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No, I Will Not Work On Your Game For Free!

Today I received my first check from a client for whom I am doing gamification and project management consulting.  We had agreed that I would be paid a set amount every two weeks as payment for twenty hours of consulting per week, and on the first day of the third week, he handed me a paycheck.  No invoices. No delays.  No discrepancies. No arguments.  It was amazing!

But why should it be amazing?  Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work — the way that we agreed on?

Unfortunately, consultation and other freelance work often doesn’t work out the way it was agreed on.

Last year I worked as a subcontractor for a company that was engaged to design and iPad app for a client.  I performed my work on the project, and the client paid the contractor for whom I had worked.  However, the contractor was in deep debt due to other projects suddenly being cancelled and wound up using the money paid for the iPad app I worked on to other subtractors from previous projects to whom he owed money.  The contractor keeps telling me me that he plans to pay me when he has the money, but after a year or so, my hopes aren’t high.

Look, the game business is volatile, and stuff happens.  I’ve been laid off enough times from full-time jobs at financially-strapped companies to understand that.  Even well-intentioned employers and contractors can’t always fulfill their obligations on time.

But then there’s the client for whom I worked about six months ago.  He ran a start-up company, and like the client I’m working for now, wanted a gamification expert to improve his app’s engagement and loyalty.  We negotiated a bit, and we eventually agreed that I would be paid a discounted rate monthly until he was fully-funded and then my full-rate after he was fully-funded.  Before signing the agreement, I asked him how he was funded currently, and he assured me that he was self-funded sufficiently until we developed an MVP of his app, which he would use to get full funding.

I consulted with him for a month and then sent him my first invoice.  After the invoice arrived, he called me to say that he was holding an urgent meeting with everyone involved with the project first thing in the morning.  The next day, everyone else arrived, wondering what was so urgent.  Last to walk in was my client, who began the meeting by saying, “I want to thank everyone for deferring payment until we get funded…”  I immediately resigned from the project, as deferred payment was not one of the terms of our agreement.

While contractors often wind up inadvertently working for free due to unfortunate circumstances, there are those out there who expect people to work for them for free, apparently thinking that the world should feel obligated to support their hopes and dreams.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked, “Where can I find programmers and artists to work on my project for free, and then I’ll split the revenues with them when it launches?”

Work is usually only worth what you pay for it, and I can promise you that I’m going to be continue putting in my very best effort to the gentleman who paid me on time.  In fact, I’ll do everything I can to ensure that he concludes that it was the best investment he ever made.