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开发者谈如何防止大型发行商毁掉你的公司

发布时间:2018-09-07 09:17:28 Tags:,,

开发者谈如何防止大型发行商毁掉你的公司

原作者:James Batchelor 译者:Willow Wu

对于任何游戏开发团队来说,与大型发行商合作可能会获得职业生涯的转折点,但如果合作关系破裂,最遭罪的也是前者。

近期在克罗地亚举办的的Reboot Develop大会上,《地狱之刃》开发商Ninja Theory的联合创始人Nina Kristensen与GamesIndustry.biz总编Matt Handrahan就这个话题展开了探讨。后续又重点分析了一些开发者们没有意识到的保护方法。

“有一些条款,如果你还没有使用,那么你应该行动起来去争取,”Kristensen说。“其中一项就是便利终止条款。大部分大牌发行商的律师都会说他们不会设定这个条款或者给你最低限度的补偿,但这是你必须争取的。”

当开发者按时发行游戏并达到所有的指标,但由于发行商策略的改变而受到影响,甚至被砍掉项目时,便利终止条款在这时就有用了。

“也许他们想进行市场划分——我们也有遇到过这种情况,比如他们不想做这个级别的游戏了,只想做面向青少年年龄段以及以下的游戏,而你的恰好就是M级,不符合他们的产品策略,”Kristensen举例说明。

“有很多原因都是跟开发者本身无关的,但事实就是你被他们炒了,对此你什么都不能做,因为他们是大公司,你只能当他们的决策牺牲者。”

就如Kristensen所说的,Ninja Theory在2016年就经历过这样的事,被迪士尼砍掉了他们的心血。这家位于英国剑桥的游戏工作室已经和迪士尼这个娱乐行业巨头合作了数年,他们怎么也不会想到《迪士尼无限》系列(游戏邦注Disney Infinity)会被取消,失去一大收入来源。

最近我们看了埃塞克斯的独立工作室Dlala Studios的经历,他们之前签了一个350万美元的合同来重启迪士尼最大的IP项目。这家公司之所以能够在变动中生存下来,还要多亏了那一条款,就跟Ninja Theory之前的做法一样。

如Kristensen所说,便利终止条款就是“你得到一大笔钱便于他们结束合同”。这是一笔一次性的款项,能够让公司顺利运营直到管理层能够找到更多的生意或资金,Kristensen让开发商们认真考虑这个过程可能要花费多长时间以及他们要付出什么样的代价。

publishers(from develop-online)

publishers(from develop-online)

“这就是你需要的补偿金,这样你的公司就不会因为别人做了一些你无能为力的选择而破产,”她说。

“如果你是一家默默无闻的小工作室,而跟你合作的是一家超级大公司,他们的律师拒绝加入这个条款,你可能会认为事情这么发展很正常,但并不是。你不是在无理取闹,你是在保护你的公司。”

Kristensen还特别提醒开发者们要保护好自己的技术,它可以涵盖到雇佣项目中所有资源以及开发成果。

“它真的非常重要,”她强调。“比如我们正在为另一方开发游戏,用的是他们的IP,我们所创作的游戏内容也归他们,这并没有任何问题。但是在开发游戏的过程中我们也创造出了新的技术、通用资产,这对开发者来说是有价值的,我们想在下一个游戏中继续使用。

“在Ninja Theory,我们有庞大的技术库和通用资产,这些一直都是属于我们的,发行商需要我们的授权才能在游戏中使用。对方找上我们的原因之一就是我们有充足的技术资源,而他们有一个合适的载体。你要建一个人物mesh不可能是从零开始,既然我手上有基础模板,那就找一个合适的对象入手。无论最后做出的是什么样的角色,版权都是归属于发行商的,但是那些mesh资源是我们的。”

这位Ninja Theory总监还强调了这种情况并不仅适用于合作之前就创造出的技术资源,在项目开发期间创造的新技术也是如此——不管它们是之前技术的升级版还是未来可重复利用的全新内容,都是属于你的。

“可能对方有一大群人要跟你争论这件事,但这是明智且合理的:过去你做的所有努力都是为了他们的项目,你也承受了不小的压力,他们利用你们的辛劳挣到了更多钱,”Kristensen解释说。“作为交换,项目中的这些原创技术就应该归你所有,这有理有据啊。你在跟发行商讨论这一点的时候,他们有时会敷衍式回应说‘嗯,对,有道理’,更直接的人会说‘我们付了钱,这些资源理应归我们’,但这是不对的。”

如果开发者无法确定合作条款是否公平,或者是从长期看来似乎无法受益,这时就应该毫无顾忌地转身离开,寻找不同的合作方。Kristensen说如果想让工作室生存下来,这就是必须的选择。

“之前我就拒绝了一些条款非常不公平的合作项目,”她说。“如果签下的话我们可能会在近期得到酬劳,但……从长远来看我们最终会因陷入困境而瓦解。早点说‘不’,因为事实是如果你的合作对象是讲道理的、真心想要把这个游戏做出来,那么他们就应该明白如果不给开发者定制合理的条款,后者将会果断离开,游戏也没了。

