Publishing info for Independent Game Developers from 1998
March 03, 2020, at 11:13 AM (0 comments)
Title: Publishing info for Independent Game Developers from 1998 Author: mgarcia Date: 2020-03-03 21:13 +1100 Tags: 2020, Industry, GameDev, Blog Comments: Open
Ten Developer Commandments And The Oracle Archive By Gathering of Developers
This one is another epic post, but these guys had such great info, I wanted it all together.
The image is from their office, which was a church, thus G.O.D., it's from this video below starting at 4:20.
About GoD is from http://www.godgames.com/about.html.
Gathering of Developers, Inc.
The Gathering of Developers is a new entertainment software publishing company. The Company has secured publishing contracts with six premier development groups with proven track records of creating best selling games. These six companies have more than twelve full development teams. As a group, the titles created by these developers have sold over 10 million units representing $380 million in gross revenue in the last six years.
Mission Statement The Company's mission is to be the premier publisher and worldwide leader in the delivery of commercially successful computer game software designed for a range of platforms.
This Mission will be accomplished by securing long term relationships with the industry's top independent development talent, creating a banding of outstanding development teams publishing their titles through the Company. With this approach, the Company will establish a new status quo for developer/publisher relations based on: fair treatment of developers, royalties based on title sell through, a title approval process that incorporates the judgment of development experts in the computer gaming industry and management's successful experience in providing marketing, operational and financial expertise.
Unique Features The most critical functions of the publisher are to identify development talent and secure long term relationships with these 'hitmakers.' These are also the most difficult function for publishers, even (and sometimes especially) for the largest publishers. The reason for this stems from two things; distrust of the developers for 'traditional' business people, and a poor understanding of developers and their needs.
The Gathering of Developers will take advantage of its management's unique understanding of these problems as well the management's close relationships to the industry's top talent. Unlike other publishers, the company will launch with a lineup of long-term development deals that are truly unparalleled in the industry.
The management has secured 6 long term publishing agreements with leading development houses that command more than 12 development teams, all with proven track records as commercial hit makers. These agreements alone provide the company with a stronger lineup of titles than any existing publisher. The long-term value lies in the unique operational methods of this company and its ability to attract other top-tier developers.
Gathering of Developers has entered into a worldwide distribution agreement with Take 2 Interactive, another computer game publisher, on May 27th, 1998. As a result of this agreement, Take 2 Interactive will distribute the first 10 Gathering titles through it's BMG subsidiary in Europe and jointly in the U.S. Take 2 Interactive is the publisher of Grand Theft Auto, Three Lion Soccer and several other international hits. The joint venture with Take 2 Interactive is very beneficial for both parties.
Gathering of Developers believes that its business model is not easily duplicated. By publishing games by only experienced top tier developers, the risk of commercial acceptance is lowered, as well as product development delays. Furthermore, unlike any other publisher, an expert board of developers and publishing experts from the computer game industry will evaluate new developers and their proposed projects.
The Ten Developer Commandments, is very insightful information for independent development shops.
Ten Developer Commandments
Presented here for all developers of the world, courtesy of Gathering of Developers, are guidelines and inside information that may otherwise take you years to learn, and many regrets along the way. Make no mistake, this is inside information your publisher doesn't want you to know. With this knowledge you'll be able to negotiate far better publishing agreements that give your company significantly improved revenues, power and value.
Our hope here at the Gathering is to raise the bar for all developers in our industry, not just those signed with us. Without further ado, we bring you two tablets of great knowledge and wealth...
1. Intellectual Property Rights
IP rights, as they're commonly referred, include your game's name, characters, story, trademarks, logos, copyrights, source code, and any art, illustrations, music or other content that you create for your game. All of these rights should remain the property of the developer, and should not be transferred or assigned to the publisher as part of the publishing agreement.
IP rights are among the most valuable rights a developer can own, and are a primary factor in determining the value of your company. What's more valuable to the Coca Cola Company, their material assets (factories, buildings, etc.) or their trademarks, logos and other IP? The answer should be obvious.
Another IP right is that of your future games, such as sequels. If at all possible, do not include sequel rights in your agreements, but at worst only sign the rights to one sequel, and make those rights "matching offer rights." What this means is that you can shop your game to other publishers, get their offers, and the publisher with the matching offer rights will get the new game only if they match the best third-party offer, otherwise you sign the game with the publisher who gave you the best offer. Do not confuse matching offer rights with "right of first refusal," which is not a good right to sign away-it means that the publisher with this right gets first choice on publishing the game, and does not allow you to create a bidding war.
Gathering of Developers' Stance: We never request that a developer sign to us their IP rights. They are owned fully by the developers who created them.
This is typically the most important point in any publishing agreement, the one that the majority of the negotiations revolve around. In general, royalties vary greatly, based on the following circumstances: Your experience and track record;
- The advance you're requesting (larger advances generally mean smaller royalties);
- The genre the game is in (some genres, like puzzle games, have less potential to sell hit numbers);
- How much content (i.e. story, characters) and code (i.e. 3D engine) the publisher or a third-party contributes; and
- Any associated licenses (i.e. NFL or a hit movie) or celebrity endorsement (i.e. John Madden or Michael Jordan).
Royalties should be based on the game's wholesale price, which is the total revenue that the publisher gets for the game, whether they sell it to a retailer directly, or to a distributor. Do not base your royalty on SRP (suggested retail price) because it's a fictional price and doesn't represent the actual revenues received by the publisher. Also, do not base your royalty on the publisher's profits, unless those profits are very strictly defined with very few deductions, and certainly no deductions relating to marketing, sales staff, inventory storage, etc. The one off-the- top deduction that most publishers can reasonably ask for is "cost of goods" (COGs, which is the game box, CD, DVD or other delivery media, game manual, etc.), which should be capped at no more than $1.50 to $2.50 a box, unless you and the publisher agree to a more expensive box style or bonus to be included in the box, such as a tee shirt or mouse pad.
Use "escalating royalties" to get around the publisher's argument that they're putting a lot of money and risk into funding, marketing and distributing the game. After 150,000 unit sales these costs are typically recovered, so your royalty can rise higher and higher at increasing sales milestones. Let's say your royalty starts at 28%, after 150k units have sold you can request that it get bumped to 30%, then after 300k have sold it rises again to 32%, on and on, possibly rising every 150k sales until a royalty cap is reached, perhaps at 38%. These figures are just examples, and it's up to the developer to get the best figures possible from their publisher. The key point is that these escalating royalties are easy for the publisher to swallow because they protect the publisher's marketing budget and other initial fees for the game, yet give the developer a better return if the game is a hit. There's really no reason for the publisher not to sign a deal that incorporates escalating royalties.
Gathering of Developers' Stance: Escalating royalties are used. In fact, at each escalation point the new percentage that is reached is applied *retroactively* to all previously sold game units. Most publishers will not apply the higher percentages retroactively to previously sold units.
If your publisher sub-licenses your game to another distributor, probably to handle sales in another country, you should get a higher royalty, since your publisher is taking less risk and acting as your agent in some respects. Accept no less than 50% of your publisher's gross revenue from sub-licensed deals.
Other guidelines pertaining to royalty rates:
- Giving your publisher cross-collateralization rights means that your publisher will recoup their advances from all the revenues from the various versions of your game and its derivatives (i.e. PC, Mac, consoles, add-on packs, hint books, merchandise, etc.). Sometimes your publisher may even include multiple games and even sequels in their cross-collateralization noose. All this does is put more risk on the developer, and less risk on the publisher.
- Never let multiple original games be cross-collateralized. And even with different versions of the same game, create different sub-groups that can only be cross-collateralized within themselves, such as the console game group, PC game group, and merchandising group. Avoiding cross-collateralization altogether is the best course, but this point is not worth much effort as long as you have sub-groups in place.
- Bundling and OEM (original equipment manufacturers) deals are very simple for the publisher, with little financial risk, and therefore should earn you a higher royalty, no less than 50%.
- Do not let the publisher put in clauses or conditions that will lessen your royalty if you don't make a certain milestone date or completion date.
