Only months after I first started building in SL, I got my first request for custom work. Someone wanted uniforms for a military in their roleplay group. They would pay me L$3000, and in return I would give them a full-permission copy to distribute while I would never sell the uniform to anyone else. Call me naive, eager to please, or just easily impressed by a number as ‘large’ as 3000. Whatever the case, I took the job.
This was my first experience with working for peanuts.
After about a month’s worth of building with a hawk watching over my shoulder, I finished and vowed never to do that again. But then someone else told me they would pay L$3000 for a custom avatar. They still didn’t want me to resell, but they didn’t want full permissions. For some reason, this seemed like a much better deal, even though the job took me just as long to finish.
A long story short, the last two custom commissions that I took were over two years ago. The client paid $75 US for each. After that I have refused to take on any more commissions in Second Life. Why?
Because $75 US for a full, custom outfit is still peanuts.
Doing the Math
If I’m working at a good pace, it will take me a week to sculpt up the pieces for a full outfit and fit them, and then another week to texture everything. This is if I’m working roughly 12-hour days, 5 to 6 days a week. Different outfits take different time-spans, but for the sake of this post, lets say that on average, I work about 120 hours on a single outfit. (This is probably an underestimate.)
Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25.
So if I was to charge minimum wage to create a custom full outfit, I would have to charge over $800 US.
Now the catch is, that’s MINIMUM wage. No one who does commission work charges minimum wage. They charge more. An illustrator might get paid $500 US for a single magazine spot that might have taken him about 10 hours to do. That’s $50 an hour. And what’s more? They keep the copyright for the image. They’re only selling the license to use it, and if someone else comes by and says “Hey, we’ll pay you $600 if we can use that illustration you did,” the artist can sell the license again!
The reason they charge as much as they do? Because they HAVE to in order to survive. They aren’t creating art for pay all the time. They also have to promote their work, talk to clients, do paperwork, PLUS they’re self-employed which means they have to pay a larger percentage of their income on taxes than people who are employed by a company.
Translating to Second Life
I’m not saying that Second Life builders should charge $500 to create something for someone while retaining the right to resell. That’s silly. The reason Illustrators do it is they may only sell the license one or two times per illustration.
But the idea is still this: Whether it’s Second Life or real life, the talent and the time is still the same. I still have to take time to promote my store, to talk to customers, to make updates, to write up these tutorials and so much more. And I’m still self-employed, which means a nice chunk of my income goes to taxes. Then on top of that there’s paying for the sim, a premium SL account, mall spaces, etc.
The only thing that’s different between RL business and SL business is the economy. Second Life is a micro-economy. A thousand Linden dollars is less than $4 US in the Exchange. On the flip-side, $1000 US is about L$259000. To expect someone to pay $1000 US for a custom outfit is unreasonable from a Second Life perspective, but to work for any less than that is unreasonable from a real life perspective.
So my solution is to simply not accept custom commissions.
Statistics Specific to Me
In the first month of sales, my latest avatar sold 86 times at my top two in-world locations, bringing in L$94600 (about $365 US). (Update: March and April sales were both over L$100,000 for this avatar.) While the sales per month will probably decline eventually, she will still sell. Last month, the other four avatars in my ‘top sellers’ brought in about L$15-20,000 ($58-78 US) a piece, and they are fairly consistent from month to month.
I don’t post this information to brag. I’m sure there are plenty of other people on SL who make the same sort of money or more, and while I consider myself skilled, I don’t think I’m that special. I only give you this information to bring home the point that on Second Life it makes more financial sense for a builder to spend their time working on things they can resell than in doing custom commissions.
This is why I do not take them. No matter how sweet a person you are or how awesome your design may be, I CANNOT take on custom commissions and still survive as a business person in Second Life.