Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art and Money: a Tragic Tale

Extra Credits is moving.

For those of you who've been following me, you know that one of the greatest shows on the internet in my humble opinion is Extra Credits. Three people discussing video games through the lens of art criticism.  Not only is everything they say intelligent and entertaining, but it's all really useful to story-makers no matter what their medium. Seriously, go watch it.

The story goes: they started out on YouTube, but a year ago got picked up by The Escapist. Now, however, after arguments involving IP rights, unpaid wages, and very large sums of fan-donated money, the show has left the Escapist and has also found itself down a year's worth salary.  It will be returning to YouTube until they can find another host.  You can get the whole story on their facebook page here.

This story has really hit hard for me, not because of the show itself although I do feel bad for them, but for what it means to me as a creator of the illusive beasts of art and entertainment.

Everything, as I'm sure you know, is going independent. The same digital indie-revolution that's happening in fiction is happening in film and television, in role-playing games, and has already happened to a large degree in music. All of us entertainment workers are becoming self-employed, owners of our own businesses who chart our own destinies. Instead of selling our souls to a giant corporation and doing what they want, we're instead doing it all ourselves, keeping the number of people involved to a minimum and working with other small companies when we need help. I'm not against this revolution. I love the idea I can do it myself. There's one thing, though, that this Extra Credits situation has illustrated to me that scares me.

If you work for a big-time publisher or studio, sell your soul to be one of their lackeys and toil endlessly with their middlemen, at least you get paid. The deal may suck and they may lie to you about the numbers if they're particularly evil, but there's still money to be had and if worse comes to worse you can always sue. The company may whine and complain, but even if they have to shift things around to free up the money you're almost guaranteed that the money, at least exists somewhere. You can sit back and know that, compared to the money they have at their disposal, your one check is not going to single-handedly destroy civilization.

But in a world of independent work and small businesses, that's no longer a guarantee. The guys at Extra Credits said they weren't going to sue for the wages they're owed. Why? Because The Escapist told them they have no money, and that very well may be the case.  If they sued and The Escapist didn't have the money, they could bankrupt the company, destroy people's livelihoods, and ending up with even less money than they started with.

I want to make a living with my art. Some people don't care about money and I respect that, but I do. I don't want to forever be making my art on the side, working it around a day-job in my spare time. I want to dedicate myself to my craft full-time, and unless I suddenly become independently wealthy, that means I have to be paid for my art. And if there's one downside to the independent revolution in media, it's that smaller business means less money, means more time doing it around the day-job, and means a much bigger risk involved. Even Felicia Day, creator of the arguably most popular web-series in the world, needed sponsors, and very few indie authors and game-creators earn enough to do it without some sort of day-job.

So what's your business plan?  If I can ask, what's your plan to support yourself while you create your art?

1 comment:

  1. It's true: there's very little security in pursuing a creative career. But is there any more security in pursuing any other line of work? Perhaps a little, but with the recession and general slowdown in the global economy, I'm convinced that there is no such thing as a job with true security. The trick is being able to create a job for yourself, and if you're going to have to do that anyway, why not make it doing something you love?

    As for how to do it, that's the $1,000,000 question. I don't think there's any one way to do it; it's a matter of trying a lot, failing a lot, and consistently pushing through the dips until something works.