GDD 019 : How To Get Contract Work

By September 4, 2014 Podcast No Comments
Game Design Dojo Podcast Episode

Brian and Ike discuss the practicalities of how to get a company off the ground and rolling. If you’re looking for work-for-hire, then this episode provides some useful ways to obtain client work and how to build up your business development.

Today’s Developer Diary

Ike is back! He is fresh after working at iD Tech Summer Camp where he taught high school students game design. It was fun to show them how to make games and by the time they left the camp in two weeks they had their own prototype working on their own phones. Ike also rang his “game release” bell! Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA is now available on iTunes, Android and Amazon. His daughter helped develop this new game about learning about US geography. If there’s any Windows 8 Microsoft people listening, please reach out to Ike. He wants to release the game for Windows, but keeps on hitting road blocks. So, if anyone can help please reach out to Ike!

Brian just got back from Seattle! After doing his very first talk at Unite 2014 –  High End Mobile Development – highlighting his game Gates of Osiris. During the talk he spilled some tips and tricks on how they’re going about the art of the game, a lot of the effects and how they’re building the terrain. Was what really awesome was during his introduction when he mentioned he was a co-host of the Game Design Dojo, people clapped! And people also clapped when he mentioned their responsible for the Tuscany World Demo for Oculus VR. Our listener Vinny came up and talked with Brian. Thanks Vinny so much for coming out to the talk!

Contact Work/Work For Hire

The secret to Fenix Fire’s longevity has been balancing work-for-hire with their own IP. Brian has been an indie for the past eight years and was in AAA for the previous six years. So, he’s actually been an indie longer than he’s been in the friendly confines of being an employee. He owes this primarily to work-for-hire by getting good contracts and doing good business development.

General Thoughts About Work For Hire:

  • It’s a balancing act – you don’t have control over your clients needs and timetables and you’ll have to work around their deadlines as opposed to yours
  • Repeat business – is the most efficient way to get get more contract work
  • Making your own games – can yield a lot of opportunities
  • Have at least one game shipped – really important and brings credibility

Where do you begin to try to get Work For Hire?

For the purposes of this episode, Brian and Ike use the scenario of a start-up company either with a team of 2-3 or a lone wolf who has all the skills needed to make a game. So, how would you go out and start landing a steady stream of clients for full service game development?

Approach #1 – Try doing pro-bono work

Go to a bigger company and offer to make a game for them for free. You’ll make the game for them, they’ll share their IP and you’ll market it. If you have the ability to pull this off:

  1. You’ll be getting a game on the shelf to then go and show other people
  2. When you go to those other people, you’re showing the work you did for a big company
  3. You might actually get numbers because that big company is going to be able to do a lot of marketing

This is something that’s recommended to do for your first project, you shouldn’t do it more than once. But it’s a great way to get your name out there and to build some credibility.

Approach #2 – Make your own IP

Coming up with your own IP and putting it out there does yield opportunities. Brian has had experience of this first hand when he released his game Roboto.

Approach #3 – Target a category of companies

Once you’ve targeted a category of companies that you’re interested in, come up with a prototype or a demo that they can play on the device that you ultimately want to launch it on and show it to them using their brand. When they see it playing in the device, it will make it a much easier sell for them.

Make sure it’s something that you can expand upon yourself or it isn’t so specific to one particular company.

The term used is: speculating or spec work – where you make something in the hopes of getting a contract behind it

The business world is really tough. Nothing is a done deal until the contract is signed and you have the deposit check. It can fizzle at any point up until that moment.

You should have at least five people you can show the prototype to or would be interested in it. It’s important for them to see their own IP in it but always have an exit strategy.

Approach #4 – Website

Put together a solid brand for yourself and make an awesome website. You should include a great trailer for your game and a services page. Using a Word Press theme is recommended. Once you have that website going, you can start emailing companies you’d like to work for.

Approach #5 – Work with local businesses and companies

Make sure you don’t overlook local businesses and companies around you since it’s really easy for them to tell you to drop in and being able to walk into someone’s office is very valuable. Brian had had experience of this by being in the LA area. Location is key.

Approach #6 – Know, Like and Trust

People like to do business with people they know, like and trust.

