Posted on: Mar 21st 2014 by Aeon Bollig
Aeon “Void” Bollig – 19 – Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
To start, I might as well give you my own story. Born and raised in the unpredictably-forecasted city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, I’m 19 year-old Aeon Bollig. A lot of people know me as Void, one of the many contributors to Team Fortress 2. With only a high school diploma, I’ve managed to move out and support myself as an adult thanks to the royalties I’ve made from Valve and the Steam Workshop.
Like many my age, I grew up with video games and wanted nothing more than to one day make them myself. My childhood was molded by games like Crash Bandicoot, Oddworld, Ratchet and Clank, and those weird Playstation Underground demo discs.
Video games fueled my creative fire and I devised many ideas for games that were probably chock-full of plagiarism (because, hey, I was a kid who had no idea what he was doing). I taught myself how to use Photoshop at an early age and was drawing even earlier.
My dream of making video games even led me to send a letter to Insomniac Games when I was young (I don’t remember how young, but it was long enough ago that I had to send a letter). Unfortunately, this endeavor led to nothing more than a (probably) canned response from Insomniac telling me that although my idea was most likely cool, “our lawyers won’t let us even look at it. You know how lawyers are.” I didn’t, but nonetheless, their reply did not discourage me from pursuing this pipe dream of creating video games. If only Insomniac could see me now….
Years later, around 2007, I became interested in PC gaming, because that’s what the cool kids were into those days. I dabbled in Half-Life 2, which led me to Garry’s Mod. Garry’s Mod, in turn, fostered late nights of bizarre creativity– if one could call it that.
It wasn’t until further down the road that I learned of TF2, the sequel to a game that started as a modification of Quake: a game that my dad actually messed around with in his spare time. Like father, like son.
2009 was the year I first showed up on the radar. I had created a poorly-made crossword revolving around TF2 and managed to get myself featured in many different corners of the web. I even caught the attention of Valve pioneers Gabe Newell and Robin Walker. This was my first 15 minutes of TF2 fame, which marked the beginning of the rest of my life. (Including high school. I’m not proud of high school.)
In the depressed confusion of failing classes and teenage angst, I used my spare time to find comfort in working on custom content for TF2. I joined TF2Maps.net to get settled in and made various textures for others to use in maps, even trying my hand at a few maps, myself.
However, my life began to change when Coldfront– a TF2 map that used some of my work– was added into the game in 2010. The Swamp Theme followed soon after, which showcased even more of my work. Somehow this got me featured in my high school newspaper, of which I would later become the Graphics and Design Editor.
Eventually, I got involved with item creation after seeing the TF2 Mod Emporium develop on Facepunch, the forum I frequented in my Garry’s Mod days. I was fascinated by what these people could do and decided to dive headfirst into the shallow end of the pool, hoping I would work with people who knew what they were doing.
I made myself known the only way I knew how: by making concept art and texturing 3D models. One of my first items was added into the Australian Christmas update of 2011, and that’s when I started to assimilate into the world of TF2 contributors. Little did I know of how rewarding this hobby would prove to be.
Today I’m going stronger than ever. With over 30 of my items added to the TF2, my life has changed completely. I’ve now made over $40,000 in royalties for my work, which is more money than I’d ever seen before Valve, and I certainly would have never seen it without them.
Along with my own personal work, I’ve also been commissioned by UK-based charity SpecialEffect in conjunction with Sega, an opportunity that I’d never expected to see presented to me.
I’ve had a “real” job before and it doesn’t compare to getting paid for doing what I love. My royalties have allowed me to leave home and live life, while also enabling me to financially support my friends and family when they need it. I try not to let the money change me for the worse, and I hope it never does.
With a long, promising future ahead of me, I hope to continue pursuing my dreams and eventually reach a place where I can make the games I dreamt of as a kid. Whether this means either landing a professional career or starting off independently, I’m not yet sure, but when it’s time to make the decision, I’ll be ready.
My message to anyone who wants to get into my line of work is go for it! It’s your life and you should live it how you want to; if that means putting in time and effort to make content for a video game you love, more power to you. There are plenty of individuals and communities that will help you get started, and we’ll be there with you every step of the way. Take a leap of faith, after all, you might just fly.
