Unity and Godot, artists and their hatred of money

Unity and Godot, artists and their hatred of money

22/07/2022
indiedev, psychology

A week ago John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity, said this:

More specifically:

Creatives are the most beautiful and pure, brilliant people. They’re also some of the biggest fucking idiots.

It’s a good, somewhat Trumpian quote that rings true to me. And the response by most indiedevs was about what you’d expect:

Now, I’m no fan of Unity. I don’t use Unity, I’ll never use Unity, and back in 2018, when goodwill towards Unity was still very high and its obvious problems were basically ignored by most indiedevs, here I was, autistically going on about how actually it sucks.

So it is funny that during this whole debacle this also happened:

The exact problem that very few people were complaining about 4-5 years ago is now widely recognized as one of the most important issues contributing to the engine’s decline. To most reasonable observers, if the decline wasn’t obvious by then, it should be obvious by now.

And what can I say? I’m a prophet, a seer, a sage. Guided by the powers of schizophrenia I am granted visions of the future. Yes, yes, I see something… Let me concentrate more… It’s coming to me… Yes, I can see it! Here it is:

What could this vision mean? The novice seer might interpret it as saying that Godot 4 will take a long time to come out, which might be true. But the deeper point, hidden between the lines, is that Godot will face the same exact problems as Unity because its developers also don’t make and finish games with it.

Suppose that out of 100 people who start using Godot, 5 of them will finish and release a game on Steam (probably an optimistic assumption). As an engine developer, you want more people to use your engine, so by default you’ll focus on features that bring the most developers to it.

As most developers are the 95% that don’t finish any games, and because you don’t finish any games yourself, it’s just natural to focus on new features for that group, rather than on features for the small minority actually releasing games.

None of this happens maliciously, it’s just that catering to the 5% takes intentional and focused effort. Their bug reports are more specific and harder to track and fix. Their feature requests are more involved, less generalizable and harder to work on.

So over time, unless engine devs are a part of the 5% themselves, they’ll just go for the path of least resistance and work on things that make the 95% happy. The fact that Godot is open source makes this problem worse, not better.

None of this means that Godot will fail, or that it won’t be used to release lots of games in the future. But it does mean that in ~5 years time - maybe everyone will be waiting for Godot 7 by then - the decline will be obvious, just like the decline is obvious for Unity now.

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All of this to say, when I agree with John CEO, I don’t agree with him because I like Unity or the work he’s doing. I think him and his engine both suck. But wisdom can come from anyone and his quote just happens to be true.

Which brings me to my main point, which is about the fact that artists hate money. When I say “artists” I mean creatives, and when I say “hate money” I don’t mean that they don’t like money in their bank accounts, I mean that they hate the concept itself. They hate what it represents.

Artists are agreeable people. They instinctively believe in kindness and compassion above all else. But kindness and compassion have drawbacks, chief among them the fact that the kind and compassionate are very bad at negotiating on their own behalf.

This leads them to dislike money itself, because what is money if not the reduction of this interaction that they’re very bad at down to quantifiable numbers? If you talk to artists of all stripes you always get the same thing. This deep, seething hatred at the concept itself. They deeply and instinctively believe that it goes against the core of their very existence, which in a way it does.

What is the problem with this exactly? The problem is that by actively hating something, you are reinforcing it and making it into an antagonist and thus something important in your mind. When you make money something important in your mind, you’re restricting your range of actions because you take it too seriously.

Consider NFTs. Most artists absolutely hate them, and thus don’t make money off them. Generally their reasons are a mix of “because it’s ponzi scheme”, “because it’s speculation”, “because it’s gambling”, and so on. All of which are different ways of saying, “this thing is structuring incentives around money in ways that I think are unethical”. Which may be fine objections in abstract, but let’s look at reality.

Suppose you’re a draw artist and you decide to try NFTs. You put your first one up and one of your old followers buys it for $10000. In this transaction, who, exactly, has lost anything? Was anyone scammed? Is anyone acting immorally? Your old fan wanted to support you, you needed money.

The kind of mindset you need to be in to think that anything wrong happened here is the mindset that the bridge builder is in in the video below:

You’re worrying too much about something that is not yours to worry about. You care too much about money, which makes you think that making this much money off intangible work is less valid than making it off tangible work. But like the other character says, some people like taking the long way home.

To the people buying these NFTs for outrageous prices $10000 may be nothing. Who the fuck knows, right? So why would you care? I wouldn’t care, and so I wouldn’t have problems making money off NFTs if I needed to. Because it’s just money. It doesn’t matter.

It’s something that I need to survive so I can go on to work on stuff I care about. So why wouldn’t I pursue moneymaking opportunities when they present themselves instead of only making money under very specific conditions? Only making money under numerous very specific conditions is a result of taking it too seriously.

You’ve built it into this thing of great importance in your mind and you’re giving it a lot of weight instead of treating it with the neutrality it deserves. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a number. You could call this monetary nihilism if you’d like.

And did I have to give up my artistic soul to reach this conclusion? Did I have to get an MBA and become some kind of business lord? Did I have to hoard money in my cave like a dragon? No. Because the opposite of hating money is not loving money. There’s a third option where you really just don’t take it seriously at all.

When you actively hate something you build it up in importance in your mind and you are still operating in its frame. The only way to truly win and make yourself free is by transcending it instead.

And so when Hakita says this:

I retort with this:

An artist who hates money is unable to imagine people who don’t.

Artists need to get over their hatred of money so they can reach their full potential. They are the most beautiful and pure, brilliant people. But they don’t have to be the biggest fucking idiots if they choose not to.