So yeah, this is a pretty tricky blog post to write. I’ve been debating writing it for a few days – but finally decided last night that I should do this. The reason isn’t for sympathy (as it was mostly my own fault for being trusting) – but more as a warning to others and to highlight how people can be taken advantage of. Plus I said I’d share every step of my game development journey – even if they are missteps. I’m using a fictional name in this post (thanks to twitter for picking it) just to avoid any trouble that may arise from this blog. Also, it’s a pretty long one – sorry about that (I’ve added pictures of my cats to break up the text).
A few weeks ago, I was approached on Discord by a micro studio run by a guy called George. He had accepted a job to build an app and was looking for a back-end engineer to do all the behind the scenes stuff that he couldn’t do. This was fine by me, I’m always eager for freelance work (keeping the lights on while writing a game with such a big scope as Fringe Planet is a fairly huge challenge, so it’s nice when the work comes to me).
A bit of history; before I got into Game Development full time, I was a Solutions Architect – which is a fancy way of saying gathering client requirements and turning their idea into reality – creating technical documentation and user stories which translate directly to tasks a developer would do. Designing how everything works and what talks to what. So this job was right up my alley.
I had a voice conference with George, we got on well, had a similar sense of humour and seemed to meld well. The nice thing is, the project in question was a slightly exotic and strange in nature, which makes it a lot of fun to work on. A few days later, I had an initial call with the client and George. It become very apparent that at this point George had completely undersold the project – the scope the client wanted and the budget were vastly different. By a factor of two at least. There was no way that the client was going to be happy. I raised my concerns with George, telling him that the client really needed to scale back the scope.
This was my first mistake: I decided to better help the client, I’d do a very high level overview of the user stories based on the clients requirements. User stories (though fairly boring to read) are a great tool to show a client exactly how much work a project will be, showing them realistically how much a project will cost when you break everything down to a fine level. George was convinced this would be a great way to increase the budget for the project – so I made the mistake of doing this for free. Ten hours and 120+ user stories later, I had a huge spreadsheet breaking down all functionality of the clients initial requirements.
The next meeting between us was awkward to say the last. Telling the client that if he wanted his vision (and it is a passion project for him) to come to life – it would cost him twice what he had agreed to pay so far. Which came (understandably) as a huge shock to him and he stated that there was no way he could afford the new price. The next step was fairly simple, if he wanted the project for the price he was paying he would have to scale back the requirements and I suggested that he go through the user stories, select the most important ones and from that point we could create an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) of his vision. With it set up in a way that he could start earning from the MVP and based on the income generated from it we could potentially look into adding the other user stories, when there was cash coming in.
It became apparent that at this point George hadn’t run a project of this scale. So I spent a few hours setting up a Jira for the project, populating it with the user stories and working out which ones we would need to do in order to create the MVP. Did some work on the server cleaning up things and setting up some backend systems.
At this point, I’d worked for over 20 hours on this project for free (I’m fairly obsessive about time tracking). I was starting to get cold feet and explained to George that if he wanted me to carry on, I’d need a token of good faith from him, as I was doing this mostly on trust. I felt slightly bad for asking, mostly because I knew that this project would not go ahead unless I was on board.
I received a token amount, £100, which was all I needed to keep working – trust had been established and I had finally been paid something for the work I had done. George explained this money had come out of his own personal pocket, as he was still waiting on the client to pay. We had discussed a payment plan with the client – the idea being that the client would pay George and George would pay me from that amount.
All went well for the next couple of weeks until pay day.
I received a WhatsApp message from George saying that I had been paid, but it wasn’t quite as much as I had been expecting – I checked and it was a fraction of the agreed upon amount. I was gutted, I felt like a complete idiot and asked him what had happened. He explained that his company was going under and that if he had paid me the full amount it then his studio would have to close down and we would lose the client. As respectfully as I could, I informed him that this wasn’t my fault and that we had agreed on a certain amount and I wasn’t going to work on the project any more.
Then things got strange. He said he could pay me more next month out of his pay for the project as long as I stayed working. I put my foot down, and explained that at this point all trust between us had been lost and as such I wasn’t going to work on the project any more. He said he would go into debt to keep me on the project. It was at this point he said something which genuinely concerned me about his mental health. Then he told me I should tell the client directly that I wasn’t going to be working on the project any more. I pointed out that a statement like that (as he was in charge) should come from him, and it would only cause drama if I approached the client directly. He insisted that I told the client and told me he was going to drop the project completely.
I DMed the client on Discord and said that George hadn’t met his financial obligation to me and I was terribly sorry but I would have to leave the project. The client was surprised to say the least (as he had just paid George) and asked me exactly how much I had been paid. As we got talking, it turns out that when I had asked George for the token amount, he had asked the client for £200 to keep me on board, and pocketed a £100 himself. Again, I felt utterly stupid and humiliated for being so trusting and believing what George had said.
The client at this point had paid out thousands of pounds for this project, and had only a front end to show for it. He asked us to have another meeting which with George, where all the lies started to come out. In complete respect to the client – he handled himself incredibly professionally when faced with this (more professionally than I would have done had I been his shoes).
It was agreed that George would leave the project and I would stay on with the client paying me directly. As I said, it’s a really fun and interesting project and I’m keen to work on it – and the client is awesome to work with. He had no idea what George had been doing. All this is why there was no blog post last week, I can say I was fairly emotional after all of this.
Well done for making it this far. As therapeutic as it has been writing about this I really want to help others realize that there are people out there who will take advantage of you. It’s sad and though I am a fairly trusting person, I didn’t think I’d be taken advantage of like this. It’s been a valuable (though painful) lesson to learn. Moving forward, I am going to be a lot less trusting of people – which is sad, but once you’ve been bitten and all that. It still feels like such a rookie mistake to make, but I’ve learnt. And please, if you are freelancing, learn my lesson – don’t work for free. Trust but verify.
And George – I’m guessing you will read this: I honestly hope you get everything in your life sorted and get the help you need, up until the drama you were great to work with.
There is a lot more to read about Fringe Planet… why not try: