Freelance Advice: 7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do Freelance Game Design

It’s sad to say, but some people should most definitely not pursue a freelance game design career. Are you one of those people?

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


When a publisher contracts you for a job, he is not just buying your talent. Being good at your job is important, but equally important are your attitude and motivations.

I’ve previously talked about why you should take a stab at freelancing. Now it’s time to talk about the reasons why you shouldn’t.

  1. You Want to Earn a Decent Wage: I’m sure some folk earn good money in the roleplaying game industry. The vast majority of freelancers don’t earn enough money to live on. However, freelancing can be a source of some nice extra money, but it is very unlikely to put a roof over your head or food on the table for your family.
  2. To Prove Your GM Wrong: Perhaps you wanted to use a new feat or spell you’d designed and your GM said no because he didn’t think it was balanced. Getting it published by a 3PP and then telling your GM “it must be good – look it’s in print” is not a good reason to freelance.
  3. You Think People are Gaming Wrong: You know the right way to play and your amazing designs will convince them all of their mistake. They are fools and it is up to you to show them how to do it properly. I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. At the end of the day, if people game and have fun they are doing it correctly. Get over it, move on and focus on providing exciting, compelling content.
  4. Fame and Adulation: It’s cool to see your stuff in print. Personally, I love to hear about people enjoying Raging Swan Press’s adventures and sourcebooks. However, at least at the start, you are unlikely to be invited to conventions as a VIP. People are unlikely to queue up to meet you and sadly, you probably won’t get too many free drinks.
  5. You Don’t Take Criticism Well: Even if you are the best writer in the world, some people will hate your work. Others won’t like it. (Don’t believe me? Check out the Amazon reviews of your favourite books – I bet they have some one-star reviews). Some of the people who don’t like your work will write reviews. If you can’t cope with that, don’t freelance. Other people will provide constrictive criticism – if you can’t accept that, don’t freelance.
  6. You Don’t Play Anymore: If you don’t play the game anymore, you can’t really write well for it. Playing a game gives you a great sense of what works and what doesn’t, what is interesting and fun and what isn’t. If you don’t have that experience, you really shouldn’t write – you are doing your publisher and customers a disservice.
  7. You Hate Being Told What To Do: The publisher commissioning you to design for his company has a set idea of what he wants. If you are the kind of person who ignores design briefs because your ideas are better, you shouldn’t freelance. You’ll annoy your publisher and waste each other’s time.

Help Fellow Freelancers

So those are some of the reasons you shouldn’t get into freelance game design. Are there other reasons you shouldn’t give it a go? Let me know what they are, in the comments below and help other gamers decide if they should freelance or not!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

8 thoughts on “Freelance Advice: 7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do Freelance Game Design”

  1. I agree with all bar (3).

    If as a freelancer you think we’re all doing it wrong – prove it. If you’re right, we’ll all be very grateful. If you’re wrong, we wont buy your products.

    All innovation has to start with the concept that you can do it better than everyone else, or that everyone else is misguided or foolish. It’s only arrogance if you just talk the talk without actually doing anything about it.

    Columbus thought everybody else was stupid when they said the world was flat. If he hadn’t tried to prove them wrong, we probably wouldn’t have Pathfinder now.


    1. I think what is meant here is that EVERYONE is gaming wrong and yours is the only way to game. Designing because you want to create a new way to play is fine. Believing you have created the “definitive” way to play is not.

      1. I’m not sure what was meant, actually, because I see now that there are many ways you can interpret (3).

        There is nothing wrong with someone thinking they have created the definitive way to play – they might be right.

        There is nothing wrong with them writing and publishing a product with their ideas – no one has to buy it and if they’re right then that’s great news for all of us.

        What is wrong is when people try to ram their ideas down other people’s throats.

        Of course, generally speaking when people say: “you’re all doing it wrong”, they don’t mean “everyone is doing everything wrong”. It’s a figure of speech – it means “lots of people are doing some key bit of it wrong”. Having said that most of the time when people make these claims it’s an egocentric cry for attention rather than a well thought out bit of analytic reasoning. I wouldn’t want to shut them up, at least not in the first instance, just in case we are all missing something.


  2. “You Hate Being Told What To Do: The publisher commissioning you to design for his company has a set idea of what he wants. If you are the kind of person who ignores design briefs because your ideas are better, you shouldn’t freelance. You’ll annoy your publisher and waste each other’s time.”

    I agree with this, but…

    On the other hand, there are plenty of people who comission you to do a design, an article, a video, etc. but provide practically NO instructions or direction because they have no idea what they want. And when you hand in the work, they want it redone and tell you it’s “not what they envisioned”.

    Or the ones who wait until you’re halfway finished then completely change the concept, forcing you to start over from scratch.

    MY time is valuable, too.

    1. Oh, and the guy who released my completed design in an incomplete forms (leaving several crucial elements out of the pdf) and, when I alerted him to the fact, told me “Don’t worry about it” — and never fixed the file.

    2. Steve, I agree completely regards instructions. If they are not clear (or are completely missing) the publisher only has himself to blame. It gets even worse when the publisher ignores your legitimate questions.

  3. I agree with all of these, but especially numbers 3 and 6. Got a few friends who are designing their own game and they are doing it for those very reasons. They don’t game (haven’t run/played in almost a year now) and they think they have the answers to everything. I have warned them about that approach but they think I am just some bumpkin. They should read more articles like this and maybe they would avoid the whole problem.

  4. It might be insulting or included in the list at least in part but in my eyes it is deserving of its own listing as nmbr 8.
    You simply lack creativity.
    You may be the best writer of the millennium which given the current talent pool isnt that hard to accomplish with series like Twilight and Hunger Games to name just two. That said if you cannot create with substance and imagination something that is cohesive and balanced than stay out of this genre and write childrens books.

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