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Habeeb Jr.

Freelance Game Programmer

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My dream is to become a freelance video game programmer. So far I know the basics of C++, Python, and am familiar with Javascript and Java. I wanted to ask for the advice of anyone who has gone down the path of becoming a freelance game programmer. I want to know what you did education and career wise to get to where you are now and any recommendations you would have for me to achieve my dream.

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I work with an outsourcing company, so we subcontract work out to a lot of freelancers. Almost all the people we work with are ex-colleagues, i.e. we used to work with these people at a "normal" full time games company and have stayed in touch. It's very hard to find new talent *that we can trust* outside of this immediate network of experience, so we rely on having a large professional network from having worked at a lot of big companies.

I'm personally freelancing at the moment, and again I'm working for a large studio who I've had a regular employee/employer relationship with in the past.

So my advice would be to become successful in the regular model of employment first, in order to build the foundations for freelancing.

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Think very hard and carefully about what you're aiming for. Freelancing sounds shiny and adventurous, but it has a lot of downsides, especially in many parts of the world. In the USA, you can look forward to:
  • Getting fired/laid off on average once a year (contracts don't last forever!)
  • Making substantially less than your peers once expenses are accounted for (moving, travel, and remote work are not free)
  • Living without corporate benefits like health, dental, eye, and liability insurance
  • Dealing with a tough networking/breaking-in situation as Hodgman alluded to
  • Going long periods of time with zero income and lots of expenses (contracts don't always appear when you want them to)
  • Learning more than you ever cared to know about corporate and tax law (you'd better be an expert if you don't like jail)
  • Having the looming threat of lawsuits hanging over your head 24/7 (please tell me you know good lawyers and accountants)
Unlike Hodgman, my freelancing career ended several years ago, and I will probably never do it again. I don't mean to paint a 100% doom-and-gloom image of the career path; like I said, it has its perks. But for me personally, I'm far happier having a stable job with benefits and knowing where my next paycheck is coming from.

If this is really the lifestyle you want, cool! You are in for a lot of fun times. Just be sure you know what you're asking for.

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Think very hard and carefully about what you're aiming for. Freelancing sounds shiny and adventurous, but it has a lot of downsides, especially in many parts of the world. In the USA, you can look forward to:

  • Getting fired/laid off on average once a year (contracts don't last forever!)
  • Making substantially less than your peers once expenses are accounted for (moving, travel, and remote work are not free)
  • Living without corporate benefits like health, dental, eye, and liability insurance
  • Dealing with a tough networking/breaking-in situation as Hodgman alluded to
  • Going long periods of time with zero income and lots of expenses (contracts don't always appear when you want them to)
  • Learning more than you ever cared to know about corporate and tax law (you'd better be an expert if you don't like jail)
  • Having the looming threat of lawsuits hanging over your head 24/7 (please tell me you know good lawyers and accountants)
Unlike Hodgman, my freelancing career ended several years ago, and I will probably never do it again. I don't mean to paint a 100% doom-and-gloom image of the career path; like I said, it has its perks. But for me personally, I'm far happier having a stable job with benefits and knowing where my next paycheck is coming from.

If this is really the lifestyle you want, cool! You are in for a lot of fun times. Just be sure you know what you're asking for.

 

 

I have freelanced in the past in the UK where i live, and it was not as bad as this. You still need to know all about the basics of tax and accounting, sure, but if you hire an accountant once a year to do your profit and loss etc, all is fine (KEEP *ALL* RECEIPTS, INVOICES ETC!).

 

Also, in the UK if you earn less than a threshold amount, which is quite a bit, tax credits tops up your wages to a level you can about live off... if you live conservatively. 

 

In the UK you don't have to worry about health insurance either, as we have the NHS for this, luckily. 

 

You can also claim back expenses such as travel costs to meetings, Internet and hardware costs etc. Look it up smile.png

 

When i freelanced i did so part time whilst working in a full time job, using my weekends and evenings for freelance work. So long as your current work contract permits, i would recommend this as a safer option as you will never be out of pocket. For me with a family and young children this is very important. 

