Ever wondered what life would be like if you quit your full-time job to become a freelance artist? This presentation will give you clear advice and direction on what to do, how to think, and give you the tools you need to succeed.
UPDATED 2016-05-05! I originally presented this as the keynote speech at Gameacon 2015, and I’ve since presented it at the Albany IGDA and updated the content and the slides significantly. This page has been updated to reflect that.
With development tools and game engines becoming cheaper and freer and the rise of engine-specific content marketplaces, an entirely new type of career is emerging: a self-sustaining, independent content developer that creates standalone products for sale to developers across the world for use in their projects. Whether it’s art, audio, code, scripting, or some combination thereof, I’m sharing my tips, tricks, and insights as the former Content Curator of the Unreal Engine Marketplace to give you and your company ideas for marketing, and how to be a developer’s developer. This is not a self-sustaining career for everyone, but I’ll show you what I’ve learned so you can decide if this makes sense for you or your company.
Over the last few years, online marketplaces for content created by developers for developers have emerged as an increasingly viable option for independent game developers to prototype and develop their projects. This saves them thousands of dollars commissioning work from other developers, and also thousands of hours learning new peripheral skills that distract from simply prototyping and executing on their ideas. Inspiration strikes quickly and ultimately it’s about the end product. Having access to low-cost content and tools built by professionals is a valuable resource. I’ll show you how to benefit from that as an indie developer, a content creator, a contractor, or any combination thereof.
From sellsword to selling swords
Over the last few years, many developers have started selling content that they develop for fun and turned it into a lucrative sideline. It’s a dramatic shift away from making money as either a full-time employee or a work-for-hire contractor. Selling components of a game as a product instead of a service is a very exciting and different way to develop games, especially with engine costs approaching zero. Many of them have actually become so successful at it that they’ve been able to leave their fulltime jobs and live on the income they generate. Again, they are in the vast minority on this, but it is starting to happen, and it’s worth paying attention to. Whether or not you go down that path yourself, it can benefit you to be aware of people that do, because their efforts can benefit you and your projects.
What do I want to sell?
What’s your skillset? Artist, designer, scripter, coder, musician, or some blend thereof? Let’s start there.
Your junk drawer isn’t hot product
First, cast aside any idea that you can take old content you have laying around and can quickly flip it for cash. That’s the wrong mindset. Rummaging through your junk drawer to make a quick buck only fulfills your needs. And don’t think you can just crank out something simple in a single weekend and sell that. Your best chance for succeeding in this is developing content that fulfills the needs of other game developers, and this requires planning, research, and forethought. Being a developer yourself will give you some valuable insights into that, but you’re developing products for a large-scale audience, and that must always be kept in mind.
Focus on your strengths
Start from a position of strength. Don’t learn a completely new skillset to compete in a market already full of experts in that skill. That’s a frustrating uphill battle and not worth your time. To keep yourself motivated and encouraged enough to see this through, focus on creating something using your strongest skillset. The creative challenge is “how do I design this to save the time of a large number of developers?”
Is there a market for this?
People purchase content based on their passions and ambitions and the things that inspire and influence them. When they shop for content, they think of the pieces they need to assemble into the type of product they want. People first decide on the type of game they want to develop, and the first thing they seek is a “starter kit” for that type. The most popular type of product I’ve seen are prototype kits to fit specific game types. For example, kits for an RTS, RPG, FPS, tower defense, endless runner, and so on. After their prototype is at minimum functionality is when they look for art and audio. These markets are surprisingly large and are a great opportunity for independent content developers.
Popular themes and trends
In early 2015, I saw a spike in Minecraft-style crafting, survival, horror, and zombies. Each tied into the hot property of the moment, offset by the weeks it took to develop the content after the inspiration. People would create a set of props designed for survival games. Another example is a Blueprint-based crafting system for either Minecraft or survival games. Others created horror-themed audio packs, modular zombies, animated blood splatters, etc. The creators analyzed the games, reduced them to modular components, then designed content to mix and match.
Pick a niche
Pick your genre, theme, style, and platform. You can’t be all things to all people. If you’re not sure where to start, look at what the top selling games are in the last year. Then research what the biggest upcoming games are, based on press coverage and hype. Here’s a sampling of games:
Minecraft. First person world-builder, cartoony retro, current-gen consoles and PC.
Select your audience
This is a reasonable spread of the art styles and types of games that move a lot of units. These are the kinds of games that get the most attention from people at a broad level. They set trends that aspiring independent developers will emulate for their own projects. However, most of these are big-budget AAA productions. Customers seeking themed content inspired by these trends are usually small teams with modest budgets. It’s important to factor that in, and to stay in touch with what’s going on in the indie game dev community. Keep an eye on those trends, ebbs, and flows.
Understand the indie games market and its trends. Follow indie game dev websites to see what’s popular. What are people building? How do the games review? Identify gaps that need filling. Look for ways to simplify repeatable processes, especially if they’re annoying. Finding annoying problems and solving them is a great way to win the hearts and dollars of potential customers. Bonus points if your product or description is worded in such a way that it can get favorable search rankings when people are looking to solve that type of problem.
