Team Member Contracts & Profit Sharing

I’ve got two questions related to team member contracts so I decide to answer both of them in the same post.

Question:

Let’s say I want to make a team, a programmer and a graphics guy. What should the share in money be? What is the best solution when it comes to money in teams?

Answer:
I believe that the best policy (for indie team) is this: You – as the game producer – should make sure that everyone in the team benefits. Don’t make this mistake that some team leaders/idea owners do: never hog the profits so that you get most of the profits just because you want. Aim for win-win situation. Ask and discuss openly about the profits. I generally think that artist (sounds & music) should get one time payments and rest is shared evenly among programmers/producers depending on the contributed tasks/hours they spend. Basically – if all team members put roughly 10 hours per week then each should get an equal share. I don’t believe making such a big noise about who is the most talented or who contributed 70 hours and who 80 hours . If your team is focusing too much on how to split the revenue then I think there’s something wrong with the team. You could make a plan and set profits according to the finished work (like gameplay coder could get more than interface coders). Make rough guidelines. Remember to include profit sharing also in the updates – usually game programmers need to update & fix bugs in the game after the release. Make sure you take this into consideration when producing the game. That is actually one reason why I think one-time payments for artists is good: they usually don’t do much work after the initial launch.

The most important rule (in everything in life): Would you accept the suggested profit sharing if you were in other person’s shoes? Think how you would feel if you were the artist/programmer doing the assigned task and getting the profit you suggested.

I won’t go into greater details for bigger companies… but generally I think hourly rates and team bonus systems are a good way to go.

Question:

I am trying to get into the mobile game market and to do so, I definitely need to hire an artist. Now, some artists will sell their work for a flat rate. But does this mean that the work now belongs to you? I know that this depends on the artist and that it all should be worked out before hand, but some tips or links to more information would be great.

Answer:
You partially answered to your question: yes, it depends on the artist – and the contract you make with them.

I would simply define this in the contract: Write down that all rights of the artist’s contribution is owned by you (or your company) and that artist reserves only the right to show the art in his portfolio (if he wishes to do so). All rights are totally transferred to you and the artist cannot re-sell or anyway modify the work for another company. I would hire a lawyer if you need to do proper paperwork. There’s a guy called Tom Buscaglia, a game attorney available for indies. Check it out in case you need more assistance.

Pros and Cons of Opening Development to the Public

Ville asked a question:

Question:

I have a question. List the pros and cons of opening your development to the public. We’re releasing demo versions of our game as we go on, it allows us to get in touch with the public more. But I’m afraid this might backfire somehow, like people getting tired of the game before it’s completed, or that they judge the game by the demos.

Answer:
First of all, I must say that I really believe in public development – I think it’s a good solution for indies in many aspects. We develop Morphlings in a very public manner: we even put the design document available. Not to mention screenshots and demos (as we get new stuff).

The pros:
1. Public development means publicity: If nobody doesn’t know about your game, then you can rest assured it doesn’t get the publicity it could have before the release. Different people will talk about it… tell their friends… news etc. I even got in TV when I showed Morphlings in one presentation!

2. Open development opens doors to more suggestions: people are eager to comment and give ideas. It’s almost like “You don’t need designers anymore – players help you to design” ;)

3. You find beta-testers: just put a newsletter subscription system online or some other way to gather emails. You’ll find plenty of beta-testers and potential customers.

4. You can get team-members when releasing to public. People who show they actually do something instead of just saying something tend to get more people moving.

5. It motivates the team: having everything *visible* means that people know better what each other are doing. It motivates to get good comments and see a evidence that the project is progressing.

6. It can get publishers interested. Games that are developed in public tend to attract publishers & distributors. That’s a plus.

7. You’ll get comments from other developers: they will help you, they will support you, they will motivate you. Basically they will do good to the development.

The cons::
1. Financial risk: somebody might steal your idea, patent it… or run to market before you. I think this is the case with “smaller” indie games (development cycle less than 3 months) where time-to-market has a bigger meaning. In larger (indie!) games I don’t this is the issue… I just don’t believe people could steal your idea and do it. It would take huge time. Besides – aren’t there games like World of Warcraft, Battlefield, Sims or Half-life to be cloned? The ideas are already there. If somebody tries to steal your idea… then good luck. He would still need massive amount of resources to compete. I think the risk is there – but I don’t think it’s such a big issue for indies.