Edited by braindigitalis

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I did freelancing from mid/2013 until the end of 2014 because I wanted to spend more time with my newborn son. I had already extense experience in mobile applications (Objective-C, C++ and Java for Android) and backend (PHP/MySQL) so I felt it was easy to land some quality freelance jobs. I took jobs from oDesk and from my former employer. It can be done but you probably need to get more than the basics in whatever tech you pick. Contractors often look for experienced professionals to solve complex parts of a project or even the whole project. Also the networking thing that was mentioned before is very important. Be very cautious when picking the projects - make sure you can actually complete it - that said here goes a few advices from my experience.

 

- Always talk to your contractor and give feedback - everyday - if possible more than once a day even if it´s just to say that you are still working on it (whatever he/her is expecting to be ready next). You should also give preference to face-to-face talks (skype, hangouts) than simple e-mails whenever possible.

- On the monetary side, in my opinion there are 2 kinds of contractors. The ones that will hire the most unexpensive freelancer and the others that will look for the best/most experienced freelancer and his hourly or contract price isn´t much of a problem (but even then they will try to cut costs). Study and react to the contractor style, do not treat with them the same way.

- Do a good job and you will get more jobs from the same contractors - but they will always expect to pay again whatever you charged in the first job so you also need attention in this point.

- Expect extra work not included in the contract terms. Take a look and study this new requests before declining upfront. See if they are just simple changes and reasonable things that won´t make much difference and will satisfy the contractor even more.

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So far I know the basics of C++, Python, and am familiar with Javascript and Java.

Then you are not ready for corporate freelance. You won't have the contacts needed to get business, and you won't have the long list of completed projects necessary to convince people you are the best option.

 

Organizations hire freelance / contract developers essentially to do work they don't want to pay for in house. Sometimes that is because they are fully staffed and have a quick side project. Sometimes that is because an existing project needs some extra hands.

 

In all cases they want experienced, well-rounded, low-risk contracts. 

 

Most solo contractors have many years, often 10+ years, experience before they have enough contacts and experience to venture out on their own.   

 

 

More simply:  Why should I hire you, a beginner with no experience and no track records, when for a relatively small amount more money I can hire someone with a decade of experience who has focused directly on the task I need done and a long track record of success?

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Most solo contractors have many years, often 10+ years, experience before they have enough contacts and experience to venture out on their own.   

 

Alongside this comes the need for references. As a freelancer keep a list of people happy to vouch for you and when bidding or looking for contract work have these people's details to hand. In some ways, that initial meeting or phone conversation where you are trying to get the work is a lot like an interview, both for you and them. You wont always be a good fit for all projects, but this doesn't matter, as you should never take on more projects in one go than you can handle.

 

On that note though if you can, take on at least two projects at the same time so that if one falls through you still have something to fall back on...

 

And, good luck in your contracting career if you go ahead with it!

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Organizations hire freelance / contract developers essentially to do work they don't want to pay for in house. Sometimes that is because they are fully staffed and have a quick side project. Sometimes that is because an existing project needs some extra hands.

In all cases they want experienced, well-rounded, low-risk contracts.

More simply: Why should I hire you, a beginner with no experience and no track records, when for a relatively small amount more money I can hire someone with a decade of experience who has focused directly on the task I need done and a long track record of success?

There are other cases - there's the people who either through incompetence or greed think that they can get away with paying someone $5/hr - that if a freelancer is not half the cost of an employee, then "what's the point in outsourcing anyway?"...

More than once we've been contacted by a potential new client who needs a lot of work done quickly, but is offering a wage that would insult a Chinese factory worker... And who responds with anger and disbelief when informed of what a quality result will actually cost them
them!

If you're willing to work for cheap, there's a lot of people out there who seem willing to take the risk on cheap workers.

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if a freelancer is not half the cost of an employee, then "what's the point in outsourcing anyway?"

 

A freelancer is often cheaper than an employee even with a higher hourly rate. They are hired for shorter periods, don't have to be given various benefits like pension, health insurance where applicable, and don't have an initial training period, they don't need office space or a pc usually, and the general HR cost is much smaller plus accounting is simpler as they handle their own tax. Just going on the hourly rate might be deceiving from a business perspective for these reasons IMHO... 

Edited by braindigitalis

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There are other cases - there's the people who either through incompetence or greed think that they can get away with paying someone $5/hr - that if a freelancer is not half the cost of an employee, then "what's the point in outsourcing anyway?"...

 

 

Specially if the freelancer is from a place that $5/h is a good or at least acceptable rate.

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