Adam “Retrocitrus” Wright – 20 – Concept Artist – Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Just southeast of Las Vegas lives 20 year-old concept artist Adam Wright. Wright, who works under the alias, Retrocitrus, is a relative newcomer to the contributor scene, but has made quite a splash in the short time since their appearance.
“I’ve always been drawing ever since I was little,” said Wright. “Given that most of my drawings when I was a toddler were your typical ‘circle heads with stick arms coming out from the sides,’ I’ve always loved drawing no less. I was really inspired by the Looney Tunes cartoons growing up, but I really didn’t get serious about it until I was about seven or eight years-old.”
Wright explained that cartoons and video games have always been an inspiration to them. “Growing up, all I had for artistic experience are art classes that you’re pretty much required to take throughout your school years.”
“Even though high school was a tough time, the art classes I took then really helped me learn a lot, I think. I really looked up to my art teachers during that time, and gave me a lot of help outside of class.”
“Sooner or later, though, I’d absolutely love to attend an art school, or something to do with animation. Something that will help me learn more about what I grew up loving to do. Right now it’s just a hobby, but I’d love to make this into a career if it’s at all possible in the future.”
While Wright had plenty of ambitious thoughts and creative designs from the start, they didn’t know too much about TF2 until a few Halloweens ago. “I didn’t really get into it until after I got called on to work on some art for the Robotic Boogaloo update,” said Wright. “After that, though, I was encouraged by a couple of other contributors to put my ideas to work and they invited me to take a look in the Emporium and share what I had in-mind.”
Since their work on Robotic Boogaloo, Wright was hooked. “It reminded me of days past of making up creatures with my elementary school friends again and it just makes me feel so happy working with others and seeing creations come to life. It’s something that makes me smile every single day, no doubt about it. The dudes at the Emporium are one heck of an inspiration.”
“I honestly didn’t know that you could ‘earn a living’ doing this sort of thing until the Boogaloo update happened,” Wright added. “ I thought that all the money went to Valve, and this was all just a learning experience, basically! Call me silly for thinking so, but like I mentioned before, the Workshop and it’s inner workings were a new concept to me and I didn’t exactly know how this would all play out.”
“A lot of weight was finally taken off my shoulders after I received that first payment, no doubts about it. To be blatantly honest, I kind of broke into happy tears when I saw what came in. Both my mom and dad have been riddled with their own health problems and hospital bills to take care of, so this was something that would really help ease some of the stress for both of them.”
“Paying for hospital bills and rent doesn’t come cheap,” continued Wright, who is currently on hiatus to take care of their mother, “so being able to actually help them with the extra money flow has made both, well, all of us happy. Who knew a hobby could eventually lead to this, is basically what I think. I’m extremely grateful for it.”
With Wright’s earnings, they have been able to afford the necessities for both their parents and themself. Without stating exact numbers, it’s enough to make sure they’re all taken care of.
“It’s impacted me in a vast amount of ways,” they continued. “I still think that I have a lot to learn as I get older, but I’m very thankful for the Workshop for bringing out the creative thinking side of me again. It’s brought out that inner child imagination, and my passion for aspiring to work on something having to deal with video games has come around once more.”
“I’ve met a lot of amazing and inspiring people throughout the whole Workshop process, as well, all of whom have been great people to collaborate with. I have them to thank for helping me break out of my shell a bit, too. I’ve always been more ‘to-myself’ about a lot of things, but this whole experience in general has helped shaped me to be a generally more happier person, all-in-all. And I can’t thank them enough for that.”
“I’d love to work on a video game with a couple of close colleagues and friends again just for the hell of it,” noted Wright. “It’d be a great way to start out and see how the inner workings of a game come to life with just a small group of people working on it. Starting out at a big company would be too much, I’d think. Little baby steps, you know? Hopefully something like this would be in hand’s reach. I think this would be a nice step to take someday, when I’m ready for it.”
“As for last words, I’d just like to say thank you to those who encouraged me to start making concepts once more,” concluded Wright. “It’s been a great experience, and I wholeheartedly encourage others to pursue the same, or whatever else they might be interested.”
“Don’t be afraid like me. Just jump right in, the water is fine.”
