How to Become a Freelance Game Developer


Freelancing can be a great career move if you’re looking to break into a competitive industry like game development. If you’re just starting out, it’ll help you gain the experience you’ll need to find a full-time job. And if you’re already working full-time, it can offer a nice change of pace. Just imagine having a flexible work schedule and the ability to pick and choose which projects you take on. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of getting to live and breathe games.

So how do you get started? Ahead, we’ll break down what Game Developers do, the qualifications you’ll need in order to be one, and how to build your career.

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, the target audience, how the game could be marketed, and the artistic look of the characters and environments of the game.

What qualifications do Game Developers need?

Programming lies at the heart of game development. While you don’t necessarily need a degree to be a Game Developer, you can’t be one unless you are proficient in programming. You’ll need to be familiar with the languages most frequently used to code games, including C++, Java, Python, JavaScript, and HTML5.

Beyond these languages, a Game Developer should have math and physics knowledge to translate their ideas into the game’s experiences. They also need to know how to document their work and communicate with team members 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 company and freelancing for multiple companies or clients. 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 help you build experience, a portfolio of work, and 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

If you want to become a Freelance Game Developer, you’ll need to know how video games are made. Check out our free course Introduction to Game Development for a step-by-step breakdown of the development process. You’ll also learn about popular industry tools and different ways in which you can contribute, like coding, designing, or creating digital assets.

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 usually have an easier time finding work due to their reputation, portfolio, and contacts. Those who are newer to freelance game development might have better luck on 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. (Check out these five questions to ask yourself before going freelance to learn more.)

It’s also important to note that a Freelance Game Developer is different from 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

You don’t need a college degree to become a Freelance Game Developer. All you need is the right skills, which you can gain through online courses like our beginner-friendly skill path Create Video Games with Phaser.js. You’ll learn aspects of animation, programming with JavaScript, manipulating sprites, audio effects, and game physics. We also offer courses with certificates in these programming languages related to game development:

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 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.

Along with 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.

Game Development Courses & Tutorials | Codecademy
There’s a gamer in all of us — whether you play on your phone, a console, a computer, or a virtual reality rig. And it takes people, either individually or in large teams, to bring these great experiences to life. Learn the foundations of Game Development and create your very own video game.

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