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What Playing Computer Games Taught Me About Freelancing

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Unless you’re creating apps or designing characters, computer games and freelance work rarely go together. They suck time, cost money and fill your thoughts with images of blasting aliens when you really should be considering a project or planning new ways to market your business. But those hours spent slaying orcs and building space stations could actually help to build a freelance business.

Here’s what computer games can teach you about successful freelancing.

Better Social Media Relationships from The Sims

Writing on CreateaWebsite.com, a site-building service, Kiesha Easley confessed that her addiction to The Sims, a strategy game in which players help computerized people make friends, build relationships and have a good time, “added up to days… while making no real progress” in her own life.

Those hours though, she argues, weren’t a complete waste. Although The Sims offers a simplified version of the mechanics of relationship-building, they did provide lessons that she was able to apply to social media.

Meeting new characters in the virtual world, for example, can take time but attempting to skip past the game’s getting-to-know-you phase and moving straight to the more advanced aspects of a relationship tended to provoke negative reactions. Small talk in The Sims has a purpose: it prepares the ground for the more valuable interaction that comes later, and leaving it behind to take the goodies immediately carries a price.

The same, Easley noticed, occurs on social media sites. Twitterers frequently pester important members to follow them, visit their blog or buy their product without investing first in conversation. A better strategy, she argues, is to act like a Sim: get to know new people first and the rewards will flow in later, by themselves:

“Try retweeting someone else’s posts, sharing their work on other networks, or even simply asking how they are doing, and pretty soon you’ll discover them returning the favor,” she suggests.

Relationship lessons aren’t limited to games whose main goal is to create a community though. Killing people can be a good way to make friends and, more importantly for a freelancer, understand the value of teamwork.

Freelance work tends to be fairly solitary. It tends to involve lots of time in front of a monitor, hacking at a keyboard and talking to yourself. The closest thing to sociability that many freelancers come to in a working day is ordering a coffee from the barista. That makes the occasional times when they’re forced to work together with other freelancers unfamiliar. But it’s also often necessary.

Designs have to be implemented with coders; sales copy has to suit the changing demands of the marketing team — and vice versa.

Gaming used to be solitary too until consoles learned to talk to each other and gamers were able to co-ordinate their actions with both friends and strangers around the world. It’s a vital part of raiding in World of Warcraft, an aspect of the game that even the most antisocial of gaming geeks can’t do alone.

And in the process, you come to practice all of the elements essential for teamed freelancing: the strategy meetings, the forced pace, the need to excel at your contribution to the team and, of course, the shared satisfaction when it all comes together that actually amounts to a sense of pride greater than that produced by a solitary achievement.

Killing dragons as part of a team teaches that “We did that!” beats “I did that!” — and helps you to do it, too.

Strategy Games Develop Business-Building Skills

If managing the lives of virtual people helps to manage relationships with important people online, and slaying monsters or shooting terrorists in groups can build team skills, then how much more useful can real strategy games be?

According to Collis Ta’eed, creator of the TutsPlus blogging network, very useful indeed.

For Ta’eed, the challenge in Starcraft, in which players have to manage their resources and plan their growth and expansion carefully, matched the early problems he encountered while developing his blogging business.

“[I]n many ways, it was kind of like being in one of those strategy games,” he wrote. “I had a little base, with a few posts going up a month, some resources coming in, and one guy to do my bidding – me! While not a bad situation to be in, I wanted to expand.”

His first blog, Psdtuts+, was bringing in about a thousand dollars in advertising a month, generated mostly through advertising, so like an ambitious starbase builder, he started using those resources to hire tutorial builders. That allowed him to grow a little but the extra costs meant that he still wasn’t generating profits.

He created a membership plan to provide source files, a step that took a lot of saving and plenty of hard work but, he says:

“as all players of strategy games know, this is often the case in building a pivotal part of your base.”

That new base moved the site from break even to profitability, at which point Ta’eed could have sat back and built up some cash reserves. But, he points out, in strategy games when your income grows, you build more. He did the same, hiring an editor, commissioning some celebrity writers, expanding the posting schedule and even building a sister site. As those expansions bring in new revenue, he’s been able to continue training, expanding and harvesting more resources.

So game-playing can:

  • Sharpen the communication skills you need for social media.
  • Provide practice for the teamwork needed from some freelance projects;
  • Train freelancers in resource management, scaling and business-building.

But it can also do something else. Games take time and however much you tell yourself that blasting bad guys or improving your starbase is really work-training, you can’t help but feel at least a little guilty that you’re not putting the training from the previous session to work. Because freelancers only earn for the hours they spend producing, battling aliens also provides an acute awareness of the value of billable time.

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