Once as a writer, once as a photographer. I went pro and I went freelance since that’s what pros do. I managed to make it to around $20 000/year with my writing as a freelance (yes, that’s more than you earn working minimum wage – but not much). With photography I realized quite early that yes, I enjoy photography but no, I won’t enjoy making a living out of it. In fact, if I do make a living out of it I’ll enjoy it less, to the point where I’ll quit enjoying it at all.
Why am I writing this? Because I do enjoy writing. I enjoy it to the point where I do make a living from it and still keep writing.
I’m not sure that I want to reach that point with my game designing. Which isn’t something one should write on a blog about game design, a blog a potential employer, or partner, or publisher might read and decide that, no, we don’t want to hire/publish/work with this semi-pro bozo.
See the sacrifices I’m making for my craft?
Seriously though, there’s a very important point in knowing whether you want to design as a hobbyist, a semi-pro or a pro.
Hobbyists Love, Pros Earn
But first, some definitions. I define hobbyist as someone who’s doing it for the love of it. The home chef, the one who makes such great meals for her dinner parties, is a hobbyist. The poet who doodles in her notebook is a hobbyist. The kid who plays hockey with her friends is a hobbyist. If you’re an amateur, in the original “for love” meaning of the word, then you’re a hobbyist. The reason I’m not saying amateur is because it has come to contain some rather derogatory connotations: amateurs are poor at what they do; this isn’t necessarily true.
A hobbyist’s primary motivation lies in the act of creation, rather than the rewards. I’m not saying they’re adverse to getting money for their craft (although some are) but that they’re not driven to sell. They’re doing it because it’s fun.
On the other end of the scale is the professional. Professionals aren’t the opposite of hobbyists, if anything they’re hobbyists on 2 000 cups of espresso. Professionals can be driven to their craft by the love of it, and many of the best are, but it’s not necessary. The difference lies in that where hobbyists are driven to create professionals are required to – they don’t create, they don’t eat. So a professional must meet certain standards of time, cost, quality and ability to deliver the specified goods at a predetermined time that a hobbyist doesn’t have to care about.
Middle Ground: The Semi-Pro
In the middle there’s the semi-pro. We’ve got semi-pro in almost anything, from golf to cameras. It’s the segment that’s generally considered to be more advanced than a hobbyist but not quite up to the standards of being a professional. They’re the dilettantes who’d like to be pro but can’t hack it.
I my view a semi-pro is someone who’s aspiring to being something more than a hobbyist, that is, wants something more than to just create. The writer sending in their short stories, the photographer entering competitions, the kid who wants to be the star of the hockey team, they’re all semi-pros.
Being a semi-pro doesn’t say anything about your skill, or about your goals, but about where you are right now: not living from your craft but spending some of your effort on the stuff around it: marketing, studying, preparing, analyzing.
The semi-pro isn’t a failed pro, he’s a hobbyist with different ambitions. A home chef who doesn’t want to ever work in a restaurant but who spends his evenings reading about food and studying biochemistry in order to get that darn sauce right the next time is a semi-pro. It doesn’t matter that they don’t earn a nickel from their craft, it doesn’t matter that they don’t aspire to be a pro. What matters is that they’re devoting more of their energy to the sides of their craft that the hobbyist finds boring.
Where Do You Want To Be?
With writing I’m a professional. That’s where they money comes in. Wait, didn’t I just say that I only managed to reach $20 000/year? Yepp. But that was freelancing. I write for a living, but I don’t freelance. Freelancing is another set of skills, one involving stuff like sales, cold leads and accounting. I love writing, and I’m doing it as a pro, but I don’t like freelancing. So even though the upside for freelancers is great (if you can turn in quality content on time and on budget) the emotional downsides are large enough that they don’t outweigh the financial upsides for me. So I do all that stuff, write, turn in quality content on time and on budget, except that I do it on a paycheck. I’ve found out that while I’m quite happy being a pro writer I don’t want to be a seller or administrator of anything.
But for game design I’m the home chef. I don’t know if I would ever want to work in a restaurant. I’ve seen real pro designers, spoken to them, interviewed them and yes, they do quite a lot of fun, game related stuff. But they also do lots of things that are less fun, like going to sales meetings, or accepting that marketing is setting the agenda or working with games and properties that I wouldn’t want to work with. So, right now, I’m happy to be the semi-pro in game design: to design, learn and attempt to sell without any pressure to make a living out of it.
Where do you want to be?