Game Developer Refuses Publishing Offer; Realizes It's Better To Stay Independent

from the breaking-down-gates dept

The world of video game publishing is being turned upside down. Much like other entertainment industries, more and more game developers are learning that publishers offer little additional value for the costs they come bundled with. This realization is following other recent events in which game developers, who could not find a publisher interested in their game, ended up crowdfunding and raising the needed money that way. The primary crowdfunding tipping point for video games was Double Fine and its adventure game. That was followed by a number of other successes such as inXile's Wasteland 2 project.

Now it seems that even with publisher interest, some developers are choosing to stay independent by crowdfunding their new games. Of this group is Revolution Software, which makes the popular adventure series Broken Sword. Charles Cecil told Edge that his company was approached by a publisher to strike a deal for the 5th game in the series, but Cecil had turned them down.
In an extensive interview, Cecil says the industry's "biggest third party publisher" was interested in taking the new Broken Sword. Instead he decided to seek $400,000 in funding for his new point-and-click adventure through Kickstarter.

"The publisher approached us and asked ‘what do we need to do to publish Broken Sword?' I was enormously flattered, but decided it was better if we self-published," he tells us.
Cecil continues to explain that staying independent allows him and his company to control the development and schedule of the game, something lost when signing a publishing deal. He continued to explain that after a publisher takes its cut of the revenue, there is little, if anything, left for the developer.
Publishers take all the risk when they fund a project, but they also take what a developer would see as a disproportionate cut of the revenue. At Revolution we had not made royalties on a game for over a decade until digital distribution which pretty much saved us.
This is something we see regularly in just about every industry. The publisher, label or whatever used to hold all the cards and were able to pull off such deals. Very few of those deals have turned out to be all that profitable for the actual creator. Now, we continually highlight numerous cases of artists pushing back, even to the point of lawsuits. However, the most common method of pushing back is to go independent, much like Cecil here.

Taking a look at the Broken Sword Kickstarter page, it seems that this independent attitude is resonating with fans. This campaign was launched on August 23rd and as of this writing is nearly halfway to its $400,000 goal. Much like the other Kickstarters I mentioned above, this one looks as it will go well beyond that goal.

With all these independent successes happening throughout the games industries, the question must be asked, "Is there a place for publishers?" That is a question those organizations will have to ask within themselves. We have written before that in the future, those companies will have to move away from being gatekeepers and into being enablers. Those companies that refuse to adapt to that reality will find that they will have a tougher time of staying successful in the future. Until then, those enablers that make things happen, such as Kickstarter and other crowdfunding services, will continue to gain ground and enable successful careers for artists.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ed C., Aug 27th, 2012 @ 5:28pm

    I would look forward to another round of Broken Sword, as long as they don't make the mistakes they had with Secrets of the Ark/Angel of Death again. Not that Sleeping Dragon was the best of the bunch either, but the plot of the last game was just awful, and the ending even worse!

     

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    art guerrilla (profile), Aug 27th, 2012 @ 6:57pm

    i'll just leave this here...

    not strictly apropos of this subject, but applies to a *lot* of the topics, and especially to certain copyright maximalists and their comments:
    legal does NOT equal moral
    ...
    classe, ecoute et repeate: (sp?)
    LEGAL DOES NOT EQUAL MORAL
    ...
    MANY of their 'arguments' for maximum copyright 'enforcement', are predicated on using laws they have bought to justify the immoral acts they take...
    okay, the MAFIAA got a law passed which benefits the 1% and screws over the 99%; i realize it is 'the law', BUT IS IT MORAL ? ? ?
    okay, a starving artist signed an onerous contract within a pre-existing rapacious system of agents, producers, labels, etc, where they have little choice; it may be 'legal' for the gatekeepers to screw over the artists, BUT IS IT MORAL ? ? ?
    i realize in these endtimes for small dee democracy, that it is all but archaic to consider things such as morals, ethics, and fairness, when a dollar remains to be stolen from some kid somewhere; but i'm thinking this total 'de-regulation' of morals in this super-duper, ultra-moderne, most civlizedest society EVAH, has led us down a path that ain't so nice...
    can we stop our headlong race to oblivion ? ? ?
    not without morals we ain't...
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 6:57pm

    Zack, you and Mike both seem to make the same mistake on stories like this.