- Make sure you get royalties on add-on and level packs made by the publisher, even if these add-ons are created by another developer, in which case getting 50% of your basic royalty is okay. If you make the add-on, then your full royalty should be in effect.
- Make sure the publisher gives you all the accounting information you need when they submit royalty checks. This should be spelled out in the agreement. The most basic information to request is the number of game units sold at each wholesale price point.
- Have the right to audit the publisher's books, at your cost, up to once per year. And, if there is a significant royalty shortfall discovered as a result of this audit, then the publisher should pay all reasonable audit costs, plus an interest penalty on the shortfall amount.
In general, here are a few simple royalty examples:
- A proven hit-making developer should never get less than 30% as a base rate, and escalations should take the rate to as high as 40%. Advances $2 million and up are reasonable.
- A new, unproven team will need to pay their dues (unless comprised of individual developers with a track record) and accept first-game royalties as low as 15% to 20% (with escalations going to 25% or 30%). The key is to only sign one game at a time, so that if your game does well, you'll have increased leverage for improving your next game's royalty rate. Advances around $300,000 are reasonable.
- Gathering of Developers' Stance: Royalties can escalate to 50%, all applied retroactively to previously sold game units. Advances of $2 million are standard, and higher are offered.
3. Merchandising and non-interactive media exploitation rights
Don't give your publisher these rights unless they plan to exploit them. These are rights such as making a movie based on your game, and clothing, novels, toys, etc. If you do sign these rights to your publisher:
- If the publisher is going to sub-license these rights, then you should get no less than 50% of what the publisher makes.
- Set a maximum time period in which the publisher controls these rights, such as two years. If the publisher wants a longer term, then have that time period extended automatically if you are paid a minimum total merchandising and media royalty, such as $300,000, in the first two years, which then grants the publisher an additional year or two.
- Maintain approval right on all merchandising and media exploitations.
Gathering of Developers' Stance: We do not automatically reserve the right to handle your merchandise and non-interactive media derivatives, though we are very competitive acting as an agent to handle these areas for developers, if the developer chooses us to handle them.
4. Ports and console versions
Most publishers will demand these rights as part of the overall deal. Established developers can typically request extra advance money for handing over these rights, or only give the rights on a first option basis. Royalties for ports are much lower than PC royalties, due to the very high manufacturing and licensing fees that must be paid to the console companies (i.e. Nintendo, Sony, Sega).
The key is to cover the ports in the agreement one way or the other, so that there's not future ambiguity. If the publisher has no intention on making or selling the console version of your game, then do not give them console version rights in the agreement.
Gathering of Developers' Stance: We include the console rights for all games. If we do not exercise those rights within a reasonable time, then those rights bounce back to the developer.
5. Get the game's minimum marketing budget in writing
Keep approval on key marketing materials, such as ads and the game box. Make sure your logo is at least as prominent as the publisher's logo.
Gathering of Developers' Stance: We give each game a $750k baseline marketing budget (for North America, other countries have separate budgets). Proven titles, such as sequels to big hits, can be approved for higher marketing budgets.
6. Your company's name in lights!
Do you watch Paramount movies or Jim Carey movies? Do you watch Fox or The X-Files? Do you buy Virgin music CDs or Madonna? (Okay, maybe a bad example!) The point is that people become fans of specific talent (or ensemble of talent) rather than the publisher or distributor. No one cares that a game is distributed by Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Eidos, Interplay, Sierra, GT Interactive, Activision or otherwise, because those are unfocused brands that mean little to players and consumers. Instead, players case much more about the actual talent and artists behind the games they play, such as Sid Meier, Peter Molyneux, John Romero, Richard Garriott, Shigeru Miyamoto, and specific developers like id Software, Rare, Blizzard, Westwood Studios, and 3D Realms.
The problem is that publishers have a hard time understanding that their name doesn't have much value on the game box, in advertising, etc., and therefore try to put their name and logo on the box in a more prominent position and size than the developer's name and logo. Make sure your agreement states that your logo, at worst, will be no less prominently displayed every place the publisher's logo is displayed.
The primary benefit is that players will becomes fans of your game style, and look for future games from your company, giving your company's name and logo the reputation and value it deserves.
7. If the publisher fails to publish your game
Then you should get all rights back, allowing you to pursue other avenues. For example, if you deliver a completed game to the publisher, the publisher should be expected to release that game within two months, otherwise the full rights of that game return to you (and you should keep all of that publishers advance money, too), allowing you to take it elsewhere.
8. Have the publisher pay
For a 3rd-party company to test the near-final copy of the game. There are many companies that specialize in this, and it's especially effective for machine compatibility testing. The publisher should also handle and pay for technical support for your game.
9. Miscellaneous Points:
- Make sure that the indemnification clause goes both ways, protecting both the publisher and the developer. You should only be held liable for actual content you create.
- Have a clause that does not allow the publisher to hire your employees for up to two years beyond the date your game was released, known as a non-solicitation clause. Your publisher will rightfully want the same protection for them.
10. Get a good attorney
Who knows' software contracts and intellectual property law! Never sign an agreement of this much importance without having a qualified attorney review. Spending a few thousand on an attorney is your best insurance against losing hundreds of thousands later.
By Scott Miller and the Board of Directors
The Oracle Archive is here in chronological order and has some pretty interesting questions and answers, mostly focused on development and business, but there's some creative ones there too.
Question #01: April 4, 1998
Asked by: A Bunch of People
How do I get a Job as a Game Developer?
Answered by: Scott Miller, Apogee/3DRealms
So, you want to work 70 hour weeks, put your social life on hold, and work 18 months on a product that, statistically, has little chance at success?
Come right this way!
Almost every game player has given at least some thought to how fun it might be to create games for a living? Don't mistakenly think it's all fun and games--it's a serious and highly competitive business, with pressure, deadlines and long hours.
It's also highly rewarding to see players enjoying your hard work. Plus, the friendships developed among team members is strong and built through being in the trenches together. And in some rare cases, you can even make quite a bit of money. But for every 3D Realms and id Software, there are two dozen development studios who have trouble breaking even. There are much, much better avenues to pursue than game development if financial rewards are your primary goal.
So, with that out of the way, here are a few tips on getting hired as a game designer:
Unless you love to play games, don't bother. Unless you've played a hundred plus games, you'll have little chance. Playing games, studying their gameplay, strengths and weaknesses, is like going to game developer college. No one ever graduates from this college. Don't feel like you've ever learned all there is to know about game design.
Pay your dues. This includes playing games, but it's much more. If you want to be a level designer, then design levels. If you want to be an artist, then draw art. If you want to be a programmer, then learn C, and program things that interest you, like small games and graphics demos. Most of the best game developers learned very little about their craft in school, they were mostly self-taught. This isn't to say school isn't important, but the best developers, those who are passionate and would be doing it anyway as a hobby, extended their talent and knowledge by being self-motivated and by devouring, learning and living their passion on their own time. For example, what serious developer would hire a programmer who doesn't own a computer at home? Just about none.
Take the initiative. It's up to you to develop friends and contacts within the industry--a people network. If you look at most of the people who have been hired (especially off the Internet), they were people who were proactive in letting it be known they had talent and were available. They got involved with the game community somehow.
Try to get involved in game development on a amateur level. Release your work (levels, mods, art) freely on the web. Contact game sites and fan sites to distribute and write about your work. Doing this is a great way to get noticed by real development companies.
Sending samples and/or demos is the key to getting hired! A programmer must have several impressive demos to show, an artist needs a portfolio, and a level designer needs at least four to six impressive levels. Without samples and demos, you're not going to make it far at all. (Don't send ideas, game concepts, or other text only treatments. Publishers and developers are not looking for idea people, instead they're looking for people with the talent, desire and means to implement these ideas. Ideas on their own are next to worthless in getting you a job.)
Scan developers' web sites to see what's available, and what projects are getting underway, then send them samples of your work.
Send your samples in a way that's easy to review. For an artist, for example, it's best to send hardcopy samples, a burned CD full of samples, and even a video tape showing animations. The hardcopy work will be the first impression, and determine whether looking at the other material is worth the effort or not.
