Hey #indiedev #gamedev, I turned down a pretty big publishing contract today for about half a million in total investment (I'm a solo dev). They genuinely wanted to work with me, but couldn't see what was exploitative about the terms. I'm not under an NDA, wanna talk about it? 👀
5:02 PM · Aug 13, 2021
So, everyone knows a business will protect its own interests, that's fine. I wouldn't expect someone to invest 6 figures in me without heavily mitigating risk. But the degree of control extended far past that, with insane breach penalizations for me - and zero for them.
Let's start with the heaviest stuff: If the business invokes the breach of contract clause, here's what happens: - They keep the right to sell the game, and I lose my royalty (so, they keep 100% of revenue) - I pay them back all money ever given to me, and...
- I also pay them *all development costs yet to come* for them to finish the game without me, with no limit to what that budget or cost is. So, here's me, a 30-year-old solo dev, facing a consequence where if my game is be taken away from me I'm also *in debt*.
The debt would be anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 a million dollars, and with no option for further income. Likely any funds I'd already received would be spent on cost of living, and I... don't *have* money like that, you know? So if this happens I'm in debt, *forever*.
This breach is *really easy* to trigger. I would never expect a producer to call for it - but if the business has a choice between paying for a game and getting >50% of revenue plus its money (eventually) back, or *not* paying for a game and getting 100% of revenue...
Oh, what happens if *they* breach contract you ask? I get to keep my game :-) Isn't that nice? :-) Good luck proving it anyway: All publisher responsibilities total maybe 5 vague sentences that they must only try their "reasonable best" to do... any part of their entire job.
They don't have to start paying you your share until *30 days after the end of the QUARTER*, ie. up to 4 months past when it's *due*, and can withold "expected returns" up to 3 months more. Keep in mind, there's also no legal obligation to show you any financial records.
Catch them underpaying you? There's no penalty clause (you're repaid only what was withheld), and you're going to pay for that auditor even if you DO prove fraud. For the Nth time, the exploitation is not just penalty-free but also PROFITABLE if I don't opt to gamble that cost.
Have a disagreement over being told to add advertising systems to your game, or over changing/adding content you don't agree with? Guess what - they can have a 3rd-party dev it anyway, and you're paying for it. (Also no defined budget/cost limit on this, as before)
When I voiced heavy concerns with the contract, they were surprised. Like, very honestly surprised. Again, I don't think they *meant* harm or to exploit. But predatory behaviour has been normalized in the industry. I guess it just doesn't stand out anymore.
They responded by asserting the contract *couldn't* be exploitative b/c top lawyers in the industry wrote it 🙄 and b/c other devs have signed it. The fact that they still easily sign devs on this is a poor reflection on the industry, not a vote in favour of the practice.
Important context: They approached *me*. I wasn't looking for a publisher, and already had enough (barely, but enough) Kickstarter funds to go without them. These were the terms offered with literally as much leverage as someone in my in my position can have.
No matter what you're told conversationally, and regardless of if the people you're speaking with mean well (which they probably do), the legal terms are the ONLY guarantees you have as to how the business has to treat you - and a business will never put you first in a pinch.
Some follow-up - can't reply to all comments anymore.
No idea how to respond to all the positive support. Thank you #indiedev. I'm really glad this has sparked more conversation, and to to see a lot of comments from devs saying they'll approach publisher contracts a lot more cautiously now. Some questions/answers/thoughts ITT:Show this thread