原作者：James Batchelor 译者：Willow Wu
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。
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。
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。
“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。
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 ）