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What does a healthy game publisher/developer relationship look like? (gamasutra.com)
44 points by danso 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments





> Assuming review builds are unsatisfactory, Publisher will communicate concerns with Developers to ensure any issues are resolved within next build. Unsatisfactory is defined as the build having missed the majority (majority defined as more than 80%) of promised milestone features.

> If agreement is terminated due to missing milestones or due to a decision by Developer to cease development of game indefinitely, Developer must repay all amounts paid by the Publisher

Is this normal? I'm not sure if this is a healthy relationship, seems like the publisher takes no risk at all for the development of the game like this, they just take the risk of the game not selling when it releases. And they could affect that as well, by pushing for more aggressive milestones at the end of development if they think the game wont sell enough until the developer either fails to deliver or it is good enough. Seems like these type of contracts would result in a lot of overtime crunching.


I've worked in games for over 25 years. This sort of arrangement is very common. Note there are bad developers and publishers so both get screwed at times.

Relationship building in games is very hard, there is a lot of distrust. Milestones can be very hard to pin down as a task being complete is very subjective (when are player controls done? when implemented or when they feel good? what does feel good mean?). You can meet every milestone and deliver a game that isn't fun, you can miss every milestone and deliver a best selling game.

At it's core the industry is trying to use the Hollywood movie model for financing, designing and developing games. It's not working, they are far less linear, far more interactive and significantly less well known as an art form.

There are no (or few) unique problems in videogames but they do tend to be in the extreme compared to the other arts and engineering problems.


There was a disagreement between zenimax and arkane over dishonered's milestones. It pushed the developers to the point of bankruptcy and zenimax ended up buying the studio and then releasing the game.

Most game developers have no revenue stream beyond their publishing contract. Of course these contracts look exploitive. One side has no leverage, and is basically an all in one out source shop.

> One side has no leverage

This seems perverse. Game development seems to require a high amount of skill and creativity in terms of design, art and development. But whenever I read articles or hear talks about the business of things it seems like there is a huge disconnect between requirements and the compensation. And not only that but the economical impact of games is rather large. It seems like big publishers are doing very well.

Another (very general) field where this is the case is STEM research. Even though I would guess that you generally earn more and have more financial security, the discrepancy between skill, impact and compensation is even larger. I know it is an extreme example but it showcases a complex problem and other fields can partially relate.

Examples like these at least seem to falsify the notion that the market rewards skill and impact in general. It specifically rewards market and business skills. We as craftsmen often laugh at stuff like the Dilbert comics but there is a truth behind it: The ones that have the most actual leverage, skilled workers and problem solvers, seem to be controlled by people who focus on negotiation and even bullying.

Should the lesson here be that everyone needs to be a negotiator? Should we teach/learn this in school? Are we playing the game of capitalism wrong or is it actually rigged? I honestly don't know, but I personally feel that it all looks imbalanced and even phony.


The lesson is that there's no guaranteed ROI for either games development or pure STEM research, so people are justifiably stingy with money and play hardball with contracts.

If you don't believe me, the Kickstarter craze a few years ago exposed all of this to the consumer. Many games were hyped well and got huge funding but were released to mediocre-to-bad reviews and much backer regret, to say nothing of the ones which fell apart completely during development and were never successfully released.


> Game development seems to require a high amount of skill and creativity in terms of design, art and development. But whenever I read articles or hear talks about the business of things it seems like there is a huge disconnect between requirements and the compensation. And not only that but the economical impact of games is rather large. It seems like big publishers are doing very well.

Sadly, it boils down to oversupply and people putting up with it due to passion. "Too many" people want to work in (non-mobile) video games, people fight over vacancy, and publishers can keep the pay low and employees overworked as their passion fuels them. Then burnout happens, some leave, and the cycle continues. I don't have a proper source so take this with a grain of salt, but I heard it pays more to work in IT than in game development, in the same region. (Same experience level)


If this is healthy, what does an unhealthy contract look like?

Like the relationship between Descendent Studios and publisher Little Orbit. A virtually finished game gets frozen with no end in sight, developers work for free, and the publishers aren't available for comment...

ummm the opposite of what’s written in the article?

Where the publisher and developer are the same company.

Unionized, with most bargaining power in the hands of the developer.

So now instead of being able to negotiate my own salary based on my skillset, I’m beholden to union agreements....

Talent unions set minimum pay scales, not maximums.

Hollywood actors are part of a union (SAG). Do you think that Tom Cruise got paid the same as an extra that was also in the SAG for the last Mission Impossible?



Today I learned that programmers think that police and teachers unions are talent-based unions like the SAG.

That explains so much of the bizarre anti-union sentiment on HN.


There is a reason some shows use non-union labor. Even if you had a programmer union, what’s to stop people hiring non-union programmers?

I would very much like to know which broadcast or cable shows you think use non-union labor, because that would be a violation of almost all studios agreements with the unions.

AFAIK, only Netflix uses non-union labor on shows...and even they have entered into negotiations with multiple unions.


Union rules part of some union collective bargaining agreements are that everyone who works there has to be part of the union. Many states that do have right to work laws still force companies to apply union agreements to even those who are not part of the union.



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