A lot goes into becoming successful in any field, and it’s no different from pursuing a freelance career in game development. In fact, just as with other specialized roles in the rewarding digital media and entertainment industry, the job of a game developer is also a demanding one and falls in a highly competitive zone. Gaming studios across the world hire scores of game developers every year, freshers as well as experienced talent, and the credentials they expect from the perfect candidate are pretty extensive, including a wide range of creative, technical, and soft skills.
The job of a game developer involves planning, designing, and programming games for different devices such as personal computers (desktops/laptops), tablets, smartphones, and game consoles (home/arcade). A game developer must have a background in mathematics and computer software as the job involves writing code and working on metrics to activate and test a game. Game development is a highly collaborative process and a game developer must possess good communication and teamwork skills.
The first step to becoming a successful freelance game developer is to pursue a professional, industry-acknowledged, and updated course in game development or related courses in computer science, game art, and design. While diploma/certificate courses are available, it is advisable to pursue a bachelor’s degree from a reputed college and, depending on your career goals, follow up with a master’s degree to ensure a solid academic foundation and to gain a professional edge in the competitive job/freelance market.
These professional courses with a choice of specializations are important and do matter in the long term because they allow aspiring game developers to acquire in-depth knowledge and technical skills in programming, mathematics, algorithms, graphics, animation, 2D & 3D modeling, game design, game engines, game production, and other related subjects that are necessary for the job.
The second step is to gather experience by working on a wide range of gaming development projects. Initially, before stepping out into the real world and while still at college pursuing a course in game development, internship opportunities with gaming companies are likely to be available depending on the institution. This is a valuable opportunity to work on a live project, gain work experience, and also build a relationship with a potential future client. The internship tenure at a gaming company can also act as a testing period, allowing one to observe the gaming industry from close quarters, understand the freelance game developer salary trends, get a first-hand experience of the work environment, and decide whether or not, one is heading in the right direction.
Post internship and before commencing a freelance business, working full-time as an employee at an established gaming studio for at least 1-2 years is helpful. The experience of functioning in a professional environment, collaborating with a team of talented artists and technicians across gaming disciplines, and understanding how the studio operates from a business perspective are all lessons that can be put to use when running a freelance business.
The third step would be to plan a smooth transition from full-time employment to full-time freelancing in a gradual, phased manner. Quitting a job abruptly and jumping headlong into entrepreneurship may be challenging as acquiring new freelance game development jobs and generating revenues takes some time. The best way forward would be to sacrifice spare time (evenings, weekends, and holidays) in the interest of your career and start freelancing while still working as a full-time employee. After acquiring a few clients and generating enough revenues to support yourself, it would be safe to quit the job in favour of a full-fledged freelance business.
Step four involves building a strong foundation for the freelance business. Executing every project with passion, ensuring professional and high-quality work, consistently delivering projects on time, maintaining transparency, and being fair in all dealings with the client is vital to building credibility. This generates goodwill, helps in winning repeat orders from delighted clients, and benefiting from their valuable references that can help in acquiring new business, expanding clientele, and improving revenues. In freelancing, just as with any other business, it’s important to be reasonably accommodative with clients, display a willingness to tread the extra mile, and rise to the occasion when situations demand. Reputation is extremely important at this juncture. It’s an intangible asset that offers immense long-term benefits for the growth of your freelance business.
Once your freelance business reaches the growth threshold, the challenge would be to sustain the growth and make further progress. A large client base means loads of work, long days that extend beyond regular work hours and stretch into weekends, tight deadlines, and a host of delivery challenges. The key is to manage the project pipeline prudently, avoid biting off more than you can chew, and ensure that the same practice of fulfilling commitments that brought you word-of-mouth in the first place is continued with unfailing efficiency. This will ensure that you don’t renege on any commitments, keep your clients happy, and retain their business.
Along the way, perhaps as early as in the training or internship stages, or even later on, maybe during your stint as a full-time employee at a gaming studio, it would be wise to get yourself a mentor who can guide you in all your career moves, share insights and experiences, and offer valuable advice when needed. A mentor with years of experience as a game developer in the industry will be a major asset for you, inspiring you and giving you confidence in crucial times, offering support and encouragement when the going gets tough, and helping you deal with important situations smartly. What’s more, a mentor can help you set goals and achieve them, give you the right perspective on issues when needed, and help you network and improve your chances of expanding your professional contacts, leading you to new opportunities.
The fifth and final step: Keep yourself updated on emerging technologies and trends in the freelance game development sphere by attending seminars, trade shows, and other related events. With technology evolving rapidly and becoming obsolete in the blink of an eye, and with game development being heavily dependent on technology, it is important that you keep abreast with the latest developments in game design and game programming tools to protect yourself from skills redundancy, ensure a competitive edge in the freelance market, and continue growing your business.
Evidently, building a career as a game developer or a freelance game designer takes a lot. It requires immense hard work, years of sacrifice, and undivided attention in order to succeed. While many game developers work full time at large gaming studios, the situation is evolving due to the pandemic-influenced work-from-home trend. Many game developers and game artists are realizing that working as a freelancer from the safe confines of their homes and enjoying the benefits of professional independence is now very much a possibility.