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  • Cultivating A Healthy Publisher / Developer Relationship

    [02.13.20]
    - Ryan Sumo

  • First Contact

    Publishing deals can take a long time to negotiate, and there is a lot of wooing that happens even before the first draft of the publishing deal is presented to you.  Before we secured a deal for Political Animals, I had written on and off to Positech Games about the possibility of a publishing deal. Cliff brushed me off the first few times, but I eventually wore him down (politely, mind you), and in a meeting at EGX in 2015 where I presented him the current prototype of the game sealed the deal.

    I first noticed and reached out to Maccima Games on February 9, 2019.  Soon after, I visited them to try to get a better idea of the team and how serious they were with the game.   I broached the idea of possibly publishing the game, but also told them that if they wanted to try for a bigger publisher (eg Paradox Interactive), I would use my digital rolodex on their behalf and try to secure interviews for them.  Early on I already established that no matter what happened I wanted to help them succeed, which helped to build trust between us.

    The Pitch Deck

    A few months later I invited Maccima to an invite-only PC dev session with some other local devs, where we would get to show each other our games and give each other advice.  I chatted with Marvin, the head of Maccima, to get a sense of where they were in development. I explained to him how much money in the bank we had, and how I'd approach a publishing deal.  He told me that they were still interested, and were now preparing a pitch deck for publishers in general. 

    I have written about what should be in a good pitch deck before, and Maccima's pitch deck nailed the most important parts.  It was solid, and their expectations were reasonable. Most importantly, the amount they were asking for was something that we could afford.  After reviewing our finances with our COO (wherein we definitely answered the question of whether we could afford this risk), we decided to offer them a contract.

    Here is a link to Ruinarch's (formerly World's Bane) Pitch Deck, with financial data removed as requested by the developer.

    The Contract

    Finally, here's the main event, a copy of the contract in place between Squeaky Wheel and Maccima Games. One of the nice things about being a small indie dev/publisher is it allows us to share things like this without dealing with a large bureaucracy. I made sure to ask permission from my cofounders as well as Maccima games, and would not be sharing this otherwise.

    It's important to note a few things. This is not meant to be an example of the "best" contract, merely an example of an actual contract.  What works best for us may not work for you. The point is to negotiate until you are comfortable with the contract.

    This document is a copy of the original, with personal details, dates and actual dollar amounts removed. I have left the comments in to show that this contract was crafted after negotiation between the two parties.

    In the following paragraphs, I will discuss some of the key parts of the contract that you should pay attention to when negotiating your own.

    Sales and Rights

    Sections 3 to 7 cover what the rights of the publisher are with regards to the game. For example, we wanted exclusive and worldwide rights to sell and publish the game on PC/Mac and Linux, extending to DLC. We have right of first refusal for any ports or sequel, but if we're not interested, then the developer is free to shop the game around. It's made clear that all business transactions must go through the publisher.  So for example, on the off chance that Epic Games (ahem) wants to throw a bunch of money our way, they would be dealing with us, not the developer. As a courtesy to the developer they would be included in any discussions, but its important that there is only one point of contact in these kinds of decisions. There are also numerous protections for the developer, such as stipulations that we cannot create sequels, ports, or DLCs without the agreement of the developer.

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