One excellent resource to find out what people are playing and what developers are creating is www.steamspy.com. That is a gold mine of information to help you market and design products. Write it down now. It’s one of those things that’s so amazing, you can’t believe it actually exists.
Keep an eye on geek culture
It’s also well worthwhile to tune into other forms of media and geeky culture. Is there a major movie, TV, or comic book release coming in the next few months? Something big, like an Aliens sequel, a new Avengers movie, the new season of Daredevil, the TV adaptation of Preacher, or really any other influential, beloved property that’s going to land in the coming months. Even science can be exciting and drive sales. When I was running the Unreal Engine Marketplace, I saw a massive spike in space-themed content of all types after NASA started showing off the high-res closeup photographs of Pluto. Tying in your product to something reminiscent of that need or that ties into it meaningfully could be a good way to drive interest and sales. Follow indie game dev websites, see what’s popular, see what people are building, and analyze your competition to see how well that need is being filled.
Reduce the games to components
Pick apart the games and think of what types of components they’re made up of. For example, Fallout 4 is an RPG. An RPG has various systems that can be reduced into modular component parts, NOT counting art and audio:
character creation (visual customization + UI)
combat (weapon types, enemy types, damage, etc)
armor (defense bonuses, etc)
weapons (damage bonuses, weapon modding, etc)
minimap (tracking agiainst real map, fog of war, etc)
speech and branching dialogue systems
quests (quest givers, and ties into XPleveling, speech, etc)
AI (NPC and enemy)
Each of these is a modular component that has been turned into at least one product. If you have a particular skill set that can develop one of these, take a look at the market and examine the precedents. What can you do better? How well does it review?
How do I build it?
After you’ve picked a market and a niche to fill, spend time thinking about not only how end users are going to ultimately use your content to build their games, but also how it can fit together with other pieces of content. At Epic, I created lists of products that worked well when used together to help promote content. It helped connect creators, and gave them ideas for comarketing and collaboration. Not everyone needs to be a competitor.
For example, this is a list of content you can use to build a fully functional third person multiplayer shooter for less than $500:
Gameplay: Generic Shooter. This Blueprint system will help you flesh out all your FPS’s basic systems.
Level prototyping: SuperGrid. This is a level prototyping kit for laying out full levels and gameplay.
Player character:Military Character Silver. Here’s a soldier character rigged to the default Unreal skeleton. You can use any Marketplace animation set with this!
Animations:Rifle Animset Pro. Professional motion captured animation for all movement associated with two-handed weapons. Apply this to your military character above!
To tie it all together, add a modular UI system and frontend.
How do I price it?
Here’s the tricky question! Setting a price on content to sell on a marketplace is fundamentally different than setting a price for contract art services. One is a product, and one is a service. You sell services once, you sell a product as many times as you can. Commissioning a character might take 40 days at USD $200 per day, but you’re not going to sell that on a marketplace for the $8000 it cost. Most people buying content don’t know the price of these services or the labor involved. To be realistic, someone with an indie budget might balk at spending even $100 for it.
There are a wide variety of factors in how you decide on a price to set. The first and best way, of course, is to look at what other people charge. That’s your baseline. The second way is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes as they try to decide if it’s a good price or not. All they have to go on is your presentation materials and the price. So they ask themselves: “How many and at what price?”
If you’re looking at a pack of props, for example, 100 props for $20 averages out to $0.20 per prop. Not bad! But 10 high-quality PBR rocks for $80 is $8 per rock, and that’s 40x more per prop. What about a set of 3 background mountains for $125? Geez, that’s $41.66 per mountain, this is getting expensive!
I’m sure you’re thinking that this is a comparison of apples and oranges. And to you, it is. There are massive variables including quality, texture resolution, polygon count, modularity, and much more. You also know exactly how long it took to develop, but that doesn’t matter to anyone but you. To the consumer, unit price will be the first consideration. Fortunately, you can still work with that.
The next question the consumer asks is “how much can I do with it?” This is where you differentiate yourself from the competition and justify the price you set. People love knobs, dials, controls, and customization.
How do I convey value?
The best answer I’ve found is to illustrate the value by showing how you can save time by compounding effort. “With this set of 50 modular cave pieces with randomized materials, you can create thousands of possible cave configurations in minutes. Just click to draw, and flip these switches and see what you get!” People love modularity, randomization, sliders, swappable parts, and procedural generation.
The sales pitch there is giving someone the tools to create almost anything they can imagine for the game of their genre. That’s harder to quantify and harder to put a price on, so if you can start out with a basic number of modular parts or bullet points that they’ll do the basic “how many and at what price” math on, you can increase the price even more beyond that by adding the procedural and customization options, as well as making it *really* easy to use. Adding tutorials, documentation, and demo levels is also a confidence booster if your content is expensive.
