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Working Relationships in Game Design

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OutsideLime
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Hi Guys,

I am currently struggling with the nature of a partnership/working relationship that I have with a friend. We are trying to get our co-designed games together to submit to publishing companies, but having difficulty resolving our own business relationship first.

Basically, one of us conceives a game idea, brings it to the table, we work on it and polish it together, I generate the graphics for a prototype, we test and modify, and retest, and remodify, and all that good stuff together.

How do you set yourselves up to submit games, and write contracts, and do business as a pair of designers?

Some of you here have had experience with this, I know. Do you form a partnership, legally? Form a company, and have the company make the deals? Can a publisher make a single contract with "Mr. A & Mr. B", while Mr's A & B are individuals? Do you make the deal with the publisher under one person's name, then have a side-deal with your partner that splits the earnings?

Any advice or anecdotes would be greatly appreciated.

Also, when co-designing with someone, how do you decide what % of the game you have created? Do you keep it simple and go for a straight 50-50 split? What if it's clearly unbalanced? What if, say, hypothetically, we design a game together and then I go spend 200 extra hours on the graphics, since I am capable of such a thing and he is not? Where do you determine the lines here? Do I bill the publishing company for my graphics work and maintain our 50-50 split as partners, or do we go in for an uneven split based on the hours spent?

It's all very depressing. I design games/do art because I don't want to deal with business, but invariably, business gots ta get dealt with.

Help!

~Josh

Jpwoo
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Joined: 03/26/2009
Working Relationships in Game Design

Quote:
What if it's clearly unbalanced? What if, say, hypothetically, we design a game together and then I go spend 200 extra hours on the graphics, since I am capable of such a thing and he is not?

Not being an expert here I just have a gut feeling on some of this. If the publisher uses your graphics, that is a different than game design. You should certainly be compensated as an artist and graphic designer, with some kind of flat fee, but your royalties should be split evenly. (I don't think that artist get royalties for game, or at least have never heard of it.)

This of course doesn't answer what happens if you and a friend have an idea for a game, work together through the first and second draft, and then you do all the playtesting and the 3rd, 4th, and 5th drafts all by yourself. I would still say go for the 50-50 split. You aren't talking Millions of dollars here, so it is much better to preserve a friendship than worry about the cash.

doho123
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Joined: 07/21/2008
Working Relationships in Game Design

It sounds like if you can't come to a friendly agreement, then co-designing should be out of the question.

And I don't think a publisher is going to want to deal with whatever little differences two co-designers have. Most likely, they are going to want to write out one check, and leave it up to you to figure out who gets what, whether it's because you've formed a simple company, or to a single person who then cuts up the plunder.

I would think that the artwork-provider is also spelled out in the contract with the publisher. And again, the publisher will most likely pay whatever their standard graphic design fee is. And if that mean, in contract, to the co-design group, or whoever, so be it.

Either way, however the split is, it probably should be on a piece of paper with at least a quick nod from your friendly neighborhood lawyer-ly type to make sure everything is on the up-and-up.

Chad_Ellis
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Working Relationships in Game Design

When Robert and I formed Your Move Games, Inc., we faced a lot of the same questions you're wrestling with here. There were some major differences, primarily that we're self-publishing and that we formed a company, but the basic questions of equity and handling jointly-developed projects is still there.

One of our decisions was to assign joint designer credits on all of our games. We identify "game concept" credit to whoever thought of it, but beyond that every game belongs to both of us, even if one of us came up with the core game and the other just helped develop it.

Another thing I think is important is to recognize all contributions. If you and your partner are both doing equal design/development work but you're also the company's graphic designer, that should be recognized and compensated. In our case we made a list of a whole bunch of things, ranging from our time and existing game ideas, the Your Move Games brand (owned and developed by Robert), the office space I was providing out of my home and, of course, the different amounts of money we each put up.

It's not always comfortable to have a "cold" financial talk with a friend but it's much better to do it up front and make sure you're in agreement. Then, once you've got the agreement, write it down. Robert and I agreed on how we would handle hiring/firing, whether or not to launch a game, how to decide about seeking new investment, etc., etc. -- every category of decision we could envision. That's helped us a lot and has no doubt contributed to our remaining good friends and good business partners.

Best,
Chad

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Working Relationships in Game Design

I'm only involved in one active collaboration at the moment, and we agreed at the outset, we would share all profits and accolades for the game 50-50. Nice and simple. The game we're working on was an idea I came up with originally and had done some work on, but the design we've ended up with is the result of both of our input, and is much better than what we could have done individually, so it's been very satisfying. I haven't really tried to quantify the relative amount of ideas we've individually come up with that have been retained in the game, but I suspect it's close to 50-50, so it feels very fair.

Jpwoo wrote:

This of course doesn't answer what happens if you and a friend have an idea for a game, work together through the first and second draft, and then you do all the playtesting and the 3rd, 4th, and 5th drafts all by yourself. I would still say go for the 50-50 split. You aren't talking Millions of dollars here, so it is much better to preserve a friendship than worry about the cash.

It's very easy to see how this can happen; the realities of life sometimes take over, and as a result, sometimes one of us is more able to actively work on the game than the other. Or maybe one designer has a more frequent playtest group, or whatever. But, your suggestion is right on the money. Your name is going on the box, you're getting some money, and you never could have gotten to this point without the collaboration, so just take the 50% and feel happy about it! Even if my collaborator never does anything else with the design, I'd still feel comfortable sharing credit and profit equally with him. It's just how we've chosen to see the arrangement, and it's very liberating -- no need to try to quantify how much we each did.

In the example Josh raised about the illustration, typically I would think the game design and graphic design are bought separately by the publisher. In our case, my collaborator is the graphically-minded of the two of us. If his work was picked up for the design, I would expect him to receive the full compensation for that aspect of the project, and we should split the designers' royalties down the middle.

This is a very good topic that you've raised, and I think it's something good for folks to think about. It's fun and productive to collaborate, but definitely folks should think through the business side before they get started, so everything is agreed-upon up front. In my opinion, don't be greedy! Just split the money 50-50 and make sure you live up to your end of the bargain, and you'll be happy and have fun.

Just my take,

Jeff

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