Jamie Noble Frier
Top tips for finding work in the board game industry
Hey folks, it’s me, Jamie, Co-founder of DoodleMeeple. Many of you I’ve chatted to or even met at industry events and know that at my core, I’m an artist. An artist who works in board games…
But for those I haven’t, I’d like to share some tips on finding your way in the industry. I’ll save the full story of my progression to the industry for another post. For now I’d love to talk to you about how you can pivot or even change your career to follow a path you have your heart set on.
So here’s some tips for find work in the board game industry…
Freelance versus employment
When I’ve got my artist hat on, I’m freelance. But there are benefits to both employed work and freelance. While you can get some cool perks, like attending events, playing games before they hit the market , the obvious perk in employment is the job security. Most folks looking to enter the industry would snap the hand off a game studio if offered paid full time employment. And herein lies the catch, it’s very difficult to find these unicorn roles.
On the other hand, freelancing has its benefits. You’re completely flexible, can take on or turn down jobs, you can work as little or as much as you want and can take yourself in the direction you choose.
The flipside is, it’s feast or famine. You’re either working flat out with too much on, or you’re worried about where the next paycheque is coming from.
Let me tell you, I’d prefer to feast, than famine… Hopefully some of these tips will help to keep you in tea and biscuits.
First off, I’m going to assume that if you’re looking to diversify and find your way in the board games industry, you’re coming from outside the industry.
The key thing here is how important every person’s skill set is. We all have a diverse range of talents, and almost everything is relevant.
'The key thing here is how important every person's skill set is. We all have a diverse range of talents, and almost everything is relevant.'
I transferred from the video game industry and book cover art, to the board game industry as an artist. “That’s not a big reach!”, I can hear you cry… You’d be right in thinking so. In fact to all artists reading this who have an interest in board games, much of the work will feel familiar.
However, dig a bit deeper, and you’ll see that before video games I was a restaurant manager.
As a restaurant manager, I had to manage my income and outgoings, manage the expectations (think nightmare slow service, or organising events) of our clientele, and manage my own time.
Looking at that set of skills, I can see games industry roles in project management, play-testing, and other production roles in games. Some of the folks I know have moved into manufacture roles where they provide an important point of contact for English speakers to connect with Chinese manufacturers.
But all of these skills will come into play when you decide to go it alone, and begin freelancing in the games industry, whatever role you choose. Having to manage clients and your own time is key.
Think about your role in work, and how that might transfer. Or even your secondary skills, languages, creative arts, writing, proof reading, video editing. There are so many ways to find work.
Places to find work
There are lots of places I dig around still, but the games industry is pretty tightly knit. Once you establish yourself as a freelancers, you’d be surprised how quickly word of mouth spreads.
While you’re building up that important foundation of clients who will shout about you, here are some recommendations (the titles are linked for your easy navigation!):
I’m not going to beat around the bush here… we’ve made this platform to help with exactly this subject. You can make a free profile and be added to our professional network where interested parties can find you and commission you. We don’t charge for the service, we just want to help folks like you succeed.
Particularly the ‘Board Game Creation’ section. It has threads on finding work, finding help if you’re making your own game and a basic job post thread for artists in particular. There’s some great conversational threads on trends and popularity of games, and a worthwhile section where you can discuss your work in progress. I used this for Hero Master in the early days of design and actually gained some very early interest.
I’d encourage anyone to dig around on Facebook and find communities that ‘help needed posts, but here’s a few we think are particularly worth a visit:
Tabletop Game Jobs (Facebook group)
Run by the very supportive Jessica Fisher and Ross Thompson (who let us show DoodleMeeple in the group to reach job seekers, Tabletop Games Jobs has regualr job listings for roles all over the world. The Facebook group has links to tabletop gaming website, Gameosity, run by Jessica, where they provide a monthly round up of the jobs they’ve found.
Art and Graphic Design for Tabletop Games (Facebook group)
A great fair sized group for finding artists and art gigs in the tabletop game world. Like BGG’s (Board Game Geek) forums, largely those recruiting will be indie publishers looking for freelance help. However occasionally larger publishers visit the site or have their roles shared via members.
It’s important to build a body of work to show to would be employers or indie publishers looking to hire short term.