Visit game design sites, participate in newsgroups about game design, and join game design organizations. Here are a few sites worth checking out:
Also, there are magazines, like Game Developers magazine, and plenty of great books that cover game design, but too many to list here.
Overall, the important points are to play games and learn from them, be proactive in networking with others in the industry (build up a list of contacts), and spend much of your time bettering your talents and building a portfolio. Do these things, and luck, the final factor, usually works in your favor. :)
Question #02: April 14, 1998
Asked by: Drew Klepper
What are the best books (most useful ... outdated, but still apply,etc..) for a programmer's bookshelf?
Answered by: Phil Steinmeyer, PopTop Software Inc.
For a good general overview of the industry, the "The Ultimate Game Developer's Sourcebook", by Ben Sawyer, from the Coriolis Group. Its the only book that I'm aware of that devotes significant space to the industry itself, and not just coding or other development techniques. There are many books on specific game programming techniques, usually 3D stuff. Look for a book that covers techniques you're interested in and that is written at a level you can understand.
The books by LaMothe and Abrash get particularly good responses from other programmers. The windows help file that comes with Direct X 5 is probably a better source for Direct X reference info than any of the books written about Direct X. The best thing to do is to simply start writing a SIMPLE game, something that you can complete. Knock offs of early 80's arcade games, Atari and NES cartridges work well. Moving up, you could get the available source code to games such as Doom, Descent, and Abuse on the net and start modifying them.
Finally, look at Next Generation for the best print magazine coverage of "insider" game industry stuff. Many web-sites also carry this kind of stuff.
Question #03: April 16, 1998
Asked by: Drew Klepper
What's a kid to do if he wants to get a summer internship with a gaming company when there aren't any gaming companies all that close to home and transportation, living expenses, etc.. aren't paid for (considering this is a summer gig, buying a car where ever you are isn't all that logical).
Answered by: Phil Steinmeyer, PopTop Software Inc.
First of all, be aware that there are a lot more game companies out there than you might be aware of, and you might be surprised where you find them. I doubt there are any US cities of over 1 million without at least one game company, and even smaller, more obscure cities have them. The hard part is finding them. Keep an eye out on newspaper ads, surf the net, call your friends, check out the game company directories published occasionally in Next Generation, etc.
Second, there are always groups of people trying to put together game projects on the net, often using the newsgroups to hook up. Few of these games get completed or have much success, but they could be a first step in gaining some experience. A few companies might consider tele-commuting, but these are usually only for folks with experience - you probably wouldn't have much luck going that way.
You could always hole up in your parent's basement, write a Tetris clone, a card game, a simple side scroller, etc, pick up some experience, and maybe even make a few bucks selling it via shareware or selling it to one of the low cost retailers. Though actually making money off a game like this is unlikely, it will open a lot more doors when you go to look for a real game industry job.
With regard to summer interns, I think many companies would be interested. It doesn't hurt to try.
One final piece of advice. When contacting a game company, be aware of who they are and what they do, and if possible, customize your letter, e-mail or phone call to tailor it to the company. With our company, any job app that mentions enthusiasm for gaming gets a bonus point. Mention of specific games similar to ours gets 2 bonus points. And mention of OUR previous games gets 3 points. It shows the person is not doing a blind saturation mailing, and has at least some knowledge of and interest in what we do.
Question #04: April 19, 1998
Asked by: Eclipso
Why is it that almost every n64 memory pack takes up the whole pack? What is the possibility of nintendo putting zelda into a gold cartridge case like the first 2?
Answered by: Rob Cohen, Edge of Reality
It depends how much data the games need to to save. Nintendo's "Memory Paks" hold 32k. For Turok, we put a lot of thought into storing save game data efficiently, and managed to fit five saved games.
I suspect that Zelda WILL be in a gold case, but only Nintendo knows for sure.
Question #05: April 21, 1998
Asked by: Jared Freedman
Part A) Can developers get upfront publisher money for developing prototypes?
I have heard of deals where the developer comes to the publisher with a paper prototype, and then gets funding (usually a small token amount) to do the prototype.
In exchange for the money, the publisher gets liberal and far reaching rights to the title. The developer lessens his risk considerably.
Part B) During the past six months, I have spent nearly $30,000 of my own money working on a prototype that may or may not be purchased by a publisher.
How can I lessen this risk? $30,000 is a lot of money to be coming out of my pocket, all things considered.
How can I secure a publisher BEFORE I commit the development dollars to the prototype?
Answered by: Scott Miller, 3DRealms
Part A) Yes. But--and here's the part you might not like--it's much easier if you have a proven track record for making successful games. Without that track record, publishers have a tough time plunging a shovel into their bank account. Developers without a track record need to have a knock-out demo, a compelling game outline, and a solid business plan that includes a well-reasoned budget. Without these factors working in your favor, you're probably going to see rejection after rejection.
Part B) There's no pat answer for what you're asking. It depends on the factors listed above, and it depends on the game concept and how impressive your prototype is.
I think the best track for starting developers is to first get experience in the industry by working for an established developer or publisher. Pay your dues by working in-house for several years minimum. Learn the ropes from the inside, see what works and what doesn't, and make friends and contacts.
Skipping this step makes the mountain much taller, steeper and adds a layer of slick ice.
Best of luck! :)
Question #06: April 28, 1998
Asked by: James Hills
Could you give an average salary range for entry level PR and marketing people in this industry, as well as salary ranges for other management positions?
Answered by: Barbara Walter
That's a big question that a lot of game industry employees would like answered! I can answer your specific request regarding entry-level PR and marketing staff, but a complete answer requires more time and research than this recruiter has to spend.
The good news is that the International Game Developers Network (www.igdn.org) is putting together a committee to conduct a game industry salary survey, to help level the salary negotiation playing field. If you're interested in participating in the IGDN salary survey, contact Gordon Walton, president, IGDN (firstname.lastname@example.org). So stay tuned...
First, some background information about salaries.
Game industry companies who are members of Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) or Software Publishers Association (SPA) receive annual industry salary surveys conducted by compensation consulting firms as part of their hefty IDSA or SPA membership fees. Smaller game companies and individuals usually rely on "word of mouth" reports for salary information, which is what this reply is based upon. (That was a disclaimer, in case you didn't notice :-).
Salaries in any industry--games included--are based on a variety of factors:
- Location - major metro areas have a higher cost of living and therefore generally higher salaries than smaller cities.
- Size of company - larger firms usually pay higher salary; the exception is a startup, which because of its higher risk, often pays higher salary than an established firm.
- Company's budget - some firms are better funded than others; also, managers have to balance new a hire's pay with their current staff's pay.
- Financial incentives in addition to salary - companies can pay a lower base salary if they offer equity, stock options, guaranteed bonuses, telecommuting, etc.
- Supply & demand - if a particular position is hard to fill (ex: 3D graphics programmer) it pays a higher base salary than other positions with more available candidates.
- Your assets - outstanding candidates are offered higher pay than average candidates; for entry-level, you become outstanding when a hiring manager learns you have the "right stuff" to do the job, and, just as important, sees that you are enthusiastic and interested in doing the job.
To answer your question: In an established game firm of about 100 staff in a major metro area, base pay range for an entry-level PR or marketing representative/coordinator is about $30,000-$45,000.
(When she's not interviewing game industry gurus for Gamasutra or answering questions for God Games' Oracle, Barbara Walter recruits fulltime experienced staff for large and small game development companies. She can be reached at email: email@example.com or Careerlink.)
Question #07: May 1, 1998
Asked by: A lot of people!
How does one get started in the game biz?
Answered by: Scott Miller, 3D Realms
This questions seems to be asked by a vast amount of people. While we could have gotten an answer from an industry member, there was no need. This question has already been answered in detail by 4 industry giants including Janee Jensen (Gabriel Knight), Sid Meier (Civilization), Bruce Shelley (Age of Empires), and Chris Taylor (Total Annihilation). You can find the Gamecenter article answering this all important question be going here:
Question #08: May 4, 1998
Asked by: Jay White
Where are some good sources of information for someone who wants to start a new gaming company, wants to make sure that his company name isn't already used by someone else, and can cover his bases as far as knowing what fees to pay and to who?
