Have you heard of the US Navy’s “FLoating Instrument Platform?”
No no, don’t you lift a finger. Allow me to conjure the image up for you.
This thing is also known as the“FLIP” for short, and it’s a boat built by the Navy that’s… well… designed to flip over.
Okay, fine, technically, it’s not a ship, but a “manned buoy” that can be used to measure ocean waves, train crews for shipwrecks, and even aid in anti-submarine warfare.
They also built it so that there’s furniture on the ceiling and the floors so the crew can do their thing in both orientations.
In building this, the Navy essentially decided what problems their people would have to deal with, and made something to help them prepare for them.
So, when it comes to making big career decisions — like whether we want to work full-time at a AAA company or freelance, asking ourselves “what do I want?” usually doesn’t yield a clear answer.
However, if we ask “what problems do I want to have/am I prepared to deal with?” we can often figure things out with a lot more clarity.
Let’s go over what we’re going to go over, shall we?
Which problems do you want?
Indie VS AAA
What if you have no idea which to choose?
As a heads up
There’s far more nuance than just “Indie” or “AAA.” We’ll dive deeper into those in future posts.
Deciding on the problems we want helps us make better decisions
And the decision between AAA and Indie is a common issue that comes up. Just for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you’re already either good enough skill-wise to work as a pro in either arena, or are working on your skills daily to get there.
Depending on what you want out of your career, you’re going to run into different issues with each area. But, the common assumptions are that working at an established company is safe and that working as an indie is more fun.
But things are far more granular than that
A big company can lay you off in seconds, and working in indie can be an unpaid death march if you’re not careful. Neither safe nor fun respectively. You have to be prepped for issues in either situation.
Firstly, audio positions at big companies are extremely limited
And many times, they’re not even made public. Plenty of companies hire their employees (especially audio) based off of trusted recommendations from current employees.
That doesn’t mean that your demo reel and resume/cover letter don’t matter, but it does mean that your odds of getting hired are way higher if someone working there knows who you are, or someone they trust gives you a glowing recommendation.
So, if you want to work at a big company, you’ll want to be ready to deal with that issue and do tons of networking with the right people.
If you’re a composer
Remember the idea of an “in-house composer” at a game company is ludicrously rare nowadays.
Yes, it exists, but the odds of finding that position and being hired for it are almost non-existent. It would be a smart idea to run your own business if you want to make music full-time.
The huge upside of working at a company
Is that most of the business stuff taken care of for you. You don’t need to think about complicated taxes, you don’t need to worry about the intricacies of finding clients, and the company will likely have retirement accounts that you can invest in automatically.
Networking also becomes a bit easier as you’ll be surrounded by plenty of other devs daily, and, providing you’re not leading a team, most of your work will be focused on just making audio all day every day.
And making audio all day is what many people want
If that’s the case, then working at an established company is probably a better path.
The Indie/Freelancing world can be a totally different beast
Broadly speaking, you’ll have to handle ALL aspects of your business (at least at first) if you want to strike out on your own.
That means you’ll have to at least have a base-level understanding of accounting and law so you don’t screw yourself over. You’ll also want to eventually get an accountant and a lawyer you help you out.
You’ll be doing all of your negotiating yourself, and it will be 100% up to you to motivate yourself to go out there and network with devs. In some ways, it can be a TON harder than working at a company because of all the hats you need to wear.
Also, and especially at first, your pay as a freelancer may be abysmal until you can shore up your portfolio, negotiation, and business skills.
To me, it’s far more rewarding to run my own business
Because frankly, I don’t want my schedule to be dictated by anyone else. I want to make videos for you, study business, write posts like this one, network in my own weird ways, and go to the gym at 2PM every day when there’s no one but me and a bunch of ripped old people there.
Even so, there is another serious downside of doing your own thing: all of your results (especially the bad ones) are 100% your responsibility. If your business fails, you can’t blame some garbo CEO. Well, you can, but in this case, the garbo CEO is you.
And what if you really, truly don’t know which you’d prefer?
Then put an insane amount of time into working on your craft and meeting people in the industry, then try out freelancing for a short while.
It’s easier to start doing your own thing at first, considering you don’t need someone else to hire you.
If you realize that it’s not for you, then great. Start focusing on getting work at a company instead. Depending on your skill level, how strong your network is, and where you live in the world, this can also be a massively gargantuan task.
If you live in the middle of nowhere and can’t move somewhere else, then getting a full-time AAA position will be tough. Yes, these companies do outsource sometimes, but again, only to be people they really trust and know.
And on the indie side of things, if you live somewhere with no game industry, you’ll have to start traveling and meeting people in bigger game development cities before you can find higher quality gigs.
Just don’t assume either is a “safe” option
Neither option is completely secure. If you’re looking for a job with 100% predictability and safety, then working in any artistic career is not at all for you.
I personally find far more security in running my own business, especially with AAA companies regularly performing mass layoffs. But, that’s entirely a result of the fact that I’ve been reading a business book a week for 10+ years and am always experimenting.
As a result, it’s actually easier and far more profitable for me to freelance and hire the occasional employee than it would be to work 9–5 somewhere. That’s a purely personal preference, though.
So, here’s what we covered
Instead of endlessly wondering what you want, think about what problems you’re better suited/willing to deal with.
If you want to just make sound all day and never think about the business stuff, working at an established company is probably a better choice.
Your geographical location matters a huge amount if you want to work at a company. Very few full-time sound design positions at AAA companies are remote.
And if you want to go indie, but live far away from any big cities, you’ll still need to travel and network to find gigs at first.
Just like our good not-technically-a-boat-friend up above
We have to realize that the results we want will have some issues associated with them. Thus, when making a choice, we should be aware of what problems we are willing/trained/able to deal with.
So, what problems would you rather deal with?
Do you want to run your own business, or do you want to work at a studio? Neither is right or wrong, and each has its upsides and downsides.
It’s up to you to determine which problems you really want to have in your career and which you’ll want to take on.
Whether you want to work in Indie, AAA, or somewhere in between, I’d love to help
Which is why I created two free courses for you to jumpstart your career in the game industry. Inside, you’ll learn how to charge for your work, find gigs, and build a super strong game industry network.