Some of this is going to get a little technical, and for that I apologize. It’s also going to meander a little around some interconnected points. Just getting that out of the way in advance. Y’all will also very quickly see why I never post: I am a shockingly long-winded person by default.
I am also going to share a (work-safe, no worries there) link that Arien shared with me, and I’ve been doing my level best to spread all over the dang interwebs ever since. It’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI—and this is all delivered by a wiser and far more articulate soul than I could ever hope to be.
Creative work is harder than most people think. This is not the kickoff to a melodramatic speech, delivered with my hand pinned to my forehead with a nail gun like some swooning Victorian maiden intent on proving martyrdom—it’s just a simple truth, stated simply. I’m not complaining about the fact that it’s hard, because when it comes right down to it, everybody’s work is hard. We may not like the work, we may just need money and will do any work we can, we may hate our boss, we may hate the dress code, the commute may be a nightmare—in some way, everybody’s work is genuinely and validly hard in very real ways that, at least to me, it’s unfair to hand-wave away without at least giving it some consideration. That’s why we call it ‘work’ in the first place. If the rewards weren’t worth the work, we wouldn’t do it. Whether those rewards come in the form of money to keep a roof over our heads in a traditional job, or in work you really love to do even if it’s not bringing in big money and the roof’s starting to get a little leaky, there’s always some balance that needs to be struck. It’s an analysis of investment vs. gain, and we all—in any job, and really in every aspect of our lives—have to take a look at that from time to time.
I’m not a big forum reader. This is directly linked to the point above, and here’s why: because more often than not, it actually makes my job a lot harder. Now, I know the immediate assumption here is going to be, ‘well everybody has to take criticism!’ but don’t go jumping the gun; that’s actually not the issue at all, at least not in my case. My actual goal is to do ‘atypical beauties’ (read: not pinup model types) and ‘wow, that’s kinda freaky/creepy/strange!’ so I really don’t expect that everybody’s going to like what I’m producing from square one. If I was into the mass-market appeal thing, I’d be aiming for the pinup crowd. (And this is no slight on them at all—so much of the work I see there is frickin’ stunning.) It’s just not ‘me’. There’s a great point in the video link above that quite accurately reflects my personal experience, and I suspect the experience of many other creative professionals. I can’t do it just for the money. I have to love what I’m doing to do this at all. I have to believe in what I’m doing—and the few times I’ve done something just because it seemed like that’s what was selling, not only did I hate the results, but I didn’t end up getting the money either. This is, in part, because there really isn’t a lot of money to go around in this market in the first place. Don’t get me wrong: you still, if this is how you make your living, need to be smart about the balance between ‘for the love’ and ‘can I keep the lights on this month?’—but I’ll come back to that.
Ann mentions something very important on this point: no matter what we as content creators choose to do, it’s always going to be ‘the wrong thing’ to a very vocal somebody. This wears you down fast, no joke, no matter how thick your skin or sturdy your armor of professionalism! This is true even if, as in my case, you don’t expect everybody is going to like you to start with. That whole ‘investment vs. gains’ analysis described above? It starts eroding the love factor. With little money in the mix, the love has to count for a lot. Again, I’m not talking about people loving you the vendor, or even loving your work and buying it or not: I’m talking about that push to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, plant rump in chair, and start working. That’s a pretty important drive for the self-employed. (OK. I will fess up to something here. I am actually a workaholic. This isn’t me being funny or sarcastic; it’s a sincere point. This is not normally a problem for me, personally, and had not been until quite recently. If I’m not working on -something-, I might actually explode. I haven’t been brave enough to test this theory, though. It’s been the case in all my previous creative jobs as well. But now y’all who have actually bought from me probably totally get why there are so very, very many MAT files. Ahem. Back to the point!)
This is a very demanding market. Its small size, in part, contributes to the fact that direct contact with the people who make things for it is far more prevalent. Odds are, the people making the tee shirts you buy aren’t as accessible. If you see a sampling of them in a store window that you don’t care for, you’re probably not going to go into the store, look at the labels for the manufacturer’s information, and contact the manufacturer and the store to say: “I don’t like your current selection. You seriously needed to make those in earth tones instead of pink, but with no hearts on them, and they should have skulls with spikes all over them or artsy flourishes instead. What were you thinking?! Do you think we’re all Barbie dolls or something? And I look like I have jaundice in pink! I want my ominous crow silhouette with lightning in the background on swirlyspirals!” (This example may or may not be extracted from the scathing letter I might or might not have written in my head to Target upon realizing that all their men’s tees were always so much cooler than the chick selection, but never actually wrote. I plead the fifth, but totally admit to being dressed ‘like a boy’ right now. *cough*) You’re just going to go to another store to find what you want, because, hey, there’s one just next door after all.
Not so much the case in this market. (Bear with me again here, what I’m going to say is probably not what you think it is!)
