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Dying of Exposure - When an Industry Expects Free Labor

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13 Jul 2021 00:00 #324652 by oliverkinne
I've seen quite often where a big company has put...

When you're starting out as a freelancer, things can be tough. You haven't got any clients yet, you probably also have no prior work to show to prospective customers, at least no professional prior work and you're probably still working out a few things to make sure you can work effectively and efficiently. After all: time is money. At least that's how it should be. In reality though, as a new freelancer, you will probably charge less than other, more established people in your field. You might even consider doing some work for free, so you can prove yourself to a new customer and also build a portfolio of work that is your track record for future jobs. That's all fine, if that's what you want to do. The problem comes when an industry expects you to work for free or for only very little financial reward or maybe for compensation in kind.

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13 Jul 2021 14:29 #324653 by hotseatgames
Many years ago I was reading an article about the board game industry, and how it, as a rule, pays very poorly. There was a quote from a famous board game designer, and I wish I could remember who it was.

Anyway, they said "People can absolutely get rich in the board game industry. I've met both of them!"
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13 Jul 2021 15:27 #324654 by jason10mm
It is an interesting conundrum. This is called a "hobby" for a reason. How many board games, RPGs, etc are made by retired folks essentially for fun or as a passion project? This that the standard or the exception? Certainly there are spaces where this hobby can exist at a corporate level with HR departments, marketing budgets, art departments, etc but alot of the game companies I'm aware of (pre-asmodee acquisition madness perhaps) are solo or family ops with maybe a few semi-paid employees that do rely on contract or freelance work to get anything done.

This is a problem for paying ancillary folks like artists, editors, and even game designers. It's also a problem because the audience starts expecting ALL board game companies to act like the big ones in terms of production value, catering to critics and reviewers, and broad audience appeal when in fact a garage based game dev might be ecstatic over 500 game sales of a hand cut cardstock game and be happy with just a narrow appeal to just those couple hundred people because their motivation is the love of that project, not a plan for world domination driven by stockholders.

It's tough. One the one hand its probably pretty cool knowing your 500 words are read by SOMEONE, just a few years back that alone would have required printing services, an editor as gatekeeper, and limited distribution bandwidth. But of course the problem now is that there is always SOMEONE ELSE to write/blog/stream an opinion, thus the audience can just move on if they don't like what they see. There is a sort of supply glut due to the low bar to entry, not so much a demand problem.

Just know you'll drink for free should we cross paths at a game con :P

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13 Jul 2021 15:28 #324655 by Sagrilarus
Until recently this has been an industry where it was a relatively simple thing to get on a first-name basis with the people that publish games. I've developed a personal relationship with several designers and two publishers just from attending an occasional convention, one of which is quite small and near my house.

So at times I've edited materials, at no charge, because I didn't want the person I knew to put out B- material. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses after all. I didn't look at it as Exposure, just a favor to a friend.

And until recently, say 15 years ago, I think the industry was small and chummy enough that that kind of work happened all the time. Translations, rules reviews, playtesting, etc, were all something you did for the community.

With one publisher now dominant, how does one handle that? Your buddy Kevin is publishing his super-good worker placement title that's sure to change the industry through them. But he can't write a complete sentence to save his life. Do you leave it to Big Corp LLC to take care of it? Or do you help a buddy out?

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13 Jul 2021 16:50 #324658 by Msample
Its not just the industry, its the customers expecting free/cheap labor as well. Most customers have no idea how much part time/free work go into producing a game. Yet they'll bitch loud and long about prices or errors in games that are put together by poorly paid or free people working to put something out. Very few designers can afford to do it full time for a living, and for every one that does there are hordes that do it in their spare time. And unless you happen to design the next TWILIGHT STRUGGLE or MAGIC, the financial "rewards" for designing aren't that big. Even well known/respected designers are usually paid peanuts when you divide the pay by the hours put into a project. Developers ( when they are even utilized ) are even worse off - they usually get paid a flat fee vs any sort of royalty; if it paid closer to the worth a good developer is worth there might be more willing to what is largely an invisible and thankless job.

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13 Jul 2021 17:25 #324659 by Shellhead
I had no delusions about getting rich off my single published game, but my co-designer and I were still disappointed. We were offered the choice of a flat sum of $300 each or a royalty. We both took the flat sum, and that was the right decision because there was no second printing after the smallish first run sold out. And the retail price was only $14.99. We also got 3 free copies each of our game. I gave one to my parents, one to my girlfriend, and kept one for myself.

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13 Jul 2021 17:46 #324660 by hotseatgames

Shellhead wrote: I had no delusions about getting rich off my single published game, but my co-designer and I were still disappointed. We were offered the choice of a flat sum of $300 each or a royalty. We both took the flat sum, and that was the right decision because there was no second printing after the smallish first run sold out. And the retail price was only $14.99. We also got 3 free copies each of our game. I gave one to my parents, one to my girlfriend, and kept one for myself.


The best part is seeing someone make a video about your game and get paid more than you did for making it.
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13 Jul 2021 17:52 #324661 by Disgustipater
Not specific to gaming, but the r/ChoosingBeggars sub-reddit has tons of stories of people asking for free work (art, websites, etc.) in exchange for “exposure.” It’s crazy how many people think that is okay.
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13 Jul 2021 18:00 #324662 by Shellhead
I have no regrets. My co-designer and I did our game for fun and bragging rights. Just last month, I showed it off to a new friend who was looking at my game collection.
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13 Jul 2021 18:42 #324663 by mtagge
Is it really the case that an artist (for example) would pick up new clients by getting their artwork on a MTG card? I don't get it. Certainly a portfolio would provide example of the quality of their artwork?

I'm skeptical that would make a difference in getting future work. The only thing you could demonstrate by working with someone is a volume of work, not a quality of work.

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13 Jul 2021 19:19 #324664 by Robert Facepalmer
You absolutely get another level of clients by being published on a Magic card. At that point it is essentially assumed that WoTC has vetted your portfolio and you can just put Magic: The Gathering 'whatever card/edition' as a reference.
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14 Jul 2021 09:31 #324672 by Shellhead
To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, “The board game business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.”
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16 Jul 2021 01:22 #324723 by Andi Lennon

Shellhead wrote: I had no delusions about getting rich off my single published game, but my co-designer and I were still disappointed. We were offered the choice of a flat sum of $300 each or a royalty. We both took the flat sum, and that was the right decision because there was no second printing after the smallish first run sold out. And the retail price was only $14.99. We also got 3 free copies each of our game. I gave one to my parents, one to my girlfriend, and kept one for myself.


What was the name of your game man? I'd be keen to check it out.

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16 Jul 2021 09:28 #324725 by Shellhead

Andi Lennon wrote:

Shellhead wrote: I had no delusions about getting rich off my single published game, but my co-designer and I were still disappointed. We were offered the choice of a flat sum of $300 each or a royalty. We both took the flat sum, and that was the right decision because there was no second printing after the smallish first run sold out. And the retail price was only $14.99. We also got 3 free copies each of our game. I gave one to my parents, one to my girlfriend, and kept one for myself.


What was the name of your game man? I'd be keen to check it out.


Vampire: Dark Influences

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