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Being a remote maker in the game industry

by Paolo Gambardella on 11/30/18 09:59:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Spoiler: it is totally possible, believe me.

Premises

This is not a post to say remote work is the sole possible future or anything like that. I leave those considerations to the ones who have a better understanding than me regarding social rights, creativity and in leading projects and companies.

I am not encouraging anyone to take any decision, just sharing my own experience hoping to start a nice discussion and to make new interesting connections. As prove of that, here there is my first and unique suggestion of the whole article: in your life and profession look ALWAYS for your #comfortzone™.

Who I am

I am a game designer and a computer scientist working for entertainment and videogames since 2007. I am a creative guy, probably as you reader. In the game industry it is getting harder and harder getting the right job in the place you want to live. I have talented colleagues which are constantly moving from town to town with all their stuff and family. Which is great, if you want to travel and build your career in great companies.

Anyway, not every person has the same needs. I need stability to be really creative, have the calm to analyze contexts, communicate effectively, improve my skills constantly, write down my book in Italian about game design (another spoiler, yes), and so on. I need my base of friends, I need my girlfriend and I need my city. This is my comfort zone, which is all I need to work well.

I choose Barcelona, the second capital of Spain, to be my city. Barcelona is full of great companies and I jumped to one from another during a while. After that I found myself sending cover letters, doing evaluation tests and, in general, get lost into the "find a job" loop. The answer was almost always a no, since my resume, as for the vast majority of game designers out there, has not the proper "completed projects" sequence. Which is normal, since if you look at statistics, almost 9 games over 10 get canceled during production and never see the light. In case of free to play situation is worst, because we are talking about services which can be shut down at any time. A situation in which, I am pretty sure, some of you readers are living right now.

After a while I started to think in another way, and just say to me: I am a game designer.

Simple as that.

I mean, the problem which I was trying to solve was: "get a job in the game industry". But my real problem was: "I need to create games because I am a game designer". So I just started doing it, studying more and more about it, publish small experiments and considerations. I started the Barcelona Game Design Meetup, to create new synergies and starting giving to the community. I stopped thinking in “get a job, ASAP!” and started to do the game designer. Also I considered programming skills I have and I was hiding in the name of title. After all this, which is very hard believe me, things started to move.

My way

The way I have right now, which works for me but has issues as always, follows simple rules.

  • I established a price per hour, based on my actual skills, my actual portfolio and the time I suppose to be with at least one client over a year. The price is very convenient for North Europe and US, it is a right price for Mediterranean and is pretty fair for Latin America.
  • I work 10 hours per day as maximum, so I use to have 2 clients at the same time. Possibly in totally different areas of entertainment. 10 hours is definitely a lot, anyway.
  • I get paid per week, so I get a pretty constant income and my client on Friday can easily say me “next week we will not need your services”. Easy and agile for everyone.
  • I speak fluently in 4 languages. Two of them are vastly diffused, Spanish and English. Another is big too, Brazilian Portuguese. Then there is my language, Italian. Languages permit me to have clients all over the World and communicate well with almost everyone in any kind of team.
  • Every day I send a summary of the work accomplished during my journey to all my clients. They will feel safer if they see the progress I am doing.
  • I am a game designer and programmer, so I use all the skills I have and I try to have one client as game designer and another as developer. So it is way easier to find the right client for the right time.
  • I don’t forget to work also on my image, constantly sharing and trying always to give something authentic every week or two.

The good of my day job

Let’s get to the core of this article. Working remotely and as freelance has a lot of challenges, but in this text I just want to share the good part. The message I need to share is that creativity is strongly improved working half day on a project and half on another, because the rhythm of your job creates interesting chances.

Here there are my bullet pointed considerations:

  • Brain is an organ, not a machine. My best solutions come just after the “other” project: this happens almost always! I work on project A, then I go to project B. When I finish my day, new things for A magically pop up in my mind. The day after also B has new things. When you are concentrated in another task, brain does strange processes and things connect in interesting ways. I am not sure to know why, I am currently researching about that.
  • Having to deal with distance I don’t get attached to anything. My pride is constantly challenged by reality. Reality is that there is no much time to sell your idea and that the team will take just what they see it is good for the game. Also remember that your project has good chances of never see the light. That hurts a bit, it’s true, but is good in terms of results.
  • From the distance is always clear who is the owner of the vision. Honestly I don’t believe in “everyone is the creator”. Best products and services I know came from the mind of one single person. Always. Please send me examples against this, in case you have them. I really need to break this conviction since convictions are never good.
  • You are forced to have brief meetings which is great! My sketchbook is crying, since I used it a lot during my infinite meetings of TheGameDesignDepartment™. Now I almost abandoned it, but I am sure it will get used to this.
  • I see a lot of things every week. I see many different ways to approach to problems coming from many clients. I am not trapped into my "creative genius" bubble, during minimum 6 months, on just one mission. Things I learn in one context can be applied to the other and my skills grow faster. My clients are all happy and I am too.

Conclusion

All those things I shared happen to me, I know perfectly we are not all equals. I meet each month professionals which are in most cases very different from me. They give their best with a fixed position and title. They are effective when they stay during a long time just on one single project. All I want to say is that is totally possible to create great things by remote. And that it is possible to have multiple project at a time, if you are well organized with schedule.

As last thing, remember that few companies believe in that, so it is not easy to find clients. You need experience and you need to be able to communicate over a vast geography in order to increase your chances to find those “pioneers”. It is not easy at all, there are a lot of issues and challenges and it is completely possible that my mind can change into the future together with my needs. Any setting has issues and challenges, the point is to choose those you want to deal with.

Thank you for reading this,

Paolo


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