“合理拒绝也是一种真诚的表现。发行商不是坏人,他们不是什么奸商,但有时那些法务部门喜欢自己搞事情,那会让你坠入万丈深渊。”

这一切听起来很可怕,但Kristensen反复强调现在的发行商比她以前遇到的通情达理多了,开发者们也有了更多权力。

“如今的发行商更具有前瞻性,以创造力为核心,作为创作者的我们也被赋予了更多权力,所以我们能看到越来越多公平、全面的合作达成,”她说。“但仍然还有一些用老方法办事的。我拒绝跟某些发行商合作就是因为合同条款对我们来说太不公平了。”

尽管如此,有些开发者们还是签了具有偏向性的合同,到最后只能忍受煎熬。关于这种情况,Kristensen的看法是这其中的多数开发者都被恐惧所驱使——怕短期内无法给出员工工资,工作室面临解散,于是无论有什么样的项目摆在眼前他们都会立即签下。

Kristensen对此表示同情,早期她也曾目睹过工作室倒闭所带来的影响。她说在Star Fox和Croc开发公司Argonaut Games倒闭的那天,她去召集会议告知公司命运的路上遇见了一名员工,他自豪地跟她说就在今早他有自己的房子了。

“他们也是人,”她说。“他们有工作、生活、家庭,如果有人能够给他们提供资金,保证他们顺利地生活下去,即使这笔交易一点都不公平,他们还是会签的,这很残酷。”

她接着说:“而且事情不会变得轻松。别误会我的意思,我们一路走来也有辉煌时刻,就像是过山车一样总是有起有落。如果你一点都不喜欢坐过山车的感觉,那我劝你还是别开游戏公司了。实现这些令人赞叹的内容,看着我们的创想慢慢呈现在眼前,这种兴奋与激动的感受我非常喜欢。但这过程中你也会遇到很多棘手的情况。”

访谈接近尾声时,有一名观众提问用自家的IP开发游戏是否就比跟发行商合作一个版权在他们手上的项目要更好、更安全?

“两种做法各有优势,”Kristensen理性地分析道。“如果你是为自己做事,那就选一个你热衷的主题。保持真诚的态度。如果你是在为别人工作,你想借用他们的IP,你得确保你是喜欢这个IP的。你要是做一个不喜欢的项目,游戏质量怎么都不会好。

“还有一件事就是如果你收到了RFP(request for pitch,向投资人或是合作伙伴做简报),你得好好考虑。并不是说一定不要答应,而是你得擦亮眼睛。问题在于发行商或者是IP拥有者是否真的想要在这方面下功夫?你是最理想的选择吗?认真想想他们是不是仅仅因为开销少才选你。你可能会浪费大量的时间和精力,你也不一定能让那些听众掏钱,毕竟一切还处于构想阶段。而且pitch是具有针对性的,无法通用。但如果是你自己的项目,你可以跟任何人做pitch。

“你的时间是很宝贵的,你的能力也是有限的,不管你经营的是多大的公司,事实就是如此。”

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

Working with a major publisher can be life-changing for any developer but if the partnership falls apart, it’s the latter that suffers the most.

This was a topic discussed during an onstage interview with Nina Kristensen, co-founder and development director at Hellblade creator Ninja Theory, during the recent Reboot Develop conference in Croatia. Hosted by GamesIndustry.biz editor-in-chief Matt Handrahan, the conversation turned to forms of protection some developers might not be aware of.

“There are a few clauses that if you don’t already do them, then you absolutely should and you should fight for them,” Kristensen said. “One of them is the termination for convenience clause. Big publishers, for the most part, their lawyers will say they don’t do that or they’ll give you something minimal around it, but this is an essential clause that you absolutely must fight for.”

The termination for convenience clause comes into effect when a developer has been delivering a game on schedule, meeting all its milestones, but the project is then impacted – perhaps even cancelled – by a change in the publisher’s strategy.

“Maybe they stop making games altogether – that has happened to us – or maybe they no longer want to make mature games, only teen and below, but yours is mature and you no longer fit into their portfolio,” Kristensen offered by way of example.

“There can be any number of reasons that are absolutely nothing to do with you as a developer but it means that you get canned – and there’s fuck all you can do about it, absolutely nothing, because it’s a big corporation that has changed tack.”

As the director says, Ninja Theory has experienced this first-hand – most recently in 2016 when Disney decided to pull out of video games publishing. The Cambridge-based studio had been working with the entertainment giant for years on the Disney Infinity range, but then had this source of revenue and business unexpectedly removed.

We recently looked at the impact this had on Essex-based indie Dlala Studios, which had a $3.5 million deal to reboot one of Disney’s biggest franchises. That company was able to survive the Disney retreat, as was Ninja Theory thanks to this clause.

Termination for convenience means that, as Kristensen put it, “you get paid a bunch of money for them to conveniently terminate the contract”. It’s a lump sum that should help keep the studio afloat until its management is able to secure more business or funding, with Kristensen urging developers to think about how long that process takes and what their costs will be in the meantime.

