Kevin. Glad you could make it. Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Water? Coffee? No? All right then.
(Takes off glasses and wipes them with a handkerchief. Sighs.)
I'll...get right to it. Kevin, how long has it been since you've been working for me? One, two years? You've done a lot of good work for us. I appreciate it. I really do. Yes--the Survive Fashion School work we did with Emily--I do remember that--yeah, the residency with Cormac, and the geakStudios thing too. No. Relax. Nothing wrong with your work there. I gotta admit, I had my doubts at first, but you've proven to be a competent programmer. Maybe not the quickest or the brightest or the most efficient programmer, but your code is solid, it gets the job done--that's why I hired you. Right. Let me finish. Please.
(Puts glasses back on.)
Do you know what I have in front of me, Kevin. (Slides a single sheet of paper across the desk.) This is our annual earnings report. Now, tell me. What's wrong with these numbers.
No. That's not it. There's nothing wrong with your expenses; I've been taking care of that.
No. That's not it either. No--Put the calculator down. It's not the arithmetic, the numbers add up just fine. Yes, I'm aware we're in the red. That's part of it, but that's not it either. Look at the other column. Our paid work this year. Yes. Right there.
Helping run Survive Fashion School: three months. Cormac's Stellar Expanse residency: one month. Contract programming for geakStudios: one month.
That's five months total. Five months of work for about four thousand dollars, plus a month's worth of food and shelter, plus the extra value of work experience, new job skills, and networking. Whatever.
Kevin. (Leans back in swivel chair. Throws up arms.)
What the hell have you been doing the other seven months?
Lasers! Pew! Pew!--that thing you've been showing to everyone. You started that in March, and your current demo build is from April. Adding up all the days you've actually worked on it, you've put in maybe ten weeks of development time. That's being generous. From start to finish, if you had really pushed yourself, you could have gotten a polished three-level beta done by the end of June. No, don't give me that bullshit about your Ubuntu partition failing and paid work getting in the way. You had plenty of time to go back and finish it. And you tried. But you didn't put in enough extra time, and now you're still stuck weeding out the same memory management bug you've been trying to fix since Farm Party in July.
Other people are all like, oh no, you're too hard on yourself, the Nintendo DS isn't easy to code for, but you know what? They're not DS programmers. And you're using PAlib, which has all the hardest stuff already done for you. Any competent DS programmer will tell you this is a three month project at best--even for someone not working full time on it. And here you are, after nine months, working for free on a game that has seen no tangible improvement since April.
The camera game you're working on now. Cute little proof of concept you thought you could throw together in a weekend, but after three months you're still doing API research, having written maybe twenty lines of code. Harder than it looks, I know. To the uninitiated, the iOS SDK is a bitch. But, seriously? This game? This game you designed to be dead simple, so you could finish it as quickly as possible? One of those Copenhagen guys could have put that whole game together from start to finish in one drunken night. You officially put aside Lasers so you could work on this? How much development time have you devoted to this, again, over the past two months? This is, what, a solid eight days' worth of work so far? Nine?
Or your freelance writing. Yes. Remember when you used to do that? About a half dozen unpublishable short plays, essays, vignettes, and such aside, you did manage to finish an eight thousand word existential science fiction novella. Which, while unmarketable, is admittedly impressive. But guess what? You finished the first draft last year, in May. It took you twelve months to edit it into a submittable state, which should have taken you maybe four or five if you had really put the pedal to the metal. You haven't, despite two or three failed starts, been able to complete as much as a new three page rough since then. Goodness, if I added together all the time you spent doing serious writing this year I doubt it'd fill a week. (Add together the amount of time you've spent submitting that story, and it's two weeks.) You haven't even been writing as much as usual in your blog.
Those three things. Those three things, nothing else. That's what you've been working on for seven months. That's what you skivved off doing paid work for. For serious. All together, if you had treated these projects like a full time job and not some damned hobby, it shouldn't have taken you half that time.
Two moves, grad school apps, job hunting, computer problems, poor nutrition, depression, horrible sleep cycles, loud and stressful former work environment, yadda yadda yadda. You know what those are called? They're called excuses. They're a setback. They're not a seven month setback. Other freelancers put up with all that stuff too and they still get shit done. Why don't you?
Look, buddy. Don't think I don't know how much you've been fucking off this year. There have been weeks where you put in two, three hours of work tops. There have been multiple week streaks, particularly in the summer, in which you've done no work at all. When you're working to pay the rent you're working forty hours a week; when you're working for me you're putting in maybe five or six. You know what that is, it's lazy. No, it's not just lazy. It's disrespectful.
