Working WITH a publisher and not FOR a publisher

So a few days ago I ranted on about how publishers want to own the IP at the expense of the little guy, thereby removing one the principle reasons why you’d want to go Indie in the first place.

So what, I am asked, is the solution? Bearing in mind that publishers ARE burdening the principle financial risk, it’s a bit much for developers to sit back and say “Well, you should be grateful for the chance to risk your money funding us! Now give us a check and go away”.

So what is the solution? How do publishers get the return on their risk? Leaving aside the actual management of that risk, which we’ll get into in other posts – how do we ensure that everyone gets their just returns?

Well the most obvious is compromise. 50% ownership of an IP is something that at least factors in the publisher. It does tend to cripple a lot of things – the developer can’t just up and move the game to another publisher, but on the other hand the publisher can’t do things with the IP without the developer being in on it and profiting from it, which is good.

It does tend to screw with the developer being able to sell themselves since the IP is less valuable when another publisher owning 50% of it, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Realistically for a start up right now I would say that if they can get 50% ownership of their first IP with a publisher funding, they are doing well (obviously if you self fund, thats a different ball of wax). At the very least you’ll have to grant first right of refusal for a couple of sequels (which isn’t that bad of an option to grant, as long as you don’t pre-negotiate returns and so on).

Failing that, I would say that a publisher needs to recoup at the same rate as the developer in order to own the IP – so either all royalties go towards paying off advances right at the start, then both parties get the pay off and the publisher can own the IP outright, or the current system whereby the publisher gets profit at moment 1 while the developer pays off advances and the developer owns the IP.

That’s fairest. However to be honest lots of publishers have little interest in being fair and every interest in making as much money as possible as fast as possible and screw the little guy. Can’t make a profit? That’s your problem.

What is missing here is the understanding at the publisher (and sometimes dev) level that this is a partnership, not a You Work For Me Because I Have All The Money situation. The developer is every bit as necessary for this partnership to work because a publisher with just money and no one to make games for them isn’t going to make any more money.

There needs to be give and take on both sides, and there needs to be a view of a long term relationship rather than the incredibly short term “I want my options to be worth as much as possible next month” view that takes place currently.

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