While established creatives will have existing relevant samples, even the most discerning publisher can see talent in less relevant work. Make sure to create a hub, whether it’s a social media page, a web page or a hosted gallery to direct potential interest to.
If you’re really committed to finding industry work, you can post personal projects, fan pieces to give employers an idea of the work you’re looking to move into. While this may seem more relevant to artists, 3D sculptors and graphic designers, the same can be said for other industry roles.
If you’re a game designer, make a hub for your sell sheets, if you’re a rules editor or copywriter, create some interesting blog posts that show your knowledge, your personal writing voice and the direction of your interest.
'It's important to build a body of work to show to would be employers or indie publishers looking to hire short term.'
For visual creatives:
Check out Behance, Artstation and Deviantart.
From my experience, Behance seems like the most high brow, top end of these sites. It’s run by Adobe and it’s very sleek. Artstation feels like the pro’s Deviantart and deviant art is a very mixed bag, but has it’s uses. Have a look at all of them, concentrate on the most relevant one if you’re stuck for time. I’ve been told time and time again by marketing strategists, ‘Do one thing well, before doing anything else’. Instagram is also such a visual platform, but I think it’s relevant to all roles (see below).
Make sure to create a profile page on all the major social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin (better than you think, I promise), and Instagram.
Twitter can be great for just touching base for your following. On DoodleMeeple, I enjoy interacting with people I follow, keeping my finger on the pulse, and it’s great for awareness as people generally are interested to see who is interacting with their posts.
Facebook feels like a stable, I feel like it’s a necessary thing, but with the algorithms Facebook uses to encourage spending on ads, the exposure it gives you is minimal sometimes.
Instagram is great, but it’s very image focused, and I can understand why folks wouldn’t see the benefit of using it if let’s say they’re primarily working with the written word. This is where stock photo sites come in. You can find great relevant images that inspire the reader and support your written content. There are loads of free stock photo and video sites, but we really like Pexels and Unsplash. You can pay for a stock service on a load of different platforms, we quite like Envato Elements for this, but when you’re starting up and watching pennies, you can get away with using the free stuff to begin.
Linkedin is really good for written word now, you can create studies and essays on topics and you can do many of the things you do on other social sites. Posting progress, updates and work. However the focus for Linkedin is work, so it’s a no brainer.
Social media hack (Later.com)
Didn’t you say just do one thing well?
Yes… but there are shortcuts in having a presence across these main social platforms.
While last year I’d have recommended Hootsuite, they’ve recently adjusted their payment model and stripped back a lot of what was free to use.
I’d now recommend Later.com to schedule your social media. I love this thing and shout about it whenever I can.
If you’re unfamilar, Later, and Hootsuite and a handful of other services connect with your social media platforms and allow you to post cross platform. You have a limited number of posts within a set time period, and can saves you all the humdrum of copying the social posts across to all the sites.
Why Later.com in particular?
It has several features I love. For one you get 30 posts per month for each platform you connect. So basically you can get a post out daily on average on all sites.
The scheduling is great, you can check boxes for which platforms you want to post to, then the information cascades out to all. Once you post you can move these posts around on the time line so you can target certain times of the day when your users are most active. I like 8am EST/ 1pm GMT because you catch half of the US at morning coffee and Europe on lunch, rather than slap bang in the middle of work when they’re not able to check into their socials.
The image editing feature is an absolute dream because all the platforms have different requirements on image ratio. Doing this on the fly takes seconds and makes posting easy.
And finally, my favourite thing… You can essentially upload loads of images and categorise them (I do when I’ve specifically make Twitter optimised images for example) into relevant groups. Posting then using the filter to find exactly what you want is fantastic. They remain on Later.com so if you’re (like me) at home, away from your computer with all your repository of images, you can just grab from the pool you’ve already created.
Scheduling vs Live
I should add, while I tend to get in and spend a few hours scheduling ahead for the month, there’s no substitution for live posting when something cool happens on the fly.
One of my biggest learnings for social media marketing and presence if you don’t increase your network by broadcasting, but interacting with others’ broadcasts.
