Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To Commission Or Not

The Cathedral -- probably my most well-known project.
On occasion, I'll get a tell out of the blue, asking if I do commissions.

Sometimes the tell starts with flattery. The person contacting me offers praise, and specific examples of their favorite aspects of my work.

Other times, they've heard about me from a friend, or maybe they've seen a single home I've done. They aren't sure how to approach me. House decorating isn't their thing, and while they want a nice looking home, they really don't know what to say to one of those crazy decorators.

People come to me with awesome ideas, ordinary ideas, or no ideas. The one thing that everyone approaching me has in common is that they've decided that I'm the decorator who should work for them.

What do I tell them when they ask to hire me? The short answer to that question is "maybe." As I mentioned in the Cathedral blog post, I'm terrible about doing commissions in a timely manner. If it's not life biting me in the rear, it's me becoming distracted doing something else. I should say no to people, because honestly, it's not fair to make someone wait six months to a year while I hammer out a house. However, I have a hard time saying no when asked.

Do I like doing commissions?

Nope. I really don't. I love the ideas that people come up with, and I love trying to capture those ideas. But I don't like decorating for someone (see note at the end of the article). It's one reason why I had such a great time building my Tudor Farmhouse and then putting the layout up for sale. I got to build what I wanted, when I wanted, with no stress about finishing in a timely manner. Putting it up for sale as a layout like that also means that any time someone wants the layout (with or without modifications), I can easily just pop in to the house and load it up. It means no waiting for either party.

The Tudor Farmhouse -- I should have waited for building blocks!
There's also the issue of the homeowner's vision versus my own. Some homeowners are great to work for. They let me do what I want, and only pop in to say things like, "I'm not really that fond of the centerpiece you built. Do you think you could switch it to something else?" I'm okay with being told that what I've done doesn't mesh with the vision someone has for a project. It's their home, after all. However, I like to be given the freedom to do what I want. Sure, I'll discuss it with the person. I'll ask them what they were hoping for, so that I have an idea of what to aim for.

If the house is meant for roleplay, I'll ask what sort of roleplay, and tailor the home to that. When I did the Cathedral, I knew that the home would be used as a venue for speeches. Much like a real life house of worship, the people roleplaying followers of Innoruuk would be gathering there for sermons. That meant that I had to ensure that the benches I used could be sat on, and with as little fiddling around with positioning as possible. Little details like that are what make a good project great, in my opinion.

Menan's Manor. I don't think the homeowner plays anymore.
Unfortunately, for every homeowner I've worked for who has been awesome, I've had a homeowner who insisted on moving things around on me or "helping" me decorate. I don't play nice with others when it comes to decorating a space. If you've asked me to decorate your house, and then you come in behind me and tweak things right and left, I start to feel like I shouldn't even bother. After all, you've shown that you have the ability and the inclination to decorate, so why am I here?

If a homeowner comes in after I'm done and I've been paid, I could care less if they move things around, tear things down, add things in, or just pack up the house (all right, I might be peeved if they packed up the house). I did what was asked, and I've received my compensation. Besides, it's their home. But if a homeowner does this while I'm working on a home, I start to become annoyed.

Occasionally, when someone hires me, they start to feel like they're better than I am. They've hired me to do a job. That means that no matter how much they admire me or my work, they're in a class above me. I'm working for them, after all. It doesn't matter that my $15 a month for my Gold subscription is just as good as their $15 a month. It doesn't matter that decorating is just as valid a play style as combat or raiding. I'm not "really" playing the game as it's meant to be played, so I'm not as good as they are. (Don't get me wrong. I respect all other play styles. Just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean that I don't respect it. However, this is the attitude that I've had thrust upon me more than once simply because I prefer the non-combat aspects of the game, and am working for someone.)

Then of course, there's the problem of cost. What do you charge someone who's asking you to build something? Especially something as individual as a house?

My guild's hall, and the only guild hall I'll ever decorate.
It's only recently that I've learned to save my platinum. I've been playing since late 2005, and my platinum amount across my account fluctuated from between no money to maybe, if I was lucky, thirty platinum. At one point, I had to sell some of the gear I'd saved for appearances in order to afford the price of the boat (back when the boat cost money in Freeport and Qeynos) in order to go out questing.

A house one year ago would cost me approximately sixty to eighty platinum to decorate. Today, I can drop sixty platinum on a stable. Not an entire house, just a stable. This doesn't take into account the amount of time a house takes me. Even when I'm obsessed with completing a project and work on it nonstop (and this doesn't happen often), it still takes me upwards of 40 hours of gameplay to finish. It's not that I'm slow at decorating. I'm actually pretty fast about getting the structure up and into place. The problem is that I'm also compulsively detail oriented, and will tweak items until they are lined up to the pixel. Shifting items by 0.0001 units is not uncommon for me.

Back to platinum and gameplay--in 2 hours of gameplay, questing in a level 90 zone I've never been to before, I can make probably 20 platinum. Questing in a zone where I do know the zone and quests, I can make more than that.

So if I were questing rather than decorating, I could make 400 platinum or more in the amount of time it takes to build a house.

The Norrathian Research Library is perhaps one of my favorites.
However, as I said, it's only recently that I've begun to actually save platinum. 400 platinum sounds like an obscene expense to me. And when you do projects, you're supposed to come out ahead, not just break even. That means that to "come out ahead," I'd need to charge more than 400 platinum. I understand that there are people out there who wouldn't blink twice to drop 400 platinum on a house. I wouldn't drop that on a house, and I'm the one building the house!