In this market, expressing that is far more common. The information actually can be very useful! It’s actually more useful in our small market, because we don’t have broad sweeping analytics or seasonal trend reports available in the way the provided example of the garment industry does that tell us, rightly or wrongly, that pink hearts are the in thing for everything with ovaries this season, and girls hate earth tones so don’t even go there. The trick is how to handle the flow and apply some discernment to if and how you’re going to apply the information you’ve been provided. In that video, there’s a great bit about responding to email. That was me for a while. I had become someone who professionally read forums for a living and made content as a hobby. Time management can be a huge issue, particularly when the income margins are very small, and it’s another very careful balance to strike.
As content creators, we have limits, too. Not all of us are good at everything, and it would probably surprise a lot of forum regulars to realize how often we get requests that go well beyond our limits. We have things we’re good at, and we have things we know—and we also have things we are bad at, and things we don’t know. We may have tools available on the market that don’t run on the computers we can’t afford to replace, or on the operating system everything else we use has already been purchased for, and this is one of many problems. (As a mac user, I’ve commented often on this point.) Think, too, on how many people have a love-hate relationship with any given UI out there that makes learning any given piece of software anything from a truly intuitive delight to the most wretched of teeth-grinding chores. You have your preferences on these things, too, don’t you?
Going back up a tick to that point about ‘if I don’t believe in it, and I don’t love doing it, I… can’t’. Somewhere along the line, I blinked, and realized I’ve been doing this for over five years. I still think of myself as a newcomer. I still think of myself as a novice. I still think of myself as someone who has such a vast amount to learn that I would, could, never with a straight face call myself an expert, and brand new things to learn emerge every day to add to the list. The one thing I have learned in that time as a solid fact, and know for certain, is that I absolutely have those limits described above, and not all of them are technical. I have things I think I’m good at, and whether people actually like the result or not, the result is what I intended to create. Even if it isn’t a commercial success, it is something I can call a success. If I can’t look at a product and see this in it, I will not sell it. It goes into the slush pile of ‘stick it back in the oven until it’s done or trash it’. Going way back up to the beginning, work is hard. If someone is going to spend the money they worked hard to earn on one of my products, I firmly believe that as a creative professional it is my duty to deliver them something that I am willing and able to stand behind and say, “This is what I meant for it to be, I’m here if you have any questions about it. I really hope you enjoy using it, and it helps spark your creativity.” At the end of the day, if I can’t say that, I’ve got precisely… squat, and so does my customer, and my customer doesn’t deserve that!
What I can’t deliver is ‘something that suits absolutely everyone’s possible needs or desires’. None of us can, even if we might want to very, very much. I know there are things that a number of people have wanted me to make that I know I can’t deliver, to their standards and/or my own. For instance, no matter how many people have asked me to please make some awesome clothes that have the same strange look as my girls, I still can’t model worth beans, and just the other day hopped around squealing like a kid because I finally managed to make a skullcap that didn’t look like someone had turned V4’s head into a spiky lightbulb after 5 years of attempts. This was progress, people! (Really, folks… I swear I did try! Frequently, even!) Similarly, I don’t have the ‘eye’ for male skins, either. I have actually tried repeatedly, and the results… well, I’m just going to say that while I can do male morphs that don’t make me cringe, on the skins, ‘I didn’t get so far as I did on the modeling’ and I think y’all can properly extrapolate from there just how hilariously awful it always was.
I realize people don’t likely know this, or just how much ‘quality control’ is very internal, and how much it happens even before most vendors submit anything, anywhere. Simple truth is, when plenty of people question your competence or simple right to want to make money doing what you do since other people make things for free, you’re generally not inclined to parade your failures out in public. Why? Because from many vocal poster’s opinions, you’re already a complete jerk for wanting to charge money for anything in the first place when other people can do this kind of work for free, or if you’re not a competent landscape modeler clearly you don’t deserve to be making a penny on those hair textures of yours. Plenty of others think that the moment you become a vendor you must get brought into some secret lair, possibly on a tropical island with a volcano, where you’re handed a fruity frozen drink with a little umbrella in it before being strapped to a chair straight out of The Matrix and ‘how to make content for every software platform, figure, in every permutation possible’ is downloaded into your brain. And then someone pays you money, too! I kinda wish the latter was true, because I have a little collection of those drink umbrellas going back to when I was a kid. :( Do both of those above descriptions sound completely ridiculous? Of course they do—but it doesn’t stop them from being repeated as gospel truths frequently enough to get your head spinning. But that’s why these things are generally not shown off. I’d actually love it if there was a thread some day where we could all post our spectacular failures and laugh about them, because so many of them really are amazingly funny and that kind of shared humor goes a long way to soothing the ache of the failure itself—but you’re unlikely to ever see it actually happen.
