Minimum Wage Artists
On the reality of “starving artists” in the games industry
To my fellow artists, creatives, illustrators, and concept designers,
Do not work for less than minimum wage.
Companies like Fantasy Flight Games ask artists to do a fully painted illustration and sign away nearly all rights to that piece for just $100. That is rude, disgraceful, and downright wrong. We need to bring this to light so it can stop.
For a company pulling in tens of millions of dollars in revenue annually, surely they are capable of paying their freelance artists a reasonable rate.
$100, assuming the average artist will take around 15 hours to complete the work (factoring in communication, research, revisions, actual painting, and invoicing), will earn the artist somewhere around $7/hour, less than the current US federal minimum wage.
By most estimates, a freelancer should mentally divide any hourly rate they earn by half to compare it to any in-house, full time position (as a freelancer has additional taxes, has to factor in time for accounting and advertising, has to pay for health insurance, and has all of the overhead to supply their own equipment and work space).
So that puts our functional wage for that job closer to $3.50/hour.
“But I work a lot faster than that! I can make good money!”, they scream.
You really can’t.
If you do an $100 piece every working day of the year, ignoring all holidays and never taking a vacation even for Christmas, you will earn a grand total of $26,100 at the end of the year, before taxes.
You will work like a dog to earn less than even the median American income to do a skilled job that helps your employer earn the position of one of the largest analog game companies.
But the thing is, you won’t make that much. You’re not going to make a livable income. You’re not magically going to fill every hour of your day with doing paying work for companies. You will be like the majority of freelance artists in this field and earn below the poverty line. I’ve known far too many friends in this field who are at the top of their game and struggle to earn even $15,000. Most don’t even earn $10,000 in a year.
But nobody talks about it. We all keep our mouths shut because money and rates are taboo subjects and we fear losing our jobs. We fear to lose the jobs that don’t even pay us enough to live.
Still others will say “But you’re doing a job that you love! Don’t you enjoy doing art? Why do you have to bring money into it?” Please. Don’t get me started. I know more than a few carpenters who love their job, but a remarkable few who don’t think they deserve to be paid for their work.
Something has to change.
Artists need to be paid more. Not so we can sit comfortably and drink martinis or lounge on a beach all of the time. But just so we can be paid fairly and earn a decent, sustainable living. We’re not asking for much.
We’re only asking for enough.
So artists, do not be lured in by the prospect of working for “a big company” or for the illusory “prestige” of working on easily recognized IPs. A bad job is a bad job, and nearly anything Fantasy Flight Games will give you is a bad job.
I made the mistake of doing a few jobs for $100 when I was starting out years ago. I hope you won’t make that same mistake.