“I want to make caves with dungeons — oh wow, this pack is $85, but I could make thousands of them with this. It comes with 40 walls, 16 kinds of stalactites and stalagmites, and includes a demo level showing how it all fits together. I’m sold!”
Really, how much should it cost?
With all of the above in mind, the best way to determine cost is still to examine your competition’s pricing, and to simply ask people in the community for their input. Ultimately, it’s all completely subjective, and there are some advantages to be found by including polling on price with your community outreach and marketing efforts.
From what I’ve seen across all the different online marketplaces I know, my work with these communities, and from content creators themselves, the following is a rough summary of favorable price points: As for actual dollar amounts, impulse purchases can be almost anything $30 and under. If you set a price above $50, include a well-produced video to demonstrate your content. Think of it as a short commercial. Invest effort into it and make it look clean and polished. Convincing people to spend more than $50 requires more effort, and a good video is a powerful sales tool. More on that in the next section.
As a rule of thumb, anything above $50 should have more supporting content. A short commercial, video tutorials, written documentation, and ongoing support threads increase buyer confidence. If you keep the buyer’s confidence high and engage with your customers, you can justify higher price points.
Anything priced from free to $5 is often considered to be low value or bad. I would recommend always pricing your content at least $10 or above. The perception is that cheapfree means low quality. If it looks good but is cheap, people will wonder what’s wrong with it. That’s why it’s important not to price your content too low. You can always lower the price later to increase perceived value, but never the other way around. “This $5 pack is now $25? What gives? I’m not buying cheap garbage!” People are very sensitive to that. Don’t make your product look cheap, and don’t immediately limit your profitability and brand yourself as the person that makes cheap content.
Finally, remember that anything you sell in European countries is going to have an additional ~23% Value Added Tax (VAT) added to the price. The exact value varies country by country, but it’s usually around this level. Look it up to be certain. Keep this in mind when setting your prices, and be prepared to answer a lot of questions about it.
If you’ve done all this and are still not sure, again, ask your audience!
What makes a good video?
Keep it between 90 and 120 seconds long. Ease of use and the end product are what is most important. Begin with examples of the finished product, then show your content in the editor. Show the controls and options you provide. Demonstrate the most useful and visually interesting configuration options your content offers. Remember that this is just a commercial to sell your content, not a tutorial video. Long tutorial videos are a must if your content is complex, and they add value. However, it is not a substitution for a commercial. On its own, a lengthy tutorial is a terrible sales tool for most people. Think of it this way: the commercial sells the product, and the tutorial is the product instruction manual.
Dazzle them with video of how it could work, then show them what knobs they can turn to use it. Try to keep it under two minutes, and you’ll be in a strong competitive position. The easier it is for the buyer to visualize “what is it? Now how can I do it?” the faster you’ll get them interested.
Finally, having a lengthy tutorial video can help convince the more cost-conscious, technically-minded prospective customers. For that limited subset of your customer base, a tutorial is essentially a supplemental sales tool. For the rest of your customer base, it’s valuable documentation, and it’s seen as added value whether or not they actually use it. That’s an important point: Sometimes the feature that makes the sale isn’t even a feature they’ll use. It’s still equally important.
How do I build a loyal user base?
Live where you sell. Join the forums where creators like you hang out. This is a good place for potential customers to shop around for content that’s in development.
When dealing with potential customers on the forums, be responsive. Create a dedicated support email address, and a support thread on the forums where you sell. Interact with the community, make friends, answer questions, be respectful, and listen. You won’t always have answers that will satisfy. That’s fine. The simple act of responding and listening is important for building customer relationships.
It’s important to know that for every person that responds to you, there are ten that are lurking. It’s easy to make or break a reputation based on how you interact with people in public. Pay attention to how you’re perceived when interacting on forums. Always treat others the way you’d like to be treated. It’s good general philosophy, and people also make purchasing decisions based on the behavior they observe.
Don’t lurk. Interact in a positive way. Encourage people, be positive, give constructive feedback when requested, and support those around you. Always add value.
Embed yourself and publicize
Embed yourself with other content creators. It’s a great way to find potential collaboration and comarketing partners. Go where they go, and emulate them. Get involved with other creators in your community and surround yourself with them. Making friends that work toward the same goals you have is a great way to stay motivated and interested. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This also puts you in the position to discover opportunities as they arise, either for yourself or others.
Create ongoing development threads for your content. It’s a great way to build publicity in advance of your content releases. You can also receive valuable input and feedback from other creators and potential customers. Engagement is a strong differentiator, both before your content releases and after.
Analyze other creators’ work
Analyze your competition. What works? What doesn’t? What are the most common complaints on forums? What do people identify as being positive? These are valuable data points for positioning both your product and customer support efforts.
Look for other creators whose content complements yours. Always keep an eye out for potential collaborators, because you can help promote each others’ work. Every competitor is a potential future partner. Their value as a content creator is equal to their power of their network and reach.