Jennifer “NeoDement” Burnett – 22 – Modeler / Texture Artist – Southend-on-Sea, England
Along the coast of the River Thames, in the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, lives 22 year-old Jennifer Burnett. Known colloquially as NeoDement, Burnett is one of the most successful item contributors to-date.
With only a bit of work experience, Burnett has some college and university under her belt, and is currently unemployed and living with her parents.
“I got into the whole modelling thing a bunch of years ago when Garry’s Mod was still a free mod,” said Burnett. “The first thing I ever created was a pope hat that you could fit on ragdolls heads, and some waffles. They were very awful.”
“I did a BND in Games Development at college, which was a complete waste of two years. The head tutor got fired at the end, that’s how bad it was.”
“Some time nearing the end of college, the first TF2 update featuring hats launched,” she continued. “As a result of this, the first TF2 Mod Emporium– back then known as Daimao’s Mod Emporium– thread appeared. I had gotten into playing TF2 not long before, and the idea of modding a different game and creating more of my own models from scratch appealed to me. The first hat I created was a ushanka, which I never quite finished or released before Valve created their own.”
“After a while, Valve announced they were creating a Contribute! page on the TF2 website where the players could submit their own content, which was of course very exciting. Back then, the agreement specifically stated we would never get paid for any of the work they took from us. Which made sense, the only money TF2 made back then was from sales of the game itself.”
“The first item I personally had added to the game was in the Second Community Content Update, The Scotsman’s Skullcutter. I liked to taunt Daimao [another top contributor] how his hat – The Frenchman’s Beret – didn’t have stats, unlike my beautiful new weapon.”
After that, came the Polycount Contest, which eventually spawned the in-game Mann Co. Store. “I was pretty mad,” said Burnett. “The only item I had added in that update was the Wiki Cap, which of course cannot be purchased.”
“TF2 life was relatively uneventful in the year after that for me,” she continued. “I started Games Art at university at some point and did pretty well in the first year, without really thinking of TF2 as anything but a hobby on the side.”
“Then I got another seven items in the Manniversary update. Two of them were even weapons, albeit statless reskins. This also launched the workshop, which breathed a whole new life into the then rather small item creating community. At this point I was focused on not messing up university, and didn’t touch TF2 modding for quite a long while.”
“Meanwhile my online friends worked on secret stuff like the Sleeping Dogs update and the Hitman Update, filling me with jealousy that I hadn’t been creating anything in the time they must have been searching the workshop for talent.”
“This, and reports of how much money the artists who had created the Polycount packs were earning, led me to become rather engrossed in creating content for the workshop whenever I could.”
Burnett’s work then became some of the highest-rated submissions to the Workshop, and to this day, her Airborne Arsonist set still sits happily at the top of the Workshop on an iron throne.
“This distractedness carried on into the third and final year of university,” continued Burnett, “I created a robotic version of the Buccaneer’s Bicorne for a bit of fun, and it kind of spiraled out of control.”
“Tons of contributors made robotic versions of their own hats. Heartsman spoke to me and suggested that I make a simple community update page to showcase everyone’s work and offer mod releases, which I thought was a great idea. Of course, this turned into the Robotic Boogaloo update, which you can read and listen about on KritzKast in more detail.”
“You can also clearly hear I sound like a dude in that interview,” added Burnett. “That’s because in the third year of university, I also started to massively question my gender identity. It was recorded not long after coming out to my best friend that I wished I had been born a girl. Might seem like a random thing to mention in an interview about items but I believe transgender awareness is pretty important, so I don’t particularly try to hide it.”
“I spent most of my third year at university scared and confused. Trying to work out who I am, trying to help create the Robotic Boogaloo update, and a general apathy towards the idea of working in the games industry meant my studies really fell by the wayside.”
“I completely wrecked my two-person group project by letting my team mate do all the work,” recounted Burnett. “We split up in the second term, which led to me paying even less attention to the course. We were meant to create models throughout the year to go towards a portfolio at the end.”
“I ended up submitting the Airborne Arsonist models, and somehow got away with it. I missed tons of deadlines and literally got exactly the minimum pass mark on my dissertation.”
“I was extremely close to failing and really shouldn’t have passed.”