“That’s how much money you need so that your company doesn’t go bust because someone else has chosen to do something that you have no control over and you’ve been doing a good job all of the way along,” she said.

“If you’re small and you’re working with a behemoth multi-national corporation, their lawyer will go ‘no’, and you might think that’s just how things are. It isn’t. You’re not being unreasonable, you’re just safeguarding your business.”

Kristensen also encouraged developers to make sure they have protected their technology, which can encompass all manner of assets and developments created during a work-for-hire project.

“This is really important,” she stressed. “Let’s say we’re making games for another party, we’re working with their IP, so obviously they own that IP, they own that franchise and they own the content you make for them, and that’s fine and correct. But along the way of making the game you develop a body of technology, you create generic assets, you create all sorts of things that are of value to you and that you want to bring to bear in the next game.

“At Ninja Theory, we have an enormous body of tech and generic assets, and we always own that and we grant the licence to the publisher to use it in the game. And that’s correct, because one of the reasons to come to us is that we have this huge body of work and you have a headstart – we’d never create a human mesh from scratch, we’ve got loads so we take one that’s appropriate and use that as a starting point. Whatever character we create ultimately is owned by the publisher but the generic mesh is ours.”

The Ninja Theory director emphasised that this should not just apply to technology your studio has created prior to such a partnership, but also anything you invent during the course of the project – whether it’s an enhancement to your previous tech or new assets you can (and most likely will) use later.

“That’s something everyone will fight you on but the argument is sensible and sound: all of this work you’ve had in the past, you’re bringing to bear on their project and they’re getting a lot more value for money from you because of that,” Kristensen explained. “In exchange, whatever you make along the way… it makes complete sense, and when you talk it through with a publisher, they’ll be like ‘oh, yeah, that makes sense’. The immediate [response] is ‘we’re paying for it, we should own it’, but that’s not correct.”

If a developer is unsure whether the terms of a partnership are fair, or feel like they’re unlikely to benefit in the long term, they should have no qualms about walking away and finding something different. Kristensen says this option is “essential” to the survival of a studio.

“I have said no to deals in the past where the terms have been really bad for us,” she said. “It might pay payroll today but… we’ll wind up circling the drain [in the long term]. Say no early, because the fact of the matter is if the person you are trying to work with is reasonable and actually wants to get this deal done, they’ll [realise] if they don’t make an accommodation for you as a developer, you’ll cease to exist and they don’t get their game anyway.

“The ability to say no, reasonably, is always going to be in good faith. Publishers are not bad people, they’re not bad organisations but sometimes legal departments can take on a life of their own. You can go down really silly rabbit holes.”

As intimidating as all this sounds, Kristensen reiterated that publishers are much more reasonable than they were earlier in her career, with more power shifting towards the developers.

“These days, publishers are usually more forward-thinking, putting creatives in the centre, and are more empowering to us as creators, so we see more and more sensible and holistic deals that benefit both parties,” she assured. “There are still some that are pretty old fashioned. I have walked away from deals because the terms are really bad for us.”

Nonetheless, there are still unfavourable deals out there that developers end up signing and suffering for. When asked why she believed studios agree to such terms, Kristensen acknowledged that it was mostly cases of fear, where the threat of being unable to pay staff in the short term compels them to sign whatever deal they can.

She expressed sympathy for developers in that situation, having seen the impact of a studio closure earlier in her career. Recalling the day Star Fox and Croc developer Argonaut Games was shut down, Kristensen said that on the way to the meeting in which she would tell the staff of the studio’s fate, one colleague proudly revealed he had just closed on his house that morning.

“These are people,” she emphasised. “They have careers, livelihoods, families and so you’re inclined to sign a bad deal if it’s going to make sure that they get paid. It’s hard.”

She continued: “And it doesn’t get easy. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had glorious times all the way through – it’s a rollercoaster. Do not run a games business unless you’re happy on a rollercoaster. I love it, the thrill and the excitement of getting amazing things done, seeing creative visions coming together. But alongside that you have to deal with really difficult situations.”

At the end of the session, one member of the audience asked whether working on your own IP is better or safer than collaborating with publishers on projects they ultimately own.

“Both paths are valid,” Kristensen reasoned. “If you’re making your own thing, make the thing you are deeply passionate about. Authenticity is everything. If you’re making something for somebody else and you want to work with their IP, make sure it’s an IP you love because if you don’t, it really won’t be good enough.

“The other thing is if you get sent an RPF – a request for pitch – think carefully about whether or not you want to engage in that. It’s not that you shouldn’t, but you should go in with your eyes open. The question is, is that publisher or IP holder serious about getting that done? Are you the right fit for it? Double check that they’re not just going to take the cheapest option. Those are things you can waste a huge amount of time and energy on and you can go bust because you’re just pitching for stuff that never lands. It’s not that you shouldn’t do it, but if you are, just think about how many of them you do. When you’re pitching for one thing, you can only use that pitch for that one thing. If it’s your own [project] you can pitch it to everyone.

“Your time is valuable, and there’s only so much you can do. Doesn’t matter how big you are, this is always true.”(source:gamesindustry.biz


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