This is a work-in-progress post. As people point strange / dodgy job postings to me I will update this post and link to the people who pointed it out to me.
Starting out in the game industry is hard, there is not a single perfectly defined path to get into it and honestly I’m glad that’s the way things are because it allows for teams to be made up of totally different backgrounds with everyone bringing their own viewpoint to the project.
But, no-one can afford to work for nothing. If you think you can, first you need to calculate exactly how much you need to survive a month. Rent, bills, food, pocket money (in case you need some new basic clothes), they all add up. When I first started out I was earning £100 a month, living with my parents and spent most of that money actually travelling to work. Needless to say, it wasn’t a perfect situation but I did manage to get a lot of experience from it and eventually moved onto better things.
Starting out, however, I noticed copious amounts of job listings that had strange payment terms. Things like Royalty only and Work for the experience (Get your name in the credits). These sort of jobs MIGHT work out, but in all honesty the majority of these job postings could fail and leave you with nothing to your name.
Just don’t end up working a part-time job so you can work part-time on someone else’s project, its not fair on you. Also know your limits, set yourself work hours and keep to them, burn out is horrible. (Thanks for the tip @Arndreth)
“Once the game sells, we will pay you”
This kind of job posting is quite common, sometimes they can be very good for you, but more often than not they can lead to hurt feelings and absolutely no money. For example:
“We are in the process of making a game! Come and join our team as a programmer / artist / musician and when the game is launched we will give you a % of the game sales!” – A company who have never released anything.
If you want to get some experience (and can afford to basically work for free) this may be a good idea. But before you even think of responding to the posting, make sure you know everything about the team, the project and if you are certain the game will actually come out (the vast majority don’t sadly).
A percentage of zero is still zero after all.
“Work for us for free, it’ll be great for your portfolio”
Working for the experience of working seems completely crazy to me, if your time and effort allows for someone else’s vision to become a reality then surely you are worth paying in the mean time. Sure, you might get some sort of kickback when / if the project finishes as a gratitude payment but there is no guarantee they you will get that.
You want to make sure you can continue doing what you love doing, if you end up completely broke because of a project like this then you might find it harder to continue doing it.
“Work for us for very little, it’ll be great for your portfolio”
This is a step up from working for free, however you need to realise how much you are worth as a developer / designer / illustrator / musician. Make sure you are getting paid at least enough to cover your living expenses, or even a little bit more than that (so you can relax at some point and not work to keep working).
“We can pay you once our Kickstart goes through”
Typically artists are approached to create a bunch of mock-ups, maybe even a bunch of models for a potential Kickstarter. Programmers are normally asked to create a working prototype so backers can see the game in action. This may be a great idea if the Kickstarter succeeds, but remember to get contracts signed BEFORE you start doing any work. Otherwise if the Kickstarter does go through and you don’t have a contract, you may not see a penny.
Its not all doom and gloom…
There are many fantastic companies out there who have fair recruitment practices and will pay you fairly to work for them. Even the types of job postings above can and do end up making successful games which may lead to future work, this post isn’t supposed to dissuade you from taking them on at all, its only supposed to make you aware of the risks you would be taking.
Network, meet other developers, find out their stories and share yours! Keep your eye out for projects that interest you and get involved with them. As I said at the beginning, there isn’t a single right or wrong way to make games, find your feet and enjoy doing what you do.
Welcome to the industry, I look forward to seeing what you create!