A year ago this month I launched a Patreon campaign. At the time, Google Adsense had pissed me off (watch the original pitch video for the details) and I wanted to dump the ads. So I pulled down all advertising and launched the campaign in hopes you could make up the difference. It was a success, and changed my approach to how I make content and how I view my work.
At the time I said that while talking about money is often a taboo, I think having a little transparency is good when you’re running an enterprise directly supported by the community. I don’t want to post my personal finances or anything, but I just want to give a basic idea of how things are going, what my goals are, and what I think of the work I’ve been doing.
This is going to be extremely navel-gaze-y. Proceed with caution.
The biggest change here is that the Patreon money enabled me to focus on this gig full time. Before, I supplemented my income with irregular jobs. Not fun jobs. More like, “Hey Shamus, I hear you’re a computer guy. My website is broken and would you mind crawling down into the thousands of lines of amateur ad-hocThis is redundant. Ad-hoc is the only kind of PHP you can write. PHP and exorcise the demons?” That work wasn’t fun, it wasn’t reliable, and it didn’t turn into stories that could feed this blog. It also kind of felt like a waste of my time. There are a lot of people in the world that are looking for work and can un-screw your mySQL database, but I’m the only one who can run this blog.
I was taking work from people who needed it, that I didn’t want to do, that I wasn’t really totally optimally qualified to do, that kept me from doing the blog-writing I love. I lost, you lost, the hypothetical other guy lost, and it sucked all around.
The point is: Now I can spend more time on the site.
So this is the first year where I could pour as much time into the site as I pleased. Looking back at what I’ve accomplished so far I have to say…
I’m not happy with the result.
Where Did the Time Go?
I started thinking about where all the time was going a few weeks ago when I created those slides for the “From the Archives” thing you see at the bottom of every post. You know, these things:
As I built up the master list, I noticed that the majority of my best work was from 2009-2010. Since then I’ve done fewer of the long-form analysis pieces. And that’s fine, I guess. But I kind of thought this last year should have been a return to form. Freed of the time-sink obligations, my productivity ought to shoot back up, right?
Nobody has complained, of course. But I’m not seeing the jump in the volume or quality that I assumed I’d get. So let’s look at what I did with the time…
That whole business with moving really killed my productivity for a few months. That was brutal. Then there was this…
Inspired by Strafe, I wanted to see what it would look like if you made a quasi-modern rendering engine of real-time shadows, specular maps, normal mapping, and mixed it with a low-fidelity pixelated look and chunky geometry. Sort of a “Doom 3 by way of Minecraft textures” idea. What would it look like with detailed textures and VERY low-res specular maps? What about the other way around? What if I made a shader that introduced deliberate color banding to the lighting?
I spent a lot of time on it, and the whole time I kept telling myself I would turn it into blog posts Real Soon Now. But that obviously never happened. As soon as it came together I slammed face-first into the awful truth: Bump-mapping, specular lighting, and shadows are the defining aesthetic of modern games. In the end it just looked like any other modern-ish game with the texture resolution turned down. Trying to make a “retro” look using this sort of rendering style doesn’t make any sense. It’s like trying to make “classical” style music using nothing but chiptune instruments. It still sounds like chiptune music.
So that represents a big chunk of effort that didn’t turn into blog content, didn’t lead to any interesting technology, and didn’t teach me anything terribly interesting. That probably wasn’t an optimal way to spend all those weeks.
The other major thing I did was produce two new videos: Reset Button: Do it Again, Stupid and Reset Button: Playstation3. I know some people enjoy these, but I’m always daunted by how painfully time-consuming it is to make video content. I have no idea how Chris can keep doing it. I like the videos well enough, but when I see them I can’t help but think about the ruinous ratio of my “hours spent working” to your “minutes spent being entertained”.
Also, video really clashes with my writing style. I tend to iterate a lot. If it’s a big essay, I’ll fuss with it for days, even messing with it just before hitting “publish”. But in video, you lock the text down first, then narrate it, then painstakingly match it with related images and video. That last part is where it hurts the most. I’ll get halfway done and realize I could have made the same point in far less time, made it more clearly, and used a more amusing analogy. So what then? Do I go back and re-edit the text, record all-new audio, and then fuss with the video to accommodate the changes? You can blow weeks of productivity like that.
The point is, by the time I post a video I’m usually unhappy with it and I’ve got a text version in my head that makes the case much better. Sometimes I try to iterate more on the text before I go to the recording phase, but then I just end up getting sick of the topic and moving on before making the video. Bottom line: I just don’t move at a pace that allows for a lot of video content.
I’m not saying I’m done with video forever. But I do think it needs to be saved for special topics.
So that’s where the time went. A few months of sickness, then a big move, then a stretch of recovery, a black-hole project, and a couple of videos. Time flies.
EDIT: As some people have reminded me, I also spent a couple of months making Bad and Wrong Music Lessons. Looking back, I’d call that project an overall success. I learned something, I produced quasi-worthwhile music, and I turned the whole thing into a long series of posts. That was a big win.
Where Does The Money Go?
I don’t think I made this clear in my original pitch, so I should probably do this. Some Patreon campaigns promise that the money goes towards funding “the art”. Like, “I’m going to use this money to buy better instruments and extend our concert tour to more locations.” To be clear: I am not making that kind of promise. Sure, the money does get spent on videogames and computer parts because I love that stuff, but it also gets spent on boring things needed for survival like gasoline, car insurance, running water, and cupcakes.
I say this not because I’m trying to get pityI’m well aware this is a fun job. but because I don’t want anyone to think I’m misrepresenting how the funds are spent. This year of Patreon support has given me the means to buy more games, and to get them closer to launch, but it’s also been spent on ordinary things that are of no direct value to this blog, except in the broad sense that I write better when I’m not hungry and it’s not raining on my head. I hope that’s cool with you.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I’m going to try to focus on getting back to the style of work I did a few years ago: Long-form, multi-part, deconstructionist nitpicking with the attitude that we nitpick because we love. The recent Fallout 3 analysis was the first of these. Mixed in with that should be some programming posts.
This is my Patreon page, where you can see how the campaign is doing and how many supporters I have. Thanks to everyone who supports me. If you’re nervous about giving, don’t be shy about giving small. Lots of people give just a dollarLess than a dollar, and most of the money gets eaten in transaction fees. Credit card companies HATE tiny transactions., and over a large enough group of people, it adds up to making a living.
If you don’t give, you don’t need to apologize. I’m glad you’re here and glad you’re reading my work.
 This is redundant. Ad-hoc is the only kind of PHP you can write.
 I’m well aware this is a fun job.
 Less than a dollar, and most of the money gets eaten in transaction fees. Credit card companies HATE tiny transactions.
The Middle Ages
Would you have survived in the middle ages?
Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3
Yeah, this game is a classic. But the story is idiotic, incoherent, thematically confused, and patronizing.
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.
PC Hardware is Toast
This is why shopping for graphics cards is so stupid and miserable.
This Game is Too Videogame-y
What's wrong with a game being "too videogameish"?