    It shouldn't be surprising at all that SOME game developers would go this route. It would be a really big story if the vast majority of games were being made this way, or that a significant part of the retail market for games was suddenly via crowd sourcing (aka, pay ahead for an uncertain product).

    One could look at the success in music of Phish, as an example, a wrongly draw the conclusion that everyone wants indie jam bands. You have to pay attention to understand the difference between big trends and just smaller side notes.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 6:58pm

    After what happened to Park Place Productions back in the 90's with it's interactions with sony, I would think that keeping your own software games in house would be the best thing that a developer could do.
    Having met Mike Knox at a northern San Diego county mall software store back in the later part of 91 and chatting with him about all the crap that sony was causing PPP. Seeing what these so called distribution and publishing houses do to screw over the little guy, I am happy to see that now the little guy is getting back some of his power.
    Also as we all know sony has gone on to screw all of us at some point.
    Three cheers for the little guy.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 7:09pm

    Re:

    You could have said the same thing about Free-2-Play games circa 2006.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 7:41pm

    Re: i'll just leave this here...

    I like ILLEGAL DOES NOT EQUAL IMMORAL(sorry just came in from the marijuana post)

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 8:05pm

    Re: Re: i'll just leave this here...

    yes, they both apply...
    thanks
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  8.  
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    Brent (profile), Aug 27th, 2012 @ 10:19pm

    If this follows the same path as we've seen in other industries then right now there is a proposal in the works that would require a 'seal' prior to bringing video games to the public market. The purpose of the seal is to ensure each video game is safe for public viewing and not likely to inspire terrorism, shoplifting, and/or copyright infringement/piracy/research. The cost of obtaining the proposed seal would be prohibitively expensive as well as a lengthy process, possibly with tiered fees for faster processing. Accordingly, the timing of this proposal is not related to recent news or industry trends but due to its importance, it will be passed into law 1 hour ago.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 10:36pm

    well done that man. may many more join him!

     

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    explicit coward (profile), Aug 27th, 2012 @ 11:51pm

    Re:

    Mistake? I'd say it's a bet - and a good one at that.

    Recognizing emerging trends BEFORE they become fait accompli IS what makes good stories. What looks like a side note now may be the norm in 10 years.

    And concerning the "pay ahead for an uncertain product": You bring your money to the bank, the bank loans the money to the publisher, the publisher pays ahead for an uncertain product. I know, very simplified, but still. By crowdfunding you take the risk in your own hands instead of letting somebody else decide where to risk your money. By crowdfunding the success benefits you and the producer and not some intermediary parasites.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2012 @ 11:57pm

    Re:

    what crap did sony do?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 1:47am

    Re: Re:

    "And concerning the "pay ahead for an uncertain product": You bring your money to the bank, the bank loans the money to the publisher, the publisher pays ahead for an uncertain product. I know, very simplified, but still. By crowdfunding you take the risk in your own hands instead of letting somebody else decide where to risk your money. By crowdfunding the success benefits you and the producer and not some intermediary parasites."

    Nice story, but you missed because of one simple issue: My money in the bank is not at risk. The bank, the FDIC, and others cover my deposits if the bank goes tits up. There is no connection between my money and the product being made.

    My only risk is, after reading ads and perhaps seeing reviews, I choose to take money out of the bank and take the risk of buying the product.

    The crowd funded model is basically a recipe for vaporware and other empty box scams. It moves the risk to each individual, without suitable protections, without disclosure rules, and the like.

    Sothe chance that this becomes a "fait accompli" is low, just like the chances of their being a nationwide network of all Phish style jam music stations.

     

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    icreongame, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 3:18am

    I will say that its better to develop independent games rather than depending on publishers. It would be great if game developers could publish their own games but I think that's not feasible for most of them.

     

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  14.  
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    Jonny, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 3:27am

    I hope more decide to stay indie. Sure, you get paid if Activision or EA buy you but then it's almost a guarantee they'll shut you down...I miss you Bizarre Creations.