2. What if the project is canceled: the players might get disappointed and you might get bad publicity (“yeh, he tried and nothing happened”). But – I think if you are willing to finish the project and have courage to develop it no matter what… then go for it. There’s always the risk somebody gets disappointed or mocks you – whether you finish anything or not.

3. It takes extra time to maintain. It’s true that making your development public (writing public notes, commenting to suggestions etccan add extra work in the development phase but I don’t think it’s a bad idea: it’s basically some sort of “project documenting” in one way – so it’s not that bad to know what you have been doing.

I really think the benefits are much greater for innovative games development so I really would encourage doing so.

Is It Possible to Use More Than One eCommerce provider?

Another question from my email box:

Question: Is it possible to use more than one eCommerce service?

Answer: Yes, it’s possible but not recommended.

There aren’t any legal issues why you couldn’t use several eCommerce service providers but there are reasons why you should use only one.

1) First of all having more than one eCommerce provider will take more time to handle. You have several contact persons who will reply same questions differently. The eCommerce control panels are different: takes time to learn different. If you plan to customize your shopping cart you have to customize it separately for each service provider. If you upload your game or use key generators it will take extra time.

2) It’s more complex to have more than one provider: where will you direct players from your game’s download version? Ecommerce provider A or B? Registration keys generated by eCommerce systems might not use the same software.

3) It might cost you bit more. Maybe not much more, but if you have 3 providers giving you $100 each (total of $300) and taking $5 fee for sending you money that’s $15. If you have only one provider you pay only $5 for that $300. These aren’t huge sums but for starting indies they might be.

Basically, there aren’t such benefits that you would get for using more than one service provider (maybe only in case you want to have different affiliate systems, but I would still have one main eCommerce partner and use others purely for affiliate reasons.

Ask Game Producer

I decided to create a new category: “Ask Game Producer” for gameproducer.net blog. There has been very good questions coming from developers, researchers , players and other readers and I thought this would be a proper channel to publish those comments.

There are already 2 question emails answered earlier and more to come.

If you have a question about game production feel free to email me or comment to this post (or other posts).

What Are Game Portals?

An email dropped to my mailbox with a good question:

Question: Is it possible to use more than one game-portal to sell your game?

Short answer: It depends on the contract. Usually you can.

Game portals are distribution channels for games. In other words – people can download your game from a portal and buy it through a portal. The obvious reason for using portals is publicity: the top 10 games in portals receive millions downloads – and generate much sales. It is true that portals generally typically take 50-65% net sales share, but even then the rest of the share provides a good income especially for top games. Portals aren’t silver bullet of gaming success – the competition is tough everywhere, portals are no different. Top 1% – 20% portal games may produce serious money, but the rest 80-90% won’t. In fact – most portal games produce little or no income at all.

You (usually) can and should use more than one portals if you are targeting to use any portals. Whether you can use more than one portal depends purely on the contract. If you sign an exclusive publishing deal with one portal then you cannot use other portals. If you sign a non-exclusive deal, which is the typical way to go, then you can use more than one portal. I personally would suggest trying different portals and comparing the results. When you sign a deal with a portal they will most likely want you to sign NDA (non-disclosure agreement) which basically means that you are not allowed to tell about the contract fees nor tell sales data. There might be some other points in the contract as well – but this is the main idea. That’s why it’s so hard to get proper sales data from portals. They simply won’t tell us. There is a list of popular portal RealArcade’s Top 10 sold games at Game-Sales-Charts.com. It might give you some information what kind of games sell.

Don’t Let Copy Protection Annoy Players

When you put a copy protection in your game, please: Don’t let it annoy players.

Here’s something that happened to me couple of days ago:

My computer’s processor had a ‘burn out’ (it smelt really bad in the room that day…).

The next day I got my new computer (AMD Athlon 3500+, 2 Gig mem, NVIDIA Geforce 6600 GT 128meg video card… ahh the speed…).

The same day I installed my Windows XP Pro (paid 150 euros few months ago).

Everything else was working fine and I started to activate the Windows again, but…

… I got a message in screen “It seems that this product has been activated too many times.” And then some more text explaining my (legal) registration key was not working.

I must say I felt quite… well – bad. I mean, it was just a few months ago when I bought the darn expensive Windows and now it says I couldn’t use it! I didn’t panic (but I must admit this really annoyed me: after all, I had been a honest customer and paid what was asked – and now they causing problems to me!)