Analyze your competitors’ content through the lens of a potential customer, not as a competitor. Content that may seem mediocre on the surface may be valuable and widely loved. At the same time, content you think is amazing may be difficult to work with and widely loathed. This is where reviews and public feedback are crucial: people are communicating what is valuable to them and worth spending money on.
Another strong differentiator is the quality of support the developer provides, if any. Do they consistently update their content with bug fixes? How do they interact with their community? Are they deeply involved, or do they view content development as a dumping ground? I’ve seen smart creators crush their competition by being responsive and offering better support, even if the quality is lower. People feel more comfortable buying content from people they like and believe will support them, even if they’re only spending $30.
Set up a support structure
Set up a separate email address and an online support system for all support requests. Here’s a list of support ticket software from least to most expensive:
These are all viable options for tracking your support requests. This is important: stay on top of customer support. It’s not optional. This is how you build a good reputation. Word of mouth is everything, and these are simple and cheap ways to stay organized. This is something I hammered on Marketplace sellers to maintain. I’ve even removed content from the Marketplace for people that wouldn’t support their products. This has a direct effect on sales, loyalty, and repeat customers.
If you cannot personally handle customer service, or have someone in a dedicated role to handle it for you, don’t sell content online. After quality, providing good customer service is going to be the biggest differentiator that makes you stand out in the crowd. It’s not always a pleasant job, but sucking it up and being great at it anyway will give you an incredible advantage over others that won’t. And if you won’t, this is exactly how your competitors will eat your lunch and earn customers that could have been yours.
Where do I sell it?
It depends on the market you’re targeting and the game engine you’re building. Here are a few of the markets:
They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, I recommend the Unreal Engine Marketplace because I helped build it, but you may prefer asset stores with a larger content base or that specialize with different engines or types of art, such as architectural visualization. Shop around, see what appeals to you, check in with their communities to see how they are, and familiarize yourself. At this point, I recommend developing a content production pipeline that makes adapting your content for compliance and sale on as many different marketplaces as possible.
Tips and tricks for success
If you’re in the US, form a limited liability company (LLC). For more information on limited liability companies and the other types of companies you can form, check out this helpful page from LegalZoom. I’ve formed two LLCs through LegalZoom and I highly recommend them. Get an accountant. Be smart and organized about this from day one.
The most important thing you can do when supporting your customers is to acknowledge them quickly. Even if you don’t have an immediate or even satisfactory answer for their concern, this is important.
This is the best piece of advice you’ll get in this entire presentation: When doing work-for-hire content for your clients, identify which of your assignments could be sellable product. Negotiate a lower rate if they accept non-exclusivity so you can sell them on an online marketplace. You can open yourself up to a larger client base, make work-for-hire money, and generate a recurring revenue stream and a library as you do it.
Ship something every month. A regular release schedule and a library of content is important for marketing beats and re-promoting your earlier work. It’ll keep your motivation high.
Indie devs: If you’re working on a game, consider selling some of the content you develop for it on an online marketplace. You can promote your game, attract talent and interest, and monetize early. Remember: Kickstarter is even more of a marketing vehicle than it is a fundraising tool.
Contractors: Selling content on a marketplace is an excellent marketing vehicle to drive interest toward your service-based offerings. What you get is publicity, reach, and an audience that will spend money for your product. If they want a more customized version of what you sell, or if they really like what you do and want to pay you to do it, let them. This could be your way out of a job you don’t like.
Hi, everybody! I’ve just added the Art Outsourcing Knowledge Base to the site. This is a categorized, organized collection of the last 11 years’ worth of art outsourcing and production management articles, tips, advice, and tools that I’ve posted on the site. It’s VASTLY easier to sort through and read, and I wanted to put it online for an easy desk reference for outsourcing or managing art. Check it out!
Finally, I’ve started writing a comprehensive book on art outsourcing and how to manage distributed teams. I’ve been going through ~13 years of this blog’s content to find and categorize relevant sections to update and include in the book, and so far I already have 137 pages of content! This is going to be awesome. I’ll be adding several new sections, dramatically revamping and updating my existing content, and pushing to publish it in the summer. Stay tuned!
Hi all! Here’s a Facebook post I made about low-poly art and what we look for on the Unreal Engine Marketplace with regards to quality and content for low-poly submissions. People seemed to respond well to it so I edited it slightly and wanted to post it here. I’d be curious to hear feedback!
I’m personally a big fan of low-poly art. I’ve been making game art since before Quake 1 and I started out as a character artist, and I’ve done my fair share of environment art as well. Finding the tradeoff between form and function in a realtime environment is awesome, and I’ve spent thousands of hours picking apart my own models as well as the art of others to find out why this edge flips this way to get the right definition and deformation, or how to create strong silhouette while staying within your poly budget, and precisely how, where, and why to cut corners.
However, with the advent of technology, a lot of the real-time performance considerations at this particular level of low-poly art has become more about stylistic choices than boosting framerate on the desktop. And then there’s mobile games, where the art you’re seeing on your phone or tablet today meets or exceeds the best desktop PCs ten years ago. So there’s kind of a split there. We’re also seeing a resurgence of 8-bit and retro-styled games coming in, and low-poly to me is kind of the 3D equivalent to that.