I see my Later.com scheduling as the foundation for my social media presence then I like to ad hoc jump on and interact with other people, or just post how things are that particular day. The last thing you want is to seem inorganic. Which takes us onto…
Be yourself publicly
One thing that I think has become so important in our information age is to be able interact with people on a personal level. Clients really warm to you when they can identify you, and for a people person like me I find it encouraging to have regular interactions with them without the ‘hard sell’.
Now, I’m not saying you should lay your life bare on the interwebs. We’ve made a personal choice to limit how much we post photos of our kids online, but fun stuff that’s associated with work, or even personal hobbies can be a great ‘humaniser’.
Chat about your life without a selling agenda, be real and you’ll be surprised at how warm a response you get. It lays a great foundation for networking and can be a nice welcome break from work talk.
Building your network
Despite me listing the ways to build your network above, it deserves its own title. Building your network is crucial to success in any freelance capacity, and to an extent full time employment.
Think of your network as an opportunity multiplier. The bigger it is, the higher the chance something cool will come along.
I really discovered the power of building a network around me when I crowd funded my self published board game. If I hadn’t put the time in before launch, I would have had a lacklustre campaign and the chances are it may have failed.
When you’re building a career, there is no launch date. You can carry on building, making new friends and finding inspiration.
Just keep working on that network and great things keep happening.
'Think of your network as an opportunity multiplier. The bigger it is, the higher the chance something cool will come along.'
It’s surprising that there should be a section on this, but I think sometimes people go into business mode and it’s like they have their poker face on: everyone is an enemy.
It couldn’t be farther from the truth. While there may be some folks who want to take advantage of you, there are so many looking for co-operative relationships. I’d encourage everyone to have a positive outlook when dealing with others. Finding someone in a role that dovetails with your own, can lead to mutual expansion, new clients or even an exciting personal project.
Even folks who may seem like rivals can be excellent support to bounce ideas off and grow.
It’s not rocket science that clients who have a positive experience will return, so make sure to be encouraging and passionate, infect them with those feelings and you’ll both enjoy the project more.
'It's not rocket science that clients who have a positive experience will return, so make sure to be encouraging and passionate, infect them with those feelings and you'll both enjoy the project more.'
Supplement your schedule
I’m not going to lie to you. Changing your occupation is tough. It’s like a clean slate and it takes time to build. Think of the years you’ve poured into your current job without thinking about it. Well at least now we’re actively thinking about learning new skills. We get a fast track to progression rather than the coasting we’ve done for however many years.
However the early days will take time to build on. So make sure you’re using that diversification of skills to pick up work across various industries. I still jump on contracts now that are outside of the board game industry, even though I’ve been doing this for ten years. Sometimes doing the less relevant projects to your core passion, just paves the way for those passion projects to exist (and the rent to be paid).
The more pillars you have holding up your schedule the more robust it is, and in the long term, the more you’ll be able to push focus to where you want it.
I now work providing art for board games, book publishing, video games, NFTs, corporate clients and my own products.
Make your own game
I remember getting my portfolio absolutely torn to pieces when I showed at an open critique from a fairly large video game producer back in 2011.
Despite it being heart breaking, a friend who’d had the same happen just said, ‘If you can’t find a job, make one’. It’s resonated with me ever since.
Whenever I’ve had breaks in my schedule, and even when I don’t (very late nights and early starts), I like to take on personal projects to make products. I’ve got the skillset so why not find new ways to monetise it.
I first started out making greetings cards, but as an absolute board game fanatic, I began using my skills and passion to make my own game, Hero Master, an Epic Game of Epic Fails.
It paved the way to loads more relationships. By having something to shout about, I found more connections and my network increased.
If you have the passion, you’ll find a way. Above I’ve listed some of the foundational steps to take to find your way into games, but there’s so much more, and the wonderful thing opportunities present themselves as your network expands. As the philosopher, Forrest Gump would say, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’.
Are you a game designer yourself?
Or are you one of the supporting industry figures like… The artist who gives games their iconic visuals? A story writer who provides deep, immersive narrative? Or maybe a play-tester providing key feedback to make the game a success?
You can find more clients, network and fast track your progress with us.
I hope you enjoyed reading! I’ll keep you all posted with news from us and from around the industry. If you’ve got news, why not share it with me?
Drop me a line at email@example.com and we might be able to feature you in our news.
Keep making great games!
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