“Then we all got paid for the Robotic Boogaloo,” affirmed Burnett, “and the main contributors made about $33,000 each. Which is crazy, and totally covered my student loan. There’s no life lesson there, I just got lucky.”
With Valve steadily adding more and more of Burnett’s work as time goes on, Burnett has accumulated roughly $83,000 since she started working over four years ago, with roughly $8,000 paychecks directly deposited every month onward.
“I really haven’t done anything interesting with the money yet,” noted Burnett, “I got two nice big monitors, and a nice new PC. I spend more on my family at Christmas and on their birthdays, and I went on holiday to America.”
“The first thing I bought when I received the initial payment– about $33 thousand from a year or two of built up revenue on old items–was a bag of Doritos, which I was going to buy anyway. I’ve been pretty careful not to let money change me.”
Burnett doesn’t consider herself an expert by any means, but as far as advice goes, avoid jumping into TF2 right away if you don’t know how to model already. “Learn to model first,” advises Burnett. “Try and challenge yourself with some complex shapes, and Google anything you come across that you don’t know how to do. Don’t upload your first creations to the workshop, as they will be crap. Don’t add me to ask for my help on modelling, far too many people have done that and I don’t really have the energy for it anymore.”
“There are enough resources out there to help you learn, and you can always join a forum if you really think you have an unusual issue that you can’t work out for yourself.”
And if you feel like you’ve missed any opportunity to make items for TF2 like Burnett? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time. Even in the foreseeable future, Burnett still plans to stick to item contributions.
“It looks like it will go on for quite a long time,” speculated Burnett. “Although it started because I love the game, it only continues because it’s the easiest way of making lots of money available to me.”
“Of course I won’t be doing it forever…. It will get boring eventually, and I think it will end up being much less profitable as TF2 gets near the end of its life. Even after 2013’s fairly disappointing slew of updates, the playerbase has remained strong.”
“I still don’t have any plans for a future beyond creating content for TF2,” concluded Burnett. “I’d like to work with my best friend – a programmer – and create indie games with him when he’s finished university.”
“But who knows?”
Jennifer “NeoDement” Burnett’s work can be found on her Steam Workshop.
Will “Ruskeydoo” Segerman – 33 – Modeler / Texture Artist / KritzKast Host – Brighton, England
In the southern-England town of Brighton is 33 year-old jack-of-all-trades, Will Segerman. Segerman, under the alias Ruskeydoo, develops various artistic works, all while being one of the hosts of the TF2-centric podcast, KritzKast.
Segerman makes a living from being a freelance artist, with plenty of work in fine art sculptures, prop-making for film and theatre, multi-discipline music, professional juggling, and of course – cosmetic items in TF2.
Starting with 3D modeling in the form of Second Life, Segerman soon got into a California-based company, The Magicians, making various educational simulators for places around the world in 2006.
“My housemates were super stoked about TF2 coming out,” he said. “I played [Team Fortress Classic] so I thought I’d give it a look, [and I] got into TF2 a lot.”
“I was working on a load of custom projects at home when the Polycount competition came along – I thought it would be a fun excuse to learn how to model for computer games properly, so I went for it. Took a month off from all other projects, and made the Hibernating Bear set, teaching myself as I went along. I didn’t expect it to get in, but was very happy when it did.”
The Hibernating Bear set was added in the first Australian Christmas update, and soon after, Segerman started to get paid for his work. “[I] was obviously very happy,” he recalled. “Felt surreal at the same time. For the original Polycount competition, there was never any talk of making money from our work. Everyone involved was doing it just for the love of the game.”
“I remember when the first payment came in, because I thought I’d lost a load of money from my account, I didn’t realise that there was an extra zero on the end.”
While not 100 percent sure how much he’s made off his work since then, Segerman lives pretty well off of it. Despite most of his recent work being charitable, he still makes around $1,600 a month from older items added to the game, and has even managed a few promotional gigs.
“How I got the Telltale gig was bizarre,” he noted. “When I started TF2, my brother was doing post-doc work in Texas and my mother and I flew over to visit. I ended up playing some TF2 over there, and found a lovely set of servers called the Bar Room Heroes, really good people.”
Back in the UK, Segerman continued playing on the BRH servers, and found his way to their Counter-Strike: Source servers as well. “One of the guys I played CS:S with is drinking buddies with the project manager at Telltale,” he continued. “So I get a shout from this guy who I played CSS with ages ago, saying I should get my TF2 portfolio to him.”