     

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  15.  
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    explicit coward (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 3:33am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "My money in the bank is not at risk. The bank, the FDIC, and others cover my deposits if the bank goes tits up. There is no connection between my money and the product being made."

    Here in Switzerland we had to bailout UBS with the taxpayers money - our money. You think that can't happen in the USA, because?

    "The crowd funded model is basically a recipe for vaporware and other empty box scams. It moves the risk to each individual, without suitable protections, without disclosure rules, and the like."

    Vaporeware and empty box scams get financed one way or another - but with crowdfunding it's a lot more transparent than when you have a countless number of "failsave" intermediaries which disclose exactly nada because that would be bad business practice because it would give an advantage to competitors.

    Obviously crowdfunding will not replace the current financing model in every sector. But I'm quite confident that it will become a major player concerning entertainment.

     

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  16.  
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    indieThing, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 3:41am

    Re:

    :) Me too.

    One of the best developers I've worked with over the years.

     

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  17.  
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    Michael, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 4:30am

    Another example

    Although not crowd-funded, when Shiny Entertainment first started out a major publisher went to them with one of their major licenses. Shiny said no and went on to make the extremely successful Earthworm Jim. That's an example of developers going independent.

    Another prior example was Treasure. Back in the early 90's, various programmers defected from Konami to form their own company. The result was Treasure and they created some of the most memorable and creative software, including Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy and Light Crusader.

    Back in the 80's, Richard Garriot, a.k.a. Lord British, created one of the most revered and influential RPG series ever created -- Ultima.

    Etc. Etc. The underlying theme being that innovation and creativity occur with greater frequency when developers are not constrained by a big publisher's demands.

    There can be no doubt that popular developers such as Capcom, Nintendo, Square, etc. saw their creative peak back in the 80's on up into the early/mid 90's. As they became more successful (and Japan's bubble economy began to subside), they became far more restrictive. The result? Tons of uninspired sequels/spin-offs and less variety across the board.

    Crowdfunding is still finding its legs, therefore I think it's too early to predict the demise of the traditional publisher. However, it's clearly a threat to the old guard. Otherwise, certain VG websites, taking their marching orders from the big publishers who have them in their back pockets, wouldn't post hitman pieces about what a horrible risk crowdfunding presents. It's a shallow attempt to scare off would-be investors.

    However, indie dev projects isn't even what's got them so spooked -- no, what they're really afraid of is for somebody to crowdfund an independent platform (i.e. a console or similar) which competes for market space against Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. How come? Easy: so long as the 'big three' maintain their hegemony over the market, they can dictate the terms. That means they can enforce all the bogus DRM, online passes, patches, setting up a digital distribution model to kill off the second-hand market, and tack on all the artifical charges they want. A corporate nightmare if ever there was one.

     

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  18.  
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    Lord Binky, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:21am

    I think these video game publishers are very misleading about their role. The publishers at present see developers as merely work for hire teams they either own, or outsource. They see themselves as the key piece, the holder of the money, wielder of risk,the brains of the operation, and the kingpin to be rewarded.

    In reality they are more like a loan shark + advertising company. If they were really a Publisher, their only role is to produce copies and distribute them. Which because of the internet any developer can perform on their own to varying degrees.

    Instead the publishers lock developers in with copyrights so they "own" everything and hope the developers never gain enough money to fund their own project freeing them from their grasp.

    The funding part has been the bane of many studios since it can take time after a project's release to see the return, requiring a significant amount of money to continue operations until then, which isn't really a risk, it's just having enough money to hang in there. Advertising can speed this up, but that's costly too... that whole takes money to make money bit and all.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Here in Switzerland we had to bailout UBS with the taxpayers money - our money. You think that can't happen in the USA, because?

    It has happened here in the US, hundreds of billions in federal bailouts. And instead of going to jail for fraud, the banking execs got fat bonuses!

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 10:13am

    Re: Another example

    what they're really afraid of is for somebody to crowdfund an independent platform

    You mean like this?