Luckily – after searching & reading for a while – I found a toll free customer support number (and even Finnish speaking customer support)I managed to get a new phone activation key… and it worked. But, it took me some extra time and annoyed me a bit. I think it was a bad example about copy protection.

Please, don’t let the copy protection harm the relationship with your players.

How To Double Your Productivity By Doing Absolutely Nothing

It’s simple: Learn to say “no”. Depending on how you are currently doing and how much you are willing to change this one very short word can double or even triple your free hours – giving you the time to focus on what’s important.

Years ago I made a decision that I would not join any organizations or hobby clubs unless they would be really meaningful to me. I made a conscious choice to think before accepting any new tasks or assignments.

This very simple act of saying “No, thanks” in the right place will have a huge impact on your productivity.

It works in game production. Here are some examples.:
- Learn to say no to new projects
- Learn to say no to new assignments that aren’t anywhere near your responsibility or should have been done by someone else
- Learn to say no to new ideas which aren’t useful in anyway or should be brought up in far away future
- Learn to say no to new issues which someone else can handle

I don’t mean that you start accepting nothing I mean you should stop accepting everything.

21 Differences Between Bad and Good Game Producer

What are differences between bad game producers and professional game producers?

There certainly are something that makes people hate others, and praise others – and in this article I will display some factors from my experience.

Here are 21 differences which I’ve read, seen, heard and experienced coming true among poor or good game producers.

Check out the list – poor versus good:

  1. Doesn’t play video games at all (or all the time) – is not interested.
  2. Is so “busy” that is never around when needed.
  3. Is the Dictator – the one who commands.
  4. Can’t remember team member names. Doesn’t care. Treats everybody the way he wants. Ignores everybody.
  5. Escapes problems – blames for “bad conditions”.
  6. Is totally clueless about the future.
  7. Tries to lead the team – fails miserably.
  8. Takes, never giving anything or contributing in an efficient way.
  9. Misses meetings, doesn’t respect other people’s time or schedules.
  10. Postpones decision making.
  11. Focuses only on profit.
  12. Foggy goals: vague objectives, never uses any deadlines. Cannot tell when goal is achieved.
  13. Has a great game idea – but no any skills to produce it. Thinks he can be the master-mind with the game idea.
  14. Hides things deliberately or accidentally. Loses documents. Is unorganized.
  15. Expects others to perform well all the time.
  16. Over promises, under delivers.
  17. Has never finished a title. No Pong nor Tetris clone yet wants to create the next revolutionary MMORPG.
  18. Has heard about ‘project management’.
  19. Poor communication skills. Thinks negotiations are something where you say, and the other agrees.
  20. Stays in the pool of other whiners. Thinks the project is going to fail. Has lots of negative energy.
  21. Changes plans all the time. Doesn’t listen to others in decision-making.
  1. Plays different games for ideas, motivation and learns from playing.
  2. Is available anytime – or almost at anytime.
  3. Is the Leader – the one who leads by example.
  4. Knows all team members, including their style of working – their habits and treats them accordingly.
  5. Owns problems, even when they aren’t his mistakes.
  6. Has clear and focused vision.
  7. Has the respect of other team members.
  8. Gives, contributes and works harder than anyone in the team.
  9. Is reliable – is never late, informs early about possible delays.
  10. Is good at making decisions.
  11. Has passion for games.
  12. Absolutely clear goals: goals that are either DONE or NOT DONE. Nothing in the between.
  13. Wears different hats when needed: artist’s, designer’s, programmer’s, manager’s, marketer’s, leader’s – you name it.
  14. Keeps the project visible, makes sure all know what’s happening in the project.
  15. Performs well – and helps others to do the same.
  16. Under promises, over delivers.
  17. Has industry experience. Has participated in game productions – small or big. Is eager to get more experience.
  18. Excellent project and time management skills.
  19. Communicates well with programmers, artists, publishers, marketing team and others.
  20. Thinks big – knows that reaching the top is a matter of time and dedication.
  21. Makes proper planning – sticks with the plans, but is ready to be flexible.

Of course these 21 qualities are only rough guidelines and examples, not rules written in stone. Not every producer have these qualities, and it’s not a necessary depending on the producer’s role. Generally speaking producers are expected to possess qualities from the right side of this list – the more the better.

One Way to Enchance Your Productivity

Automate repetative tasks that you do manually.

