If you’re looking to get rich writing for the gaming industry, I’ve got a bridge in San Francisco to sell you – and it’s made of gold! (Email me at KeepYourDayJob@BrandiesBigScore.Com).
The brutal truth of the matter is many gaming companies pay their people bupkis, nada, nichts, zip, and “not a whole heck of a lot.” When I say “people,” I’m referring to both artists and authors. To be clear, most people working in the industry are NOT industry employees. We’re called freelancers because we are contracted by companies for specific projects. We don’t get benefits, we don’t go into the office, we don’t get FICA and Medicare and Social Security deducted from our paychecks. In fact, we don’t get consistent and regular paychecks. We are paid flat fees for a set wordcount and sent on our merry way when the project is completed. Depending on the company or the project, payment may vary. Some projects are freebie projects, and some very rare projects pay royalties or percentages.
To give you an idea of payment scale, here’s the chart by which SFWA judges a market (U.S. Dollars):
$0.00 per word – Free – There isn’t an official title for this one.
0 to .01 cents per word – Token Payment.
.01 to .049 cents per word – Semi-Professional Payment
.05 cents and above – Professional Payment.
Most of the industry pays .035 cents (3 & 1/2) cents a word. That’s well below the minimum Professional Market payment rate. That doesn’t count the gaming companies that pay flat fees such $10.00 or $25.00 for a piece.
Here’s the breakdown of what I would make writing a 5,000 word story (a normal short story) using these market definitions:
Free - Nothing. No one is paying me.
Token - Assuming I get 1 cent a word, $50.00. 1/2 cent would be $25.00. 1/4 cent would be $12.50.
Semi-Pro (RPG Market Rate of 3.5 cents) - $175.00
Professional (minimum 5 cents) - $250.00
It usually takes me anywhere from 6 hours to 40 hours worth of work to write a short story. 6 hours if I’m just writing first draft and don’t care about spelling, punctuation, or formatting. So let’s spilt the difference and say it took me 20 hours to write this story.
Per hour of work, I got paid:
Free - Nothing.
Token - $2.50 an hour for $50.00 total, $1.25 an hour for $25.00 total, $0.625 an hour for $12.50
Semi-Pro - $8.75 an hour
Pro - $12.50 an hour
You can see where semi-pro and pro markets start to look more reasonable. At least they look to be above minimum wage. Except for one problem: I only received a one-time flat payment for this story. Now I have to pay a lot of bills with that flat fee, and find more projects to work on.
But the brutal truth is even worse, because I don’t get immediately paid. My story has to be accepted by my editor / line developer. If it’s not, I just did a lot of work for no payment at all. And if it is accepted, I still have to spend extra time doing edits as directed. RPG companies don’t pay advances. So I have to wait until a certain time frame (contract dependent) to get my check. In the meantime, I’d better have another project that I’m working on so I can get a paycheck when I’m working on the project after that.
(BTW, the tie-in novel industry works a lot like this also, though they are more likely to pay advances.)
The gaming industry is an exercise in survival tactics. Companies go insolvent all the time and product competition is stiff. There are only so many gamers with so much free time and disposable income. With the hordes of freelancers waiting in the wings, companies can pick and choose who they want to use. This means there is no consistent income stream for a single individual because that individual isn’t working on every project. And the nature of the industry does not guarantee that every freelancer will get a project, or even follow-up projects.
So here’s my advice. Don’t get into this industry unless you absolutely love it, and love the worlds you’re writing for. And whatever you do, get a day job (or at least a job with a consistent paycheck, no matter what the hours are). The freelance life is much less stressful when you don’t have to worry about buying groceries and paying the bills.