Then we need to take into consideration reputation. I don't believe I'm that good. Yes, my houses are close to flawless from an alignment standpoint. My textures line up the best I can make them, and if it's a tossup between a wall with varying sizes of building blocks that only takes three items, and a wall of identically sized building blocks of twenty items, I'll go for the twenty items because it looks better. But for the most part, the homes I build are simple homes. The Tudor Farmhouse? It's just a house. My Kelethin cottage? Once again, just a house. The Cathedral isn't, but that one was done on commission. And when you come right down to it, the Cathedral isn't actually that architecturally impressive. It's a rectangle. A pretty rectangle, but still just a rectangle. There are plenty of people out there with the vision to put together architecturally impressive pieces of work that I'd love to have for my own. They may not line things up as nicely as I do, or have flawless textures, but their work is more intricate than mine.

So should I be charging what I feel I'm worth, or what other people feel I'm worth? Especially when the amount I feel I'm worth is very different from the amount that other people seem to be willing to pay?

But not all people think my work is worth much. In quiet times, I've had people request houses. We discussed the house they were interested in very seriously, right up until we got to price.

There are people who think they're doing me a favor by offering me an empty house to decorate, and expect that I should do it for free. Of course they'll cover the fuel costs. They're keeping the house, after all. But I should be honored that they're offering me an empty house to indulge in my silly decorating pastime!

I've never had so much traffic during construction as I did with the Cathedral.
Then there are the people who would like a house, but don't have a lot of platinum. For them, a couple of hundred platinum for a house is outside the bounds of reasonable. They'd have to save for a year or two to see it.

And then, I've been offered upwards of 4000 platinum to build a home.

I turned them down.


When it comes right down to it--stress.

I decorate in EQ2 for a variety of reasons. I play because I love decorating--I've done it everywhere from The Sims to SWG. I decorate because it's a form of art, and the fastest and easiest method I've found to express my artistic side in a method that people can interact with and enjoy. I decorate because it's stress relief. I become absorbed in the numbers of the editor, in the placement of items, in trying to get reality to match my vision. Yes, there can be times when it's frustrating, especially if something isn't working out, but overall it's much less stressful than anything else life can throw at me.

Stress is a big problem for me. In Homeshow, I've mentioned a few times (all right, probably more often than I should--I do tend to whine about it) that I suffer from food allergies. I've mentioned that the foods trigger migraines for me.

What I haven't mentioned is that the food triggers are only one set of triggers. Stress, weather, sudden exposure to light--the list goes on. And I don't just get migraines. I have what one neurologist likes to call "intractable chronic debilitating migraines." In layman's terms, that means that I come down with migraines so bad, I'm put out of commission for days or weeks at a time. And it happens a lot. And they don't respond to medication.

Did I mention that stress is a big problem for me? I think I did. Even thinking about being stressed causes me minor migraines. Actually stressing out can send me to bed with the curtains drawn and the covers over my head.

Decorating is a sort of meditation for me. You don't need to use (much) math with the layout editor, but to get things lined up precisely, it helps to know how to do it. Math is also a form of meditation for me. It keeps me calm, even when the numbers aren't adding up right. I use more math than the average decorator because of that. Not only do I use it to ensure that things line up perfectly, but it's soothing for me.

It's one of the few things I can do even with a migraine. And while it doesn't help the pain, it allows me to mostly ignore it.

The real answer to "to commission or not?" is "I really shouldn't." I'll do it, especially if I really like an idea that someone has, but I shouldn't.

Note: Thank you to Niami for reminding me of this. I wanted to add it on, but forgot to before I posted.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that this is mostly about people I don't know approaching me with commission projects. When people I know approach me, it's a different story. This is especially true when they understand chronic conditions.

I like to do projects for friends and close acquaintances. Strangers are different. Strangers may say they understand chronic issues, but chances are that they'll become frustrated if their home isn't done within a month. I've had it happen time and again. I tell people that it'll be a while before I can start on their project, and once I do, they may not see a lot of progress. I tell them they can expect the project to take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year from when I start. They say they're okay with it, and then they become pushier and pushier if it's not completed quickly once work starts.

Friends understand that I've had periods of time where I disappear from the game for a month or more, and that when I do, I'm probably flat on my back in bed, desperately wishing for a migraine cure. Close acquaintances have the potential to become friends, and oftentimes it's a decorating project that does it. I enjoy those sorts of projects. It's much less stressful for me when a friend and I can negotiate a price, instead of the onus being on me.

So feel free to approach me about a project, but understand that I may say no. And if I say yes, please understand that I will take my time. It's not that I don't like you. It's not that I'd rather work on other projects. It's that I do what's best for my stress levels at the moment, and if I'm not feeling like your project is one I can handle at the moment, I may work on others, or I may not decorate at all.

Happy decorating!

1 comment:

  1. I had the pleasure of seeing you buil that tower Research Lab and it was awesome to watch. I was the little half elf warlock Named Epick that would pop in randomly from time to time. With the raven Lenore who is twice my size :p The work I saw you do was fantastic, and that kind of quality as well as the attention to detail you put in takes time. A lot of time. If people can't have the patience to wait for something that is going to be done well and done right then than that is thier loss.