I started 2017 with a very clear goal in mind: Go to Austin, show up at Bluepoint Games, and work really hard. I didn’t know the game I was working on, I just knew it was good to be back with a AAA team. The rest would fall into place.
When I sat down to write my goals for 2016, I was in a mixed place. My gut told me that 2016 was going to be a big year but I didn’t have any real proof of that. I had a number of questions I was working to answer. What I did know was that I had 3 questions every decision had to answer:
- Does it support a better version of myself, my business, and my relationships?
- Do I believe in what I’m doing?
- Can I give X 100%?
2016 ended up being a big year because I made choices that answered those questions in a positive light. Those choices helped set up 2017. 2017 was an even bigger year, but it’s hard to say how it will impact 2018.
As 2017 came to a close and rolled into 2018, I’ve had to step back and examine not just the immediate surroundings of my life, but the changes I know will be coming in just a few short years. My goals for 2018 reflect the general sense of uncertainty I have regarding the future. It’s not fear, it’s not worry, it’s the knowledge that choices I make now will have some effect down the road.
I noted in my notebook that 2018 is the year of options as long as I execute well, and that none of the options are necessarily wrong. Wrong might not be the correct term. I think some of the choices I will eventually make in 2018 will set up a stronger 2020 or 2022 than others, and that’s important to remember.
Goals regarding Drexel are relatively unchanged for now. I continue to enjoy teaching and the freedom that being an Adjunct brings. As long as I have 3 classes a quarter, I have a base level of financial stability (this generally means I can pay my bills). Traditionally, the Summer Quarter is the quarter where I don’t have any classes lined up. I’m looking to change that this year, assuming I don’t do any contracts on-site. Many of my students this past year have suggested that there be a game-centric (if not just a general) texturing class. Students need to know how to use Photoshop to create textures and not to rely on Substance Painter. It’s something I plan to talk to the program leads about.
Longer term, I need to have a few discussions with some of the faculty at the school. When I was writing out my goals, the idea of being a full time professor came to me. Would I be happy? Can I work on my own games while also teaching? Am I required to do research and write papers that I don’t want to? I don’t know. I have questions I need answered and I plan to get that figured out sometime this year, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Remote Contracts and Freelance
There is no doubt in my mind that part of the issue I’ve had finding solid remote work the past few months stems from my time in Texas. I didn’t focus on freelance at all while I was there. When I returned, I went back to my old ways of scouring the Polycount and Unreal Engine Forums, checking ArtStation, tweeting, and even using Upwork to find leads. I came close to two huge contracts but both went in different directions that were better for their particular visual styles. Other than those two contracts, It’s been hard to find work that pays well enough for me to consider it. When you factor in that a long time client has reduced their pay as well, I’ve had to step back and examine the current Freelance landscape. What has changed since mid 2016?
Most of my client base leading into 2016 came from word of mouth or Polycount Forum postings by small studios or individuals who had clear visions. Some of those visions did not come to pass, but in general, I had solid work for pay that ranged from not great but consistent to good and semi inconsistent. It’s not the worst mix. 2016 started with a big client who, once I finished up half of the work expected, stopped returning my emails (I was paid for the work done so I didn’t push the issue much). I had a number of smaller clients that filled in some gaps until I went to New York, where I worked with Psyop and Vayner Media. To close out the year, I worked with Karl Strauss Galleries on a visualization of their new gallery. I was more or less booked solid until mid December. Then I went to Texas to work on Shadow of The Colossus. During the time I spent working with larger clients on a mix of game and non game projects, the digital distribution platform Steam continued to evolve. In addition to being THE place to sell your independent game, it also became a place for greedy developers to try and make a quick buck or for the inexperienced to get a shipped title added to a resume. During 2016, over 4000 games were released on Steam. In November of 2017, it was reported that 6000 games were released on Steam. In the two years where I’ve been working on large contracts, over 10,000 games were released on Steam. More than likely, most of those games are a mix of asset flips (games made by buying pre-made assets and code and duct-taping them together with no changes or original uses) or games made by inexperienced developers who are working to get a published title out. If you watch The Jimquisition on YouTube at all, you’ll be very familiar with Jim Sterling’s critiques of Steam’s quality control.
With tools being cheaper than ever, the ability to distribute your game costing almost nothing, and more people wanting to make games than ever before, the landscape has shifted so that it’s difficult to trust forum posts anymore, even on reputable sites like Polycount. Yes, you might be signing up to work with a developer who has a track record and some funding, but you might also be signing up to work with a 14 year old kid who is using his first credit card with a $300 dollar limit to fund his MMORPGFPSRTS.
