Posted by squinky on Jul 15, 2022

Back in the mid-2000s, when I was a lot younger than I am now, I used to think I had the whole "career" thing all figured out. If I just got a job in a field I intrinsically enjoyed and wanted to do all the time anyway (namely, making videogames) it would barely feel like work at all, right?

As I later learned, it didn't quite work that way. In my experience, no matter how much you enjoy an activity, the moment it becomes necessary for your continued survival, there's this pressure that didn't exist before. When you do something purely for fun as a hobby, you have a lot more flexibility. If you're feeling stuck or bored, you can take a break and come back to it later, or even scrap everything and start over. But once you have to make a living from your work, you have obligations and deadlines and all sorts of other expectations from the people giving you money, and suddenly, it isn't quite so much fun anymore.

(This is exactly why I refuse to turn any of my other hobbies into side hustles: I don't want to be a professional musician, or sell my craft projects on Etsy, and I'm most certainly not going to start an OnlyFans, lol.)

When we came together to form Soft Chaos, we focused on fun projects at first and made our money elsewhere, whether through grad school scholarships, freelance contracts, or day jobs. Once we decided to transition from a collective to a fully-fledged worker co-op, it was a struggle at first to both figure out how to make money and still work on projects that we loved and had full creative control over. Eventually, we landed on doing two more-or-less distinct streams of projects: contract work, where we focus on clients' needs first and foremost and which pay reliably well, and Soft Chaos Originals, where we get to let loose and be as weird and experimental as we want.

We got to this point because, as we eventually figured out, it was projects in the grey middle in-between area that ended up stressing us out the most: the ones where we got some creative control and some money, but not a lot of either. We would find some things to enjoy in the work, but inevitably feel bogged down by a very short timeframe in which to deliver the final product (leaving no time to playtest or otherwise give the work time and space to breathe) or by being obligated to use particular tools when we would have preferred something else (in my case, having to work in Unity when I would much rather be using Godot). And at that point, even the fun parts ended up feeling like too much work to justify the comparatively low pay.

That isn't to say we haven't been making any money at all off of Soft Chaos Originals: on the contrary, we just wrapped up the successful crowdfunding campaign for Cadences and have future plans for a gamebook version of Strangers on the 'Net, with help from the Pixelles C'est Fini Fund. (We even managed to break even on our Fringe Festival run of This is Fine!) The difference here is that money didn't come into the picture until these games were already fully designed, which meant that we could go through the creative process with them unencumbered. Now, we're finally at the point where we're about to start working on our newest Soft Chaos Original... which we look forward to telling you all about at some point in the future when we're ready, but not before.

Meanwhile, as a first for us since officially becoming a co-op, we've decided to give ourselves a vacation and take the first week of August off work so that we can get some much-needed rest and devote time to non-work hobbies and interests. As much as I love the work we do together as Soft Chaos, I for one am really happy that we're in a position to take time off, which isn't at all easy during the early stages of building a studio where it constantly feels like there's more we could be doing. But taking a break means that instead of working ourselves to the point of burnout, we can focus on other things for a while and then come back to our work with a lot more energy and fresh ideas. Plus, we're strong proponents of rest and relaxation as valuable for their own sake, so I'm especially glad we actually get to practice what we preach in this way.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll turn off my computer and start enjoying my weekend!

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