Answered by: Mike Wilson, CEO Gathering of Developers
Hmmm... these would be the same for starting any business. There are a few gaming-company-specific nuances, like special intellectual property concerns and tax treatment of advances and royalties, but most disciplines involved in setting up a game shop are learned in business schools or any of about a million 'entrepreneurial workshops' that travel from town to town. One of the most important first steps in setting up a game shop (or a trophy shop for that matter) is finding an experience 'biz guy' that you can trust, and one that has successful entrepreneurial experience is a big plus. I'd say this is more important in the early stages than, say, finding a great programmer. But you'd better do that part soon after! Good luck.
Question #09: May 11, 1998
Asked by: David Schulman, President Sylum Entertainment Ltd.
In distributing our titles ourselves how much money would we need? Who are these key people that you mentioned that can 'Box' the product and who are the contacts for the 10 major retail companies? Also who can take care off the beta testing and assure the product is ready for the stores? You said it's not as hard as you would think, If you can give me any information on this I would really appreciate it.
Answered by: Mike Wilson, CEO Gathering of Developers
Well, it may be harder than YOU think... :)
My main concern for that NextGen article is that it OVERsimplifies the process.
The most important and difficult thing in all this (and the only thing a publisher really provides other than a list of contacts) is MONEY.
I'd say for a self publishing endeavor, you'd need a bare minimum of 150k at your disposal.
We budget 750k just for marketing in North America, but that's assuming AAA titles and sales consummate with that.
You could do a modest marketing campaign for 75-100k, and you'll need at least 50k to build enough units to make selling into retail even work. Even then, retailers aren't likely to want to deal with you as one developer with one product. It simply isn't worth the effort to them. They'll tell you to get a distribution deal.
Which is what you should do. Distributors are more hungry for product now than they ever have been, especially product straight from a developer, with no 'publisher involved.'
Time to define: A publisher oversees production (usually paying advances), advertises, markets, sells into retail, creates packaging, etc, and then (if they are their own distributor as well) builds inventory, ships it around to fulfill orders, does collections from the retailers, accepts returns, etc. The latter half of these functions can be done by a distributor (Ingram Micro, Merisel, Handelman, etc).
The thing is, most major publishers don't go through distributors, but do all that work themselves. SO, distributors have a hard time getting decent product to take to retail themselves (with better margins). A good developer, who has paid for their own development, and can design their own packaging, should be able to strike a decent deal with a distributor to sell the product into retail and build enough inventory to fulfill those orders. They may even throw in some marketing dollars if they think it will benefit their bottom line.
Understand, that a distributor often understands EVEN LESS than a traditional publisher what will make a successful title, so you need to be able to fully educate them and convince them that the title is worth their attention (and marketing dollars) because they sell in a LOT more dogs than hits. You also need to be able to provide good 'sell sheets' or information sheets that describes and displays the title to the retail buyers with all pertinent information (features list with all the buzzwords for the year, screenshots, target market, competitive analysis, etc) as the distributors will often botch this due to lack of information/understanding.
Guerilla marketing (online) and other things within your direct control are a MUST when trying to get attention for your title without proper marketing support. But, if the title is truly something special, the Internet couldn't be better for spreading the word. And there are A LOT of new players trying to do direct sales over the net, and due to the fact that there is a lot less risk on an online publisher/reseller's side, the margins are usually really good.
That's enough rambling... forget contacting the retailers and contact some major distributors. www.Gameweek.com has a nice list of them with contact info. If you don't have any luck (or even if you do) find someone (as many destinations as possible) to market your title online as well. You'll need a killer downloadable demo for this, btw.
Question #10: June 17, 1998
Asked by: Donavon Keithley
In his answer to question #5, Scott Miller mentions the importance of a well-reasoned budget. I was wondering if he could elaborate on what that means. What are some common mistakes that developers make in budgeting a project?
Answered by: Scott Miller, 3DRealms
Donavon, it's mostly common sense. Try to accurately itemize your budget needs for the project, including equipment, office lease money, employees and outside contractor help. The more detailed your budget is portrayed (even though many of the figures are half guess work), the more you look like you know what your doing, and that results in higher confidence from potential publishers. The worst thing you can do is say you need $1 million to do the game, without any supporting figures. (Some established developers, though, can do this. )
Question #11: June 23, 1998
Asked by: Fabrizio Giorgetta
Could you give me some hints for a good DirectX Developer Book / page? (using C++, as usual;-) )
Answered by: Mark Randel, Terminal Reality Inc.
As far as I know, there is still NO good documentation on DirectX. I've learned everything the old fashioned way - by studying the help and the sample app's that come with the DirectX SDK.
Microsoft is supposed to have a private newsgroup on usage of DirectX, but I've never seen it.
The Oracle offers the following 10 rules for coding DirectX. The author is unknown.
- Thou shalt not support Direct3D without supporting Glide or GL first
- Thou shalt use JoyGetPosEx instead of DirectInput
- Thou shalt not read any caps bits when using any DirectX API
- Thou shalt not use any DirectX unless absolutely necessary
- Thou shalt use 24-bit texture maps
- Thou shalt support 32-bit color
- Thou shalt not covet your co-workers P2-400 computer
- Thou shalt make your game work on WinNT and Win9X
- Thou shalt know that Direct3D doesn't talk to the 3D card directly.
- Thou shalt not make your game run less than 24fps.
Question #12: June 25, 1998
Asked by: Bill Colby
I was wondering what is a good place to look for info on windows programing in C/C++. IE a specific book, Website, magazine, or anything like that.
Answered by: Brian Hook, id Software
- The bible on Windows programming is "Programming Windows95" by Charles Petzold (MS Press).
- The bible on Windows MFC programming is "Programming MFC" by Jeff Prosise (MS Press).
- The bible on C programming is "The C Programming Language" by Kernighan and Ritchie.
- The bible on C++ programming is "The C++ Primer" by Stan Lippman (Addison Wesley).
- No specifically very good magazines out, although "Microsoft Systems Journal" isn't too bad.
Question #13: July 1, 1998
Asked by: Jon Beverley
Having just sold my business, I have money in the bank and time on my hands. I have specialist knowledge of an industry that would make a cool strategy title, and am a marketeer by heart, so can see the appeal and where it might fit into a publisher's existing franchise.
Trouble is, everywhere you look, people say publishers aren't looking for concepts, and I'm sure they have them coming out of their ears. How then, do I get my hot idea across? Should I hire some coders/artists and put a demo together? When I'd rather just sell the concept for a small amount and have the satisfaction of seeing it developed, this just seems too involved.
Answered by: Mike Wilson, Gathering of Developers
Well, then, you could approach developers/developers directly, telling them upfront what you expect for the concept, if they like it. Get an NDA contract with something to the affect of "if they do a game based on this concept, they must pay you $______"
You never know... as long as you're not asking for a commitment before they hear the idea, they just might go for it. Be warned... if your idea could be considered very 'general'... there is always some danger of them saying they are already working on a similar game or whatever.
More often than not, though, if your idea is truly novel, a developer or publisher excited enough to endeavor upon it will not mind paying you a modest fee.
Question #14: July 13, 1998
Asked by: Many People
I want a job in the gaming industry. What should my resume look like?
Answered by: Scott Miller, 3DRealms (also posted in his .plan)
Resume Writing Tips for the Game Industry and Beyond:
I see maybe 150 resumes each year. Most contain too much information and the wrong emphasis on what's important. In the past few months many people have asked me to review their resume and offer tips, so I've written this "standard reply" to use in the future, which I'll share here.
1. Don't exceed a page in length. Not even Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison have the credentials to exceed one page. In fact, the longer your resume, the more it looks like you're trying to hide the fact that you don't have much going for you. Short, concise resumes are those that actually get read.
