Questions by: Robert Ward (Reawdev on Twitter), student in Games Technology at the De Montfort University
Robert: Who did you work for before freelancing and what was your role?
Dom: My first gig in the game industry was at Ludia, a company that was just starting back then, and is now a big player in the mobile game scene. I started there as a 2D artist, mostly user interface and mock-up stuff, then quickly discovered that I wanted the games I was working on to be fun, so I got into game design. I worked on licensed properties like The Price is Right, Hell's Kitchen, and most importantly, Where's Waldo. As a big fan of the I.P., I really tried to make our game as good as possible, and it was tough but super rewarding.
Robert: Why did you decide to become a freelancer?
Dom: At some point, the company moved from console and PC games to Facebook and mobile freemium models. I was put on one of the last console games Ludia made, Amazing Race for the Wii - a project that was sort of doomed to fail no matter what effort I put it, for a lack of interest from pretty much everyone in the company, from the higher ups to myself. At least that's the vibe I was getting. Now that I think about it, there might have been something good to do with the license, but we wanted to something too big for the resources we had.
During Amazing Race I got into making my own games using Flash and Game Maker. I learned the very basics of scripting and a tiny bit of programming, made a Flash game that got the attention of Mochi Games, and it got me my first freelance job.
I quit my job at Ludia, just as they had assigned me to Facebook games for Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, which honestly were kinda cool to work with, but everything was bogged down by free-to-play model shenanigans. Back then I was a bit frustrated by how it affected the game design, so leaving to work on simple, fun flash games for Mochi was obviously the right choice... especially because I'd get to work from home!
Robert: Who have you worked for as a freelancer?
Dom: I have worked for Mochi Games to make Biogems, a fun little match-3 game with characters and animations, which back then was still kind of new.
I then moved on to work for Nom, a start-up launched by experienced people in California. I made a ton of quick Android games for them, some were pretty good, most were clones of existing games, by their request.
I did a few other jobs here and there, but these two were the big ones. Since Nom closed up, I've been working on more ecclectic contracts, like the graphics for JS Joust for Die Güte Fabrik, logos and illustrations for board games, and so on.
Robert: How do you find work?
Dom: Ah, the million dollar question. I've got a trick! I put myself out there, on the web, not as someone looking for work, but as someone who does a lot of fun, cool things he loves.
I do client work but also my own indie games, and I share the process on Twitter and Tumblr. I participate in game jams all the time, so my portfolio keeps growing with fun, quirky games. I draw all the time, so people know I love doing it, and they see me get better at it. I try to be active in the game development community, helping out however I can, like the feature I did regularly for Venus Patrol, in which I presented cool games other people are developing. I tell people who do great games and good-looking illustrations that I love what they do, and "hey we should work together someday", and I say these things because I think them.
Over the years I realized that all this is making me a better hire than someone who's just refreshing LinkedIn all day. And it usually gets me work that I'm actually interested in! Internet is amazing, especially Twitter.
So yeah, this is my secret. It just kinda happened!
Robert: How do you promote yourself to potential clients?
Dom: See previous answer! :)
Robert: What are your strengths?
Dom: My 2D art and user interface skills go really well with game design. I can do a mock interface in Photoshop with more than matchstick figures, squares and lines to represent gameplay, which means I get to communicate my ideas better. We all get to see what the game could look like early on, and it's already a solid basis for further interface work. I get to iterate on the game's look and feel more quickly, without having design versus art meetings all the time.
I also have enough experience now that I can avoid lots of production pitfalls and will usually come up with clever designs that don't require thousands of hours of artists' work, which usually makes my clients happy.
Robert: What are your weaknesses?
Dom: I have a bit of a problem refusing great projects, so I sometimes end up with too much on my plate. It sounds like a lame answer, "boo-hoo, you've got too many projects", but it actually is a real issue that has jeopardized my freelancing a couple of times. It is important to manage my time, plan ahead, so that once you've accepted a job, you can actually deliver on time, without scheduling conflicts with other jobs.
Robert: What are your opportunities?
Dom: So, I think the goal for a freelance game designer like myself is to be able to work on my own game ideas. Most freelance jobs are about creating a game out of a license, a brand, or simply someone else's idea. It's all great, but I'm building my experience and my credibility to eventually release a game of my own. To achieve that, I need good freelance jobs that pay well, so I can spend some of my time on my own project, which do not pay at all at this point. The best opportunities are good freelance game design jobs that pay a reasonable amount, with responsive, trusting people.
Robert: What are your threats?
Dom: I'm always trying to balance jobs that pay well and jobs that do not pay. It sounds silly, but hear me out.
You will encounter TONS of genuinely awesome projects, looking someone exactly like you, that can offer either very little money, or revenue share. And don't get me wrong, I still take some of those, because collaborations are great! But I simply could not keep freelancing if I took all the cool jobs I really wanted - the total dollars in my pocket would not cover my rent, food and stuff. So I worked hard to find a balance, and yes, I got a bit lucky - the contract I'm doing now is the best of both worlds. It pays well and the projects are amazing, so I'll definitely try to keep it!
Robert: What keeps you motivated to continue freelancing?
Dom: As I said before, I'm building myself up. I think all the freelance jobs I do are making me a better game designer, a better artist, and probably a better person. The variety of people I work for and work with on a wide range of games and other projects can only expand my horizons, until the point where I decide, okay, now's the time to really make my own game.
Robert: What advice would you give to someone that wants to start freelancing?
Dom: Time management, time management, time management. I'm still very much struggling with that aspect of my life. It's very easy to be overwhelmed by this schedule-free, work-whenever-you-want lifestyle, because at some point you are working all the time. Or if you're not working, you might be wondering if you should be working, have you worked enough this week, do you need to find another freelance job soon, and so on. It's way less defined as a day job in a studio, but you can make it as organized. Give yourself a tasklist and a schedule, otherwise you might get lost. It'll also be way easier on your family and friends!
Communication is also very important - talk with your clients a lot, by e-mail or in Skype/Hangout meetings, so everyone's always up-to-date and on the same page. Reply to client e-mails swiftly (I'm still working on that) and don't be afraid to voice your worries or your questions to people you work with!