Empowering the Freelance Economy

Freelancers should build Next-Gen gaming studios

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OPINION

With more than half of the UK population playing online games since the onset of the pandemic, gaming sector users are diversifying on so many levels (age for one). The problem is, those working in the industry are not. With reports of freelancer exploitation in the industry, is it time for more freelancers to unite their skills and experiences to set up the next generation of inclusive studios and games?


  • 70% of people working in the games industry are male, compared to 28% female and 2% non-binary workers.
  • 99.5% of UK games companies are classified as SMEs, employing fewer than 250 people each, but collectively contributing £1.6bn of GVA nationally.
  • £339m of GVA is generated by micro-businesses that employ fewer than 10 people.
  • The games sector is a young industry, with two thirds of people working in the sector aged 35 or under. But 54% of people in the industry have worked in the sector for five years or more.
  • 10% of people working in games are Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). This is a slightly higher percentage than in the national working population, and higher than both the overall creative industries and specific sectors such as music, publishing and film/TV.
  • However, it is lower than the equivalent figure for IT and software, as well as below the average in the working-age population. While BAME workers can be found broadly equally in all job roles, with a small skew towards more non-sector specific roles, they are noticeably less represented in senior positions.

Sources: UK Games Industry Census Ukie 2020, Think Global, Create Local Ukie, January 2020.


Even grandma is gaming

More than half of UK adults (51% people) are playing online games including board games with COVID-19 lockdowns leading to the numbers more than doubling, according to new research from digital board game studio Marmalade.

Its nationwide study found 28% of adults downloaded games for the first time during the crisis as they looked for new ways to entertain themselves and their families while forced to stay at home during lockdowns.

These stats illustrate that gaming users are diversifying. That means new creative talent needs to join the sector.

Michael Willis, co-CEO at Marmalade Game Studio comments on how the player demographics are changing and why female-focused games could build the industry to a new level:

The research found around 26% of adults have been playing online games for three or more years and that women are more likely to play online games than men. Around 53% of women currently play games compared with 47% of men.

Around 27% of women who play online games say they started doing so within the past year compared to 17% of men who started in the past year.


Image Source: London Anime & Gaming Con (Press)

Why gaming needs freelancers from more fields and age groups

There have been reports of freelance game developers being exploited by game companies, which is just one reason to consider setting up a studio to implement better working practices and benefits. However, given that many contractors and freelancers already know how to run their own self-employment they are one step ahead on starting up their own gaming studio. It takes courage, talent, contacts and funding, but it is possible.

Many narrative and world-building writers, such as Richard Dansky have prior experience in publishing, according to a report by The Outer Haven. That experience has helped them break into the industry. Having a writing profile, preferably with a creative slant or with some gaming industry reporting under your belt will help your chances of breaking into the gaming world. It’s not uncommon for English majors to work for large game developers.

According to freelance writer, David Kirby who wrote the Outer Haven report, “Demonstrating to potential clients or employers that you are knowledgeable about the industry AND can write is important. Because of the global skills gap, it’s not uncommon for narrative writers to also have experience in game design or to possess other technical skills to set them apart.”

He suggested that many companies are looking outside traditional career tracks for talented creatives who can help accomplish their goals.

But what if you, a freelance marketing specialist or writer, network to find the skills of freelancers from different fields to actually build a studio.? You combine the coding and technical skills of a freelance games developer that has experience at a big studio or a smaller one with big success, the storytelling abilities of a published journalist or novelist with your target audience in mind, and the business know-how of fellow freelance content, sales and financial experts. This is dream team building, which is no easy job.

Some of these roles can initially be outsourced to be later hired in-house depending on your startup budget and the risk appetite of other freelancers who you may want to join your venture. Many gaming studio startup founders moonlight in the early days to make ends meet.

If gaming studios follow the lead of crypto developers, your team can be remote and in various locations so that you are tapping the best talent with insights from different cultures, markets and languages.

Crowdfunding is also a viable way to raise funds, but it’s not a perfect solution for all games.

“Historically, crowdfunding success stories have featured a strong pitch or a famous name that helps drive initial interest,” according to Xsolla.com.

Major crowdfunding platforms are also good for games that play on nostalgia or are in a genre that most developers have underserved.

“Developers need to have a project that’s pretty far along in development and raise a lot of awareness to make their games a success on platforms like Kickstarter,” according to Xsolla.

“That means you already need to have some money to pay for development and marketing, so why not just turn to investors or other funding avenues to make your game instead?

“Turning to investors for funding is potentially less risky than going it alone, but keep in mind that crowdfunding platforms can be as powerful PR and marketing tools. In fact, successful campaigns use them to raise money and build communities simultaneously,” said the report. 

Family-friendly gaming is a growing market

Often the gaming world has a bad rap for violence and is often predominately male-focused. However, things are changing and that is why more females and people in the 40 years plus age group need to join the industry to bring fresh perspectives to game development.

For example, there is a growing demand for family-friendly non-violent games, which are also multi-generational. Marmalade Game Studio estimates that downloads of its family-friendly games (with multiplayer features that can be played by family and friends remotely) have increased 144% over the last 18 months.

Marmalade Game Studio, which is hiring, has recently introduced Bubble in-game video chat allowing gamers to add friends and family to group chats, start games from these, and video chat whilst playing. This enables multiple generations to experience online gaming from different locations, which helps introduce newcomers.

Marmalade research shows the average person is playing around three games but 18% are playing five or more games. The research found the number of people switching on to online games will continue to rise – more than 720,000 people questioned say they plan to start online gaming for the first time next year.

Games that can help problem-solving, health and mental wellbeing are also in demand. For example, playing online games has had major benefits during the COVID pandemic. Around a quarter (24%) of people playing games say it helped greatly with their mental health while nearly half (47%) say it helped slightly.

Attending gaming conferences is a great place to network with fellow freelancers in the gaming industry

Resources on starting your own gaming studio

Creative Enterprise announces the 2021/22 Market Trader Cohort – Creative UK Creative UK (wearecreative.uk)

15 must-hear game design podcasts in 2021 | Evercast Blog

How to start an indie games studio: 10 top tips (redbull.com)

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