2. Include all forms of contact information, including address, phone, fax and email. Make yourself easy to reach.
3. The first section is titled "Objective." Make this one or two sentences, absolutely no more. Do not write a me-oriented objective ("I'm looking for position that exploits my design strengths, furthers my growth, and has real opportunities for advancement.") Instead, write a company oriented objective that shows you're team and goal oriented ("I'm a team player looking to help develop innovative games that achieve the company's vision and design goals.") Short and sweet works best here.
4. Next, in bullet point form, list three to five highlights, each one physical line long. This is the area in which you really sell yourself! Readers typically look here first because it summarizes your achievements and value. Einstein, for example, might mention these things:
- Wrote Special Theory of Relativity, disproving several of Newton's laws
- Showed how mass and energy were equivalent (E=MC^2)
- Received the Nobel Prize in 1921
- Predicted existence of black holes 50 years before being detected
- Involved with the creation of atomic bomb
5. After this, briefly mention your work history, but only as it pertains to the job you're going after. Don't mention unrelated positions that don't help your cause. Instead, say that you can provide an extensive work history upon request. Don't bother putting down that you flipped hamburgers or bagged grocers (unless you're applying for a job in those industries).
6. In the education section, don't mention high school, only college and other related training. Once again, you can mention that a more complete education history is available on request. For programmers, do not list every language and operating system under the sun, which makes you look like a jack of all trades but a master of none. You're much better off listing one or two languages as your "expertise," and if you know more say you're also "familiar with the following languages." Another key point is that most companies and developers prefer to hire specialists, not generalists, so try to position yourself as a graphics specialist, 3D engine specialist, AI specialist, network/Internet specialist, etc. For artists, coders, musicians, etc., you might want to say that samples and demos are available on request.
7. Regarding references, go ahead a list two or three, and if you have more say they're available on request.
8. The last piece of the puzzle is often overlooked: the cover letter. This is where you specifically mention why you want to work for the company, and why you like the company. This is a great place to brown nose a little by specifically mentioning company products and what you like about the company's vision, etc. Prospective employers love to think you are applying to their company because you have a passion for the company. Keep this letter to one page, don't be too wordy, and maintain professionalism.
Question #15: July 21, 1998
Asked by: Dave Marx
How big are the chances of a foreigner (German) to get hired by an American game developing company (i.e. any of the G.O.D. allies)? I mean, is there any possiblity or do you have a generic "no, no"?
Answered by: Harry Miller, Ritual Entertainment
The chances of getting hired at a US development house really depend on your talent, level of education and/or professional work experience.
Your skill level or talent is important. If you don't have any, no developer will be interested in the first place. All things being equal, most companies will take local talent over non-US citizens because there are risks involved. Examples of the risk are:
1. The visa that you will be applying for may be rejected and the time and money will be wasted.
2. You may learn that you do not like living in the US and become homesick for your homeland and the friends who understand you.
2a. You may be hard to work with on a team level because english is not your first language and instructions have to be given several times...
If a developer decides that it is interested in hiring you, you either need a college degree, or a lot of professional work experience. For every year of college you lack, you need two years of work experience in the related field. This is the standard rule as far as I know, but as with everything there are of course exceptions. The visa that you will need to obtain is a H-1 classification work visa, and it can take from 1 to 6 months to obtain. The legal cost is approximately US $1,600.00 plus expenses, but I have heard some lawyers request US $5,000.00 plus expenses.
As I said, there are exceptions to the college/work experience model. Immigration wants to know that you are an expert in your field and without the education or Professional work experience to help convince them, you must obtain a LOT of documentation to support your claims. Documentation includes: referral letters, touting your excellence in the field, industry articles with your name mentioned, retail product that you have created, screen shots from previous work, etc.. Immigration has no idea what we do, the more documentation the better.
I know that this letter sounds negative but use the information to your benefit. Most of the developers that I am familiar with have at least one person, who is not a US citizen, working there. If you have the talent and desire, pursue it.
Question #16: August 5, 1998
Asked by: Michael Clark
I am currently President of a TC/addon group and we want to make it commercially, but how do we go about this? We have ideas like story, models, sketches, concept art, screenplay and a talented team, but where do we start as far as looking for a publishing contract goes?
Answered by: Harry Miller, Ritual & Bob Wright, Housepainter
If your intent is to secure a publishing deal then a good idea is to put together a "Proposal" that outlines your intentions.
A proposal should consists of the following components:
- Game concept - What is the storyline?
- Game play summary - What's the game about? What does the player do?
- A business plan - Outlining the strategy you have as a company.
- Budget - What will it cost to develop this title.
- Schedule - How much time is needed to complete the project.
- Bio on team members - Who are you?
- Proof of Concept - A proof of concept is a small Demo of the game you wish to create. It's a prototype of the game to come. This Demo does not need to be large, possibly consisting of only a game level or two. It only needs to get across the gameplay and the look and feel. How the user will interact with the game and what will the player will experience.
Take your time and put all of this together carefully. Make contact with some publishers and try to sell yourself. If you capture a publisher's attention they may ask you to put together a "Design Document". A Design Doc is a detailed explanation of every aspect of the game and how you plan to put it all together. Do some research and find out as much as you can about the publishers you plan on approaching. Be persistent. The first 4 or 5 publishers may say no. Don't give up, maybe the next one will say yes. You'll never know unless you try.
With a business plan and a strategy.
The business plan should cover the following areas:
- The game concept - What is it? How does it work?
- The market for this game - Who are you targeting? What platforms?
- The competition - What titles will you compete with?
- Competitive strategy - How do you compete? Why are you better? What competitive barriers must you overcome?
- The development team - Who are you? What have you done? Who knows your skills?
- Financial's - Capitalization, returns, revenue breakout, expense breakout, major financial assumptions.
As for strategy, figure out which publishers have a product line that compliments your title. Who seems to be seeking new talent? Who do you know? Develop a plan for making contact and showcasing your concept. Perhaps it's a demo; maybe a design document. Different publishers require different approaches. Do your homework and you'll know the way to go.
Having said all that, cross your fingers, keep going forward, make your own break. It ain't easy, but it can be done.
Question #17: August 14, 1998
Asked by: Max Harker & Matt Allen
My friend and I are thinking of starting up a gaming company of our own, what does it take to get started. How much money does it cost, how much competition do we have, we have some unique ideas, how much do employees cost, programming contracts and what not.
Answered by: Binu Philip, Gathering of Developers
Max & Matt
The best way to set up an independent developer is by first paying your dues creating games for other developers. Once you have a hit game under your belt, it is easier to go set up your own shop and secure a publishing deal. If this sounds like the long way to do it, you're right. There are no short cuts. There are many developers out there, however less than 5% of the titles that hit the market make money. Every E3 introduces another thousand games into the market. The only way to demonstrate your talent is by paying your dues and developing a reputation at an established company. That being said, let me detail the financial part of the equation for operating an independent developer. Top tier developers can secure a publishing deal that includes an advance on royalties. This advance is paid out on a milestone basis to ensure progress on the game. This advance must cover initial capital expenditures and month to month expenses. Advances are recouped first when the game starts to sell. In this way, it is a loan against future royalties. The higher the advance, the lower the royalty rate will be.
Most triple A titles will cost $2 million dollars to create, and take reasonably 14-24 months. This could be significantly longer if you are creating original technology. Engine development cycles add another year to the project. One way to deal with this is to license an engine from an established company like Epic MegaGames (Unreal), id (Quake) or Terminal Reality (Cage). A license will require up front money and a percentage of the gross sales once the game is complete. The largest expense for developers are salaries. Salaries for artists, programmers, level designers etc. are varied, based on what the market will bear. Employees may also want various benefits ranging from health & dental insurance to profit sharing and equity stakes in the company. The type of games you create will usually dictate how many people you need. There is a high demand right now for established programmers, artists and level designers. Starting from ground zero is difficult. However, once you have proven yourself, you will be a very valuable commodity. Like anything else in life, you have to love what you're doing and the money will follow.
Question #18: August 21, 1998
Asked by: James Kurth
I am managing a small business company building a game to be completed in the near future. My question is, how do I know when the time has come to start advertising for the product? Is that something that only publishers handle or is it handled by both the development company and the publisher? I have been working on this game and we have some stuff to show, but should we wait for a fully-working demo before getting the word out about our product?
