It’s been three years since I took ads off my site, stopped taking side-jobs, and began treating this blog like a full-time job. As in the past, I’m taking this anniversary as a chance to look back at the previous year, appraise my output, get feedback, and discuss future plans for the site.
Skip the next section if you don’t want to know about my financial situation. The short version is that things are about to change, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
I know this is weird. I was raised in a world where it was considered extremely rude to mention or ask how much anyone was making. Those were different rules for different times, and I see the need to relax them here where I’m making public appeals for support. At the same time, this still feels really uncomfortable to me. Old taboos are not easily overcome.
In the early days of my Patreon, I made a quasi-joke funding goal of $1,160 as “minimum wage”. The idea being that once people give that much, I’ll be making as much as someone who works full-time at a minimum wage job. It turns out that this is not the case.
What I found out the following April is that the income I get from Patreon is very different from income I get from an employer. Like, I have to give the IRS about a third of all my Patreon money.
Yes, actually a third. Yes, I’ve been to a tax preparer. Yes, we’ve checked the laws. This is really the case. Yes, I’m deducting that stuff you’re about to suggest. Yes, this seems really high for this country. I’ve had this conversation a dozen times and people simply refuse to believe it.
The rationale for this seemingly borked system is this: Let’s say you work for Corporation Z. They make a bunch of money. They pay taxes on it. Then they take some of what’s left over and pay YOU, and you pay taxes on THAT. This tax I’m paying on my Patreon income is simply both of those taxes combined, so that things are… fair. (Because otherwise I’d have an advantage over the corporation, right?)
At this point you’re about to get mad and jump down to the comments. “How come [some rich person] pays a lower percent of their income as taxes than Shamus does?!? This is an outrage!” I know it feels good to jump on your political hobby-horse and rock vigorously around the room, but honestly the entire topic is beyond tedious to me. It feels like I’ve just been run over by a car and a bystander rushed over and began ranting about how those IDIOTS at city hall need to DO SOMETHING about this crosswalk. You can’t imagine my apathy towards political discussions right now. Really. Don’t test my patience on this. I know you think you’re helping, but… no. Don’t go there.
It turns out that the income level for making about minimum wage in terms of spendable income is… right about what I’m making now. Somewhere around $1,700 or soI’d update the Patreon goal, but think of how that would look to someone who didn’t read this post.. Of course, I’m still making less per hour, because I work at this job about 60 hours a week. But look: This job involves playing videogames. And this isn’t like game reviewers that sometimes get assigned terrible movie tie-ins to review. These are games I pick for myselfJust IMAGINE how negative this site would be if I was obligated to keep up with the traditional review schedule of burning through a AAA game five days before launch, whether I cared about the genre or not.. I’d rather consume and analyze videogames for 60 hours a week than be footsore behind a cash register for 40. It’s not even close. You’d have to offer me doctor or CEO money before I’d seriously consider the cash register job.
I want to stress that I’m not trying to get you to give more! I know a lot of you already give. (And some of you give a lot!) And there are a small handful of people who give via PayPal who aren’t included in the Patreon figure. I’m grateful for the support and I don’t think anyone is being unfair to me.
I’m making this decision freely. I could probably make a lot more money by taking an office job I’d hate, but I’ve decided my life will be more fulfilling if I do this job for ~minimum wage income. Aside from sleeping, we spend more time working than doing anything else, so the one way to really improve your quality of life is taking a job you can enjoy doing. Very few people have this option open to them.
Is this a wise career move, long term? Probably not. I’m not getting any younger. Retirement age is coming up. I probably can’t afford to spend the next 15 years working a job with no health insuranceNOPE! I still don’t want to hear your smug political rant. where I don’t make enough to save for retirement. At some point I’m going to need to put the blog down and re-enter the workforce proper. (Or find some other way of making this work, like a hit game / novel, or suddenly becoming far more popular.)
My wife Heather cares for a very old woman. She’s 97I said last year she was in her early 90s. I was wrong.. The job pays very well, and we wouldn’t be able to make this work without that income. Basically, her job makes this job possible. So every year I tell myself “When Miss Havisham dies, I’ll need to go out and get a real job.” Well Miss Havisham is in decline, and I don’t expect her to see the end of June.
What will happen when she dies? I have no idea. Heather and I are talking about different ways we can solve this problem. It’s possible I’ll need to give up the dream and go work in a cubicle, but neither one of us is crazy about that idea.
