Reflections of a Gaming Industry Freelancer

GenCon Indy 2007 | Contest Winner This year marks the fifth year I’ve been active within the gaming industry as a freelancer. Within five years I’ve worked on two dozen games, dozens of reviews, attended approximately 35 conventions and gatherings, met hundreds if not thousands of people, spoke on panels, and built some awesome memories. Here are some of my take-a-ways from working in an industry saturated with creative people and a desire to have fun.

(1) Got an Idea for a Game? Great. Then What?
There are dozens if not hundreds of people out there who have a natural ability to design games. Game design is a multi-disciplinary function that may blend psychology, group dynamics, mathematics, strategy, engineering and creativity. There are many folk who run circles around me in game design, but there are just as many that don’t understand what that critical next step is and how it relates to running a business.

(2) Working in the Gaming Industry is Often a Labor of Love
There’s a common phrase that I hear all the time, “If you want to make money in the gaming industry, stay out of it.” Because the people behind-the-scenes are in this industry for different reasons, there are multitudes of levels of professionalism and business conduct. It is not uncommon for a person not to get paid–even when a contract is in place. Communication can either be sparse or excessive, which may create challenges with how much time it takes to complete a project. Yet, people keep coming back year after year because they love what they do.

(3) Everyone Wants to be a Star
Because there is so much passion and creativity involved within gaming, there is a certain amount of recognition that is passed around between members of the industry through awards, kudos, and encouragement. This type of positive energy has been a great focal point for people because of their dedication to what they love to do. Fans, gamers, and supportive folk often come out in droves in defense of their favorite game or company. As a freelancer, this is great to see because it shows just how much fun people are getting out of what they enjoy so much.

(4) The Flip Side to Love is…
For any process, product or person, there are others who either love or hate it. It’s pretty easy to visualize this idea on a bell curve graph; never aim for the fans or the critics but the people that are somewhere in between. Within the gaming industry, though, it’s critical to get people talking about your game in order to generate interest to sell copies. Sometimes that works, and sometimes that doesn’t. When it doesn’t, the effects can be devastating because gamers can be pretty outspoken and opinionated. Companies deal with this differently, but once the floodgates open, it can be hard to recover from negative press, just like any other company. Within gaming, though, word spreads like wildfire because fans truly are a powerful community.

(5) Drama versus No Drama. Take Your Pick
Whether you’re behind-the-scenes or on the front lines, there is drama and sometimes, there is lots of it as everyone tries to tap into the gaming community. In my opinion, most of the drama boils down to either selling product or getting recognition for the product you created. All too often enough, creativity can foster healthy and unreasonable types of competition to that end, which can blindside and isolate folk from the greater community. When that happens, drama can often cause otherwise really professional people to do really dumb things.

So there you have it, my five take-a-ways from five years in this industry. It’s had its ups and downs. Often people ask me why I’m in it, wondering whether or not I’m not working exclusively in the craft. It’s not that easy to find a well-paying, stable job in the gaming industry and for the few jobs that are out there, competition is extremely fierce. I’ve met several cool people in my time in the industry, have had a lot of great moments, and get to write. For me, this is a hobby–not a full-time job–but I enjoy it when I can.

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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