On Eagle Semen and lessons learned

Starting this month I’m selling my book “Eagle Semen” as an eBook through Amazon and Gumroad. It’s the story of how I quit my job as a producer of TechTV’s The Screen Savers in the worst possible way, and why.

Eagle-Semen-Cover_2What the book doesn’t really go into, though, is what happens after you write an email like that. At the time I thought I was walking away from working in television, and that it really wouldn’t matter what people would think of me for writing an email about all of them “drowning in eagle semen.” I was right and wrong.

As it turns out, I never did work in television again (nor do I intend to), but it does matter what people think of me. Not only did I manage to burn bridges with many of the people I worked with at TechTV (most of whom did me no wrong), but at every job interview since I’ve been asked to address that email, and there have been times when I’ve missed opportunities because of having written it.

I have zero regrets. After all, I’ve done alright. And the person I am today needed to be the person I was then. But one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that how you say goodbye matters just as much, if not more, than how you say hello. I’ve never again written such an angry farewell email.

That said, I’ve been tempted. And I’ve also been tempted to “revisit” the “eagle semen” email in sly ways. But in the end (no pun intended) I’ve tended to fall on the side of trying to inspire and encourage those I’m leaving behind, rather than intimidate them.

Below is an email I wrote (but never sent) when I was leaving Polygon in July of 2014. It’s a riff on the “eagle semen” email, but, I think, much more positive.

When men look to the sky, they see the eagle soar and feel shame that they, too, can’t fly. When eagles see men, they see all that man might be and know that some day man, too, will fly.

As you walk into the future that awaits you, don’t look to the sky and see the eagles and doubt that you belong among them. Instead, allow yourself to be filled with the spirit of what the eagles see in men, and know that one day, you too will soar.

If you want to read the original “eagle semen” email, as well as the story of how I worked up to writing it, you can buy my eBook “Eagle Semen” for $1.99 at Gumroad, or $2.99 at Amazon.

Get Eagle Semen

(For those who are curious, below is the actual email (slightly edited to remove confidential company information) I sent to my colleagues when Ieft Polygon.)

My dear friends and colleagues,

You’ve all probably heard by now: I will be leaving Polygon, effective June 27.

When I spoke with Vox in November of 2011 about helping to start Polygon, I thought it was a company led by crazy people. The plan they shared with me, to build websites based on quality first, driven by premium advertising, was one I knew well. We tried it at The Escapist, and I believed in it there (hey, Webbys) and still believe in it now.

But focusing on quality first is a risky play. It takes time and money and a commitment to persevere in the face of impending doom. Many media companies simply don’t have the will to pull it off.

Vox had the will. Vox believed it could execute, deliver on quality and build a business on top of it. And it convinced me to help try. I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

So I joined this company led by crazy people and guess what? We did it! We built Polygon, and everything we’ve done at Polygon has been of the highest quality. And people noticed. And we became envied, admired and even feared. And we did all of that in just two years.

Features has been just one part of that, but it’s obviously the part of which I am the most proud. Working with Charlie and Matt and Jake and Warren and Tom and Jimmy and Caleb and Tyson and Ally and Jon Douglas and all of you to write, edit, design, film, illustrate and publish Polygon’s amazing longform features has been the fullest experience of my life so far. We created two of the most exciting and interesting products I’ve ever been a part of, in the longform feature-meets-video series ‘Press Reset’ and ‘Human Angle.’ We touched the humanity of game design in a way that few outlets had done before us, and few will successfully copy after. And this passion for quality and humanity is one of the things we are best known for now.

Simply put, these past three and a half years have been the fulfillment of a very long-held dream for me. A crazy dream, perhaps, but living it out has nevertheless been amazing. And I thank you all for every part you played in it, big and small.

But things change.

As Vox continues to tighten its operations — becoming less crazy maybe — it has become clear to me that the time for what I can positively contribute to Polygon has come to an end, and that now is the time for a graceful exit.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be wrapping up existing stories and helping the features team transition to operating in my permanent absence. After that, apart from finally diving into personal writing projects and giving takethis.org some long overdue attention, I have no idea where I will end up.

Wherever I go I will leave a substantial piece of my heart behind with all of you, at this place we built together with our passion, our hard work and our dreams.

Thank you all for making all of it feel worth something. Best of luck with everything that you do in the months and years ahead.

Keep dreaming,

-R

P.S. I’ll still be here for a few weeks, so don’t make it awkward and act like I’m dead.

Flying Saucer Media: Elevating Ideas

I’m a writer. I have always been a writer. I will always be a writer.

But I’m also a video producer.

My career has been a constant struggle between these two, at times mutually exclusive, jobs. At times I’ve favored the video producer job. At other times, the writer job. There have been social and employment pressures in each direction, and being my stubborn self, I have generally stood fast on whatever side I wanted to be on at the time.

When I helped found Polygon.com in 2012, my job description was both. I was to be a writer and a video producer, features editor, and executive producer of Video. And, for a time, this worked out fine for everyone. In those early days of Polygon, I produced what I think are some of my best works in both written and video media. But as the site grew, I inevitably had to choose one path or another. Panic.

