Time for A Change

General / 07 June 2018

The Start

I started Journey of A Games Artist in 2010 to chronicle my professional and personal journey as I searched for game jobs. It was an outlet for my growth as an artist both personally and professionally. Over the years, it’s tone shifted from “bright, chippy new kid” to “semi-professional” to “lets talk unemployment” and for the last half decade “freelance story time”. The next phase in this blog, and thus my life, is at hand.

I started freelancing full time in 2013-2014 after I was let go from WB. It was something I was forced into. During that time, the Boston area was awash in development talent from the closure of Irrational Games and 38 Studios, as well as the earlier closure of Tencent’s Boston office. I was still a bit of a junior artist then and while there were opportunities on the west coast, I didn’t have the money to make that move. In hindsight it was probably a move I could have pulled off, but I know I am not the kind of person to do that without a job lined up and boy oh boy jobs weren’t lining up. The industry was in a holding pattern as studios were waiting to see how the next generation of consoles would do. Jobs were few and far between for a non senior artist on the east coast like myself.

That’s when I started picking up freelance work. I started to find regular work with Arch Virtual in 2014, which snowballed into Motion Logic Studios, which rolled into Hangman Digital, and the ball kept rolling from there. I wasn’t making a ton of money but after choosing to move in with Kelsey and cutting a few costs I was doing OK, better than I expected in fact. Frankly, my standard of living went up on roughly the same amount of money I made while working at WB during that time.

It’s now 2018. I’ve contributed to a number of game and non-game projects in my nearly 5 years as a freelance artist. I’ve been able to work in some amazing places, namely New York City and Austin, Texas. I got to work with some big name clients  and amazing teams like Boss Key, Psyop, Vayner Media, and Bluepoint Games. Through Motion Logic Studios I may have contributed to dozens of games I don’t even know about. I don’t have any more student debt and I own a home with Kelsey, who’s now my fiancee. Freelancing has been good to me.

Until recently.

2018 has been slow. A month of slowness happens, but sustained inability for me to grab clients is rare. My regular clients have less modeling work than in the past. New prospective clients either can’t afford me, or won’t meet me half way on pay (and we’re talking significant rate cuts too). Teaching at the University has been taking more and more time for no increase in pay or any sort of full time teaching offer. This creates a feedback loop where I can’t work enough hours a week for most clients, so I lose opportunities, which means I’m more reliant on Drexel and the piece meal freelance projects I get once and a while (which then feeds back to Drexel). It has become unsustainable for any further growth.

In order to make any sort of freelancing work in 2018, I’d need to be home less and in other states more. This model is what provided me with the gains I had with my income in 2016 and 2017. I already spent a lot of those years in other cities and states. While I do still have that flexibility, I don’t really want to constantly be maintaining two different lives every 6 months or so.

Additionally, from what I’ve seen, the highest of high end freelancers are doing OK, but they seem to have a career pattern as well. I’ve noticed that high end artists get in the freelance market for a few years and then move on to building their own studios or going back to the corporate world. Tor Frick, who worked on Wolfenstein and a number of other huge AAA games and was a well known artist in the freelance and AAA space has gone on to form his own studio with a few others in Sweden. He’s the most recent example of high end artists moving on from freelance.

I’ve prided myself on following the flow of life and adjusting course based on my perception of events. In 2013, freelance was where to start. I got in before a lot of others did and was able to sustain my lifestyle. In 2016, I got the opportunity to work in New York and from that, the chance to work in Austin, the Traveling Contractor Extraordinaire. Now, in 2018, events dictate that its time to move on. First it was general slowness, then Drexel pulled classes and asked me to teach stuff I had no interest in, and finally the cluster fuckery I had with DERP (DERP is my name for a client experience I will write about in the future).

Also, if you follow the news, the economy is pretty solid. Why not try and take advantage of that before the hammer comes down in the form a recession and inflation caused, in part, because of tariffs? I might as well try to strike while the iron is hot.

The Change

As of June 18th, I will be working at DreamLine in Warminster, PA as a 3D Artist. I will start as a contractor for two months and then transition to a full time. I will be exiting the Freelance market. While my taxes will consider these two months as part of my freelance business, I am considering it the start of a new professional chapter an will not be tracking my time.

The Why

I’m exiting this market because it is no longer serving me well. My cash flow has become wildly unpredictable and it is making it hard to make actual progress. I want to spend more time here at home instead of in another state or country for along period of time. I have a wedding to prepare for. I’d like to not have to split my efforts up between 3 or 4 different jobs, giving non of them my all, just to make a buck.

I’ve also never been an employee, outside of shitty college jobs. I’m pretty well versed in 401K plans and how they work, but I’ve never had the opportunity to take advantage of one. Decent insurance that your employer helps pay for? Sign me up, especially with premiums set to rise steeply this year.

I’d be lying if I said I was a bit sad to not be working in games for the foreseeable future, but I’m all about learning and moving forward. I’ll pick up new skills here and will transfer them back to games, if I ever transition back to that industry.

