Making a living (gladly) as an iPhone freelance programmer

On February 20, 2010, in Experiences, by Steffen Itterheim

At the moment my first project with Ravensburger Digital is being tested. I’m eagerly awaiting feedback and if all turns out well it could be ready for release next week. In the meantime i’ve sent out 3 more project proposals, i have at least two others yet to be done, then there are two promised and three ongoing talks for potential projects or cooperations, former colleagues would like to hire me for an incredibly interesting project and finally there’ll be a minor update for 51 Japanese Characters coming soon and we’re thinking about potential spinoffs and cooperations to create a “Characters” series. There’s one more option to consider still: making a living on the iPhone App Store by publishing my own game(s). All i really need for that is some spare money to pay someone else to create art and audio for me. I’m also looking into proposing a business opportunity to a 3rd party whose work i admire and adore – so yet another option, this one i follow through simply out of sheer interest in the product that particular company creates – and it’s got nothing to do with computer games at all!

Overall i’d say i really enjoy being in such high demand, and i feel kind of bad already that i’ll eventually have to choose between some of these outstanding proposals. If i could clone myself i think i’ll need more than just one clone. I’m actually considering something similar to what Dr Touch is doing: a band of freelance game programming brothers working under one name and distributing the workload based on qualification, free time and interest in the project. In the long run it could lead to me actually starting a game programming service company, who knows? But let me not get ahead of myself, i’m still working on the base technology for my cloning facility.

I really, and i mean really, wonder why none of my other colleagues have chosen to go that road? I have some thoughts … because those were mine and i do what everyone does: i conclude that what i experience, others experience as well.

When i was first thinking to work as freelancer in late 2009, i expected to spend most of my time alone, to be disconnected from the people i have to rely on to get a job. To have a huge problem reaching out to contacts and getting them interested, or simply making new contacts. My worst imagination had me begging for projects for low prices just so i could sustain a living. But to the contrary, now i could easily find enough work for two. I’m lucky that i know some people who do have the contacts and that’s just as important as having the contacts yourself. And the payment … well, i’m currently expecting to earn more than in my last year as an employee with bonus program and stock options. But of course i have higher running costs as well.

I also worried about all the extra costs a freelancer has, and all the paperwork it involves. Especially considering taxes, and paying them monthly in advance. Let alone the process of registering a business and running it properly, with all the legal and tax issues to be considered. It turns out that a helpful tax consultant is worth a lot – if only to take away those uncertainties and worries. Yes, i just spent an hour filling out my first tax form – and 15 minutes on the phone with my tax consultant to make sure i’m making the important checks and correct entries that are in my best interest. Time well spent.

In addition i was put off by certain internet platforms  offering work for freelancers. I get a daily summary of jobs offered and over the last 2 months there have been only 2-3 iPhone programming jobs offered. The rest required absurd skills in insurance policies, high-technology systems, low-level engineering, highly specialized areas of expertise – it’s all about buzzwords like Kordoba, SAP BPS, CATS, ABAP-OO, SOA/ESB, Microsoft SCCM, Citrix, PL/SQL, HFM, PMO and roles like Process Analyst, IT Security Manager, Online Banking System Expert, Solaris Administrator, Oracle Consultant and of course the obligatory Business Analyst. Definetely not the kind of jobs i would know anything about. And that painted a skewed picture of demand – if you look in the right places, or advertise yourself in the right places (such as the cocos2d forum through which i got 2 contacts) and have the right contacts in your business it does become obviouswhat the answer to the question “What should we call a developer who concentrates on developing for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad?” is: in demand!

I’m still accepting offers and i’m always happy to talk about potential cooperations – if you think that’ll be interesting for you, check out my application website with CV and references. After all: more options means i can get to choose the best job at the right time.

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8 Responses to Making a living (gladly) as an iPhone freelance programmer

  1. […] Making a living (gladly) as an iPhone freelance programmer […]

  2. Joe Foulds says:

    Hey there!
    My band just recorded our very own full song!!!

    Check it out, we’ve learnt a lot from your blog! :)

    • GamingHorror says:

      I was tempted to think this was spam but since i can’t see any commercial affiliation i have to assume it’s an honest human-made comment. In that case, glad i could help! :)

  3. Justin Knag says:

    Do you feel you need to write iOS games (instead of apps in a different category) to be self sustaining?

    • Personally, I feel I need not to rely on making my own App Store apps. I find it more satisfactory to target the developers directly. After all, that’s what my job was for the past ten years. Yes, I made games but most of the times I enabled and supported others to create the game we were making.

      I would only develop and release and app or game on the App Store if I want to do that app for a particular extrinsic reason. For example, if I’d simply be totally interested in the subject matter, like building an epic old-school Ultima-style RPG world with location-services enabled Mini-MMO gameplay (eg people in your area can team up). If I’d be into that, I’d make it and not care about the revenue. If I need to be sure I can base a living off of something, I would shy away from depending on a restrictive platform (eg the App Store) and a market that’s flooded (eg. the App Store) and hard to connect with your audience (eg. the App Store). The same can also be said about the Android App Store, Xbox Live Indie games, and so on.

  4. Robert Muwanga says:

    I am a recent graduate in computer science with moderate programming skills. Indeed nothing is worth more than getting sufficient experience before one embarks on a freelance career. But considering the way things are now particularly in different parts of the world, its quite hard to get experience through the normal ‘job’ route especially when no one is hiring. In such a situation and in your opinion, how would one be able to gain the necessary experience and confidence to try and jump start his freelance career, and how does one decide the platform and language to jump into? Why choose to let’s say develop on the windows desktop platform rather than the Mac platform for example? How does one make these tough decisions when choosing his first platform?

    • I think it’s rather straightforward for an indie dev: pick a platform you’re comfortable with, and that’s relevant enough (ie not a total niche).

      If your goal is to rack up your portfolio then visibility and demand for developers working on that platform is another plus.

      Personally I would recommend the Corona SDK because it’s relatively easy to make apps, and at first you might want to make as many “small but cool” apps as possible to have something in your hands, something to show to others. You might even want to scour the job platforms like odesk to work on smaller, possibly underpaid jobs just to get some money back. But to be honest if you get paid $500 to do an app you could as well make your own app and earn $50 a months, possibly more. Over time, that’s going to be worth a lot more than an underpaid job.

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