Full Time in Gaming

What follows is a personal story, likely too long for many to read, so if you’re looking for some sort of point, let’s go with this one: In Life you will experience ups and downs, but if you look for opportunities to get inspired and better yourself, you’ll find ways to get through all the crap.

Over the last couple of years, my life has changed in many ways. Some good, some not so much. Tomorrow I start a new chapter, taking on my first full time job in several years. During the time I was “off the market”, I was trying to build a business of my own, and having a go at a photography career, blogging and being artsy on the side. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. Basically I sacrificed security and stability for freedom and the pursuit of creative urges, and for about a decade it was how I lived my life.

In 2011 my wife got diagnosed with a couple of hardcore medical issues, and not only were there medical bills to pay, but one of the household members was also unable to work for several months. Suddenly “security and stability” became more important than “freedom and creativity”. After a few months of not finding the work I was hoping for, I took a part time job in retail to make ends meet. This allowed me to still do a bit of freelance work, and take on a personal quest of sorts.

During Kelly’s slow recovery, we played a lot of Minecraft. When she was incapable of doing anything in the real world, she could still build castles in the virtual one. It was a great way for her to stay active, or not go completely stir crazy, and for us to do something fun together. For me, playing Minecraft also rekindled a deep love of mine – creating games. Since grade school, I have been telling stories through games in one way or another. From the text adventures I would code on my old C=64, to elaborate Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. And so, I started learning about video game design theory and touching up on ye olde coding skills.

The first game I finished was Nebula Rescue for iOS. It’s not what you would call a conventionally handsome game, but I like to think that the gameplay makes up for that. I’m particularly proud of the game balance I achieved, and the way the difficulty progresses. The day someone set a high score that was more than double that of my own, I squeed. You can find it in the App Store.

My second game – Salvage Trader – is currently on Kickstarter (go back it, I’ll be here when you’re done). It’s inspired by some of my favorite types of games, space trading, exploration and little mini games to break things up. A much more complex and ambitious project, but equally more rewarding to work on.

The greatest reward however, was realizing that I really do love making games, and that I want to have a go at doing it for a living. I’ve worked with many types of storytelling in the past, from novels and song lyrics to photography and video, but there is an added thrill of the Player, and his or hers part in how that story unfolds. I hope to be able to work on games more, for many years to come.

Which is why the next big change is an awesome one. Tomorrow I start my new job, going full time, as an “LQA Tester”. If you don’t know what that means, it’s short for Language Quality Assurance. In short, I help translate and test new video games before they hit the market. It’s also a perfect opportunity to study the game design process from inside the industry – and on a much grander scale than making games on my own.

This particular change is exciting and welcome for more reasons than one. I’m happy to be back working on storytelling things, and excited that it is even in the industry I wanted to work in. I won’t miss doing photography for a living (taking pictures for fun is way more, well, fun), and I definitely won’t miss retail. Side note: I have great respect for anyone who has the stamina to work retail for years on end – having to deal with the General Public on that level is soul crunching.

I share these things in the hope of inspiring others who might feel stuck or overwhelmed by the adversities of Life. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, much of the above will already be familiar to you, which leads me to thank all those who have been supportive and encouraging through the last couple of years. Thank you!

The Year of Change

2012 was a year of fighting for recovery, even survival. Last year, my year-in-review post centered around some of the good people that had influenced my life. I could rewrite that same post today, because there is no doubt the fight would have failed, had it not been for the help of friends and family. There were some insanely tough times, and a few hard decisions were made.

I’m not going to write a long sob story, but 2012 sucked on several levels. We were hit hard with financial trouble, and dealing with the aftermath of Kelly’s Cancer treatment and surgery. Not just the bills piling up, but also the fact that she was out of commission for several months after the fact (radiation treatment is a bitch to recover from, throw in abdominal surgery for a few months of not being able to bend over or lift anything). At the same time, continually dropping sales in stock photography only made each month bleaker than the one before.

