Thursday, May 20, 2010

Upcoming Events

Looking for something game-related for your students (or you) to get involved in? Here's what my calendar looks like for the next few months:

Health Games Challenge: this weekend (May 21-23)! A 48-hour game jam (i.e. build a game from scratch in a weekend) based on the Apps for Healthy Kids competition. We have seven sites: Boston MA, Seattle WA, Albany NY, Athens GA, Fairfax VA, Orlando FL, and Pittsburgh PA - site info is available on the event website. If you're not near a site, you can still participate from home; send an email to stating your intentions. I like game jams to begin with, as they provide a great experience in a short time; this one in particular is interesting because the end result might actually do some good in the world. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the organizers for this event.)

Games in Education and Computer Science: June 3-4. Registration is closed for this workshop, but if any of you happen to be going, I'll see you there. Participants will work together to identify problems and solutions in the space of using games in engineering / computer science education. Work groups will producer reports (similar to Project Horseshoe), so expect a post here, after the fact.

Game Education Summit: June 15-16. I attended this last year in Pittsburgh, and there is no better place to meet people who are interested in the intersection of games and education. This year it takes place in Los Angeles (a bit far for me to drive, so unfortunately I can't attend this time), but highly recommended if you're in the area and/or have a travel budget.

Origins: June 23-27. This consumer-focused game convention takes place in Columbus, Ohio and is the third largest such event in the world (after Gen Con and Essen Spiel). Teachers get in free as usual (you need to show some kind of academic credentials). While there are some education-focused sessions, mostly it's about immersing yourself in playing all manner of non-digital games. This makes it more useful for game designers than, say, programmers or game audio folks.

Protospiel: July 9-11. I went to this last year and it was the most amazing experience I've ever had as a game designer. It is essentially a small gathering of non-digital game designers who spend a weekend playtesting each other's games. These are people who understand games, design, and playtesting, so it is about the best kind of feedback you can possibly get. Potentially instructive for students who want to see what real playtesting is like. The down side is that it's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so it may not be in your area. If you are in the Austin, Texas area, there's also the inaugural Protospiel South coming up soon (May 28-30).

Overall, it's looking to be a busy and eventful Summer!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Adjunct versus Full-time

In the game industry, there is a big difference between working for a single company full-time and being a freelancer. In education, we use the term "adjunct" instead of "freelance" but they are essentially the same thing. There are benefits and drawbacks to each.

Benefits of Freelancing/Adjuncting
  • You can make your schedule as light or heavy as you want, with a proportional increase or decrease in pay. Since you're paid by the hour (or by the project, or by the class), "unpaid overtime" is not in your vocabulary. And if you've got the extra cash to hold you over and you feel like taking a month-long vacation between projects, no one's going to complain.
  • For industry freelancing, you typically make more money per hour than you would if you were salaried. Stupidly, the reverse seems to be true for adjuncts at many schools, but this will vary from school to school.
  • You are, essentially, your own boss.
  • Everything listed above has a flip side.
  • You only get to "set your own schedule" if you successfully drum up business. Sometimes your services just don't seem to be needed by anyone, and if you don't have a nice fat cash reserve, you starve. Other times it seems like everyone wants you to do something, and you have to turn down work because you just don't have the time. Freelancing is a feast-or-famine world.
  • You'll also find that psychologically, it is really hard to turn down work when someone is offering you cash. Even if it puts you in "crunch" mode to get everything done. Even if the project is a boring, soul-sucking grind. Saying "no" is a skill that most of us need to learn, and we learn the hard way.
  • You know about that "make more money per hour as a freelancer" thing? There's a reason for that. First, it's to compensate for the times when you don't have any work. Second, you don't get benefits -- no 401(k), no health or dental plan, no free games and snacks in the break room -- unless you pay for them yourself. So even though you get more money per hour of your time, overall you usually end up making less money per year than you would at a full-time job. (Naturally, this is even worse as an adjunct at schools where you get paid less per class than full-timers.)
  • You basically must have a fair amount of experience working full-time at a game company. For industry freelancing, you need a proven track record, but more importantly you need the personal contacts that come with the territory -- who do you think is going to hire you? For adjunct teaching, the whole reason to hire you instead of having a full-timer teach the class is that you've got field experience. So, freelancing is not an option that's open to you fresh out of college; it's a door that opens up slowly as you gain experience, and the more experience you have the easier it is. (If you've got 10 years experience like me, you get most of your business through a few key contacts. If you've got 30 years experience like some people, all you need is to Tweet saying "I'm looking for contract work, any takers?" and you get a dozen offers in five minutes.)
  • There are a lot of little hassles that are fairly trivial on their own, but collectively make your life a little more annoying. You have to bill clients and wait for them to pay you, rather than just having ADP send you a direct deposit automatically. Your taxes are more complicated because you receive a dozen 1099s instead of a single W-2. You have to keep separate folders for the multiple projects you're working on, and double-check every email to make sure you're not sending proprietary Company A information to the guy at Company B by mistake. You have to do some research on health insurance, rather than just checking a box next to Self, Spouse or Family on the HR booklet.
  • Yes, you're your own boss. As your own boss, you're a slave driver.
You can, of course, get the best of both worlds by having a day job and then moonlighting. Assuming your day job doesn't have you working so many hours that you wouldn't have the time.