That’s the thing, Games and Entertainment really don’t take care of the workers in the trenches. Games are a hit based business where you need to do well right out of the gate or have a plan in place for micro-transactions to sustain the studio. That means you can survive on a long tail or a front end surge, but banking on both is usually rare (but obviously not impossible). For VFX, it’s about how low you can bid on a project from Disney and still make a profit. This is why contracts and short term work is the norm there. They have the thinnest of margins and your 401K cost isn’t something they want to stomach.

I’m not sure there is true stability in working in a game studio, especially one that isn’t owned by you. I would like to consider starting a studio in Philly one day, but I’m definitely not there yet in many, many ways.

The Changes, Specifically 

No more gym at 4pm.

My schedule is going to be under construction for a bit. I’m commuting by train to Warminster so I’ll be waking up a 4:30 AM. This seems to be the best way I can fit in my hobbies: weight training, making art, and gaming. Over the course of my interview process (as well as meeting a small VR firm in Southampton) I got a feel for what the commute will be like. I noticed that I am just not in the mood for much after I get back. I need to get everything done early in the morning.  For the first week or two I wouldn’t be surprised for this to be a pretty rough adjustment period. It’ll be worth it if I can continue to enjoy life. Here’s the current plan:

  • 4:30 Wake Up Time
  • 4:50 Head to the gym (3 or 4x a week)
  • 5:05/10-6:00 Weights
  • 6:00 Head Home
  • 6:15-7:20 Usual Morning stuff (Breakfast, Shower, etc)
  • 7:20 Leave for Work
  • 9:15 Get to work (Bus to subway to Regional Rail)
  • 6:00 (ish) Head home
  • 8:00 (ish) Home
  • 9:30 Bed

I’m noodling with my exact fitness schedule, but I’m considering 3 visits on the weekday and one visit on the weekend for my big, core lifts (bench/squat/dead). This is more to do with how I function in the morning physically (it takes a while for my body to warm up) than the duration I’ll have in the gym. It also will let me have two days during the week where I can focus on personal projects or asset kits and writing.

That’s right, I’ll continue to work on asset kits and personal art while I’m working. This has been a huge failing of mine over the course of my career. I start working somewhere and I let my personal projects tail off. I can’t do that again, and I think DreamLine will be the place I finally fix that. I don’t expect my creative itch to be fully scratched there, so I’ll have more motivation than in the past to find time to continue to build my skills and work on my own projects.

My commute itself is long, but with the bus system up to the Market/Frankford Line, I think I can cut the morning leave time down nicely. On the train itself I’ll have plenty of time to write, watch tv, or play Vita. I’ll get time to do a lot on the train every day, just not much digital art.

You can look forward to me writing about these shifts and my experiences with them too.

What about the blog and the business of me?

What does this mean for Journey of A Games Artist and myself? The biggest changes will be the end of any personal freelance related posts. I will do a Q2 report on schedule, and one or two different posts related to freelancing, but other than that my posts, as they relate to my freelancing experience, will be winding down.

The blog itself will see a minor re-brand. I’m no longer just a games artist, and in a way I haven’t been for years. Many of my old freelance clients or jobs haven’t been for video games. It’s high time I change the brand to something that is more in line with who I am now, as an artist, professional, and person. I would continue to expect posts about my art, be they works in progress, project outlines, post mortems, and the like. That won’t change. There will be some full time work posts as well, probably after benefits packages and insurance become available (usually there is a period where you must work 90 days or so in order to be eligible for the companies’ benefit package).

I’ve always wanted to work more on asset kits and my own projects, even when I’m working on awesome projects like Shadow or Uncharted. It might not seem like it, and perhaps I won’t agree in a year, but the freedom to worry about only a single job seems like a great way to let me work on my own assets, portfolio pieces, and game ideas more. I’ve been planing a “rose3d.com re-work” for a while that centers around my assets, services, and teaching talents. For the moment I don’t think I’ll be pursuing that re-work as I settle into my role at DreamLine. Once I’m set, I’ll figure out the best way to position the site re-work as well as my self for the future.

I have an awesome kit I will be working on soon. I’m targeting SketchFab’s store first, then I will be porting it to Unreal (and perhaps other platforms) in the near future. Stay tuned for that.

It was Time for a Change

If you read my previous blog, you’ll know that I see all of this as a chance to do something new and to grow as a person. What I have been doing hasn’t worked as well as in the past, and I have no interest in burning through my small savings before the next big contract shows up at my door.

I need a break from teaching in a large, structured setting. I need stability. I need something new.

I consider this a risk. Working on-site for a non gaming company isn’t what I expected I’d be doing in my early 30’s and terrifies me. “What if this is a version of 84 Lumber, except that I’m sitting at a desk” is what runs through my head from time to time. That’s how I felt about teaching when I started too, but I ended up discovering I really enjoyed it. I hope that DreamLine, and all the new self imposed insanity that will be coming with it, works out as well as teaching did.

Except for that whole no pay raises and no benefits thing.