Do you take backups manually? Automate it.
Do you get lots of same support requests? Put an auto reply along with top 10 asked questions & answers.
Do you do manual version control? Put an automatic version controller on.
Do you have a manual book keeping? Automate it with use of credit cards & bank account (possible for sole proprietorship)
Do you manually test for bugs? Use automatic unit testing.

What tasks are there you keep manually repeating? Where would you get the biggest benefits from automation? Try to make them automatic and you’ll free up lots of time for more useful purposes.

How Do You Get Your Game to Market?

Recently I got some questions about the game markets and distributing your game.

Question:

What markets are there? Where can you sell games? what are the more profitable areas etc… As an indie getting a game to EBgames is not as easy as other avenues I am sure.

Answer:
There are different ways to get your game to customers. It is hard to say which are the easiest or hardest way to reach customers: different ways suit better for others. the same way it is difficult to evaluate which are the most profitable ways to distribute your game. There are developers who have made millions by self-publishing, there are also game developers who haven’t seen a cent even with a big real game publisher. Getting in top 10 game in any category is hard no matter what you try. It is important to note that different distribution channels offer different benefits: portals for example can be a great vehicle for casual games to reach their target market – self-publishing a casual game is not impossible, but the most profitable casual games are sold via portals. On the other hand, there are game developers who strictly self-publish their game through an eCommerce service. These developers do all the development, marketing, advertising, game promotion by themselves. On the other hand, there are developers who have only made games and sold their shareware game rights to a publisher. These developers get one time fee which they use to fund their next project.

One way is to self-publish in the net. This is a very common way for game developers to start selling their game. There are several eCommerce providers which usually take a 10% fee for their services and each provider might have little different services (like affiliate services, registration key generators etc.). Some eCommerce partners: BMTmicro, eSellerate, Plimus, Share*It! and RegSoft. I personally use eSellerate and I’m happy with their service. Plimus or BMT Micro are fine options as well. It depends what you need and want. To be able to self-publish your game you also need to have a web host and handle all marketing and advertising (among many other things) by yourself.

Other way is to contact (shareware/indie/casual) game publishers. There is lots of competition between the publishers and it’s hard to say which are the “best publishers”. PopCap can publish your game. GarageGames can publish your game. Indiepath can publish your game. And there are many others to choose from. I don’t know which ones are the best. You have to check them and ask from them. You can ask recommendations from people who have dealt with them. Some publishers offer non-exclusive deals along with exclusive deals, and can take anything from 30-70% from net/gross sales – depending on publisher.

(Big) game publishers usually finance the game development, sometimes by paying to the developers and sometimes by paying an internal staff of developers or a studio. Some of the largest publishers in the world are Activision, Atari, EA and Vivendi Universal. Getting to develop with these publishers is a tough job and requires years of experience. The development costs are counted in millions of dollars, compared to thousands of dollars (or even some hundreds!) independent game developers can use. It’s worth noting that independent developers aren’t considered independent anymore if they have a big publisher behind them.

Physical retail stores: it’s possible to make deals where developer usually gets an advance payment and/or share of the royalties. The deal is made between a developer and a retail store. There are different ways to approach (ranging from direct phone calls to press releases). Usually these deals are made separately for each country. These deals can bring some fast cash flow for a short period of time, but aren’t perhaps the best long term solution.

Popular way to publish your game are the game portals. Portals are increasingly popular way to get exposure. They offer various games and have massive amount of players. Their fees typically range from 50-65% net sales. Some popular portals: Arcade Town, Big Fish Games, GameHouse, Grab, MiniClip, MSN, Pogo, Real Arcade, Reflexive Arcade, TotalGaming and Yahoo Games

Content delivery systems: Valve’s Steam offers a solution for distribution. Darwinia used this method to get in the market. Steam was the first attempt of a big company to distribute games digitally. There are more coming.

It isn’t right to say which one is the best distribution method – in fact, it would be quite impossible. It depends so much what you are doing: casual or other games? Development only? Development and publishing? What are your goals for your company? For new and more advanced game producers I recommend looking more closely (1) self-publishing, the (2) portals and perhaps the (3) retail deals. I believe the portals are essential for casual game developers, but the first option is fundamental goal for anyone who is going to build business. I believe learning marketing decision, distribution models and business strategies are vital for anyone who is going to build their own success story. I believe there are people who recommend differently, but I believe that if you are trying to achieve business success then learning to build business along with building games is very important.

Hopefully this article gave you some perspective about the possibilities of game developers to reach their customers. There are various ways to build your business, and these distribution methods offer some options to combine and choose from.