For the Unreal Engine, one of the things it’s always pushed harder than anything else is photorealism. With UE4 getting released, Epic pushing big on PBR and open world and architectural visualization, most of the Marketplace content we’re seeing is building in that direction. Low-poly style stuff is still pretty new and we haven’t seen a lot of it yet, and we’re trying to develop an approach to how we vet and accept content for it.
I want to be *very* clear that I’m speaking about general guidelines for low-poly art submissions, and *NOT* about anything specific that anyone has submitted. I’ve been making game art for over half my life and this is an aggregate summary of my observations over the years.
A big part of what makes low-poly art work is that the reason it exists at all is because it was built to meet certain technical requirements. Within those constraints, techniques developed, and a style was born.
Over the years I’ve my fair share of novice artists that think “hey, low-poly is popular and looks easy, I’ll try that!” and create art that’s simply low detail, low-quality, and easy to produce in a short amount of time. They’ll crank it out, think “awesome, I nailed the style!” and feel great about it. Unfortunately there’s a lot more to it than that. Silhouette is important, and so is proper edge flow, consistent polygon size, and distribution of detail based on where the eye will fall. It’s a lot more than just being faster and somewhat easier to produce than high-res, high-end art.
Here’s a checklist of things that are important in low-poly art:
* Use your edges well. Just because something is faceted and has very few polygons doesn’t mean it’s good. If you’re making a low-poly character, flipping an edge on the face can be the difference between a chiseled cheekbone or a fat face. What does that edge mean, and what does it imply about the overall form and shape of the object it represents?
* Simplify your shapes, but no simpler than necessary. Understand what the real-world object is that it’s trying to represent, and use your geometry wisely to imply smoothness, roundness, harsh angles, convex and concave surfaces. Again, the entire reason for the low-poly style was because you had to aggressively, constantly reduce polygon count and it forced you to make tough choices. That enforced a special kind of creativity. “Do I lose this edge, or that edge? Is this as good as it could be? Will it hold up at a distance and up close?” One of my favorite examples of simplifying a form that can still be readable and easily understood is Picasso’s reduction of a bull to its simplest form: http://artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/animals_in_art/pablo_picasso.htm
* Consistent level of detail. It looks weird to have a 50 ft tall rock that’s 24 polys, and a 3 ft tall stool that’s 1000 polys. Unless it’s a distant background element, or there are other extenuating circumstances, no real low-poly game would ever be built like that. If you had a strict poly budget and you had to choose where to spend it, the first place you’d start out looking to cut polys is where the eye is least likely to land. That’s why, back in the day, the top half of a character had more detail than the bottom half because that’s what the player looks at the most. Even more from there, in a 3rd person game, you’ll see more detail in the back of the head, shoulders, and butt of a character than on the front in many cases. Find ways to cut corners where people won’t be looking for it. That’s part of why the style developed.
* With proper construction and with the idea in mind of why low-poly is what it is, consider the market. There aren’t a lot of low-poly packs, and most content for this engine is photorealistic. If you’re developing a game with a low-poly style, and you buy a single content pack that’ll cover maybe one or two parts of a specific style or zone, where is the rest of the art going to come from? If I’m making a game and I buy a low-poly Lava Kit, where is the rest of my game’s content going to come from? I could see if there’s more content of a similar style that I could use, or make it myself, or try to find an artist that will make more, or I can try to take what’s already in this pack and extend it.
I realize this is a bit of a catch-22, but what I’m really saying is that a good low-poly pack will be a) highly modular and able to create a large amount of game content with, and b) have a LOT of content in it. Honestly, low-poly art is much faster to make than current-gen stuff, and I know exactly how much effort goes into it. We’re not looking for limited-scope weekend projects, we’re looking for a broad, modular, useful set of content that game developers can use in a variety of ways across their whole game.
For example, this is what I think a good low-poly asset pack would contain:
1) Landscapes with multiple features (mountains, hills, rivers, cliffs) built with modularity in mind and multiple materials so you can reuse this across a whole game.
2) Low-poly modular buildings with single and multiple floors and roofs, set up with good UV layouts you can swap easily or even make new textures for yourself without much effort.
3) Modular walls and fences that don’t look repetitive. Having some theme-specific ones is good, but think about reusing content across multiple levels with minimal graphical tweaks that won’t be too obvious to a player.
4) Mobile compatibility. UE4 does actually work on mobile but we don’t have a lot of Marketplace content yet that’s built specifically for mobile. We are extremely interested in mobile content, and are very likely to shine a spotlight on it to get more people using the engine for mobile games. HINT HINT!
I posted this in a comment on Facebook earlier, but I thought I’d post a list of some of the video game news sites I read every day and what I like about them. If you have any you recommend, I’d love to hear them!
