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Fiverr's freelance dev platform sounds liberating but won't solve crunch

(Image credit: Fiverr)

Online freelancer platform Fiverr is expanding into game development services, creating a new store where freelance animators, game designers and composers can sell their skills to interested developers. A freelance marketplace isn't normally something that I'd cover, but my interest was piqued when Fiverr cited burnout at big companies as a reason why people in the industry might want to go freelance. I wondered what a company that romanticises graft thought about crunch, one of game development's most pervasive problems. 

Fiverr's been around for almost a decade and already has freelancers selling game-related services, but the new store will gather them all together while adding a long list of new categories—there are 30 in total—covering everything from character modelling to QA, with the ability to search by genre or engine. If you need an experienced programmer for a Unity-driven RPG, you can use filters to find them. The company wants to make it easier for different kinds of developers to find the creative people they're looking for in one place, says Fiverr vertical manager Yoav Hornung.

"We noticed quite a trend both externally and internally at Fiverr," he says. "We noticed a lot of new services being created around gaming, and if you look at the industry, the gaming industry, it's a huge market. It's growing, and many huge companies are now starting to tackle it—you see Google, Apple, Facebook, and this is something we also want to be part of." 

It's a common refrain that gaming has become bigger and more mainstream, but companies like Facebook have dabbled in gaming for years, while Apple's been at it for as long as many people working in the industry have been alive. One thing that has changed is that people are becoming increasingly aware of how the sausage gets made. Allegations of unhealthy hours and harassment have been made against the likes of Rockstar and Riot, and that could make freelancing look more attractive. 

Hornung says Fiverr's offering a "valid option for those developers looking for a different lifestyle or a way of working", where they can set their own schedules and choose how they want to work, though the reality of freelancing is rarely that liberating. Sure, technically you can pick your own hours, but when you're living gig to gig, you're probably going to fill as many of them as you can with work. That sort of attitude has even been promoted by Fiverr. 

(Image credit: Fiverr)

A few years ago, Fiverr ran a marketing campaign that promoted entrepreneurship and its platform through motivational posters and billboards. The campaign was criticised for celebrating unhealthy lifestyles. "You eat a coffee for lunch," one reads. "You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer." A freelancer at the time, I could feel myself burning out just looking at them.

The language in the posters seems in lockstep with the studios being criticised for crunch. Fiverr's senior communication manager Abby Forman explains the reasoning behind the campaign, saying it was a celebration of independent workers and freelancers who work hard to build something, though they seemed a bit more excessive than that. Apparently the controversial choice in language was meant to strike a chord among the self-employed.

Fiverr (and freelancing in general) is not an alternative to a life of crunch—I had to clarify what crunch was when I brought it up—but the platform is not without its protections, says Hornung, adding that there are also benefits over offline headhunting. One of the downsides of the gig economy is that it often leaves workers vulnerable and open to exploitation, with governments being called on to create more regulations.

"When you look at the scope of work and the price, it's a lot clearer than if you're looking at the offline world," says Hornung. "So, when these services and interactions between buyers and sellers happens on Fiverr, we facilitate the whole flow. Whenever there's a dispute we have a custom support team and resolution centre that's able to tackle anything that comes up. So we believe we are providing a lot more protection and confidence in the interactions between buyers and sellers."

After our conversation, Fiverr was able to offer a few specific examples of how it apparently differs from other gigs. There's an out of office feature, for instance, that lets freelancers take a day off or holiday away from the platform without being pestered, while a queue limit lets them restrict the number of projects they take on. Freelancers still have to set their own boundaries, but these tools could make it easier.

Fiverr's gaming store is live now.

Fraser is the sole inhabitant of PC Gamer's mythical Scottish office, conveniently located in his flat. He spends most of his time wrangling the news, but sometimes he sneaks off to write lots of words about strategy games.