Michelle Travis

Michelle Travis

Jan 21 2014

Full-Time vs. Freelancing, or a Day at the Ætheric Office

One of the more difficult things about trying to get Ætheric Worlds off the ground is the fact that several of the developers, including myself, work regular full-time jobs. It's kind of a necessary thing, since at the moment, none of us are getting paid for our work with Ætheric. And since none of us are lottery winners or able to live off vast inheritances of any kind, regular employment is sort of important.

But Ætheric is important to us, too — we believe in our company, we believe in our games, and so all of us put in time on top of our normal lives.

At least one or two nights a week, the other devs and I head over to the Ætheric office and get in some uninterrupted work time, anywhere from 2-4 hours. We playtest NEXUS and address the alpha player-submitted bugs, we clean up code, we take care of work-related emails such as contacting artists or discussions with possible financial backers. For me, these evenings usually involve me handling email or having discussions with Melissa on NEXUS' release schedule or project constraints. These nights vary, so sometimes you might find yourself the only one in the office at that time. Which can be nice if you just want some peace and quiet to work.

Other nights during the week, we'll put in a bit of time from at home with things that we can do quickly — making updates to the website, answering emails that don't require approval from the higher-ups, online research, that sort of thing. I often spend at least an hour a night on deviantArt looking over artist portfolios and making notes of their commission rates and availability, or researching games that are somewhat similar to NEXUS to see how they organize things like game menus, music files, and the like.

On Sundays, the whole group (or as many of us who can make it) heads to the office or gets on Skype (our office manager is in Missouri, one of our artists is in Texas, and one of our coders is in New York) and works for at least 4-6 hours. Sundays are for our weekly updates, status checks, group discussions and problem-solving, and the increasingly often in-office competitions of who can get the highest NEXUS score while trying to break the game. (I think Melissa currently holds the office high score, but that won't last long if the rest of us have anything to say about it.) My Sundays usually involve a lot of writing — whether it's the short stories that go on the Nexus page of the Ætheric site, the gameplay manuals, or Ætheric documentation up on our internal wiki. (This, by the way, is my non-game-designer skill that I brought to the table at Ætheric — my regular full-time gig is working as a Senior Technical Writer and documentation/wiki god.)

There's a lot of discussion that goes on — much talking goes on over the tops of the monitors about where stuff goes, who handles a particular problem, which way is the best for resolving a bug, and so on. Not to mention the more-than-occasional yowls of frustration when playtesting NEXUS and encountering a new problem or getting a really lousy draw when you're trying to complete a set.

And since most of us are Seahawks fans, one of us usually has a sports site open to follow the game. Believe me, if Seattle makes it to the Super Bowl, we are not working that Sunday.

Now, you might be wondering why, given our current funding situation, we actually have an office. The answer is simple — we need a dedicated work space and computers. It's all too easy to get sidetracked when you have cats or roommates or spouses who want your attention.

Back when we first started, it was everyone meeting in the dining room of Melissa's house, with an audience of four cats. (Or rather three cats and a ninja.) But crowding people with laptops and tablets and food around a dining room table got a bit cramped, so we moved operations into one of the conference rooms in my apartment complex. But with the indoor basketball court right next door, plus a distinctly noisy and irritatingly random air conditioning system, things weren't much better there. So after a bit of scouting around, Melissa found a small office rental location just down the block from my apartment. And while we started out with one of the larger units to accommodate us all being in at the same time, we soon discovered a much more viable method that we'll be implementing in February — downsize our office space and use the building's conference room for our meetings. A win-win situation for us all. And trust me, our work efficiency went up significantly once we got the office space, and even more so once we set up the Sunday workdays.

Unfortunately, this means that we don't have quite as much leisure time as we used to. While some of us are fortunate in that our spouses also work at Ætheric, so we still get to see each other, it's still work. And yes, it's kind of hard to find the energy and inclination to get Ætheric work done after a really rough day at our regular jobs. But like I said, we believe in Ætheric and we believe in our games. So we drag ourselves in, avail ourselves to the coffee/tea/hot chocolate we keep in the office, get sympathetic grunts from the other devs in the office, and soldier on.

Have something to say related to this blog entry? We'd love to see it, and so would others. Go here and share your thoughts.