I made the mistake of starting a project too big for my savings account in 2011 when I started working on a family-friendly MOBA with a 7-person team.
Money quickly ran out, and less than 6 months later, we had to find a way to combat "going back to our jobs".
That's when we started taking on client projects, helping other people and organisations building their games.
And it was a great way for us to continue funding our own project. The skills we gained and network we built through working with clients allowed us continuous learning while building a reputation for the studio.
Although client work has and still is taking the majority of our time, it has been tremendous in helping us fund our own projects.
My experience has primarily been working on client projects as a studio rather than an individual freelancer because from the beginning we had a team that needed work - so we aimed to offer full development services from design, art, to engineering.
Do the research and think ahead before you craft your proposal.Brandon Wu
But even if you are an individual, some of these will still apply.
Put your best foot forward - your portfolio
Have a website set up that is professional yet approachable, and make sure it showcases your most valuable skills (the skills you want to charge people for).
It's tempting to want to put everything you've ever created up on the site - art work, design drafts, coding projects, game jams etc, but only pick the ones that are relevant and presentable to show in your portfolio.
One bad item in your portfolio can jeopardise your first impression, regardless of how amazing the rest are.
Completed and shipped games will be more valuable to potential clients. The ability to finish projects is an important trait experienced clients look for.
If you don't have any completed games, you can either
- Work on your own projects (keep them small) and ship them, or
- Potentially charge a lower bid to build up your portfolio from client projects.
Make sure you are credited for the work. We charge more for white-labelling work, since building up a portfolio is key for client work.
If you are using projects you worked on at a company before, make sure you state which parts of the projects you worked on. Having a big title in your portfolio without describing what you did would make the portfolio seem disingenuous.
Determining your rate
You want to make sure your hard work is well compensated, but a putting in a bid too high might scare the client away. So how do you price yourself?
Projects come in all shapes and sizes, and the value of these projects to you aren't always purely monetary. Some projects connect you with the right people, while others make for great portfolio pieces.
On the other hand, try to understand the client and the nature of the projects.
Some clients might be willing to pay a premium for faster delivery, for guaranteed support, or for newer technologies (VR/AR features).
Additionally, knowing what the objectives of their projects are will help you not only in determining your price but also how you should approach its development. Some projects are aiming for revenue, but many are used for branding, demoing new internal technology, or building relationships with client's target users.
Different goals will determine where the budget comes from (i.e. branding projects budget from marketing divisions), and you can take an educated guess what that budget might be.
Make sure the rate you propose is one that you'd feel comfortable with, even if the project is prolonged.Brandon Wu
Finally, make sure the rate you propose is one that you'd feel comfortable with, even if the project is prolonged. It's often that projects get delayed due to design changes and other reasons.
If you've placed a low bid, and later on new work comes in where you can charge more, this will make the first project difficult for you to work on. That's also unfair to the client as the project doesn't get the attention it needs.
Do the research and think ahead before you craft your proposal.
Getting yourself known
Marketing is a big topic but I'll touch on a few points quickly.
We've found most of our clients through word-of-mouth and networking.
There are many other ways people have found clients. You can build content (blog posts, videos), contribute to open source projects, grow your social media presence, engage in online forums/Q&A sites, or participate in developer community work.
The trick is finding an activity you don't mind doing, and practise the art of subtly letting people know you do client work without trying too hard to sell - people can smell the desperation.
Make sure you customise each pitch when you send your information to potential clients.
Clients get hundreds of pitches a day, and a generic pitch without any understanding of the client nor the project is quickly discarded. Prioritise showing your portfolio and past projects first, and your CV second.
Just the beginning
Working on client projects can be rewarding, both financially and emotionally. But it can also be draining if not managed well.
There are a lot of things you'll experience once you get started with client work, and it's a fantastic way to grow your development skills, interpersonal skills and business skills - all of which are essential for your success as an indie game developers.
Best of luck!
Previously a strategist at Sony and a developer at Electronic Arts, Brandon Wu is the founder of game production company Studio Pepwuper.
After living in four countries in the past decade, he is now based in the beautiful North West of England.
Brandon is a member of Full Indie UK, a friendly group of UK Indie Game Developers who have teamed up to become friends, help each other out, and make great games.
Find out more info here.