Answered by: Jim Bloom, Gathering of Developers
Advertising should start 2 - 3 months prior to your launch, publishers typically handle it (but that doesn't mean it's right), and you don't have to wait for a fully working demo before getting the word out about your product.
Actually, there is no magical rule that says when you should begin your advertising schedule. With factors such as budget, ability of ad creative to cut through the clutter, level of PR support, general buzz in the industry and gaming community, and the overall marketing plan, media plans can vary considerably. Take a step back and see your ad schedule for what it is -- one component to the overall marketing plan. As a result, your ads should coincide and support other marketing efforts you may have.
The publisher should pay for marketing expenses, including ad development and placement and packaging. Just make sure your they're doing a good job of supporting your title...running a couple of ads in 1 or 2 of the gaming mags, for example, won't do you much good. Hopefully you have a good relationship with your publisher, and you can discuss your marketing plans in detail prior to the launch.
Finally, I'd get the word out about your product as soon as you think you have something to say. Full demo or not, it takes a long time to ramp up an effective public relations campaign since most magazines are 3 - 4 months out on their editorial calendars. If you have a great demo, take it on the road to show editors. If it's a solid game, you'll benefit from the early attention it will receive.
Whatever you do, stay involved in the process. As you have probably already noticed, no one understands or cares about your game as much as you do. Don't let your publisher strong arm you out of the process or convince you that everything they are doing is always in your best interest. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
Oh, yeah...one more thing. If you feel uncomfortable developing your own ads or media plan, seek professional help. A good media planner can pay for himself with strong negotiating, good planning, and an ability to maximize merchandising opportunities with the publications. Also, the competition for high-quality, compelling ads that get noticed is fierce. Consider hiring an agency that does great work and can share and contribute to your vision for the launch.
Question #19: September 1, 1998
Asked by: Gary Frye
Is there anywhere a game artist (both 2d/3d) could get industry (or industry level) feedback on the quality of their portfolio? Or find examples of job winning portfolio entries?
Answered by: Michael Hadwin, Ritual Entertainment
Getting a job as an artist in the gaming industry is not always the easiest task to achieve. You'll probably end up sending your portfolio to several Art Directors in the Gaming Industry without any response and think there is no hope. Not true.
As an Art Director myself, one of the hardest parts of hiring a new game artist is looking through the huge pile of entries searching for the candidate with the proper talent and experience. Most of the candidates have lots of good potential, but are lacking in one area or another. Now the hard part is giving every single candidate the proper art critique they deserve. It usually does not happen. Here are a few suggestions that may help you get the feedback you are looking for to help you improve your skills.
Without being a stalker or going postal with your remarks, one way to get some feedback on your portfolio is to do a follow-up email or letter asking for just that. Most Art Directors will take a second out of their busy schedules to give you some type of feedback on your artwork if they are "reminded." Once again, a pleasant email requesting some feedback will be responded to much quicker than, "Hey asshole, I sent you my shit 3 weeks ago and you haven't even responded! What gives, man?!" Resumes are great and all to show your past job experiences and talk about your philosophy on life, but too many times, I'll get an artist applying for a job and they don't send any ARTWORK! Art Directors want to see your "artwork" more than the fluffy resume you had the Art Institute write for you! If you're not confident enough to send samples of your work, a red light goes off in my head that screams, "NO TALENT!!" You are applying for a job creating ART. They'll want to see what you've created. Now don't go sending them your every prized Crayola coloring off your mom's freezer, but do send them anything you think will help you catch their eye. If you can not send in a portfolio on CD-ROM/Video/Zip disk/etc., emailing a web site link with examples of your work will also work. If your art is worthy of a response, you'll get it.
Lastly, they say "Presentation is everything." So why not really get their attention! When an artist sends a portfolio in a clever way, 9 times out of 10; they'll get some type of response. We've had guys send six packs of beer with the labels/carton explaining their talents in resume format and their portfolio on CD-Rom in the middle. Another guy sent his portfolio in a package that looked exactly like the Hellraiser Box (handcrafted by himself). Several have sent artwork made especially for our company or a game we're working on (like a multiplayer Skin or a 3d model of a character). Try sending your portfolio with a singing telegram or something. I know this sounds crazy, but it works a lot better than sending your portfolio in some wrinkled up cigarette carton for an envelope with the resume itself is written on an old t-shirt and spotted with spaghetti sauce and all the art is stuck together with KY-Jelly. You wouldn't believe some of the portfolios I've seen. (Now just because you send your portfolio in with an Exoctic Dancer does not instantly mean you have an artist job, but the question was; "How do I get industry feedback on my portfolio?" This is one.) Hope this helps. ;)
Question #20: September 8, 1998
Asked by: Many People
Is it possible to become a betatester for G.O.D. games?
Answered by: Mike Wilson, Gathering of Developers
This is handled through each individual developer, and each has a different policy. We do have an internal playtesting team at the Gathering. :)
Question #21: September 15, 1998
Asked by: Peter Hammer
I am the Public Relations manager to a new game developing company called Synesthetix which is now being created.
Due to the fact that we are a new company and that we are attempting to established a fix budget we have several questions which we hope you can help us answer.
The first of these questions revolves around the advance given by the distribution company: is the advance given by the distributor reimberced through the primary sales of the game based on the market value, or is it taken out of the royalty payments based on the percent agreed upon in the contract?
The second question is about the royalties; although every contract may be different when in general does a distributor start to pay the royalties?
Is this done by trimester, semester ... etc?
These questions are very important as without them we cannot truely fix a budget plan. We hope to hear from you soon and we thank you for your help.
Answered by: Martin Zacarias, Gathering of Developers
The first of these questions revolves around the advance given by the distribution company: Normally, advances are reimbursed back to the developer through royalties on the game. For example, if a developer had received $1 million in advances, the game sells for $40 wholesale and the developer is to receive a 25% royalty of wholesale price, then the first $1 million in royalties first go to repay the advance; in other words, the developer does not see any cash royalties from the game until after the 100,000 unit is sold ($1 million divided by $10 per game ($40 x 25%))
The second question is about the royalties: Generally, once the advance is recouped, as described above, a distributor (publisher) will pay royalties tied to some time period, usually 30-45 days, after they receive cash from the retailer. Normal cash collection cycles in the publishing industry can range from 45-120 days. For your budgeting purposes, I would be conservative and estimate that no cash royalties would be received on your end for 120 days. Obviously every deal is different, but most publishers will want to pay on a quarterly basis.
Question #22: September 22, 1998
Asked by: Adrian Perez
Hi, my name is Adrian Perez.
I'm a college student interning at MS, and I want to start my own game company.
I had heard you're the people to talk to.
All I want right now is a little guidance and direction.
Is it all office location?
Answered by: Scott Miller, 3D Realms
Look like you have your act together. Publishers rarely write big advance checks to virtual teams. Having a solid business plan will help you, too.
You might want to get your foot in the door like Ritual Entertainment did, by hooking up with another developer and doing an authorized level pack. This is a great way for unproven teams to get started and establish a track record.
Question #23: September 29, 1998
Asked by: Juha Paaso
I'm a Finnish 4th year university CS student and very eager to get into gaming industry in a few years. I work as a project leader in a network based project, and would like to know if this development time actually counts for "experience in gaming industry", which most of the "progammer / designer / etc." wanted ads state as a requirement.
A few years ago I would've taken this for granted since the situation was a bit more unofficial than nowadays. Comparing this to the Hollywood- style film industry, I find it hard to believe home videos would count for "experience in the film industry".
Answered by: Samuli Syvahuoko, Remedy Entertainment
To break into the gaming industry can be a very tough thing to do. However, if you're either a particularly good programmer or a very skilled 3D graphics artist (especially a level designer) and you have enough samples of your work to prove your point, you should have a good chance of getting a job in some game company.
What's also required is forbearance and love for playing computer games. Having a degree in some area can also help, but really is not a requirement (there isn't yet such a thing as a university of game development, I'm afraid).