I cut every corner conceivable so you can keep doing this shit. I moved you into a cheaper apartment--twice. I reduced your monthly expenses to under a thousand. I stopped buying books and video games not related to our work. I spent all of autumn eating on less than ten dollars a day. I bust my ass once a week, every week, making connections, collecting business cards, shopping out this amazing freelance game programmer who's done this totally awesome game, and people say, cool, does he have any finished work we can look at besides that one Nintendo DS demo, and I say, shit.
If your parents didn't have an unexpected windfall this year you'd be so ass deep in broke right now you wouldn't even be able to imagine working freelance anymore.
This isn't a hobby. This is our livelihood. My parents are investing good money in you because they believe you can do this, because they trust me when I tell them I can grow it into a lifelong career. I'm running around like a chicken with my fuckin' head cut off trying to promote you and keep you fed and sheltered. And what do you do? You get up at three in the afternoon, eat a Big Mac, read the news for three hours, read webcomics, play flash games on Newgrounds for the rest of the night and then declare yourself too tired to work and go to bed. Every day, six days a week, until you panic late one night and make some sloppily coded hasty-pudding bullshit just so you can say you did something. It's like you're procrastinating towards some arbitrary deadline that's never going to come. What the fuck do you think this is, some clock-punching cubicle job?
(Massages own forehead wearily. A colossal ebony woodcut of the hideous mspaint-drawn Nuclear Fishin' Software logo, under which Kevin released his first game in the seventh grade, looms ominously in the background.)
Let me ask you something. If you put together two or three chairs and sat on your ass the rest of the year, does that make you a professional carpenter? If you fixed a sink and a toilet and sat on your ass the rest of the year, does that make you a professional plumber? Are you a professional programmer, Kevin? Do you know what "professional" even means?
You know, if you were anyone but you, I'd have you fired. I'm not being cruel. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. You hire someone who costs a thousand dollars a month to do forty hours of work a week, and he comes in only on Monday afternoons, unshowered and munching on a stale bagel, two hours before closing--if he comes in at all. Do you have on your hands an employee or a parasite?
I'm not saying you don't know your shit, Kevin, or that you don't do good work. I'm really not. I do appreciate what you've contributed this year, and I'm proud of the compliments you've received on your paid work. But it's not enough. I am not seeing from you the effort of an individual who is as committed and dedicated and passionate about his work as he says he is.
Do you know where John Carmack was at this point in his life? He was already done with his experimental dicking-around stage of genre-standard and single concept games. He was working on fucking Wolfenstein 3D--something no one had ever done before--and he did it in the living room of a Louisiana lake house with John Romero and Tom Hall screeching like monkeys all the time. And it wasn't just because Carmack is a genius, and it has nothing to do with the worse economy (hooray Steam/XBLA) or the increased complexity of game programming (hooray Multimedia Fusion). You look at your contemporaries, the ones on Tigsource whose games are on display at Babycastles. You look at where your heroes started out, ten, twenty years ago; you look at resumes of European PhD students and demosceners you've met in the past few months. What kind of games were/are these people making at 25? What about you?
If you are really serious about making your projects happen and showing the world that you can be a talented, creative, competent game developer, without the privilege of bosses and deadlines and status reports to keep you productive, you are going to have to go the extra mile. Every day. No matter how stressed, tired, hungry, bloated, nauseous, lethargic, unhappy, or existentially awful you feel, every day. Yes, even on those days you can't even get out of bed to reach the keyboard. Sick days are for jobs with health insurance. You can't judge yourself by the productivity of your grad student or hobbyist friends, who have the luxury of occasionally slacking off, procrastinating, and doing only as much is as reasonable. You are a freelancer. You have to do more--no, more than that, you have to give it everything--you have to scare people with your work ethic--or your rent is not going to get paid. And we might come up short even then.
You need to live up to your words.
If you don't have what it takes, you can go right back to mediocrity and get paid to surf the Internet in a cubicle forty hours a week. I have a Craigslist window full of white collar jobs for people who do just enough work to add a paragraph to the monthly status report. You want to go back to that? You want to spend your thirties as a condescending parasite who opens complaints to underpaid, overworked Burger King cashiers with the phrase, "I don't bust my ass at the office forty hours a week just so you..." I've got your resume and the release forms right here if you want them. I'm sure there's a lot of local government offices that would appreciate your attitude.
No? Then act like it. No. More. Fucking. Excuses.