Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

14 March, 2007

Filed under: — Psychochild @ 5:45 AM

I was talking with the super-awesome Chris Peterson from Heavy Melody Music last week at the GDC, and he mentioned something really interesting. He was talking about one panel he attended on audio where someone advised that musicians try to retain the rights to music they make for games so that they can use it again or gain royalties from the music.

That’s a great idea. Now, answer this question, “How?”

Really, this is the same type of advice where people advise developers to retain IP rights to their work. That’s super advice, but the question remains, “How?”

Or, how someone told me that Miyamoto told the crowd at GDC that developers should innovate. Guess what my response is: “How?” Of course, the answer here is evident: Create the field of “game design” and 20-25 years later you, too, can tell developers to innovate! (Of course, this ignores the fact that I’m sure nobody fell out of their seat at that point and said, “Holy crap! I could have been innovating all this time!”)

The problem is that in all these cases, the reality is beyond the control of the individual. When it comes to retaining IP rights (or the rights to your music in the specific case of the musician), you generally get the deal offered to you by the developer. If you are competing with others willing to give up their rights to sign the deal, what hope do you have? In the case of small development companies and musicians, it’s a buyer’s market. There’s no shortage of bright-faced youngsters eager to do what it takes to “do games”. If they have to give up their IP, that’s the price to be paid in their eyes. Makes it harder for you to do the same, unfortunately. (Hell, you can barely get your studio’s name on the package without some concession.)

In the case of developers and innovation, I think few developers really enjoy working on derivative work. Yes, the same type of overeager youngster that happily gives away the IP is often thrilled to be working on a game for the sake of working on a game, but that enthusiasm fades fast. I partially suspect that even the dark hearts at companies like EA aren’t thrilled about working on the same derivative titles. But, there’s shareholders to satisfy and explaining that you could have made more money “but Miyamoto told us to innovate!” doesn’t protect one from shareholder lawsuits.

Of course, there are answers to the question of “How?”, but they aren’t easy. To retain IP, you either have to live on less money (and therefore hire less people and do less work, most likely), or everyone has to make the same demands. But, it’s just too tempting for someone to focus on the short term and agree to give up rights. And, don’t expect a trade organization to upset the publishers’ gods-given rights to forcibly violate inexperienced development studios.

Developer innovation is a harder topic. To make a “real” game, you need to take investor or publisher money. Yeah, you might luck out and find a really cool investor, but more likely you’ll just find someone merely interested in draining your hopes and dreams for every thin dime they’re worth. Very experienced and business-savvy people I personally know say they’ll never deal with a VC again because of previous bad experiences. If you eschew investment, you’re unlikely to be able to make a game that people will take notice of. Even if you do, your game will most likely languish in obscurity. Notice how there aren’t exactly a lot of competitors for A Tale in the Desert? Yeah, the market may say they want innovation, but we see what sells well. Hell, we see what sells even marginally well, and it ain’t innovation.

So, “How?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.


  1. No easy answer for game devs.

    Hopeless for musicians.

    It’s not even good for the publishers, in either case.

    You have an epiphany, a breakthrough in game design, the next big thing!

    Do you use that idea in something someone else is going to own, or save it for the dream about making your own game (and owning it) some day?

    It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Publishers could give a dev studio a little percentage of the IP: share the profits from cartoons and books and movies and sequels and so on, if it’s really an original IP, and if videogames are big-time enough to create IPs with that much juice…

    Comment by Jeff Freeman — 15 March, 2007 @ 4:44 AM

  2. Why should the answer be easy? Easy answers are not typically the best, or even really good, answers in my experience. I notice that my trackback hasn’t appeared (probably because it wasn’t successfully sent), so I’ll repeat a couple of points I made there.

    Jim Jarmusch allows musicians to keep the rights to the music they produce for the soundtracks of his films. All he requires in return is that they mention the movie in the liner notes of any album which contains the music. This allows him to use more prominent artists than his budgets would normally allow.

    What it comes down to is that if we want to instigate change within the industry, then we must simply instigate change. Just because publishers are focused on tomrorow’s stock price doesn’t mean we need to be so short sighted.

    Comment by Corvus — 15 March, 2007 @ 6:15 AM

  3. “Notice how there aren’t exactly a lot of competitors for A Tale in the Desert? Yeah, the market may say they want innovation, but we see what sells well. Hell, we see what sells even marginally well, and it ain’t innovation.”

    I’m a player, not a developer so let me come to the defense of ‘the market’ since I’m on that side of the table. I don’t want to be pedantic but I think its useful to distinguish between invention and innovation, between something new and something new that is better. If new stuff isn’t doing well it’s not necessarily the case that ‘the market’ doesn’t want innovation, it may be that the new stuff sucks [or to be less harsh, it's no better than the old stuff].

    Comment by JuJutsu — 15 March, 2007 @ 8:58 AM

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