Becoming a project leader is always very difficult if you don't have experience in project management. The project leader's task is the single most important role in every game project. You should have at least one finished project under your belt (it can also be something that's not directly linked with computer games, but it should have the same kinds of main characteristics as a game project has, i.e. long duration, lots of people involved, working towards deadlines, etc.).
Getting a job as a game designer is perhaps the most difficult task of all. Coming up with good ideas is always easier to make those ideas a reality (it may even end up being that those "great" ideas of your's don't work at all - or they need too much trying out and testing that they are not worth the trouble). And also, if you have a revolutionary new game idea, and you're not Peter Molyneux, you'll have to fight the all-powerful marketing department trying to convince them that your idea is the next Dungeon Keeper.
However, whatever role you try to apply for, always make sure your CV and everything else you send with it (samples, etc.) look professional. That will significantly help your chances of getting noticed. And also, be prepared to relocate to another city/country.
Another completely different way to break into the game industry is to setup your own company. In this case there are of course other kinds of problems like where do you find enough skilled people to join your team (you'll need at least a couple of programmers and graphic artists to start the project), how do you get funding and how do you convince a publisher to publish your game, etc.
Three years ago when Remedy started this was still somehow possible to pull off. Nowadays this is getting very difficult. The main reason is that game projects tend to take huge amounts of resources and very few game publishers are keen on investing into an unproven team. The best way to make this work is to make a very convincing demo of your game (licensing a good 3D engine that will initially be free of charge to be the basis is always a good idea), and send it off to all the publishers. Better yet, try to setup meetings with publishers at conventions such as E3 or ECTS, take a computer with you and demonstrate your game to them face-to-face (about five times more effective than sending a demo by mail). And if you can afford it, visiting publishers at their offices is also an option (in this case the publisher usually gives you more time).
In addition to publishers, you can also target established and successful game development houses. This is actually what we at Remedy did three years ago when we first contacted Apogee/3D Realms.
The gaming industry is still very young and much easier penetrated than for example the Hollywood film industry. Alone the lack of proper education being offered to people who are interested in having a job in the gaming industry is a testament to this. So, in other words making "home videos" is still the way to go, but the home videos will have to be great - just good won't cut it anymore.
Question #24: October 6, 1998
Asked by: James McArthur
My question is about product and TV/Movie licenses for games. A friend and others (incl myself) are hoping to start up a small game development studio over the coming year, and one of the ideas for a project involves usage of characters from a TV show.
What sort of process do companies go through to acquire and negotiate such a deal, and what sort of royalties/payments system should be worked out between the studio/producer and the TV company? Any advice would be greatly appreciated...
Answered by: Stefanie Henning, ICM Talent
James, usually a studio or a network retains ownership in the show. If an actual Producer controls the rights then a licensing deal should be worked out that would include an advance, and backend participation. The same goes for a studio and network if they control the ancillary rights. Financials depend on how successful the show is, if currently on air etc etc. There are obviously creative issues that would need to be worked out as well.
Most studios and networks will not license unless there is guaranteed distribution in place.
Question #25: October 13, 1998
Asked by: Gary Hanson
Hello, I was wondering if you could maybe give your thoughts & advice on a few things if you have time.
I was wondering if a truly unique and good game (full game plan & design document & concept art) are even worth anything in this day & age??
I mean.. do you always have to be able to implement it yourself or do company's & other game developers ever even look at these sorts of things??
Or must you be able to implement at least some of it whether it be your a programmer or an artist and u must have something like a prototype working.. Do company's ever even hire people to just be the 'game designer' if they like the game plan & design document.. Any advice would be greatly appreciated..
Answered by: Mike Wilson, Gathering of Developers
Gary, very seldom do game companies (at least to my knowledge) pay someone to be an 'idea guy'. Most game developers (and even a lot of publishers, magazine editors, etc) like to think that they have more original game ideas than they could ever use. Whether this is true or not, it makes it very hard to get a team to go for some original 'idea' from the outside. SO, if you want to be hired as a 'game designer', you'll probably need to learn some other skills that would benefit the team in a concrete way... become an expert in computer art, programming, level design, biz, MIS, web design, whatever. Normally a development company (at least an independent one) has no room in their budget for 'fat', and that is exactly what an 'idea guy' would be considered. I mean, what would a person like that do on a day-to-day basis, after they have floored the whole team with the brilliance of their brainstorm from this morning's shower?
Submitting scripts for nominal pay and then getting out of the way (ala Hollywood) may become viable if game developers start working more on a contract basis... project to project. Some say this is the future; putting together teams of stars for a specific project only like the movies or studio musicians. But by and large, developers are not the flighty type, or outgoing enough for this to work. Most game developers like stability (if they can at all help it), benefits, working with people they like, etc.
Question #26: October 22, 1998
Asked by: Anonymous
The "Ten Developer Commandments" suggests that thou shalt base thy royalties on thy game's wholesale price.
First part: What if the publisher owns a lot of distributors? Doesn't that create an incentive for the publisher to give their distributors a low wholesale price, so that the publisher makes most of its profit from the royalty-free retail profits of its distributor?
Second part: Assuming part one is a valid point, I'm considering asking the publisher for a flat price per unit sold. In an agreement like the one described in the second commandment, what is the average amount received by a developer per unit, averaging (wholesale price * royalty percentage) over all types of distribution: bundling, retail, promotional discounts, etc?
Bonus: If the royalty is a percentage of the wholesale price, what is a reasonable wholesale price to expect for a $50 retail game?
Answered by: Mike Wilson, Gathering of Developers
First Part: Uh, no. The wholesale price is the price that the retailers pay for it. The retailers we sell direct to pay the wholesale price, and the retailers we sell through distribution pay that wholesale plus the distributor fee. This is how it works for all publishers. Even though a publisher may own its own distribution companies, the retailers can mandate which ones they accept product from.
Second Part: It's seemingly a good idea to set both a royalty rate and a flat price and say the 'greater of the two'. Say, 35% or 12 bucks a unit, whichever is greater. The problem is that this gives the publisher no freedom to lower the wholesale price to move the product through its natural life cycle. And this is becoming more and more necessary as consumers are price-shopping games more. Myst and Diablo, for instance, still sell incredible numbers, but that's because they are 20 bucks now. If the publisher didn't have the flexibility to lower price, they would be dead products by now.
As for the second part of your question, a frontline PC product can still wholesale for 38-42 bucks. However, this is becoming more and more rare as price competition increases among retailers. Retailers are moving their price points from 49-59 bucks on new releases to 39-49, and those numbers quickly drop to 29-39 on most products. The margins on these pricepoints are not proportionate... that is, the retailer always seems to end up making a few bucks a unit, no matter what the wholesale. If you wholesale it for 38-42, average retail will still be only about 45 bucks. If you drop wholesale to 32, they'll sell it for 35-39. Etc.
All that said, you can only really judge by the initial wholesale price. For a big name title with a big marketing budget, which wholesales at 40 bucks, you'd remove about 3.50 for the actual cost of the package, and then take the developer royalty off the remaining 36.50 (at least this is the way is SHOULD be done... many publishers try to lump in marketing/promotions etc.) That would give you about at $12 royalty at 35%.
Bundling deals have completely different economics and should be treated separately. Make sure they are defined in your contract... I'd work on 50% or better on OEM/bundling deals, since the publisher typically has a much lower cost associated with these. (G.O.D. pays 60%)
Bonus: Oh...40 bucks.
Question #27: October 31, 1998
Asked by: Jeff Connelly
In your Ten Developer Commandments page you say "Royalties for ports are much lower than PC royalties, due to the very high manufacturing and licensing fees that must be paid to the console companies (i.e. Nintendo, Sony, Sega)." Can you please go into detail on what the manufacturing and licensing fees associated with consoles typically run? Also, what are realistic royalties to ask for if you they are lower than typical PC royalties?
