As many of you know, freelancing writing is how I got my start in the game biz in the early 90s. I worked for a lot of companies, wrote for a lot of games, and experienced all the freelancer classics. I had writing published I was never paid for, put a lot of work into projects that were never released, watched publishers that owed me money go bankrupt and disappear, and more. I had good experiences too though and met some people that treated me fairly and taught me a lot about the game business. I also met other up and coming freelancers and we commiserated about our experiences. Griping about publishers was par for the course. We were certain that shit flowed downhill and we freelancers were at the bottom of that hill. The publishers controlled the purse strings and that gave them the power. In disputes between publishers and freelancers, our starting assumption was that the publisher was out to screw the freelancer.
Later I started my own companies and I had a simple goal in regard to freelancers: treat them the way I wish I had been treated when I was a freelancer. Over the last ten years I have worked with hundreds of freelancers. Many of them have been great to work with. They did their work on time, they were pleasant to deal with, and they materially contributed to projects that made both them and us money. It has not, however, been all wine and roses. People we have trusted have flaked on projects, turned over material months late, done work so shoddy that developers had to do near complete re-writes, passed off the work of others as their own, and pulled the ever popular prima donna routine. We have also wasted money on ads for products that ended up coming out six months to a year later because the creatives involved couldn’t hit a deadline to save their lives. And of course it’s the publisher that takes shit from the fans who don’t understand why Product X is late.
Needless to say, these experiences have changed my point of view. It turns out that there is plenty of blame to go around. So do some publishers screw over freelancers? Yes, absolutely, and it happens with sad frequency in the game business. However, freelancers screw over publishers just as frequently. The narrative of the big mean company taking advantage of the poor abused freelancer is a popular one, but I’ve found there’s often more to the story than gossip might suggest.
Now you might think that my experiences have made me value freelancers less. The opposite is true. It’s hard to overestimate the value of a good freelancer and that’s why we try to have a continuing relationship with people who are talented and professional. As with just about every aspect of our business, the Osseum debacle has made this more difficult than it used to be. The past year and a half has been a slow and painful process of working down the debt accrued by all the products Osseum sold and never paid us for. It’s no secret that we haven’t been able to pay all our freelancers on time and this has been a bitter pill to swallow. We do take our debts seriously though and we have made steady progress in paying them down. Most of our regular freelancers have been more than understanding and for that we are thankful. I can’t pretend it’s anything but a shitty situation for all concerned though.
Now yesterday I made an observation about freelancers being dickish about money and there was some confusion about what I meant. To be clear, I do not consider negotiating pay rates or querying about monies owed to be dickish. If we owe you money, of course it’s OK to ask about it. I was more talking about folks who don’t bother to read their contracts and then send belligerent letters about getting paid months before it’s even due. Or people who turn over two months late and then get pissy if they get paid two weeks late. That’s dickish.