For Dan Pinchbeck, creative director of The Chinese Room, work-for-hire was never an option: "It would be removing us from what we got into the games industry to do in the first place."
In a talk at Develop Conference today, Pinchbeck explained that, while he's not against the work-for-hire model, and sees that it fits plenty of other studios perfectly well, it's definitely not the only viable option.
"For us, it never really was an option," he says. He says that he saw other developers who were "trapped in a treadmill" of doing work-for-hire, working a little on their own vision, and then having to go back to work-for-hire again.
"It's difficult to get known as people with a vision, if you're making someone else's vision," he adds. "We want to make a big noise about our vision."
The Dear Esther creator says that one of the best ways to get around the work-for-hire system is to simply ask other people in the industry for help, and be friendly throughout.
"People are incredibly generous with expertise and support," he notes, adding that when he went to IndieCade, he witnessed numerous start-up studios asking complete strangers for help -- and these other devs were more than happy to help.
"We've never been in the position where we've asked for help, and someone has said no," he added. He says that simply being friendly, honest and upfront means that people will be far more likely to help you out.
Hence, it's worth building personal relationships with publishers et al before you go ahead and ask for funding and the like.
"If people are arseholes, they shouldn't get work," he says. "People who act with dignity and respect should get the work... it's good business to be a good person."
He notes that technically Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, the sequel to Frictional Games' original horror game that The Chinese Room is currently creating, is work-for-hire.
However, he notes that Frictional has told Pinchbeck and his team that they should create a sequel that is in the style of their own work and of thir own vision, rather than attempting to create a game like Frictional's original -- therefore The Chinese Room is still being able to apply their own vision to the work.