Finding freelance jobs & where to look online for game related work
Finding freelance work online is relatively straightforward once the artist, programmer or developer knows where to look. There's a surprising amount of it about, in a general sense, because engaging the services of a freelancer doesn't carry with it as many concerns for the client as they might otherwise have employing someone, especially for individuals or smaller businesses and game developments studios.
Rates of pay first? ^
When providing freelance services it's generally considered good practice to have a basic idea of expected rates of pay before actively looking for jobs, contracts or work largely, it has to be said, because doing so puts the freelancer in a better position to respond promptly to requests or solicitations without unduly agonising over numbers that don't matter so much in the early stages of discussion where a lot of back-and-fourth goes on whilst establishing the exact requirements of the job. In other words, it is often better to provide a ball-park figure and be the first to communicate, than to get it right and be the last - clients very rarely pay attention to respondents after the first dozen messages come in.
Note: given the stiff competition for freelance work, art focused genres in particular, time is often of the essence; being able to reply quickly increases the likelihood potential clients accept one proposal over another based solely upon who got in touch first. Furthermore when making initial contact any quotes should be marked as being "estimate" or "subject to change", not absolutes - being freelance means making sure to be in the best position for negotiating rates of pay versus what needs to be done.
Where to look for freelance 3D work ^
For all intents and purposes freelance work is no different to other forms of work; if its wanted, it has to be looked for - it's highly unlikely opportunities will involuntarily leap from the pond and into the proverbial lap, so energy and effort needs to be spent searching for the right opportunities.
With this in mind, broadly speaking there are two approaches to finding work; 1) the DIY ("Do It Yourself") approach; 2) or via a third-party. The former requires time, effort and resources, and of course knowing where to look. The latter costs money, usually a commission or up front monthly cost, but has someone else doing all the hard work, searching, looking and filtering the results.
Note: most freelancers typically opt for the former option as it provide greater control over the results and given that jobs in game development are relatively specialised, minimises the possibility of paying for a service that has a low yield - very few hits.
Going the DIY route, below is a breakdown of the four main (read that as typical) avenues anyone looking for freelance work should look through; each type tends to pull in results that vary depending on the quality and number of sources searched.
The most obvious place to look for any kind of game related jobs or work are the game companies themselves, web sites in particular. When studios and/or publishers are looking to hire, or have work that needs to be done, the internet and their own web sites are the logical place for them to post detailed information and employment particulars about available positions or work. For the prospect, it's important to note that jobs posted this way are typically for full-time employment - although 'freelance' or 'contract' ('distance'/'remote'/'telecommute') jobs are posted, more-often-than-not as an occasional occurrence which does warrant then frequent monitoring of the site/s to catch them when they do.
Advantages: apply direct; targeted; always looking out for prospective employees (although not specifically work); may accept unsolicited material (will state if this is the case as most do not).
Disadvantages: infrequent; requires monitoring; may not accept unsolicited material (will state this).
Examples: Valve; id software; Blizzard; Unity 3D.
Agencies and their respective web sites catering to the market. Can be general in nature or cater specifically to games and related industries. Again however, these are generally used by employers looking to find people for full time employment, but many do post part-time or contract work (which may not necessarily be 'freelance' - 'contract' work from an employers point of view typically means short-term and on-site positions - being hired at crunch-time for example). Larger job/employment agencies/web sites typically have separate 'art' or 'games' sections where jobs pertaining to those sectors are posted. Of particular use to content authors and freelancers are agencies and employment sites directly related to the games industry itself.
Advantages: someone else is doing the leg work; no need to monitor searches; freelancer is message/contacted when suitable opportunities arise.
Disadvantages: membership may be required (free or paid); application through agency only. May require CV or recommendations for membership (avoids time-wasters).
Examples: OPM; Aardvark Swift; Gamasutra.
Web sites and communities dedicated to 3D:
Because work/employment agencies charge advertisers 'listings' or 'finders' fees, smaller studios, outfits and start-ups tend to avoid using them, instead preferring to find other avenues to solicit for help/work or recruit artists/content authors. The best places for this are where ever the game artists and programmers hang out; web sites and/or communities dedicated to the craft, the business, the production of games and interactive media. Communities can be dedicated to specific technologies, whether that's a specific art tool, specific game/rendering engines or specific middle-ware, ancillary material, or more generalist in nature, all will likely have dedicated "help wanted" or "job" sections or will allow the posting of such requests which will varying from single models requests to mod help to remote work (offsite telecommute) on Indie game projects.
Advantages: greater likelihood of finding freelance work; good way to build up portfolio completing (un/paid) projects; good way to make contacts and connections.
Disadvantages: generally unpaid; disproportionate amount of unfiltered 'junk' postings; mostly 'amateur' projects; often unclear or sparse proposal information; poor or slow communication (if at all); "me too" spam postings.
Examples: Polycount; CGSociety; Game Artisans, BlenderJobs.
Word of Mouth / Colleagues / Associates / Friends:
The nature of game design, development or content creation in general means most individuals tend to hang out in the same places and over time develop the same contacts. From this type of interpersonal networking it's possible that opportunities may arise; being a content author or game developer, like many jobs in media and entertainment, is as much about about developing connections and professional relationships as it is learning the craft.
Advantages: higher value associations; personal recommendations; direct contact; higher trust level.
Disadvantages: reliance on other people; reliance on reputation; easy to overstep the mark; have to be mindful of upsetting people inadvertently.
Paid or Unpaid work when looking ^
Looking through the opportunities that can be found they will break down in to two camps, either paid or unpaid work. There are Pros and Cons to each depending on what the individual freelancer is looking for and what is wanted from the project. Paid work typically entails dealing with contracts and other 'legalistic' details, loosing various aspects of Copyright on content made or other 'corporate' ownership issues. But at least it means payment and a certain level of professional accomplishment (depending on the project).
Note: paid work generally means dealing with fellow professionals, individuals or businesses readily familiar with the expectations that go hand-in-hand with freelance service provision.
Unpaid freelance work on the other hand is typically associated with amateurs, individuals, groups or even businesses, usually start-ups, lacking necessary funds to pay for their needs to be met. Whilst working on these types of projects means no money, kudos and experience can be had, all the more if the project makes it to publishing and goes 'live'.
Note: being associated with amateurs, unpaid work can become overly time consuming because the people involved typically don't understand the intricacies of project management let alone freelance businesses practices. At the end of the day food needs to be put on the table so the question has to be asked as to whether time could be better spent more productively. In addition it's important to highlight unpaid work opportunities are likely to be the most problematic and contentious precisely because people do not understand the process. In such circumstance it behooves the freelancer to make sure everything is communicated in writing and CC'd to multiple individuals as a fail safe to the "I never got your message" absconsion.
How to get freelance work or job ^
The Games Industry is ostensibly a visual medium so in terms of actually getting work it has to be shown that the prospective freelancer is capable of doing the work they are requested to do or bidding on.
Note: the Games Industry's by nature has a higher proportion of self-starters and non-collage educated individuals than other fields so having a formal collage education and/or degrees are no guaranty of work. What that will do is show the holder has dedicated themselves to a particular activity for an extended period of time, which directly correlates to game development.
This means having video, screen shots, or other means, to quickly communicate what the individual is capable of and what they have perhaps done in the past for other clients. Generally this will be in the form of a portfolio website designed specifically with this purpose in mind. Always keep an up-to-date portfolio
Note: in the pursuit of freelance work presentation tends to matter in terms of what potential clients and other see and where they see it. In other words although Social Media and Community sites can be used as surrogates or substitutes for having a dedicated portfolio, doing tends to speak negatively to that persons dedication to their business - whilst Social Sites are a good way to communicate news and up-to-the-minute-happenings, they should never be used as a permanent resource for that persons business activity; there are a number of reasons for this to extensive to discuss here. Having a dedicated business website showing past and present projects should be considered a priority when freelancing.
