Started from *Free* now we're here
Neopets was the first time I’d ever heard about HTML or CSS. I had been playing terrible games for a long time at this point, even digging into basic at one point to try and do something.. but I didn’t have the interest at the time. I didn’t have anyone in my (or my parents) circle that was interested in computers at the time, so I never even considered what was possible. Neopets was a free game where you took care of a digital pet and then played a ton of games to earn in-game money. They even had a huge “Auction house” that was made up of individual stores that users ran. You could start a store, and set up your own items for sale. It was amazing. It also gave you a little area to enter HTML/CSS snippets so you could customize your store. That was why I bothered learning HTML/CSS at all. To customize my neopets store. They had the same interface for your clan page - customize your entire clan page with HTML and CSS. It was amazing. It was the first time anything related to “programming” clicked and I realized I loved it.
I don’t remember a single ad on neopet trying to force me to make a purchase of a premium currency. There probably were.. but I don’t remember them at all.
After learning HTML/CSS and offering my services to other neopets players in exchange for ingame goods.. I grew out of what neopets offered. In that time I discovered geocities and it DHTML. I loved it. I grew out of that too when I started digging into PHP and started looking around for free shared hosting. There were a lot of hosting companies at the time.
One in particular, Host Matrix, caught my attention - because I love the Matrix. They were having a promotion where if you wrote long form tutorials for them (around HTML/CSS/PHP) you could get free hosting! And so I did. I wrote a lot of tutorials so that I could get free hosting and continue into this weird world I had stumbled in to.
Around the same time I picked up the guitar. My dad had played the guitar since his teens, and so there was always one around. I had never shown an interest in it.. but one day I picked it up and started learning how to play. Mostly because of tabs (tabulature) - a fingering based musical notation that works beautifully for the guitar. People, on the internet, would listen to songs, figure out what they were playing.. and then write it down and put it on the internet.. for free! I devoured everything I could find. Eventually I got good enough that I could write my own tabs and share with others! It was incredible.
When I started branching out musically.. it was because of free access to it. The first time I had heard Ravenous by Arch Enemy my mind was blown - I ran home and downloaded the song. I listened to it every day for a week and then started learning it. When I discovered Children of Bodom and Kalmah it was the same thing. Obscure bands that I would never have had the hope of finding out, accessible to me because it was free.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand there were costs to creating this. I’ve spent the last decade of my life building SaaS software for companies and managing infra budgets. I understand the cost. But also, I understand that I wasn’t a customer. Arch Enemy didn’t lose money by having me download their album. I didn’t have access to purchase their album and I didn’t have the money to do it. Arch Enemy gained a fan that would later on buy tickets to shows, and albums, and t-shirts. A fan that would have never bothered if he hadn’t heard their albums for free.
Free played a huge role in my life and I’ve always loved it. I donate a few hours every week to local startups that need technical advice. I hang out in slack groups answering questions. I hang out in Magic discord groups answering questions. I write software and give it away for free. I do it because I owe so much to free.
And now I sit here trying to figure out monetization strategies for my projects.. and I don’t like it. I wish I could do it for free, but there are costs associated with it that I know I won’t be able to subsidize forever. I know I want as much of it to be free as possible. I don’t want people to feel like they need to pay, I want them to want to. So I have to think about the best way to monetize Rising Legends that are in line with my philosophies…