It’s no secret I prefer working in Poser. I grew up on Kai Krause style interfaces and it is considerably more intuitive to me than most other software I use as a result. DS has never run stable for me. DS4 is slightly more stable than previous versions, but it’s still not anywhere near as solid as Poser for me. I could count on my fingers how many times I’ve crashed Poser over three versions of the software since getting this computer, and it’s running constantly. I can count on my fingers how many times DS crashes on me in an hour before running out of fingers. Some folks have the completely opposite experience, and their experience is no more or less valid than mine, just as their preferences are. My experience, working in DS, though… is just not good. I am in no way saying the software is bad, or inferior, or anything like that—I don’t even think those things, so I see no reason to say them—I’m saying that my personal experience working in it ranges from ‘grinding through what I need to do’ to ‘someone please put me out of my misery’. Way back up to the first point again: work is hard. It’s not all fun and games. In that investment vs. gains analysis, entering in the ‘hard factor’ vs. returns becomes necessary.
Important note: App wars suck. They suck a whole lot. I am really tired of them and the fact that they continue endlessly also heavily saps the will to keep going. I don’t even care which side someone is cheerleading for or tearing holes in, it still just sucks. Ahem. It’s triply stressful when you do have a preference—and are immediately assumed to be a frothing, blind hater of whatever the other thing is, and itching for whatever it is to go down in flames. Those of us relying on this for a living are far, far too aware that anything of the kind would be very harmful to the ability to keep doing that, and many people would probably be surprised to realize how many of us would prefer that people happily continue to use whatever they prefer, no matter what it is, in any combination they like, so long as it makes them happy. That’s what I like to do—why on earth would I not want everybody else to be able to do the same? It’d be silly, wouldn’t it? I already know not everybody likes the same things I like, and mercy knows there’s not enough time in the world to covert y’all even if I was for an instant inclined to try.
Here’s a technical point: DS renders more slowly for me, and considerably so. To produce a thumbnail render to go with a DS preset at the standard I expect from myself, and accurately shows the qualities of the effect it is applying… each one takes 3-8 minutes to render. Seriously. Yes, even with all the tricks to speed things up applied, because I use the human surface shader, and you can best see the quality of that with good render settings and lights. I have always optimized for quality over speed, not for flashy-woo-woo shiny factor, because I believe in showing you what you are getting with that preset in that software in as much detail as possible in a 91x91 space. That 3-8 minutes is actually down from 15 or so. Really! See, I have learned some tricks. It has helped. Just not enough to make the process ‘not hopelessly ponderous’. By contrast, I can do a series of IDL/SSS renders in PP2012 in under 2 minutes each… and even then I don’t have to wait because I send them all to the queue to render once I get the actual preset done, so my real productivity from app to app is astonishingly different. (And now all you option junkies know to use the render queue for this. Do it, it’s worth it!) Similarly, I begged and traded stuff and got another version of ‘render this batch of thumbnails’ as a python script from an astonishingly generous and brilliant member of our community that, from what I can tell, is proving useful to a whole lot of folks out there. (And that is seriously epic awesome; I really cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this. I still wish he’d let me give him more stuff for as useful as this has been to me.)
There’s also another troubling point to consider: once you do something, you’re going to be expected to keep on doing it. If you don’t believe me, look over the troubles the platinum club is experiencing. Even things announced as ‘for this year only’ perks in some instances have been made the standard because you can’t roll back from where you’ve gone before—just like DAZ with Genesis. They can’t unmake it. While each individual vendor works on a much smaller scale, the same is generally expected of us: you include X once, you dang well better keep including X, or there’s going to be torches and pitchforks in your immediate future. (And if your roof is already leaky, odds are the fireproofing on your secret lair is not up to code.) This isn’t a matter of pressure from DAZ. I will go on record as saying, so there is no ambiguity at all, that I have not submitted anything to DAZ at all since Modern Muses: Paloma until just yesterday, so DAZ is not being a big bad meanie-monster bonking Poser-Happy-Girl (even if she’s dressed like a boy) on the nose, or making a rule that says she must submit to her new Genesis overlord or perish.
The items I did most recently for sale at DAZ, the Tamesis products that I sold to them outright, and Modern Muses: Paloma, took a truly monumental amount of time to produce. Working on those two products exclusively took well over 4 months, and I work long hours, I don’t take weekends off. These products had full support for Poser 6+, Poser 9 and its new features, and also DS4. They were Gen4 and Genesis, and in Paloma’s case, Gen4 and Genesis V5. Despite having the years of sales numbers right in front of me that said, ‘Adding DS support to my products showed very minimal increase in sales’, Genesis was a new thing, and it deserved a new chance. I was absolutely willing to give it that. In the forums, everyone was clamoring for it on the positive side where the world is bright and happy and you get that one step closer to giving the people what they want—and still others bashing anyone who wasn’t providing it and threatening to never buy from them again or blacklist them or badmouth them, and so on. So by carrot AND by stick, despite the warnings of many years of sales experience, I gave it a shot.