When I had the talk with my boss about whether to focus on the video or writing side at Polygon, I remembered a similar situation years before, when I worked at The Escapist. I started there as a writer, and I wrote a lot of stories I was proud of. But then, seemingly out of the blue, video became a big thing in web media. Since I’d worked in television and film, I was asked to build The Escapist’s video program, and I agreed. I had no idea at the time that this would soon overwhelm my life and crowd writing completely out of the picture for the next five years. But it did. I helped create big brands, like Zero Punctuation and Unskippable, and I oversaw the creation of a division that would expand The Escapist’s traffic by 2,000% and help it win numerous awards and make all kinds of money and blah, blah. But in order to do all that, I had to walk away from the writing career I was building and focus exclusively on making and executiveproducing videos. It was an exciting time, but I spent a lot of it wishing I could have kept writing.

So when I thought about what to do at Polygon, the question, for me, was simple: I wanted to write. I wanted to see how far I could go with writing the kind of longform, human-driven stories I favor. I wanted to find my limit. I wanted to find out what kind of writer I wanted to be. What kind of writer I could be. So I stepped aside from video production and focused on writing and editing feature stories. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

But times change.

Having now moved on from Polygon, I feel I’ve finally proved to myself what I can accomplish as a writer. And I have the drive and energy to pursue writing projects whether they are commercial or not. (More often, they’re not, and that’s just fine with me.) I’m working on a number of projects now, and some of them might get published in magazines or online, and others might just be for myself. Some might start one way and end up the other. Doesn’t matter. I’m writing what I want to write. These days, I’m doing it for me. But having answered the question of what kind of writer I want to be, I find I am now in a place where working in production again feels less cumbersome. More than that, I’m finding I miss it.

The fact is, I’m good at producing video. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. I’ve worked with some of the most talented people and helped them do their best work. And I’ve created video products I’m genuinely proud of. I realize, having found my confidence as a writer, that I don’t have to do one or the other. I can do both. And if producing video just happens to be more commercial than writing, so be it.

TL;DR: I’ve founded a production companyFlyingSaucerMedia-Logo-Black

For now the goal is to keep the Flying Saucer Media client list small, working on just a few projects a year. Mostly brand-building or documentary-style consumer films highlighting the humanity behind products or services. We might also work on non-commercial stuff, if we feel like it.

It’s a small thing right now. But it might become a big thing. And I think I’ve found a market niche where my style and reputation for on-time and under-budget production will be in demand.

So if you like the stuff I worked on at Polygon and want me to do something for your company, let me know. We are now accepting requests for proposals.

Why Amazon? And what happened to Gumroad? And why didn’t you tell me?

These are all good questions.

As some of you have noticed I’ve shifted sale of my book “How Video Games Are Made: My 16 Months Inside the Development of Defense Grid 2″ from the Gumroad marketplace to Amazon. This was not a frivolous decision.

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Update on my eBook “How Video Games Are Made”

Since the publication of the last installment of my article series at Polygon about the making of Defense Grid 2, many of you have been wondering when those articles would be available in eBook form. I can now, at long last, give you an approximate answer: Soon.

I finished writing the book, adding new chapters, expanding the original interviews and restructuring the story to account for being able to apply hindsight (and now having an ending) in October. And last month a version of the eBook went out to people who’d ordered the “Steam Special edition” version of Defense Grid 2 on Steam. Early reviews of the book are positive.

Soon I will finally be offering the eBook for sale, via Gumroad, but it will be slightly different than what the Steam customers received.

 

HowVideoGamesAreMade

 

The new title is “How Video Games Are Made: My 16 Months Inside the Development of Defense Grid 2, by Russ Pitts.” And the book will have new cover art (the above image is temporary) created by the designer of many of my Polygon articles, Tyson Whiting.

The book will be made available as soon as it is ready, which I hope will be sometime in December 2014. You can pre-order it here. (Thank you to those who have already done so.)

UPDATE (12/15/14): The book will definitely be made available this week. Thanks for your patience.

My Chili Recipe

I’ve been working on this chili recipe for a little over 20 years. The current version is based on my current tastes. Yours may differ. Feel free to shake it up. The only really important parts are that you brown the meat well and get the spices right. And don’t forget the peppers!

Here’s the recipe in a little more legible text. A step-by-step livetweet of the process follows.

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The last byline

I’ve just filed a story with the website www.escapistmagazine.com. It’s a story based on a pitch I sent to editor-in-chief Greg Tito on July 17th of this year, and that was officially assigned to me on July 24th. As I believe it is my professional obligation to Greg, his website and the subjects of my article to complete that assignment to the best of my ability, I have done so. I do not know when the story will be published, but it will most likely be the last time my name appears on a byline at The Escapist for the foreseeable future. Thought you, as fans of my work, should know that.

404

If you’re looking for something on this site and not finding it, I have bad news for you: It’s gone.

The short version is: Back up your database regularly.

The long version is: I migrated the site to a new host. I backed up my database at the old host. I attempted to build a new database at the new host and discovered that the backup I had was three years old and corrupted. For whatever reason, my current DB from the old host did not export, and the DB I had was unusable.

As of 9 am this morning, when my old host erased my old database, my site ceased to be. I’ve spent most of the rest of the day rebuilding the super important bits from an internet archive and whatever I had stored locally. I will spend whatever time I have in the coming weeks (spoiler alert: I don’t have much) rebuilding what I can of the rest. Whatever is left will simply be gone for good. Sorry.

Protip: Back up your database. And then verify those backups.