Rates quoted are obviously the biggest determining factor to a successful project tender so some time should be spent regularly looking at other resources to see how prices compare. Beyond this be sure the prospective client understands that any prices may be reasonably negotiated or modified; ideally the client should feel that are in trusted hands and that when unforeseen events happen they will be accommodated without causing too much disruption to the work that needs doing or the agreement itself. This goes for questions that may be raised; whilst the freelancer is there to do a job, this should not be taken to mean that is all they do.
Note: freelancing is as much about relationships building as it is work, so time and energy should be spent accommodating peoples questions and comments. Be mindful not to fall into the trap of inadvertently. providing free advice however.
Professionalism, the speed, clarity and quality of communications is also a contributing factor. Clients need the assurance the person they are discussing a freelance project with is courteous, competent, capable and above all efficient. Never miss deadlines or dates. If this is a possibility, let the client know as early as possible. The same can be said of technical or creative issues, let the client know as soon as possible what's going on and what solutions may be available, and whether the additional work will cost. Flexibility is key at these junctures.
Note: as mentioned in the previous note, freelancing is as much about interpersonal relationships as it is the work so it's important to never butt heads with a client, even when they are wrong. Whilst this may be easier said than done the way unforeseen events are handled will speak volumes towards the individuals professionalism and the way they may (or may not) accommodate and appreciate the clients issues. Whilst the key is to be flexible as mentioned above, it's also important to ensure there is a solid 'paper-trail' to back-up or qualify decisions that inevitably need to be made.
The realities of freelance work & jobs ^
Forest Gumps mother always said "life is like a box o choc-o-lates; you never kno' wot'cha gonna gyet". Why? Because of unpredictability. The individuals, groups, business, companies and corporations freelancers deal with on a day-to-day basis are often confusing, contrary, indecisive or just plain frustrating to communicate with - forms, phone calls, messages, negotiations, cancellations, paper work, payments, chasing up on the client and much more are all part of the realities of being in business. not just providing freelance services. So again make sure as much of the interaction that occurs is confirmed in writing, especially at point of project sign-off.
Note: even though there may be written confirmation of a particular request it should not be assume to be cast-iron - whilst it acts as a reference in terms of what has been said or agreed to between parties, the realities of working independently are not nearly quite so literal. Content authors often find themselves in a situations where final products sent do not work the way it was expected, usually because of some technology hiccup, so requests may come back for the original working files. As this may not have been something originally agreed to, the author then has make up their mind whether send the file at the risk of loosing the 'control' over the specific project, versus, providing the client the means with which they can test or fix the problem their end - especially so when using proprietary formats or exported data, where problems can occur at any point along the chain . Technically, if not previously agreed to, such requests can be refused, but this leaves the client out of pocket and without a working asset so there may be a certain degree of obligation to the client to help them get what they needed. Such scenarios are typical working freelance.
Income Tax & employment status ^
It's generally given the moment a tenders and receives payment for work, their Employment and Tax status changes. To this end it becomes the persons responsibility to ensure additional liabilities or supplemental income are properly declared through appropriate channels.
Note: how and what needs to be done to facilitate this varies depending on locale so it's worth taking a trip down to the local tax office or asking for advise from a suitably qualified Advisor.
Freelancing is not a way of working it is a business service. This means the moment an individual solicits for paid work they became liable for all manner of Employment and Tax related obligations. Before embarking down this path then, it makes sense for the individual to determine the 'whys' and 'wherefores' of what they expect to gain both experientially and monetarily, versus the additional frustrations and administrative responsibilities that accompany the provision of a business service. If the individual is in it just for the experience of doing work for, or with, other people then they need to be aware that this does not make them a freelance "X", but rather just a 'modder' or 'someone that can mesh/program/script' etc. Nor does the receipt of payment mean a person is a freelance "X". Be aware of these distinctions, especially where money is concerned.