I will summarize with: It did not go so well. By that I actually mean, ‘the financial ramifications of that decision will haunt me for the next five years or more, and my family suffered serious problems with their mortgage in their incredibly kind attempt to bail me out just enough so I wouldn’t have to go into bankruptcy’. This is entirely my personal experience. It is in no way meant to extrapolate to guess at the experience of others; like everything else, it all varies. Maybe it had a bad day. Maybe people had no money that week. Maybe Saturn aligned with Neptune and both of them decided, “We really don’t like surreality, it’s time for a smite-fest. Somebody zorch a few routers near Utah!” Looking at the way I work, it is entirely possible that the set I chose to do this with wasn’t cool to anybody but me and wouldn’t have sold well no matter what—I own that, I accept that, and that is a risk I knowingly take when I do what I do. It is part of the ‘hard’ of this job. It’s entirely possible choosing that in particular was a spectacularly dumb call on my part. I’m not interested in trying to assign any blame, and even if I was, I have a big hole to dig myself out of as quickly as I can that demands my attention far too much to let myself worry about any finger pointing.
I then finished up a set inside a week for Renderosity, and… it actually brought in, in its intro period, within $1 of the one that took 8 weeks of solid dev time. $X for a week’s work (and I don’t label the sum because seriously, it’s not pretty no matter how you slice it up) is something someone can struggle by and live on while parsing out some to pay off a bill without the lights going out. That same $X parsed out over 8 weeks of work as a return… I don’t actually know if you can count it as income when it’s well under fifty cents per hour. I will have to ask the accountant on that point. (Again, I really only wish I was kidding, folks.)
Now, if you’ve managed to even make it this far into this novella of a post (for which I commend your endurance)... peek at that technical point again about speed. See the problem?
There are a couple of ways to address the problem. One, I can scale down over all pack size and have DS and Genesis support included, or I can do packs of my normal size, Poser-only. While I know there are doubtless pitchforks and torches in my future for not doing enormous packs that work in Poser6/Poser9/DS3/DS4/Carrara/Blender/Octane/Reality/etc., I know that the reasonable folks out there, who are the real majority of folks reading and commenting and are even more the majority of the folks buying, will absolutely understand this decision and the necessity for it. The products with DS support will land here if DAZ wants them. The products that don’t have it will be sold elsewhere and for the time being I am not even submitting them here, because with the stress of trying to keep the lights on, some of the intentionally rude comments I regularly get when I release something here without DS support are just not something I can really cope with any longer, particularly when adding DS support to hopefully make those people happy, finally, really did cost me in a very real way, and the time investment vs. financial return on DS support for me has already been historically very poor.
...and the last bit. Really, it’s the last bit. I have a backlog. I have a huge pile of ‘I have almost finished that and it is going well and it needs finishing’. This isn’t even counting the ‘that doesn’t seem to be working, so I will set it aside’ pile I mentioned before. All of that backlog was designed for… the big sets. So that meant, and means, that the sets designed to be smaller, for maximum compatibility cross-app and cross-figure, needed to get mixed in to ‘this is almost done and just needs kicking out the door so the bank doesn’t ask for a kidney and break my kneecaps’ pile of things I need to finish up and get selling that are already underway. Even for someone fairly ADD about project flow, it’s been… interesting. All of that backlog is for Gen4—so now is the time to get it done and out there, before something else comes along, because sooner or later, something always does. There’s one set coming thus far that should be landing here, yep, I snuck that little mention in a while ago, and I didn’t forget it either, designed for P6, P9, and DS4, with Gen4, Genesis V4, and Genesis V5 options in the mix. We’ll see how it goes.
There are no short answers, and I really do wish I had a shorter one for everyone. With a situation as complex as things are currently, to really address what’s going on, in terms of the market and in terms of my business as an individual content creator, there really is a lot of ground to cover.
A Very Important P.S. (because I warned you already that I’m long-winded): One primary reason you see people doing genesis/gen4 crossover sets is because genesis can accept Gen4 UV-mapping. This means the textures do not need to be recreated from scratch for use from one figure to the other in most cases. You cannot presently convert Gen4 textures to GNDA in the same fashion. When I price my products, I do not price them as if I was having to do the textures twice, once for genesis, and once for Gen4. I feel this would be inappropriate. I am not an exception in this regard, either. You are NOT being ‘charged a bunch extra’ for genesis texture support as some frequently claim. If I was to even attempt a character textures set that was somehow inclusive of Gen4 and GNDA it would be absolutely necessary to charge for the second set of texture work I would be required to do. As a result, the price would be considerably higher than it would be for a Genesis/Gen4 set. (And I say that as someone who absolutely IS working on products for GNDA as well. )