Of course, this would all be much easier if I had a bigger audience. I’d rather 5,000 different people give me a dollar than one person give me $5,000. But I’m also wary of doing anything crazy in pursuit of a larger crowd. If the stupidity of EA has taught us anything, it’s that neglecting your loyal audience in pursuit of a larger one is suicide. Dead Space and Mass Effect both show that not only does it fail to attract those new followers, it will also alienate your base. Worst of all, it causes you to make shitty content.
The point is, I’m not planning on making any big changes. Maybe I’ll write a book or maybe I’ll release a game, but this site is still the priority and any other projects need to fit around it.
Again, this is not something any of you can change with your personal donations. This is just the reality of the situation I live in. Barring an explosion in popularity, sooner or later a change is coming, and I don’t know what it will be or what it will look like. I’m just trying to stretch this gig out as long as I can.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s change the subject.
How is the Site Doing?
This is probably the happiest I’ve been with the site in years. I was thrilled to see that my total output is in the neighborhood of two Tolkien-sized novels a year. That’s over and above any personal goals I might have set for myself. I’m also really happy with the site presentation right now.
So things are great. I like the content I’ve been putting up. In an ideal world I’d have something visual to go with all this text. Maybe a text play or a comic. I keep toying with ideas for that stuff, but the lightning hasn’t struck yet.
A few weeks ago I asked my Patrons for questionsIt was on a private post and I forgot to ask for permission to use their names publicly because apparently this is my first day on the job. If you’d like to have your name on your question just identify yourself in the comments below, and I’ll add it here.. Here are a few:
For what it’s worth, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how patronage has treated you. I remember there was a lot of anxiety when it seemed that it would become your primary income stream. Has it ultimately proven a feasible model for you and your family?
I know I mostly answered this above, but I’ll add that I think that Patreon seems to be a much more stable source of income than I expected. It might not be quite enough for my particular situation, but if I was younger, single, or living in a country with lower housing costs, then this income would be amazing. It’s clear by now that Patreon isn’t a fad, and even if it ultimately doesn’t work out for me I think it will work for a lot of other people. Unlike advertising there’s much less seasonal variance, unpredictability, and personal compromise.
Jack Conte is the creator of Patreon. He started it in order to fund his music. He’s given a number of talks like this one over the years that have convinced me that his heart is in the right place and that Patreon isn’t going to collapse or turn evil anytime soon. Even as the founder, he doesn’t take a salary from Patreon. He makes his money from his supporters, the same as I do. Since we have the same source of income, his incentives align with mine, rather than oppose it. Like, if Patreon made diet soda then if he wanted more money he could get it by charging me more. But right now anything he does to make Patreon more profitable for him will also make it more profitable for me.
Any plans to write another novel?
I have been talking to my brother for months and bashing out ideas for another Witch Watch novel. He’s been on me for ages to write a sequel. It could happen!
Why do birds suddenly appear when you are near?
It’s the birdseed, man. Birdseed.
Any plans to actively seek out new partners for the podcast/site after the unfortunate schism?
I’ve got more than enough volunteers to start up the podcast again if I wanted to. I might do that eventually, but lately I’ve been spending those hours on writing and coding.
In the wake of Spoiler Warning leaving the site, I’m mostly interested in what your plans are for the time that’s freed up – any plans to write about Factorio or has that dream been quashed?
While the circumstances surrounding the split were unfortunate, I have to say it feels pretty good to be able to focus on the writing. Spoiler Warning+Diecast took about 5 or 6 hours on Saturday nights. Then I spent another few hours during the week watching the episodes as they appeared and writing up a little post to go with them. So that content cost me about the length of your average workday.
Spoiler Warning also created a lot of hassles that annoyed me and messed up my workflow. I like to let a post take shape in my head before I begin writing, and after I’m done writing I like to let it sit for another day before I do a final proofread / gut-check. I don’t always do things this way. For example, this post was dashed off at the last minute. But I like having the option to let posts simmer. For reasons that aren’t worth getting into, the video posting schedule was always at odds with this and we could never find a system that made everyone happy. I look at a lot of those old Spoiler Warning posts and think, “This would have been way better if a couple of these were mashed together, proofed a little better, and edited down to their most cogent points”.
Sorry if you were a fan of that content, but I’m not eager to do that again. The 8+ hours spent doing that is going back into writing the long-form stuff, but I can’t really point at any one series of posts and say, “THIS! This is what you’re getting instead of Spoiler Warning!” I imagine I’ll be posting more words. Or if not more words, then more thoughtful and less dashed-off words.
The following questions are all from the same person, bullet-list style:
Is your content backlog still growing? I’d think video-game time would be eating into it by now.
Correct. The backlog is still pretty damn big, but it’s stopped growing now that I have so much to play.