     

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  21.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

    Re:

    So, we're using the "it's not what everybody's doing so it won't work" deflection this time? Don't you remember how pathetic that was 5 years ago, let alone now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 2:21pm

    The thing that will be interesting will be how this affects other games over the next few years. There's been quite a few high profile, well received Kickstarter projects that have funded numerous videogames. They will be entering the market over the next year or two, and copies are already purchased. Most of these games have some guarantee of quality, and I'm sure most will achieve that. Unless Double Fine's game proves to be complete crap or Broken Sword turns out something akin to the later LSL games, most gamers who have paid will play them heavily on release.

    That will inevitably affect other games. Will the latest EA/Ubisoft DRM demo suffer as a result if a percentage of games forego their latest releases for the games they already bought? if so, will they realise why they just lost that income, or will they just assume it's piracy? How many sales will be lost simply because independent competitors just happened to offer quality product at the time their customers were looking for it?

    Who knows... Maybe not that many, but if this becomes a real trend we could be seeing things that will affect the industry in a major way. Not now, but a couple of years after these pledges have been made. That's food for thought, I think. Sadly, I'm a little pessimistic here and think that most people playing CoD26 won't even consider the new Broken Sword even if it's down their alley normally, but we shall see. But, it's early days and I'm sure that if someone crowdfunded the next Counterstrike (which originated as a mere mod, of course) we'd start to see some reaction now. It's only because the crowdfunding seems to gravitate toward the supposedly unprofitable adventure genre that it's being ignored. The fact that enough fans exist to completely fund the development process escapes them for now.

     

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  23.  
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    Michael, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 6:45am

    Re: Re: Another example

    "You mean like this?"

    Not quite. Ouya isn't designed in such a way as to compete head-to-head with the 3 major console makers. What I was referring to was something that can compete on similar ground and thus eat away at their market space, forcing them to compete. It would need to be more cost-efficient, both in terms of hardware and software, dev costs would have to be much lower, it would need compelling software to draw gamers in, et al. Easier said than done ...but definitely possible.

    For well over a decade Sega competed directly against Nintendo for market space. SNK's Neo Geo, while too expensive to compete directly with the 16-bit consoles, survived just fine thanks in large part to the popularity of their arcades, plus many of their games being translated to other platforms (by Takara, until SNK took the helm during the 32-bit era). Sure, Atari failed, twice, but there's always bound to be casualties in any market. People can learn from their mistakes. NEC was an oddity in that in Japan their PC Engine console was wildly successful yet failed miserably with its American iteration, the TubroGrafx-16. Afterwards, the Japan-exclusive PC-FX only lasted for a short duration. Such was their blunder.

    So, yeah, it's possible for a new console to enter the market, it's just a question of desire, timing and striking the right chord with the gaming public.

     

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  24.  
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    Michael, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 6:47am

    Re: Re: Another example

    "You mean like this?"

    Not quite. Ouya isn't designed in such a way as to compete head-to-head with the 3 major console makers. What I was referring to was something that can compete on similar ground and thus eat away at their market space, forcing them to compete. It would need to be more cost-efficient, both in terms of hardware and software, dev costs would have to be much lower, it would need compelling software to draw gamers in, et al. Easier said than done ...but definitely possible.

    For well over a decade Sega competed directly against Nintendo for market space. SNK's Neo Geo, while too expensive to compete directly with the 16-bit consoles, survived just fine thanks in large part to the popularity of their arcades, plus many of their games being translated to other platforms (by Takara, until SNK took the helm during the 32-bit era). Sure, Atari failed, twice, but there's always bound to be casualties in any market. People can learn from their mistakes. NEC was an oddity in that in Japan their PC Engine console was wildly successful yet failed miserably with its American iteration, the TubroGrafx-16. Afterwards, the Japan-exclusive PC-FX only lasted for a short duration. Such was their blunder.

    So, yeah, it's possible for a new console to enter the market, it's just a question of desire, timing and striking the right chord with the gaming public.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    John (profile), Sep 17th, 2012 @ 12:59am

    Indie games take away consumer rights

    I find it odd that a site that frequently advocates for privacy and consumer rights, would advocate a platform (digital) where consumers have *no* rights.
    Killing the used game market by going digital is not going to make gaming better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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