Here’s the list:
VentureBeat Games – This is the most ‘grown-up’ of the video game news sites. The stories are interesting, well-written, and the editorial voice and tone is straightforward and professional. They cover a lot of interesting stories that other sites don’t, and it’s a decent blend of news for gamers as well as items of interest to professionals.
SuperData blog – Excellent analyses, summaries and infographics about the business side of the game industry. Highly recommended.
GamePolitics – News around the world about video games, social issues, political and legal challenges facing the game industry. Great source for news about tax breaks and funding initiatives for game development.
Gamasutra News – Biz- and production-focused news. Less about specific games and more about the particulars of game development and current events. The editorials and content can be somewhat hit or miss, but it hits the high points consistently enough to be worth a read.
GamesIndustry.biz – Similar to Gamasutra, but more focused on the business aspect rather than production. There’s some overlap, but they do cover the business side a bit more than Gamasutra.
VG247 – Strictly news about video game releases, reviews, etc. It’s the only video game-centric news site I can point to as *not* having the young “oMG AwesOMESAUCE LOLCAT CRAZYBALLS!” tone and writing style.
I wrote a new article about clever uses for BitTorrent Sync! “Sync Stories: Ideas for Business Travelers” http://buff.ly/YO8AoI
Sync Stories is a column dedicated to our users. Each week, we showcase a different use case for BitTorrent Sync and the personal stories behind it. In this week’s edition: Art outsourcing manager … Link to full article.
Good summary of why Linkedin can be valuable for people with specific, educated target audiences. “LINKEDIN DEMOGRAPHICS: The Top Statistics That Make The Network’s Audience So Valuable To Businesses” http://read.bi/1v42lZz
Overall, LinkedIn is actually more popular than Twitter. This report has the main data and insights on LinkedIn and its rival networks. Link to full article.
I hear a lot of criticism levelled at LinkedIn from game developers. It’s a business networking tool, and on some level, people find that mildly repugnant. What the hell am I supposed to do with LinkedIn? Why should I care? It’s spammy. I’m not even looking for a job. Should I just delete it?
No, no, no, hell no. You need a LinkedIn, and I’m going to explain exactly why: If you don’t have a LinkedIn, you don’t look professional. Worse, you look like you don’t care enough to spend 15 minutes doing the bare minimum to look professional.
I’m going to show you how to get a basic professional-level LinkedIn profile set up in 15 minutes, and wrap that up with some power-tips on how to use LinkedIn to get a job. This information is from the perspective of 1) a heavy, long-time LinkedIn user, and 2) someone who uses LinkedIn to research people to hire. I will tell you what I look for and why, and what to do and what not to do.
LinkedIn has over 225 million members in over 200 countries. There is no question that it is *the* social network for business networking. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a recruiter or a spammer or a job seeker to use it. If you’re an average developer that isn’t looking for a job, it still has its use. You can get set up in 15 minutes with a basic professional-looking profile, and contact settings that will keep people from bothering you.
Ultimately it doesn’t hurt anything to be on LinkedIn, whereas it limits future opportunities not to. In general, it’s a good life strategy to make sure good things can come to you without expending much effort, and this is a potentially high-yield way to do that. Let’s get into it!
1) Why do I need a LinkedIn profile?
Having a LinkedIn profile is the bare minimum you can do to look professional when people search for you. It’s a respected, credible source of information over which you have ultimate control. Controlling what you put on there controls how you present yourself. LinkedIn is the FIRST place people look if they want to know what you do professionally. If a hiring manager that could give you your dream job is searching for the right candidate, would you rather have your important professional information listed in the first place they will look for it, or not?
That’s one angle not many people consider… passive presence. You don’t have to be on LinkedIn every single day updating and posting and searching. Or even looking for a job. Think of it as your professional storefront. Wash the windows every once in a while, but don’t worry too much about it day-to-day. This is the key point: You want to be discoverable, even without applying consistent effort, even if you don’t need something *right now.*
2) What shouldn’t I put on my LinkedIn?
It pains me that this even needs to be said, but DON’T BREAK YOUR NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS AND TALK ABOUT WHAT SECRET PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON. If you’re not sure, ask your company. When in doubt, don’t say anything. Game news sites regularly look for stories by combing through your LinkedIn profile and connecting the dots. Stalking peoples’ resumes to make the news is a scumbag thing to do, and I hate that it happens. However, it IS public information. There’s a new story every couple of weeks about a developer breaking their NDA on LinkedIn and making headlines. That one guy over at Kotaku has an entire column where he does this. And we give him the material.
Generally speaking, it’s not a good thing if product announcements happen accidentally. Especially not if it makes headlines and they link directly to your personal LinkedIn page. It shows a lack of discretion, and makes you look less hireable. And it’s also completely preventable, which makes you look even worse. You don’t have to be that person!
Here are a few bullet points of what NOT to put on your LinkedIn profile:
A fake profile. Don’t fill out a personal profile with your company name, then go around adding people. There are Company Pages for a reason, and you look like you don’t understand how to use the system, or just don’t care. Have you ever made the mistake of adding your grandparents on Facebook? Seeing this is similar to grandparent social media cringe.
