financial considerations for printing and distribution. If you contact us, we might well be looking into these issues before getting back to you. To be honest, if you contact us unasked for you are essentially a form of spam. While there might be enough respect for the necessity to get out there and hustle to not be aggrieved at this form of spamming, it doesn’t create an obligation to reply. As such, becoming enraged and insulting when your unsolicited offer of paid work doesn’t a reply within 24 hours, or even 48 is something best avoided.
3) Using threats or bribes. If you contact me for work during a Kickstarter I’m running its polite to back that Kickstarter, but it’s not a major factor for me. But if you back a Kickstarter I’m running, don’t think that cancelling your backing is a useful threat that will cause me to take you on as an employee. Equally, don’t offer backing as a bribe if I take on your paid service, unless the level you’re backing at is more than I’m paying you, its not really an attractive offer. Also, don’t threaten to make your own copyright infringing version of one of my games and launch it yourself because I wasn’t interested in working with you. Its not going to make me hire you, but it is a paper-trail of criminal intent.
In short, my game is important to me, its valuable to me both financially and emotionally. If you’re coming to me asking to work on it unsolicited, you’re essentially a stranger walking up to me in the street asking to house sit for me. Its not a service I generally look for from unsolicited strangers and its often something that happens without financial payment. If you are planning on attempting that you have to present yourself amazingly first time, you have to appear trustworthy and capable and you need to prove that with some upfront work that might never get any reward.
Don’t assume your work is valuable, and that if someone is unwilling to pay for it they’re looking to steal it, there is a decent chance they just don’t want it. Offer the proof of your worth for free and then hope that they find a place for you when they’re willing to pay, but mostly understand that people in the tabletop industry are not running huge companies that make massive amounts of money. They’re not generally looking to hire for paid positions whatever you have to offer.
Have you offered your services to a game company? How did it turn out? Are you a game designer or creator who had someone ask for a paid job that you gave them? How did that go for you?