I’m in a place where I can turn down work that doesn’t pay what I’m worth or is for a client I don’t believe I can trust. I also don’t turn away everything that I probably should. As long as there’s a deal to be made, I negotiate. This has led to some issues, both in the past and more recently, where I have taken on work that I, for various reasons, should have passed on.
I’m still figuring out exactly what to do, but after discussing the market with a valued colleague and discussing the topic with my brother, I think my approach needs to change. If I’m being honest with myself, it should have changed a few years ago.
My initial goal was to hunt for 1 big contract starting in March, and have it be either remote or on-site. I now think this should be my focus. Instead of filling gaps with smaller work with less reputable clients (with projects that may never see the light of day), I need to consolidate those gaps into taking on fewer but larger projects with clients who have some sort of a track record and funding. My work experience speaks for itself, and as a freelancer, I’ve been tracking my efforts long enough that I can provide detailed quotes that will be accurate if I’m working for a fixed dollar amount. The market has shifted and the mid tier that I made my money in from 2014-early 2016 has been compressed downward. In 2018, it’s time to focus in on the hunt for bigger fish.
So what will I do if I’m focusing on big fish and not focusing on gap fillers?
Every year since 2014 I’ve always had a goal to get some assets up on The Unreal Marketplace or Unity Store and sell them. I’d like to combine that with the ability to sell the source assets via my site and a PayPal button. It hasn’t happened because I’ve been delayed by contracts. Big contracts, small contracts, away contracts, or burnout because of contracts, I’m delayed by all of them. 2018 possibly presents an opportunity to finally start selling something, and maybe to do more.
I almost had an asset kit done at one poit. It was a Pots and Pans kit. However, I made a number of mistakes building it and it wasn’t a project I was truly into. Perhaps it is worth revisiting again. It’s a kit that’s quick to make, easy to customize (if I build intelligently and don’t split time like last time) and something I can see a number of possible developers (of all kinds) standing in line to buy.
I also would like to sell my current Park Scene once it’s done. It has a number of generic assets that others can use, and the few assets that aren’t generic can be modified to remove logos that might cause legal problems.
If I’m focusing on hunting for big contracts, I think making my own content is the perfect gap filler and skill-set builder. I can pick what I make, sell parts of or whole environment kits, and have a drip feed of income for the entire year. It also might be the perfect way to fund projects of a grander nature.
‘Member NONA? I ‘member!
Project NONA was a project that I started prototyping for in 2015. I got a simplistic whitebox demo working and then the demands of teaching and contracting took over my schedule. In addition, I realized I scoped out a game that was far too large for me to complete with no budget.
That idea however, of making my own title, hasn’t died. I’ve kept it alive, work-shopped it down, and have taken notes of many games that exist in similar genres the past year. I have a few ideas I’d like to explore with most of them being much smaller versions of NONA. Think of them like short stories in game form. I can’t say I will start these projects this year, but they are in the back of my mind and might factor into the choices I make this year.
Last year I was able to purchase some equipment that helps with my work speed and quality (a new awesome Intous tablet and 16GB more RAM) and with my ability to take on new work remotely (Oculus Rift). It was well worth it already.
In 2018, I may be looking at a new full build. My current PC will be 4 years old in March. She’s still running strong and can play most games at Max or close to Max at 1080p. I’m able to run most VR applications properly as well. I also know that moving up to the latest Intel Processors, adding 4 more cores, and having a brand spanking new GTX whatever will set me up for another 4 more years. I don’t think I need a new build quite yet, I believe I can sit tight for another year thanks to my over-clocking, but I really did enjoy the speed the machines at Bluepoint gave me.
If I did a new build, what would I do with this desktop? I’d probably hand it down to Kelsey. She could use it (and a new desk) and have a killer at home setup, much like myself.
2018 Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of Awesome
In my notes, 2018 was a year of no wrong choices, no right choices, and mild uncertainty. Choice and future consequence, in addition to market forces, will drive what I do. In the process of writing this blog and in talking with friends, I believe I’ve narrowed down my choice and intentions. In some ways, now is the perfect time to take a big risk in going for bigger, notable clients. I have a base level of stability that makes investing time and resources into original content viable, and I have freedom to work away as needed if the opportunity arises. If I find a large contract that is fully remote, I get the best of all worlds. It’s a gamble, but the more I have throught on it, discussed it, and written here about it, the more I’m prepared to spend 2018 being a gambler.
When I have gambled on myself before, I’ve done fairly well. If only my casino luck was the same.
Bring it on, 2018.