Fake names. Use your real name. Don’t be cute. LinkedIn is a place to present yourself professionally, not be funny. I’m talking to you, Sparklesunshine von Ponypants. You were not as advertised.
Bad spelling. Especially for job titles. I’ve seen my fair share of Arists, Prodcuers, Desingers, Principles, Enviroment Artists, and once a “Certified Scum Master.” I’m also fairly certain you didn’t attend Pubic School. That, or I forgot to reset my search filter settings from last night.
“Cute” job titles. Having a creative title like “BADASS!” or “Pixel Wizard!” or “I fart polys!” isn’t necessarily bad, but it is *really* dorky. It makes you stand out, and not necessarily in a good way.
Douchey job titles. I find it hard to take anyone seriously that refers to themselves as a “visionary” or “thought leader” on a resume or LinkedIn. This tells me that person’s idea of a good night is a glass of wine and reading their own blog.
Party photos. I don’t care how many shot glasses you can fit into your mouth, how many glitter-dusted bar skanks you can hang off each arm, or about how you can turn a pig into a bong without killing it. Unless you’re applying to be on some sort of totally awesome reality show, keep it professional and boring. No one has ever said “Well, Candidate A is more qualified, but Candidate B burned off his eyebrows drinking a flaming Dr. Pepper while standing on his head — and he kept drinking. Our choice is clear.”
Age. Never tell anyone your age. You could be 10, 50, or 14 million years old. Never indicate your age. It’s not professionally relevant and it’s very easily judgeable. Don’t give them that. I’ve followed this rule since I was 12, because people get weird about people being too young, or too old. It’s ammo, and it can only lead to negative judgments. Don’t give it to them.
Religious affiliation. No one cares, it’s one additional data point that’s easy to judge people for, no one cares, aaaaand no one cares. I will be blunt: Being really up-front about your religious affiliation on your resume could make people think you’re likely to be enthusiastically obnoxious about it in the workplace. Think day one, enter that person: “HI EVERYBODY I’M REALLY EXCITED TO WORK HERE! I LOVE AND WORSHIP BACCHUS. LET’S STRIP DOWN, DRINK WHISKEY AND ROAST A GOAT!” This isn’t discriminating or stifling religious belief or thought, it’s a very simple and practical consideration: religion is an extremely sensitive subject that people really like starting discrimination lawsuits over. No one wants that drama. Don’t bring it up.
Twitter. DON’T LINK YOUR TWITTER. DON’T DON’T DON’T. Do. Not. Link. Your. Twitter. No good can come of that. It will confuse the message that you are a professional, because Twitter is the guileless Ritalin-popping chatterbox child of social networks.
3) What should I put on my LinkedIn?
Think searchable, relevant key words. You want to be easily discoverable via simple key words that apply to your skill set. Hiring managers, recruiters, and people like me search for people by job title, software proficiencies, and skills. For example, environment artist with Maya and ZBrush experience that’s worked on the Xbox 360. UI artist that knows Scaleform and has developed for the Wii. Animator with Softimage and Motionbuilder experience and has developed for the Ouya. (just kidding, no one cares about having Ouya platform experience! wah wah.)
Golly, I like bulleted lists. Here’s another one:
A professional summary. Two to three short paragraphs, depending on how long you’ve been in games. First person or third person never mattered much to me personally, but do it in the first person to be on the safe side.
Startend dates for all your jobs, with proper job title. Under each job, describe your duties, what software you used, what titles you worked on (if you can), and one or two specific, interesting aspects of it that stand out. Don’t brag, don’t bitch, don’t gripe, and don’t fluff it out. This is a very important point: These are simplified pieces of data that are the basis for starting a conversation, not the conversation itself.
Education. I personally don’t care about education or what school you went to, but my purview is primarily art, where education for that matters less in the game industry. Still, include it if you’ve got it. It’s a qualification and another potential point of distinction that tells the story of you.
List of projects you’ve worked on. Link it to the company and the other people you worked with. Creating a little network like that will show people who you’ve worked with before, and in a job-getting situation, they’ll most likely be asked about you. And if you link to them that may encourage reciprocal linking, which will make it easier for people to find you from other peoples’ LinkedIn pages. Bam, discoverability.
Skills and expertise. The Endorsements system in LinkedIn is stupid and mostly useless, but it’s still worth it to edit that list to make sure that only skills relevant to you are listed. Keep it serious, and don’t list yourself as a Taco Expert or Beer God. Keeping these up to date and relevant make you easier to find. Keywords, yo!
Recommendations. The usefulness of written recommendations from people on LinkedIn is a controversial subject. Many people say they ignore them and think they’re worthless, and other people think they’re the greatest thing ever. My opinion is that it’s never a bad thing if you can get people on the record saying they liked working with you. However, if you’re in a layoff and everyone at the company is writing them for everyone else, it’ll be obvious that it’s probably going to be stress-induced fluffery, and more likely to be ignored. You can’t help but reciprocate if someone offers it without looking like a jerk. But if you can get a lead or a colleague you’ve worked with a lot to say a few good words about you, that’s never a bad thing. Just don’t put up 14 million of them, because that does start to look douchey.
