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28 Feb 2014

Freelancing as an Indie Developer (the Right Way)

So here’s the situation: you want additional funding for your indie game, yet you have no idea where you should turn. You do not want to use Kickstarter to fund your indie game as you do not like the idea of marketing nonstop throughout the month and dealing with all of those backer rewards. It’s understandable. You also do not want to deal with Steam Early Access (if you are developing a PC game), as you don’t feel comfortable with using this method either. You could either spend months tightly budgeting and developing your game when you have the funds to do so, but you really don’t want to do this either. You want additional funding now, so what can you do?




As an indie developer, you have skills that countless clients around the world need today. Whether you’re skilled at programming, drawing, making music, or a combination of both, you are a skilled individual that can make extra money on the side. Below are a few tips you need to keep in mind when freelancing to fund your game and get it out to the masses in a timely manner.


Never blindly trust a client

As a freelancer, I can attest to this. It’s quite rare to find a client that you can trust 100%. In the years I have been freelance writing, I can honestly say there’s probably a handful of clients I have ever found that I can honestly trust 100% (Game Academy founder Trey Smith being one of them, of course). A client should only gain your unconditional trust if they are proven to pay on time every time, provide you with constructive criticism only when you deserve it, they go above and beyond to make you feel as if you have done a great job, and of course, they show you respect. When working for them, you should never feel as if you are just a cog in their machine and are expendable. Rather, they need to make you feel as if you have worth, are valued, and your work is appreciated.

That isn’t to say that most clients you meet are going to be trying to rip you off. Sure, there are those unsavory clients that want to get as much work from you at the cheapest rate possible (more on that in a moment), and then kick you to the curb to find someone else. There are also those that would love nothing more than to ‘go missing’ and opt to not pay you for your hard work (and believe me, these types of clients exist).

There are even clients that will keep tabs on you and claim that you used content from their project for another project or your own. For example, there is an artist I know that used a type of circle/bubble (I don’t remember the details of the shape exactly) in a graphic for one of his clients, and the guy actually contacted him complaining about how that shape looked similar to the one he drew for him months ago. Of course, the freelancer didn’t do it intentionally, and the complaining past client didn’t have a case to begin with. This happens with programmers all the time too. There’s risk involved if you don’t protect your ass with every new client, and that leads us to the second tip:


Cover thine ass

Since I’m a writer, I don’t really have the problem of unknowingly creating content similar to the content of another client. I’ve written about similar subjects over time over the years, but with a quick check on Copyscape, I can ensure my content is 100% unique in seconds. When it comes to writing short stories, I really just know if I’m writing content similar or not.

But when it comes to other freelancing work such as coding, drawing, etc., this becomes more tedious. Sure, as a programmer or an artist (or even a musician), the final product for a client may be unique, but the code, the shapes, and the sounds you used to get there? A past client may thumb through your future work and attempt to nail you with a lawsuit stating you used methods already owned by the client to create work for another client. Is it petty? Absolutely, but believe me, it happens.

Truthfully, you probably will never run into this a mess like this, but to protect yourself, you need to keep a contract on hand at all times that states the client has a non-exclusive license to use the content forever, but it cannot be redistributed elsewhere. Thus, this means the content you create for them isn’t exclusive solely to them. You may also want to state in your contract that the completed work will not be distributed to anyone else by you or another party, thus ensuring the client you won’t design a graphic for them then use a similar graphic for future clients (e.g. you create a logo for one client then use the same shape/color/lettering for another client’s logo).

Because every situation is different, you need to consult an attorney and tell them exactly what type of agreement you want between yourself and your future clients, and allow them to create an airtight contract that every client must sign going forward.


Don’t let this scare you away from freelancing! 99% of the time, you are going to deal with clients that will at worst keep contacting you at all hours of the night, urging you to correct and tweak work that probably doesn’t need to be tweaked (I always refer to these clients as ‘Idunnos,’ because they literally have no idea what they want from their content). Notice I said at worst. Most clients are simply looking for someone that can provide them with awesome work in a timely manner, and once they find that special freelancer? They will award them with consistent work and pay them a decent rate. Be wary of every client that hires you, but also don’t be paranoid: most of them aren’t out to screw you, after all!


Finally, create a game plan for work

Before you commit to work, ask the following questions:

  • What is the format of the work?
    • Hourly, commission, or per-project?
      • If at all possible, opt for ‘per-project’ work. You will find these clients are more flexible with how much they are willing to pay you.
  • Is the project a one-time deal, or can you expect repeat work regularly?
    • You need to know this information so you can manage your time properly.
  • How big is the project (repeat or one-time)?
    • Again, you need to know this information so you can manage your time. If the project is a one-time deal yet it looks as if it may take you dozens of hours to complete and you have other clients needing work from you, the scope of this project may be too large for you to fit into your schedule.
      • The client needs to have an idea as to what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and essentially, the size of the overall project.
        • If the client cannot answer this, you may want to pass this client by.
  • Above all, don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’
    • If you know that you will not be able to provide the quality of work the client is wanting, politely tell them you cannot help them.
      • Most clients will see this as humbling, and in the future, they may reach out to you for content that is more up your alley.


Keep in contact with past clients, get to know them, and be friendly. I’ve become good friends with a lot of my clients over the years, and in most cases, it has made the difference between getting repeat business and never hearing from them again. Although freelancing as an indie developer doesn’t seem too sexy too most, give it a shot if you are needing funding fast. Believe it or not, you may actually find the venture rewarding!

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