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August, 2006

NOTE: these articles are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers, but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This lesson is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.

This should be a very short FAQ this time.

Here's the deal:

If you want to work as a freelancer, first you must establish yourself as being very experienced* at your specialty.

How to become a freelance game artist:
Get lots of experience* working as a game artist. Have your name listed in the credits of numerous top-notch games.

How to become a freelance game programmer:
Get lots of experience* working as a game programmer. Have your name listed in the credits of numerous top-notch games.

How to become a freelance game designer:
Get lots of experience* working as a game designer. Have your name listed in the credits of numerous top-notch games.

It's that simple! Just one step.

In order to become a freelancer, all you have to do is first get a job in the game industry.
Then stay in the industry for several years. Work on a number of games. Get your name listed in the credits. Get to know lots of other hardworking, talented professionals in the biz and earn their respect. Once you've done that, you can "hang out your shingle" and seek work as a freelancer.


How many years is "several years"? How long would I have to work at establishing myself before I can go into business for myself?
Oh, I imagine ten years would probably do it.

Is it possible to do it in less than ten years?
See FAQ 50.

But I know a guy who got his first job by working as a temp employee, a contractor! That's the same thing as a freelancer, isn't it? How do you reconcile his story with your baldfaced lies?
There's no contradiction here. It's not unusual for a company to "try out" a new guy for a while on a temporary (probationary) basis, to see if he works out, before making him a full-time permanent employee, with all the perks and benefits that come with being an employee. Working on a temp contract basis like that is not at all the same thing as being a full-time freelancer. My first job in the game biz was as a temp too, but I sure wasn't anywhere near qualified to call myself a freelance game designer back then!

Um, gee. I'm still thinking.
Sure, ask me anything on my bulletin board anytime.

So, like, you're saying. Aw damn... you mean I gotta get a job to start out? But that's too hard! That's why I wanna freelance. Nobody'll hire me out here in West Podunk, even though I'm perfectly willing to move to wherever they are once they hire me.
It's a lot harder to get work as a freelancer, especially if you don't have the creds. That's what I've been tryin' ta tell ya. Don'tcha get it yet? And as for your being located in West Podunk, you're committing Stupid Wannabe Trick #6 - "Stupid Location." Go read FAQ 24.

That's not fair. Fat cats oughta just see how brilliant (and cheap) (and available) I am, and how shiny and new my college diploma is, and they should just throw lots of money at me right now!
They could throw lots of money at an unknown commodity like you, or they could instead spend the money on experienced, known talent. Someone whose work abilities and team spirit can be verified. Someone like who you could be several years from now, if you get off your butt and go get an honest job like everybody else.

But I live in a country where there aren't any game companies, and I can't just get a job in North America or Europe or Japan!
FAQ 64 is about that topic. And see my August 2004 column, "The Games Game," archived on the IGDA website - in which I wrote about one way folks in your situation can proceed. You should probably seek out some modders and try to work collaboratively with them. Having done that for a few years, maybe you can start your own game company (see FAQ 29), and start the game industry in your country.

What does the word "experience" mean?
Read my October 2006 column on the website. My column is called "The Games Game" (click the link, then click Archives to access old columns). The short explanation is in FAQ 28, The Game Biz Glossary, here on my site (also accessible through the nav frame at left).

The FAQs for the "Business of Game Development" forum, at, are an additional must-read.

Got a question or comment about this article? Email your comments to - you'll get a response on the Sloperama Game Design bulletin board.

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© 2006, 2008 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.