So. Since it appears another round of “how do I break into freelancing in games” is going around the internet, I’ve decided it’s time to lay my (not terribly vast) wisdom on you. In part, I’m responding to a post written by Ryan Macklin, entitled “Don’t Do It.” Contrary to what you’d think, he’s actually taking on the common wisdom of people who say “don’t do it” when they’re asked what they can do to break into the industry.
But here’s some perspectives on why we might say that. And I say this from the perspective of someone who is currently doing the writer equivalent of digging barehanded in the garden and praying the bulbs will sprout in the spring.
1) If you’re asking “What can I do to break into the industry,” you’re already looking for someone to hand you an answer, which doesn’t bode well for your future as someone who is going to have to spend days/weeks/months chasing down work if they want it. Freelance work doesn’t just show up on your doorstep begging to be taken in unless you’re someone pretty big (like, say, Chuck Wendig, who doesn’t freelance any more). Instead of asking “how do I break into the industry” which is a pretty generic and unanswerable question, try googling, and coming up with a better list of questions like: “How can I get a job freelancing with Onyx Path?” or “Hey, that Fate Core thing looks cool, does OGL mean I can release my own thing using it and put that shit in my portfolio?”
2) If you’re asking the world a question like “how do I break into freelancing” as opposed to going to someone specific and saying, “hey, what measurable steps would help me improve my chances of getting work” what you’re actually saying is “I don’t have the patience to build relationships with people,” which is kind of essential to freelancing. It can seem like an old boys network, but the reason for that is that in an industry where the money is a token gesture of appreciation for your first five or six years (if you’re LUCKY)…making connections and showing people you’re reliable and in it for love is one of the best ways to demonstrate you’re not just looking for rockstar fame and planning on quitting when the going gets hard. And as a freelancer, if you ARE going to quit when the going gets tough, you’re leaving a bunch of people who do this thing primarily because they love it and can’t imagine doing anything else high and dry. And that’s a douche move.
3) If you’re asking “how do I break into freelancing” and you don’t even have anything in a portfolio, you’re going to be gently shown the door at most places anyway. The gentlest answer you can get in this case is “try writing some stuff on your own, and come back and see us when you have something you can show us.” While this is the easiest one to solve (and from now on my answer to “how can I break into freelancing” might be “what does your portfolio look like?”) the number of people who ask, thinking there’s some magic word they can say that will get them admittance to a magical club where they’re a writer is both astonishing and dismaying.
Anyway, that’s my quick hits on breaking into game writing. And yeah, I get the irony of me writing all this when I basically said, “I have this game idea,” and managed to attract a mentor is pretty high. But here’s the thing. If you come to me and say, “I have this game idea,” you will DEFINITELY get farther than “how can I break into freelancing.”