The Alphastream Game Design Blog

What Can a Freelancer Earn?

Episode 3 of Success in RPGs is out, and it deals with the terrifying topic of Freelance RPG rates! Why terrifying? Well, because I run the numbers on various word rates and what it is like to try to make a living off of them.

At the beginning of the show I ask three questions:

  1. What rate do you think of as being a “good” word rate?
  2. How many projects do you think a freelancer can do in a year? For example, how many 4-hr adventures of roughly 10-20k words could be written per year?
  3. How many months or years would it take a freelancer to write half of a core RPG book – say 160 pages or 100k words?

I run the numbers for these scenarios in the video, trying to get to the bottom of what word rate is a good rate and what that means.

Word Rate Matters

As we get a better word rate, the same amount of work provides us much better revenue. The difference can be substantial at the project level!

Yearly Income

To figure this out, we need to determine how many words we can write in a year, as well as the word rate we think we can land on average. And, we need to determine how many days can be true working days. This is a tricky question, because it can take many days to land good work or for a project we land to actually start. Then we have days when we are researching or outlining, plus those dreaded days where we decide the whole thing we wrote would be far better if we rewrote it!

You can see in the video how easy it is for our yearly income to be a very low number – so low that we can’t cover our cost of living (we will look at this more closely in a future episode).

It is important to note that a freelancer’s salary is a number from which we have to pay taxes, and it comes with no other benefits. After taxes, it must cover any retirement plan, any health insurance, any sick days, etc. Most full-time jobs will provide health and retirement benefits that can be a huge part of our income.

Total Words for An Income

I then flip this around by taking a word rate we think we can reliably land, and determine how many words we need to write in a year for a desired income. Earn 0.12/word and want to earn $80,000/year (before taxes, before healthcare, before retirement, etc.)? We will need to write 666,667 words each year. That’s the equivalent of writing the D&D 5E PHB, DMG, Wild Beyond the Witchlight, and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything… each year! For a salary of $60,000/year, we can drop Witchlight from the list.

Number of Projects

Another way to look at this is how many medium-sized projects we might need to write for a given income. With a word rate of 0.12 and 20,000 words in a project… we need to land 25 projects to earn $60,000 (before expenses) per year. That’s 500,000 words, plus all the time it would take to land those 25 projects!

Did you know that “freelance” comes from mercenaries hired by lords and nations?

I hope this episode is useful to everyone. I’m very thankful for the recent rise in word rates. A rate of 0.20/word and even 0.30/word is possible in this industry thanks to companies working to pay as fairly as they can. I hope rates continue to rise, making freelancing more viable. In the next episode I will look at budgeting, and in later episodes I will talk about other ways to tackle this problem. As always, feedback on the show is welcome. We will also soon have at least one design workshop where we look at my design process.

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4 comments on “What Can a Freelancer Earn?

  1. DHCross
    October 11, 2022

    I haven’t heard of anyone paying much higher than 12 cents a word…which tells me only that I have become out of touch with the ceiling on word rates in the industry. It is difficult to know who is paying what rates, unless it all boils down to individual negotiations.

    • Alphastream
      October 12, 2022

      Word rates have fortunately increased with some companies. MCDM has publicly shared that it pays 20 cents a word. Most of the offers I have had in the last year have been at a rate that is close, or even higher to that. But, I also know there are major RPG companies paying 8 cents or worse per word. I generally don’t hear of too much negotiation, unless the person is very established.

  2. Dan Cross
    October 18, 2022

    I think the industry needs an updated version of this;

    • Alphastream
      October 18, 2022

      Absolutely! Though… I know some rates on that list have not changed recently because I turned down work from them!

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2022 by and tagged , .


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