If you’re thinking about getting into game development, there are different paths you can take — you can try to find a full-time game development role or go freelance. While full-time employment certainly has its benefits, being a Freelance Game Developer can offer flexibilities like setting your own hours, or working fully remotely.
That being said, there are nuances to being a Game Developer and being a Freelance Game Developer, specifically. Let’s take a look at what Game Developers do, the qualifications you’ll need in order to be one, and dive into how to build a career as a Freelance Game Developer.
What do Game Developers do?
Game Developers create concepts and designs for computer and video games played on mobile phones, tablets, desktop computers, and gaming consoles. They may also be involved in the technical side of development, which means they code and program the game as well as test and maintain it.
Developers also need to pay attention to things that fall outside of technical and computing areas, like the mood or feel of the game, the sound effects, who the target audience is, how the game could be marketed, and the artistic look of the characters and environments of the game.
What qualifications do Game Developers need?
Beyond these languages, a Game Developer should have math and physics knowledge to translate their ideas into the game’s experiences. Developers should know how to document their work and communicate with supervisors or teams about the game or their ideas. They should also be versed in gaming engines like Unity and Unreal, which are the frameworks used to build games.
There are a few ways to earn experience as a game developer. You could build your own games and put them into a portfolio to show potential employers — here are some tips for how to create a Game Developer portfolio. You could also gain experience with internships or game-tester roles at a gaming company to get a foot in the door.
Freelance vs. full-time
Generally, there are basic differences between working full-time for a single employer and freelancing for multiple companies or clients for any kind of computing or technology development. The first obvious difference is that Game Developers who work for a single company full-time are solely focused on that company’s product(s). Freelance Game Developers, on the other hand, work on projects independently and likely balance a mix of companies and products over time.
Those who work full-time for a company benefit from a consistent stream of work, which can make them experts in a specific kind of programming for a specific purpose. Freelancers may need to learn new practices, programming, and ways of working, depending on the requirements of the jobs or projects they are given.
Full-time roles generally offer more stability, and if you want to eventually be a freelancer, starting in a full-time role can enable you to get experience, build up a portfolio of work, and gain contacts — all of which make it easier to start freelancing.
Freelancing, on the other hand, has some great perks, like more flexibility and more autonomy in the projects you take on. If you’re the type of person who likes to work on a variety of projects, rather than focusing on just one, freelancing is a good way to diversify your day-to-day. Not to mention, if you’re looking for a full-time job and haven’t gotten one yet, freelance or part-time work may be an opportunity to showcase your skills and pay the bills in the meantime.
How to find work as a Freelance Game Developer
Without a track record, trying to find game development work can be very challenging, Dim Bulb Games founder Johnnemann Nordhagen told Forbes in a 2019 interview. Veteran developers most likely can land work based on their reputation, their portfolio, and their contacts, while developers who are newer to freelance game development might find it useful to browse project boards like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com.
Either way, Freelance Game Developers also need to think about how they are, in effect, operating as a one-person business, so they must also take on sales and finance functions. This means selling clients on their ability to complete projects, administering their income tax, determining how much to charge clients, and setting and enforcing boundaries and contracts with clients concerning payment terms and delivery milestones.
It's also important to note that a Freelance Game Developer is different than an Independent Game Developer, as game designer David Fried noted to Quora in 2016. A Freelance Developer is working for others, while an independent might just be one person, but they have creative control over whatever projects they do — and a stake in their success or failure. Fried adds that Freelance Game Developers should be prepared for lean times and try to save funds from their earnings to cover these times.
Enhancing your qualifications
These courses will help you show credentials and pick up the knowledge and skills you’ll need as a Game Developer. For example, Caio Aguiar shared in the Codecademy forums that a C# course helped them get unstuck while working on a freelance project as a developer.
A freelancer’s insight
At the end of the day, working as a Freelance Game Developer hinges on your ability to bring in a steady stream of work. Be open to the range of the places you can find freelance work, from freelance job boards to social media.
One way to increase your chances of landing clients and projects? Put yourself in a client’s shoes before reaching out or pitching yourself. As Ehfaz Rezwan, a coder with nine years of experience, shared on our forum: “Most people applying to projects on sites [sites like Upwork and Fiverr] will do so by copy/pasting an existing cover letter. What I do instead is research on what the client wants. I’ll take an average of 3 days to write up a detailed proposal, highlighting intricately EXACTLY what I plan to deliver.”
Moral of the story? When you’re a Freelance Game Developer, it’s not just about your tech skills — you need to prepare to write proposals and sell yourself on a regular basis. So sending a generic, existing cover letter or application for a project doesn’t show what you can do or how you, specifically, would do it. In addition to proactively applying to projects, it’s also a good idea to have a professional website, complete with a programmer bio that explains your particular approach to and passion for the work. This can legitimize you to prospective clients and set you apart from your competition.
Want to get started on your path to becoming a Freelance Game Developer? Check out our catalog of Game Development courses and start building your skills.