Published works. If you’ve published articles or given talks at a conference, link them to your page. It’s a good thing! It demonstrates professional relevance, and it’s another point of distinction in your favor. Not everybody writes, and you look even smarter about the subject if you take the time to write about it.
4) What else can I use LinkedIn for besides looking for a job?
LinkedIn is a search engine in which people generally want to be found, so they make the relevant information easy to find. Aside from being a place simply to look for jobs, here are a few ideas for how LinkedIn can be useful:
Instead of applying for a job through the website, try to find their recruiter or HR manager on LinkedIn. Path less traveled!
Take advantage of LinkedIn Groups. You can meet cool people and learn. Check your friends’ Groups on their profile and join them. You can also request connections with people based on groups you have in common.
Are you interviewing? Ask for the names of the people you’re interviewing with and look them up. Find out who they know that you know. Ask questions about them. Knowing people in common can’t hurt. Also, make sure you check the gender of the person with which you’re interviewing… this does happen.
Add your coworkers. Find out where they’ve worked before, and get to know them better through that. “Hey, I saw on LinkedIn that you used to work at X company. Did you know Sparklesunshine von Ponypants? What a complete tool, right?”
Learn about new companies. See a new one opening in the news? Look it up. Look up the founders. Find out what they’ve done before. It’s a great way to educate yourself, and to find new connections with people you didn’t know you had.
5) General LinkedIn tips
If you don’t want people to contact you all the time, take the time to set your contact settings under Settings -> Communications. Set email frequency settings as low as you like, set who can send you invitations, and select the type of messages you’re willing to receive. If you want to do a fully fire-and-forget LinkedIn profile, set most of it to ‘off’ and enjoy the silence.
If you’re prepping to change jobs and want to stay secret, you can turn off LinkedIn’s profile update notifications first… shh. Settings -> Profile -> Turn on/off your activity broadcasts.
Keep LinkedIn updated quarterly. Set up a calendar event to update it.
Don’t forget your portfolio website link! Put it in the Summary, too. People forget this a lot.
If you’re trying to add someone you don’t know on LinkedIn, when it asks you how you know them, don’t select “Friend.” It’s tacky. If you don’t know them, don’t add them. If you’re a member of the same Group where you’re active, that’s cool, use that.
Here are ten simple but very important security settings to protect yourself on Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc: http://t.co/G3yVvmJJig
If you’re adding someone, please remind them how they know you or how you met. Again, don’t call them a Friend if you’re not.
A link to your LinkedIn profile is not a substitute for having a resume on your portfolio.
After layoffs, I see floods of LinkedIn contact requests from people who never had LinkedIn before. This is one of my most important points: Connect with people before you need it, and before there’s a huge rush! It’s annoying getting hit up only by people who want something from you, right then. It’s worth taking the time to maintain your network and get your friends and coworkers in there.
In conclusion, if you want to look professional, be discoverable, and control the way you appear to potential employers, take the time to set up a basic LinkedIn profile. Even if you’re not looking for a job, you need a periodically-updated LinkedIn profile to ensure discoverability in case something good could come your way, or in case you really need it in the future. There is no downside to being easy to find and appearing professional to people who might give you money.
I created and maintain an extremely detailed spreadsheet tracking video game industry layoffs for the last five years, so I decided to work up some numbers of the year 2013 so far.
There were 61 announced layoffs worldwide in 2013. 34 are in the US, 8 in the UK, 8 in Canada, 2 in Australia, and the rest are countries like Brazil, Belarus, India, China, etc. Of that total, 18 studios are confirmed as having closed, but I don’t have data on whether or not 19 of the remaining 43 studios are still open.
Only 40 studios announced layoff numbers. The total number of layoffs from the studios that reported numbers is 2,262, rounding up from the numbers for which I had “25 to 30” or “50 – 75” as the only data points. 20 studios did not report layoff numbers, and 1 studio (Io Interactive) only reported a 50% reduction in force.
Cities most affected:
– San Francisco, CA – 4 layoffs totaling 322 people
– Austin, TX – 5 layoffs totaling 304 people
– Montreal, Quebec – 1 layoff totaling 200 – 250 people (EA Montreal)
– San Diego, CA – 3 layoffs totaling 140 – 240 people (Trion Worlds’ full layoff numbers were never announced for the first event and I don’t have data on the studio’s headcount at closure)
– Dallas, TX – 1 layoff totaling 215 people (Zynga Dallas)
– Seattle, WA – 4 layoffs totaling 155 people
– Vancouver, BC – 6 layoffs totaling 91 people (however, PopCap Vancouver, Quicklime Games, and Slant Six’s closure did not report numbers)
– Boston, MA – 3 layoffs totaling ~35 people (Majesco Boston did not report numbers)