Batman is about to wrap up. After that I’ve got a two-parter on Diablo III, and after that is another Batman-sized series on the Borderlands franchise. I think it’s important to have lead time on those things. There was one time I abandoned my Thief 2014 write-up, and that’s always really bugged me. Since then I prefer to have the rough draft of a series complete before I start posting it, just to make sure I don’t create any more orphans like that one.
I’ve also recently begun a series on Prey 2017. I have no idea when that will show up. It’s still pretty rudimentary.
And then there’s the series on Fallout 4 that’s still lingering at half-finished after 18 months. I take it out and tinker with it every equinox or so, but I can’t decide if it needs to be a short series or a novel. There’s a lot wrong with the game, but not all of the flaws are worth talking about. I mean, yes, the dialog wheel is bad. Do I need to be the millionth person to complain about that? Maybe not. But a lot of the flaws are connected. I’d like to do something short-ish, but every single time I try to make something short and focused I end up getting side-side-sidetracked talking about nested design flaws and systemic Bethesda gameplay issues. I should probably finish this while people still remember Fallout 4.
You’ve said before that you rarely get out of the house due to travel anxiety, but you’ve been to Texas (twice?) now. Any tips for similarly need-to-have-a-plan-for-everything afflicted?
Note that I’ve only been to Texas once. I have no advice. It never gets any easier for me.
Is there a chance you’ll return to your Free Radical roots with a Prey inspired fanfic scifi story?
Very unlikely. Although like I said above, a Witch Watch Novel might happen. I do have another Cyberpunk novel I’d like to write, but I think Witch Watch is the better time investment.
Any thoughts on the concept of Intellectual Property (not laws or anything, just the idea itself)?
Not anything deep. While I’m not going to throw in with the anarchists and declare copyrights and patents should be abolished forever, I see tremendous value in Creative Commons, the
A concrete example: I think game companies could give away the source of their old games and it wouldn’t hurt their bottom line in the slightest. It would be educational, it would make sure the games survive future compatibility walls, and it would help renew interest in those old titles. You could even make the case that releasing the source code for (say) Morrowind would lead to a boost in sales because people would need the data files to tinker with the code, and the easiest way to get that stuff is to buy it on Steam.
I’d personally love it if I could find a situation where I could produce code, give it away, and still somehow pay the bills. Maybe something like a Patreon-backedHopefully the same Patreon. The LAST thing I’d want is it run two! open source game. My current experiments with Unity are – aside from the educational benefits – an attempt to see if such a thing could be feasible. Honestly, I very much doubt if this is going to go anywhere, but I’m willing to throw some time into it and see what I get. This is just the latest in a long line of crazy schemes designed to keep me doing this job for as long as possible.
If nothing else, we should get some good blog posts out of it.
You’ve never met most of your fans in person, and maybe that’s how you like it. Ever thought of doing a live Twenty-sided meetup? Maybe run a three-session RP campaign or something?
I don’t think I have the fan density for that to be feasible. If I met up with every fan in a 500 mile radius, I doubt we’d have enough people to properly staff the bridge of the Enterprise, much less have an “event” worth going to.
How has your creative inspiration process changed over the years?
The inspiration remains unchanged: I write when something annoys or delights me to the point where I need to talk about it. It’s a lot more automatic now. I honestly wonder how I’ll cope with life if I ever go back to a cubicle. I spend a lot of time writing in my head. It used to take a long time to figure out what I wanted to say, but now it just seems to happen.
Well, that’s the end of year three. Thanks so much for reading. The Patreon is here, if you’re of a mind to join in. You can also do a one-time PayPal thing if you’re not looking to make a commitment.
 I’d update the Patreon goal, but think of how that would look to someone who didn’t read this post.
 Just IMAGINE how negative this site would be if I was obligated to keep up with the traditional review schedule of burning through a AAA game five days before launch, whether I cared about the genre or not.
 NOPE! I still don’t want to hear your smug political rant.
 I said last year she was in her early 90s. I was wrong.
 It was on a private post and I forgot to ask for permission to use their names publicly because apparently this is my first day on the job. If you’d like to have your name on your question just identify yourself in the comments below, and I’ll add it here.
 Both kinds of free.
 People who run companies and don’t personally create the stuff.
 Hopefully the same Patreon. The LAST thing I’d want is it run two!
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
The Best of 2016
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2016.
The Middle Ages
Would you have survived in the middle ages?
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.
The Plot-Driven Door
You know how videogames sometimes do that thing where it's preposterously hard to go through a simple door? This one is really bad.