You can read the previous articles here:
- Part 1: Lessons from Academia
- Part 2: Lessons from Day Jobs
- Part 3: RPG Blogging, The Revelation
- Part 4: The Pit and the Plan
- Part 5: OMG, I Made it!
And, more recently, I wrote about my less than stellar experience with Wizards of the Coast.
In these last 12 months I came to a series of realization about RPG design and freelancing. While I absolutely like doing it and I have proven I’m good at it, I can’t live off it… and I don’t want to anymore. At least not for the near future.
I’ve never been able to pursue and land sufficient contracts to provide a steady enough stream of income. Freelancing requires a level of pipeline management akin to companies launching multiple products. You have to plan and send pitches on a regular basis, gauge how much quality work you can perform without breaking promises made to publishers, write like a fiend, deliver on time, and accept all kinds of financial risks.
I also recently realized that I don’t like to work alone. It’s cool to chat on Gmail and collaborate with friends and colleagues all over the place but there’s something I miss a lot: Serendipity. Those moments where 2 or 3 people meet randomly in physical space and come up with the craziest, coolest ideas. While I get some of that during conventions, I thrive on it and like to have it on a more regular basis.
Third, lets be brutally honest here: RPG freelancing pay is a joke. You are expected to deliver high quality work at a fraction of most other paid gigs I’ve known (copywriting, translation, magazine articles and non-RPG content-editing).
When I made the Plan with my friend Math back in 2009 (get better, get a part-time job, get freelance contracts), there was a part 2 we never officially discussed. If the Plan succeeded, I was to land and maintain enough contracts and seminars to make a decent living. As previously mentioned, that didn’t work out. I needed a Plan B: get a full-time job as a creative. That was going to be a tremendous challenge. I was a guy in his (very) late 30s whose first language wasn’t English, had limited experience in creative fields, and was open about his bipolar disorder online.
I did 5 interviews in the last 6-8 months. Two of those were in my old field: Quality Assurance. I didn’t land either. At the first one, at Ubisoft (a French videogame company), I asked for too much money during the interview process and showed reticence about letting go of my seminar gig. I didn’t get the second job, at another French software company, because I clearly wasn’t convincing enough about wanting the job… Furthermore, the company, after researching me online, surmised that I would not thrive in the new position.
Lesson: Your online presence is as much part of your resume as the .doc file it sits on.
I knew I was going to be researched. When I was told by the person wanting to hire me that HR was worried that my passion for RPGs would trump my willingness to sweat blood for the new software startup, I was deeply annoyed (I was running dangerously low on funds) but I was also relieved (because they were right).
The other three jobs were closer to my interests
The first one was a community manager job for a marketing company. The owner, a fan of my work, had me write a marketing proposal for one of the brand his company represented. This which was lots of fun. The goal behind it was mostly to check my written English on an imposed subject. I then met with my potential bosses… and things did not go well. I apparently failed to convey the necessary enthusiasm for the position compared to how much I lit up when discussing game design and writing. It’s stupid how I forgot how important that was in the last decade.
Interview Lesson: An interview is not an opportunity to sell your technical skills, those landed you the interview in the first place. You are selling just how much you love doing what they’re hiring you for.
Having never really had any passion for marketing or advertising, I had a hard time picturing myself doing the job. And I can’t sell myself if I don’t have a clear vision of me doing it.
The second interview was for Eidos, another video game company. The position was as a junior writer for the upcoming Thief game.
To those who’d like to follow a similar path, here’s how it went :
- A contact sent me a link to an Eidos recruiter’s Linked In status, saying he was looking for candidates and writing samples.
- I sent the contact my resume and 5 samples, taken from my D&D and Marvel portfolio as well as some copywriting and blogging examples.
- I was sent a writing test: 2 dialogue scenes in the Thief universe (imposed themes and length) and a “bark” dialogue between 2 NPCs (imposed subject and length)
- I landed an interview with the project’s Lead Writer who complimented the quality of my samples.
- I was asked to expand on my previous Video Game experience (i.e. none)
- I was told that to join an AAA title team, I’d have to accept a junior position.
I didn’t land the part. I didn’t too much feedback, but I got the feeling that the Lead Writer had already made up his mind to hire an English/American writer. I didn’t quite manage to convince him otherwise. One of the factors was that I didn’t know the industry’s jargon. He talked about “Bark” text and other terms that I only learned about during or after the interview. That cost me a few points.
Lesson: Learn the jargon of the field you’re applying in. Read the blogs of those who do the job you’re prepping to interview for.
The last interview I did was for a Scriptwriter/Editor position at Ubisoft. And as life often does, the story unfolds like a series of happy coincidences.
Many months prior to the interview, my friend Maxime (a recent Ubisoft hire) sent me a message about the growing needs for writers in his team. He told me he’d keep me posted…
…and I forgot all about it.
As my emergency funds dwindled, my desperation was rising. Making plans to severely restrict my lifestyle, I started looking for more classical jobs.
Then Max sent me another message, asking me to meet, informally, with the Lead Writer of an unannounced Assassin’s Creed project (Max is part of that team). He assured me that I would get along famously with the mysterious writer.
Turns out he was right. The writer was an ex-tabletop freelancer in my age category. We shared RPG horror stories and our thoughts about the games we liked. He told me what he was looking for. Something he thought a GM, RPG designer and writer could provide. I could honestly, and very enthusiastically tell him I was his man. The informal meeting stretched on and he promised I’d hear from him. Within a matter of weeks, I was asked to send writing samples, then a few days later, to write fresh ones…
…I LANDED THE JOB!
I’ve been at Ubisoft for about a week now. I’ve been soaking up the Assassin’s Creed lore as fast as I could and I’ve started writing… and filling timesheets.
Writing… with a decent salary!
So where does that leave me?
I now work 40 hours a week, I have a 90 minutes (total) commute and I have shared custody of kids who have long stopped going to bed earlier than 9PM. That has made my free time VERY valuable.
Thus I decided, in order to focus on mastering my new position, deliver on ongoing projects (Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide) and keep gaming with my friends, to quit RPG freelancing, including the Firefly Project.
That doesn’t mean I’m quitting the industry. I will just likely not seek new projects unless I am one of the owners of the IP. I will keep Roleplaying with my crew and build new settings and new gameplay elements as we progress. Who knows what that might create?
As for blogging… I don’t know. It’s become obvious that it’s fallen down my priority list in the last 2 years or so. I don’t want to say I’m going on hiatus or quitting but most of my freelancer friends who used to blog here became silent once they got full time gigs. Will I do the same? Time will tell.
In the meantime, stay tuned, here on my Tumblr and on Twitter. I’m still around.