Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Value of a Game Designer...

People, I can see, keep thinking that the issue is to develop independence for a company. That is where I disagree. I think independence is fine, but I want it all the way. I want independence for an actual game designer, not just a company. Independence for the leads.

Honestly, the way I talk is more publisher-friendly than people think. To me, the game company is just a vehicle to make a game.

So far as owning IP, in the current model a development company owns the IP. But what about the value of a name? What exactly is a company? You build this company and you own the IP through the company. What if you want to leave the company? What if you get into an argument with your partner because you want to make Game X and he wants to make Game Y, so your company breaks up? What if the company boxes itself into making only zombie horror games (for example)? Say you leave it, but you own 20% of it, but 5 years later somebody takes control of it and sells its IP to a publisher for a dollar? Then where are you?

See, being part-owner of a company can become a prison if you want to follow your creativity to its farthest ends. You get typecast. You get stuck doing all this company management gobbledygook that is secondary to what you really need to be doing - which is your creative work.

The only entity I know that can really, soundly and stably, own something is a person. That means a name. See, all I want to do is give my own name value. How? Submitting design documents to a game publisher, have us build a temporary company for the duration of production (with other key leads who are just as important as the designer - using the core team/outsourcing model), making the game, letting the publisher get it out there, and then letting myself build a name. And getting that damn name on the box!

And, honestly, the ultimate objective here isn't to own the IP - it's to build a name so valuable that it can command a share of the gross revenues. Or, if the core designer is a newbie, he can command just a basic going-rate up front fee, but, if the game becomes a hit, a piece of the budget for each sequel, a piece of the budget of any movie version, a fee if it gets turned into a novel, and so on. So if Game Designer Bob, Lead Programmer Frank, Art Director Jay, Lead Audio Designer Sam together make a game - a game that is built using their outsourcing companies - at the end of the day Bob, Frank, Jay and Sam get a split of the gross revenue and a piece of the budget for any sequels, and other ancillary spin-offs. And they get their names on the box!

I mean, if you, as a person, are getting a piece of gross revenue, that is stable income (as long as the game sells; as long as its sequels sell; as long as it lives as a franchise).

I know one guy who designed a game for Avalon Hill years back. As you know, Avalon Hill's library was sold to Hasbro at fire sale prices. Hasbro recently released a remake of his game - same game, better components (plastic pieces and so on) - under the "Avalon Hill" name (that's all AH is now: a brand; a *name*). I asked him if he got a piece for that. He glumly said he didn't. But it was his game! He designed it! It was good enough that it was remade - but he got nothing for that. That's wrong.

I'm not saying any noob developer is going to get a piece of gross revenue. But I *will* say that as long as developers are effectively rendered anonymous they will *never* get that. They will be slaves.

So maybe you don't think a name is worth anything. I do. I just want the industry to give the individuals a chance to build their names.

(This post from a flame war I've been in at IGDA...)


Anonymous said...

The only thing that has value is money. If your design is directly tied to money, it has value. If you can consistently act as designer and deliver money, you have value. Games are not made from a solo document, by a solo person. If you want all the money for yourself, you're going to have to make the game yourself. If you want a part of the money, you're going to have to convice people to share. Your argument here is not convincing.

"Just because" is not compelling enough.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Then why does it work in the movie industry? Why can Tom Cruise command a percent of gross revenue? Why can a screenwriter with a name command a high fee, a percent of gross revenue, a piece of the budget for all sequels, and still get his name on the box?

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

And why is it that even though writing a screenplay is not making a movie - and that any screenplay will undergo numerous changes and the final film may look very different once the other collaborators are involved - that the mature movie industry still puts so much value in having that solid document before they roll the cameras?

Anonymous said...

People get what they get because of negotiations. If you want to negotiate for a percentage of the revenue, go do that.
If you can prove your design, you may have stronger legs to negotiate with. This proof is often in the form of past projects, and demos. Your name is worth quite alot to publishers. Do you think new game companies get instant publisher deals because of the incredible design they just laid down? No, they're getting them off the strengths of the names of the people working there.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

What counts is whether the audience knows the designer's name. As long as the system - both publishers and game company executives - makes sure that leads don't get their names on the box, they won't get name recognition and won't develop value where it counts: with the gaming audience.

Anonymous said...

The people you need to have your name be worth something to are your funders. The audience is not directly funding your project. You may have value with them because the audience responds to your name.

If you want your audience to be your judge and jury, get your funding directly from them. This is the shareware model, its out there, and quite successful.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Ummm... this comment just illustrates how out of touch you are. You are actually implying that you are not selling your product to the gaming audience.

Where do you think the game publishers get their money from? Mars?

Anonymous said...

It make me giggle that you called me out of touch.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Giggle away.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that you have so much to write about a subject you are obviously ignorant about.

The Ogre said...

Ah, the Grassroots Gamemaster, still offending everyone he or she can find. Let's hope that "anonymous" is not actually Tom Cruise.

A word of advice - your posts from the "flame war" have all been deleted, so you might remove that link from your blog... it adds little to your argument at this point.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

A man once defined evil as the desire to silence another.

So then Ogre, that is an evil act.

I say that with a straight face. I talk about giving individuals rights. You want to crush individual rights.

That is evil.

the ogre said...

Make no mistake, O dungeonmaster of the sod's underside... I did not delete your posts. I would rather your foolish pretense were available for everyone to see - regardless of your rather weak and theologically weighted definition of evil - because I believe that you do more harm to yourself by talking than you would by remaining silent.