Answered by: Scott Miller, 3D Realms
Console royalties to developers are always less than PC royalties, because of the licensing fees, which are the fees that the console hardware makers (Sony, Sega, Nintendo) require to manufacture you game and use it on their respective systems. For the Nintendo 64 these fees typically run around the $20-$22 area (this fee used to be higher, but Nintendo has been dropping them over time to try to encourage more games to be developed on their system, and to be more price competitive with the PlayStation). For the PlayStation the fee is far less, around $9. The reason that Sony's fee is much lower than Nintendo's is because it's a lot cheaper to manufacture a CD-ROM game than a cartridge-based game. Developer royalties are hard to figure out for consoles because each console has different costs and fees. In general, though, try to get at least a quarter of the publisher's net revenues after these licensing fees and manufacturing costs are deducted from the publisher's wholesale price. Also try to get your royalty to escalate a point or two after your publisher's marketing costs have been recouped. There's no reason they cannot accommodate this request.
Question #28: November 9, 1998
Asked by: Adam Helmers
Hi, my name is Adam Helmers and I'm a sixteen-year old high school student in Rapid City, South Dakota.
I've been into computers ever since I can remember, and I have recently become interested in software development, especially for entertainment purposes, through playing games like Warcraft II and Duke Nukem 3D and through my General C/C++ programming class.
I would like to someday set up a development company of my own, or work as an graphics animator or programmer for some other well known company.
I have quite a bit of general knowledge about PCs and some of the related industries, but I don't really have any strong marketable skills.
What programs do game developers use to create and compile 3D-engines that I should become familiar with?, Microsoft Visual C++ 5.0?
I've read about 3D Realms' Prey and Terminal Reality's Nocturne, but how do I learn how to program a similar engine of my own and simulate realistic physics in it?
How do I learn about DirectX 6.0 and how to incorporate those its features in my programming?
How do I learn about 3-D character animation and how I use programs like 3D Studio Max to incorporate those animations into my games?
What specifically do the developers of G.O.D. and other developers in general use in terms of hardware and software equipment to create the incredible visual and audio effects in their games?
Could the hardware and software be placed on one system, or would I need separate computers to capture and edit audio, and to do my programming and animation?
Is there someone, perhaps an employee of one of the developers of G.O.D., who would be willing to participate in a little more in-depth correspondence to help me learn the skills I need to get ahead?
Any feedback you could give me regarding these questions would be greatly appreciated.
Answered by: Mark Randel, Terminal Reality Inc.
Nocturne is compiled with Watcom 11.0A C++ compiler. Since Nocturne relies heavily on C++ classes for math, it is the only compiler that I've found to date that can compile the Nocturne source code without generating bogus object code.
When you decide to program an "engine," do yourself a favor, and write a "virtual machine" instead of writing to a specific OS. This means that any operating system call, like setting the screen to a specific resolution, or plotting a polygon through hardware acceleration, is contained in a separate portion of your source code.
This way, you'll be able to support more than one operating system, and have better code organization in general. Learning Windows and DirectX is a difficult (and frustrating) task at best. The best thing to do, is to hack bits and pieces of the sample code that Microsoft provides with DirectX and put it into your Windows specific virtual machine code. It might be easier for you to start out with extended DOS, since setting up video memory and writing to the screen is more straightforward. With Nocturne, I assume that my virtual machine is a 3D accelerated full screen environment with 32-bit color rendering. That way, I don't have to deal with creating windows or MFC. Nocturne actually started out as a full screen mode-X DOS application before I moved it to the Win32 environment.
If you want to simulate real physics, I'd recommend becoming a mechanical or electrical engineer through a 4 year program at a university. When you study college level physics with calculus, you'll study statics and dynamics. Statics is the study of non-moving physical systems, and dynamics is the study of physical systems in motion. These studies have enabled myself, and the two other simulation engineers at Terminal Reality to model cars, monster trucks, airplanes, and body parts of monsters when blown off. To create the visual effects, we use 3D Studio MAX with Character Studio. You should be able to find a good price for a student version of this program.
We use Photoshop and a Microtec ScanMaker for the texture maps, and some custom tools that we've created to integrate all of this data into the game environment. We've always stored our textures in 32-bit format, even though most of the hardware today can't display it yet - it is easier to move down a format than up a format.
For the audio effects, we are totally digital. If we record a human voice, that is the only analog signal that we use. Sound is 16-bit 22KHz digital. When I wrote Terminal Velocity in 1995, I programmed it all by myself with a team of 6 artists for the scenery. But the amount of knowledge it takes to write a game today is now more than one person can fully understand.
It takes a team of programmers, artists and musicians to create a game. The best advice I can give to you, is to pick just a few of specialization to become an expert on. If you have good math skills, you might want to try your hand at real-time physics, if you have art skills, you'll want to try making 3D models. If you have some graphics programming skills, try writing your own engine to plotting existing Duke Nuke'm or Quake type scenery files.
Question #29: November 9, 1998
Asked by: Anonymous
I have been wondering for some time now, how hard, exactly, 3D Art is to do? Do you require a lot of talent or is it mostly skills and practice? I had been using Imagine on my poor 486DX a few years ago, but I can't really remember how hard it was to pull something off.
Answered by: Murphy Michaels, RITUAL ENTERTAINMENT
The difficulty of 3D depends largely on what it is you are creating. Building a pickup truck would be considerably easier than a dragon. Organic objects (people, trees, creatures) are usually more difficult than non-organic (buildings, vehicles, appliances) because they require more polygons to create. Another point to consider would be familiarity.
An example of that would be that it is more difficult to build a realistic human than a griffon because we are used to seeing people and can easily spot an error - we don't often see griffons. There are a lot of factors. But a good arsenal would be traditional drawing skills, a knowledge of anatomy, and an understanding of 3D space.
Question #30: November 24, 1998
Asked by: Scott Velasquez
I have a couple of questions for ya real quick if you've got time, but first let me give you a little background. I'm a student at The University of Advancing Computer Technology, here in Phoenix, Arizona and we just started a game development club.
We have just decided that we are going to re-create some old Atari/Arcade games to gain experience in game development. While this is a fairly new club, we are starting to finally get a little school support. But we have one HUGE problem, we need a 3D engine! Would you recommend that we (Software Engineer and Multimedia students) develop our own engine or buy an already created engine? Could you please provide reasons for either.
Also, if you think we should purchase an engine, which engine would you recommend? If you cannot answer this question because of ties with a game engine, then that's fine. But we have been researching and most of the 'nice' engines out there are on average $26,000! We're not planning to sell the damn game!! Haha!
No but seriously, do you know of any engines that some college students could use to create freeware games to gain experience? Also, which features would be the best to have in an engine? Ex. Collision detection, sound, etc.?
Answered by: Jason Hall, Monolith.
That's a tough call; it really depends on what you want to do with an engine. We chose to develop our own instead of licensing one because we wanted to have greater control over the development path it took... but many companies choose to license an existing engine if one has all the features they want. If you choose to go with an existing engine, what I would recommend doing is writing your games as total conversions of something else. For example, Shogo (Lithtech) or Quake 2 (Quake 2) both are easily re-programmable (though I think Shogo is more readily turned into something else... then again, I'm biased). With the tools that will be publicly released for Shogo, I could (working from scratch) create a very different game. (I actually did a prototype imitation of the Xenogears engine using Lithtech as proof-of-concept recently, and I didn't do anything that couldn't be done with the free tools that will be released for making Shogo mods.) Doing something like that would allow you to develop your game without having to license the engine initially (just having to buy a game which uses the engine and then download the tools)... if you're really just looking for experience, there's one way to do it. And if the game proves to be well-done, then you could even possibly find a publisher (who could pay the licensing fee for whatever engine so you could publish). Of course, the downside is that you don't get the tech support or full source to the non-game-logic portion of the engine, which you get if you pay a license fee. :)
If you choose to develop your own engine, you really need to implement interfaces for sound, collision detection, world physics, and pretty much every aspect of a 3D game. It's a lot of work, but it can be very rewarding because you can take pride in your engine, AND you have the source code without paying anyone anything, so if you want to make a change to how something low-level, like the 3D model storage, works... well, you can, since you have the source code. So in the end, it's really your guys' call... :)
That's it, but if you want even more information on the video game publishing business, I can recommend:
Which are part of Chris Crawford's The Journal of Computer Game Design.