  • They’ll KNOW you – if you’ve put something in the market place, built a name for yourself and/or have a really nice website with a great presence.
  • They’ll TRUST you – if they start talking with you and you start working with them, also doing spec work for them will build a lot of trust
  • They’ll LIKE you – if you’re someone they enjoy doing business with who delivers on time and over delivers

Face time is absolutely vital for any sort of real business development. Regardless of what your personality type is, start getting used to inviting people out for coffee and then talking to them there. You have to get used to that face time, it’s going to pay off later on even if it’s a problem to start with.

Rule of Thumb – 20% of your clients give you 80% of your revenue and the other 80% of your clients only give you 20% of your revenue.

Once you start getting clients, it becomes a fun game to see who are your best clients and then being able to turn away from some of the other clients.

The Importance of Networking

Your ability to get business is 100% based on your relationships. The more relationships you have, the stronger those relationships are and the value of who they’re with can give you a lot of staying power with your company.

A teacher explained to Ike that you’re ability to network has more to do with your success after school then the actual skills you learn in school, like math and science.

Developing a good strong network:

  • Answer emails
  • Be responsive
  • Get on LinkedIn
  • Talk to your friends
  • Get out to meet ups
  • Network yourself around

What’s really enjoyable about the game industry is it seems like developers have other developers back because they all know how hard it is being on the bleeding edge of technology.

Get used to being a sales person. Even if you’re an artist or a programmer at a big company, you’re always in some way shape or form a sales person. You’re always selling yourself and selling what it is you’re making whether it’s in a big team or by yourself or as a representative of your small company.

Keep in mind, nobody likes it when you’re like the used car salesman and you’re trying to push something on someone. Everybody is much more comfortable with a conversation so just be sincere and pure to yourself.

Brian and Ike provide an example of successful networking which basically results in:

  1. Making sure your friends in your network get business
  2. Opening yourself up to more questions later on and eventually might be asked for something you can actually do
  3. Creating like and trust

Why do all this Business Development?

Ike’s numbers on a small mobile project range from:

  • $20,000 – on the cheap side
  • $50,000 – moderate to average size
  • $100,000 + – something pretty fantastic

Big companies are looking at games as advertising and as a marketing expense with a large marketing budget that they’re used to throwing that money away. It’s a blue ocean opportunity. Nowadays everybody needs a bunch of apps and all of these big companies are dinosaurs to this.

Game developers can use what they’ve learned and by applying it towards a major brand, it can be extremely lucrative.

Brian’s numbers for Fenix Fire:

  • $50,000 – Starting
  • $80,000 – $90,000 – Median
  • up to $150,000


Option one:

  • Start by figuring out the man month – if one person is making X amount of $ per hour, then how much are they making per month
  • Then you figure out how much work you can do if you’re working on it full time including the total cost of each one’s man month

Option two: A better way especially if you want to balance your own IP with work-for-hire

  1. Look specifically at what your client wants to do
  2. Figure out how long it’s going to take to do all those features based on your hourly rate
  3. Add it all up
  4. Pad it a little bit by like 20-30% (because at Fenix Fire they like to over deliver)
  5. And that’s the number you come up with for the project

Some general advice about negotiating:

  • Suggest getting some sort of deposit
  • Be aware of royalties – can be challenging to get that money
  • Sometimes companies will say, “That’s above our budget we can only afford this and it this does well, we’ll get you on the next one.” – this can be a hit or miss

Deciding to Work with Somebody – The 3 Main Criteria

  1. Is this a project that will get me either repeat projects or other projects? –  Is it an awesome portfolio piece? Is this a big opportunity or a major brand?
  2. How’s the money? – Is the money good? Is the money mediocre? Is it a very rich project or a very poor project?
  3. What’s the working relationship like? – Based on the way the negotiations are going is this a company that is very laid back and easy to work with or are they going to be very difficult to work with?

At Brian’s company Fenix Fire, he likes to make sure to get 2 out of the 3 when deciding to work with that company. When it’s all 3, then it’s great! And over time they figured out that if they’re not getting all 3 then they want to start moving away from those clients.

When a client comes back to you for the 3rd, 4th or 5th time it will get to the point where there’s so much trust and transparency that they will just tell you what their budget is, tell you what their timeline is up front and then let you do your magic.


We talked about how to get out and get clients. We talked at length about how to network and how to be sincere in your networking.  We talked about some of the negotiating processes of once you start talking to a prospective client, how to close the deal, some of the pitfalls that might come up and what to look for in a client.  What makes a good client? And how do you know that you should keep it, how do you know if you should go after it and how do you know if you should let it go. And Ike implores you to get face-to-face.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #019


About Deanna McRae