“I made a TF2 portfolio, Telltale liked it, and that was that. Totally random, though I think it helped that I had been doing the [tournament] medals for a bit, as Telltale asked Valve if they thought working with me was alright, and apparently the reply was ‘cool.’”
Segerman also did promotional work for KritzKast with the Lo-Fi Longwave. At the time, he was an occasional substitute on the podcast, but a few months later, he had become a full-time host.
Segerman’s work and its success has impacted his life “Massively,” he said. “I’m pretty much just doing the same stuff I was before, but I’m much more financially stable,” said Segerman. “My wife is just finishing her PhD so its also really awesome that I can support her in that.”
“[I’m] still enjoying what I’m doing right now, so [I’m] going to stick with it for now,
he concluded. “I’ve never really had a grand plan. Nothing has ever hit me as ‘this is what I want to do,’ so I tend to keep learning new stuff that interests me, and combining techniques.”
Liran “Ducksink” Ohana – 18 – Modeler / Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Israel
18 year-old Liran Ohana currently resides in southern Israel. Known among the modding community as Ducksink, Ohana has several successful works to show, as well as promotional work for games like Sleeping Dogs and Hitman: Absolution.
“I’ve always had a passion for expressing myself,” said Ohana, “whether it’s by playing, drawing or doing anything along those lines.”
“I’ve been to an art class for just one lesson in my life, and decided it wasn’t how I wanted to learn art. So I left, and started learning on my own with help from the internet.”
A few years ago, Ohana got his start with 3D modeling through making vehicles, weapons, and accessories for an early version of Blockland, an open-world game where players build with Lego-like materials.
What got him to make the shift to Team Fortress 2? “Oh, this is a funny story,” laughed Ohana. “Some point after I started playing TF2, I was completely unaware of the userbase and community creator base for it – this was before the ‘Contribute!’ page.”
“Once I stumbled upon a game screenshot which had the Scout in it,” continued Ohana, “and he was wearing a silly, unfamiliar hat. It looked like a very primitive version of the Hot Dogger– which is what it actually was– and it got me curious.”
“I started looking it up and found out about the TF2 Mod Emporium, which at the time was made of a lot of inexperienced, soon-to-be contributors who were willing to help out and guide me through the process. I had a lot of annoying questions to ask, but it was fun and new, so I kept doing it.”
It would be another one to two years before Ohana struck gold with his work, when the Itsy Bitsy Spyer was added into the game in early 2011. Despite international payment issues, there was still plenty to be happy about.
“[It was] a lot of running around through IRS-approved agents to try and get an ITIN number,” remembered Ohana. “I don’t recall the first time I got paid, but I remember being extremely happy; though it wasn’t a very large amount if I remember correctly.”
While not much at first, Ohana’s pay grew over time, and his work even landed him promotional gigs with Square Enix on multiple occasions.
“Not a whole lot of people in my country are familiar with TF2,” noted Ohana, “but I never feel ashamed to explain it to any of my friends who don’t. I’m proud of my work, and it’s always fun to try and share with friends and family what I’m actually doing. It certainly helps people take your work more seriously! And, the money is good so no harm in that either.”
“The game industry in my country is not a very developed one, in most areas, as far as I know,” added Ohana. “Which is why I hope to try and advance it, and bring it forward so that people like me could get a job in doing what they love. Those are really big expectations. While making items for the workshop is a fun hobby, you can’t really develop it to a full-time job.”
“I still have a lot ahead before I can start trying, with military service and all, but I certainly hope that I could work in this area in the future.”
When it comes to getting involved in the contributor business, “Don’t give up,” says Ohana. “Hating your work is okay – it helps you get better. Never be too proud to think that you are above anyone else. Count on the item creator community, mostly they’re very helpful.”
“While the money factor is indeed tempting, try doing it out of fun and will to progress first. Worry about the rest later.
“I think that what Valve is doing is great,” concluded Ohana, “its really helping out a lot of people who want to progress and don’t know how and where to start, and I’m thankful for that.”
Liran “Ducksink” Ohana’s work can be found on his Steam Workshop.