It was time to make a radical change, so I gave up on full time freelancing and got a part time job (in a coffee shop of course, I do live in Seattle after all). I’d been working for myself for about a decade, and making that change was not easy – but definitely worth it. The stress relief alone more than makes up for having to be somewhere, not in my pyjamas, several times a week. Having a reliable, base income has allowed me to focus on the things I want to do, instead of always running down the next client.

Speaking of clients, 2012 was a year full of lessons. I realize now, that most of my stress from freelancing comes from client relations. I do not like dealing with sales, and so I have promised myself two things to compensate for that in the coming year. First, I’m raising my rates. Second, I will strive to only accept client jobs that are fun and interesting.

Unless something irresistible comes along, the priority will remain my personal projects, designing games, telling stories and learning. I have many, many ideas, including photos I’d like to take – for a while there, I wondered if I had lost interest in photography altogether, but it was working in stock photography that had nearly killed my love for the medium. In relation to that, I finished off 2012 by canceling my exclusivity agreement with iStockphoto. Wow, what a liberating feeling that was!

I’m hopeful for 2013. The world didn’t end in 2012, though it felt like it was getting close a few times. What follows are a few links that mark points of interest from 2012.

  • A Nerd Comes Home – I started the year by proclaiming that 2012 would be the year I let my nerd out. I did. It’s been fantastic!
  • The Fork in the Road – in the beginning of 2012 I still had savings, still ran Another Passion and still thought I might make it.
  • It Gets Better – I was asked to be part of making this video by Mike Selinker and Stepto. It was a ton of fun to do, and the message never gets old.
  • Nebula Rescue in the App Store – my first video game to ever be sold anywhere! Launching Nebula Rescue was a major accomplishment for me. I’m a proud game daddy.
  • Hard Booting Life – from when things were pretty much their worst, financially, I wrote about looking for work.
  • “Natural 20” – a set of three songs I wrote and recorded, inspired by my love of gaming (old skool pen and paper style, specifically).

Hard Booting Life

I’m rebooting my life. Not one of those reboots where you’ve downloaded some update and now it has to restart to finalize. More along the lines of: everything froze and I had to hold the power button down until the whole thing shut off, and when I turned it back on, all I could do was hope everything would be okay! Technically, it’s still in the process of starting back up.

What happened? The short version is this: due to health and work issues, our household took a huge financial blow which sent us reeling and scrambling to pay even the most basic bills, like rent and utilities. The situation was so bad, there was no way I could chase down enough freelance work to cover the losses, and so I started looking for a job instead. As in one with a salary and benefits.

Three months into the job hunt, I had landed a few interviews and wasted a ton of time on companies with highly inefficient HR. I felt pretty hopeless at that point, but I had no choice but to power through until something paid off.

Eventually, a friend offered me a job at the coffee shop he’s managing. It’s not exactly a career job and the pay sucks, but it’s better than nothing and I was happy to take it. If nothing else, I hoped it would take the edge off the stress of not having any reliable income — sleepless nights and daily panic attacks are no fun – minimum wage plus tips is way better.

The entire process has made me rethink my priorities. Stability is more important to me now, than being my own boss. I’d love to start my own business again some day, but I would do it very differently today, and it would not be in the form of a freelance career. So here’s my new plan:

The current job is a starting point. My own personal Ground Zero. It allows me to barely scrape by, as opposed to bleeding out. The next step is to get a better job. I’m content making lattes and chai until the right match comes along, and when it does, I look forward to plunging in and getting productive. And paying off the debt I have accrued.

Maybe down the line somewhere, the perfect opportunity, idea or partnership will lead to a new entrepreneurial adventure. If not, it’s probably just because I’m happy doing whatever I end up working with. Besides, I will always keep doing creative side projects in my spare time. It can’t be helped. I must, MUST, create things and tell stories just to function as a human being. Without it, I become a dull boy.

My strength is also my weakness. All my life I’ve been producing content of some sort, as a writer, photographer, editor, even musician. My strength is knowing a lot about content creation. My weakness is not having a single, specific area in which I am the ultimate expert.

I’m a jack of all trades, but I have no regrets whatsoever in that regard. In fact, I think of it as my greatest asset. It’s just a matter of finding a position where my experience fits.

In case you’re looking to hire, or know someone who is, here are a few relevant links: