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Z-Man Games Newsletter - The Business Series.

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caradoc
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Hey everybody!

Issue 5 of the Z-Man Games Newsletter is up, including the second article/interview in a series for designers called 'The Business'

Excuse this as being my first post here at BGDF, some of you may know me as caradoc over at BGG and other places around the net. I also write the newsletter for Z-Man Games.

Issue 5 of the Z-Man Games Newsletter has just been posted. As well as having news and interviews about Z-Man's latest games, we have tried to offer something new and interesting. We have started a series of articles entitled 'The Business'. This series attempts to ask and answer some questions on the process of getting a design from a prototype stage to a published game, from the point of view of the publisher, as well as various designers.

Issue 4 was all about the prototype from the view of a publisher. The latest Issue is all about Intellectual Property, with key interviewees being Zev of Z-Man, and Andrew Parks, designer of Ideology: The War of Ideas, Parthenon: the Rise of the Aegean, and Camelot Legends, as well as others.

I thought some of you may be interested in reading, and I hope some of you are interested enough to ask some questions. We want to make this series relevant and interesting to new and experienced designers alike, and would really value any ideas, questions or contributions! So if anyone has any topics they would like Zev to cover, or questions they would like to ask, please email me at newsletter@zmangames.com

We have also created a google group for those who would like to subscribe. It is an announcement only group - meaning only Zev and I can post there - and is all about announcing the posting of the latest issues of our newsletter.

You can find Issue 5 of the Z-Man Games Newsletter on the Z-Man Games website: www.zmangames.com

If you are interested in joining, the group can be found here: http://groups.google.com/group/zmangames

Cheers,

Giles.

tomi71
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I had some trouble finding

I had some trouble finding them, so here they are: http://www.zmangames.com/news.htm

Btw, thanks a bunch - interesting stuff. (Looking forward to contact you in near future after I got my rules translation done.)

http://profile.imageshack.us/user/evolutionearth/images

Yeah, I know this ainĀ“t the time or the place, but

caradoc
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Thanks!

Thanks Tomi.

Sure - when your game is done, send it in! Zev is always interested in looking at new designs.

Cheers,

Giles.

Darkehorse
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Giles?

Giles from the Dice Tower Giles?

-Darke

MatthewF
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caradoc wrote:Sure - when

caradoc wrote:
Sure - when your game is done, send it in! Zev is always interested in looking at new designs.

Be forewarned, though, that response time appears to be quite long. I submitted a game via email (following the website guidelines) in August, and having not heard back in November, re-submitted it. Haven't heard back yet.

caradoc
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The Dice Tower!

Yes - I am on The Dice Tower, I'm also on On Board Games, and if you are a teacher I run another podcast with Tom Vasel called Teaching Strategies about games in the class!

I was on TDT before I was writing the Z-Man Newsletter though - and now I have to be careful to try and avoid plugging Z-Man Games :D Which is tough - because I wouldn't be doing the newsletter if I didn't like the games!! :)

You are a DT listener?

caradoc
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This is true

Z-Man Games is essentially a one man operation, with more than a couple of hundred submissions each year it can be very tough to get to each prototype.

I would suggest that if you submit a physical prototype, be prepared to wait. If you wait for 4-6 months and still hear nothing back then an email is certainly not out of place. if the prototype is not physical (ie: it has to be made up by Zev), it may never get looked at - not for lack of desire, but simply for the fact that it takes a lot of time and Zev is very busy.

I might also suggest having a look at Issue 4 of the Newsletter, as Zev talks a little about the prototype/acceptance process there! Again - if you have any questions you would like Zev to answer, or you think would be good for other designers to think about - please send them in to newsletter@zmangames.com

Cheers,

Giles.

Katherine
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Caradoc, I am curious about

Caradoc,

I am curious about the product submission agreements. From what I understand these are "standard industry agreements" offered by all game publishers.

"We have a product submission agreement that basically states that if we have a similar idea in our hands, not to sue us if we publish an idea that might look like yours". (Z-man newsletter issue 5)

In my opinion the clause refered to by Z-man devalues the integrity of game publishers and offers the designer nothing. Once signed, the work has been handed over, to be used as the publisher sees fit. So .. although there is spoken assurances that designs are not taken and used, there is a written clause to facilitate the practice.

If the clause does not exist to accomodate the use of ideas as the publisher sees fit, why does it exist?

Some people in the industry tell me that the clause exists to prevent unscrupulous designers claiming published games as their own. I find this very hard to beleive. The designer would have to substantiate that submission occured prior to release, produce play testing reports etc and generally put in a heck of a lot of work to pull a stunt like that - why would any one bother.

So if the publisher does not take ideas; and the designer does not claim ideas, why does that particular clause exist in it's current format.

Just curious ....

caradoc
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Great question

That's a great question.

I can only offer my understanding, but I will make sure to ask it again for the next article/interview in the The Business series.

From what I understand, the clause exists for exactly the reason you state. Publishers often recieve hundreds or more submissions every year (Zev is a small publisher by many standards, and yet recieves several hundred game submissions a year), such clauses are common place, and exist to protect the publisher from the threat of litigation if they happen to publish a game that is similar thematically or mechanically to a game that was submitted to them.

Zev also states in the interview that he has a collection of submitted card games all about storming a castle. If one of them were to be published any of the other designers might, mistakenly, believe the game to be stolen.

I understand the issue from the point of view of a designer, there are no securities and publishers don't offer much in the way of assurances. As you state, there may be little to gain for a designer in taking a publisher to court, but really, there is little to gain from a publisher stealing an idea. If a publisher steals an idea they are saving themselves a royalty rate (not huge), but potentially opening themselves up to litigation that could cost a lot more. This is to say nothing of the fact that the designer hobby is small, margins are small, and reputation is vital.

In the modern hobby game industry each game developed typically only has a smallish print run, maybe between 2000 and 10,000 copies depending on the size of the publisher and the amount they want to invest in it - more often than not though a print run is for 2000 or so copies. Whether a game gets a reprint or not depends then on whether it sells. The money saved on a stolen royalty rate for 2000 copies isn't huge, and if the game is good, then the publisher has also alienated a potential boon - as in the hobby industry, many gamers follow designers as much or more than they do publishers.

I understand that the deal doesn't look good from the designers side of the fence, and in an ideal world, neither the publisher or the designer would want or need such clauses. Sadly this is not the case, there are also many clauses in a typical contract (at least within the designer hobby), that protect the rights of the designer.

I guess it is up to the individual to decide what is and isn't appropriate for the publishing company to ask for. Keep in mind that developing a game from a prototype to a finished design can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and even the threat of a law case can have a massive impact, from loss of reputation and sales, through to the printed units not being able to ship or sell - potentially tying that money up. Board game publishers don't make a huge margin on what they do, more often than not they are passionate gamers.

It is a very touchy issue because every designer invests so much in what they do. As I said above though - I will ask the professional in all of this, but really I believe the clause does exist to prevent any potential issue from rising.

Hopefully publishers like Z-Man Games, who have a proven track record of giving new designers a shot, do enough to earn the trust of the design community, and great places like this site, so that these clauses aren't relevant.

Cheers,

Giles.

(keep an eye out for the next issue - as I'll ask the experts!)

Willi B
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Shazzaz

This is an industry wide thing... here's why...

They might be working on something with a lot of similarities to a given submission.... they reject yours, print theirs, and you sue. They lose by looking... with the clause they protect from that situation.

Yes, its lousy for designers... but unless you self publish it will exist at EVERY publisher you encounter... in fact, you should think twice about a company that DOESN'T have something similar because if they are willing to run a business in a risky manner, what else might they do? And would you want to be in business with someone that might not be business savvy?

Unless you have some extenuating circumstances, this should be normal.... we give up the trust and hope that we do not get railroaded... or we self publish.

Katherine
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Willi B, I am not a game

Willi B,

I am not a game designer so I do not have a designer's perspective, but you have just hit the "nail on the head".

"They might be working on something with a lot of similarities to a given submission...."

If this is the case why don't publishers modify that clause to support the claim.

for example
... working on up to, and including, six months after the submission date.

or

In the event of a conflict of interest you will be notified within six months of submission.

Including a time frame reassures the designer and forces the unscrupulous publisher to act quickly or not at all. At the moment it is open ended and allows publishers to drop your game into the market ten years after submission - if they choose.

It is not as though publishers are ignorant to what they are currently working on, this is what makes it so difficult for me to understand the clause. The clause does not offer a date, nor does the agreement indicate if the designer receives notification of potential duplication.

That clause is just too one sided to be fair. In an industry that purports to exist through fair dealings, it smacks on hypocrisy. (dictionary.com - definition 2).

caradoc
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Setting a finite date often

Setting a finite date often doesn't work. Games can take months to develop, they can also take many years. In that process games can be changed dramatically so that Game A when published looks nothing like Game A when submitted or developed. A good example of this is Starcraft The Board Game (Fantasy Flight), when it was developed the game looked very different to the end result, the process took years - and even shifted across design teams in-house at Fantasy Flight. This is not unusual, especially with larger or more complex games.

The same issue exists for theming in a game.

I also doubt a publisher would be interested in publishing a game ten years after it was submitted in order to avoid potential legal reprecussions. For one, if it was good enough to tuck away for ten years in the hope the market will still like it then a publisher is going to just publish it and let it sell. For two, the game industry has changed significantly over time, a game that might have been lauded ten years ago may be regarded as antiquated now. And again - if it was good enough, the publisher would rather have ten years of sale figures than dust! :D

Many book authors, especially those who work in non-fiction face similar clauses, so these are not unusual in the creative domain, contracts need to divide the world up into sections, the wording at times may seem harsh or unfair, but that doesn't mean the motive behind them is sinister, it is a product of what a contract is in many cases.

In regards to notifying designers - if you were a publishing house (run by yourself), as well as organising playtesting, development, art, card stock, plastics, writing, translations, duel publishing contracts, designer contracts, art contracts, payments, tax, shipments, distribution deals, rules questions, component issues, and web site maintenence (to name a small selection) of 20+ games a year, as well as convention visits etc... and you were recieving more than 200 game submissions by prospective designers a year. well it makes it very hard. Many companies do not accept outside or unsolicited submissions at all. Some of the large hobby games publishers (Rio Grande, Z-Man) are essentially single man operations.

Playtesting submissions is a massive undertaking, let alone cataloguing them by mechanic or theme so that designers could be notified of the publication of a similar game.

In most cases, many of the games Z-Man Games and other companies develop and publish have a clear and public history. If a designer is ever concerned about a game they are always welcome to communicate directly with the company about it.

I know it seems unfair, but contracts are black and white and need to cover all sorts of contingencies.

As I said above, Z-Man Games prides itself on being a game publisher that tries hard to ensure new designers are given a fair opportunity. If you look through the Z-Man Games catalogue, there are many many designs that comes from first timers (Wasabi! and Court of the Medici - recently, Endeavor - upcoming - as examples). We hope that through Z-Man Games track record, we will demonstrate that Z-Man Games is a publisher that values new game designers, recognises talent, and importantly, does a good job of bringing excellent games to the market.

Cheers,

Giles.

ReneWiersma
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shazzaz wrote:That clause is

shazzaz wrote:
That clause is just too one sided to be fair. In an industry that purports to exist through fair dealings, it smacks on hypocrisy. (dictionary.com - definition 2).

Yup, it *is* very one-sided. If you don't like it, don't submit a prototype to a publisher. They get hundreds a year, so one prototype less won't hurt them.

Katherine
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Rene, I have no intention of

Rene,

I have no intention of submitting a prototype anywhere.... but I had to ask the question and push it ... to gain understanding. How else does one learn?

I know by far more now, after reading Caradoc's second response, than I did at the beginning of this discussion.

There had to be a reason for the clause, now I know what it is ... I am happy.

Thanks Caradoc!

caradoc
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No worries! Thank you!

Not a stress!

As I said, I'll ask some others for the next newsletter and get their reponses as well!

Cheers,

Giles.

Darkehorse
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caradoc wrote:Yes - I am on

caradoc wrote:
Yes - I am on The Dice Tower, I'm also on On Board Games, and if you are a teacher I run another podcast with Tom Vasel called Teaching Strategies about games in the class!

I was on TDT before I was writing the Z-Man Newsletter though - and now I have to be careful to try and avoid plugging Z-Man Games :D Which is tough - because I wouldn't be doing the newsletter if I didn't like the games!! :)

You are a DT listener?

Giles,

Yes I am a DT listener since the 'era of Joe'. Glad to have you on board. I enjoy your segments on the Dice Tower a lot. Do you design as well? I'd have to assume yes.

-Darke

Darkehorse
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shazzaz wrote: I am not a

shazzaz wrote:

I am not a game designer so I do not have a designer's perspective, but you have just hit the "nail on the head".

Shazzaz,

Not to sound rude, but if you don't design, why are you here? Are you an artist? Or just interested in game design in general.

-Darke

ReneWiersma
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shazzaz wrote:I have no

shazzaz wrote:
I have no intention of submitting a prototype anywhere.... but I had to ask the question and push it ... to gain understanding. How else does one learn?

I know by far more now, after reading Caradoc's second response, than I did at the beginning of this discussion.

There had to be a reason for the clause, now I know what it is ... I am happy.

Hey Shazzaz, it was not a dig at you (if you interpreted as such)! I just tried to convey the point of from a publisher. They get so many prototypes submitted to them that they really don't care if there's one novice designer out there upset about signing their NDAs!

Most people that hang out a bit longer in their industry know that no reputable publisher will ever willingly and knowingly steal an idea, so they don't have a problem signing a NDA. They understand publishers need this to protect themselves against some of these novice designers who think their latest roll-and-move design is unique and that all publishers are trying to steal their brilliant idea, which is sure to make a million of dollars.

Fact is that even a medium-sized publisher gets hundreds of proto's every year, most of them ranging from bad to very bad, and they spent tons of time wading through them to find those five or six publishable gems. If they do find that gem they'll be happy to pay the designer a nice bit of royalties and build a good relationship with them, so that these designers keep sending them good games.

Zzzzz
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ReneWiersma wrote:shazzaz

ReneWiersma wrote:
shazzaz wrote:
That clause is just too one sided to be fair. In an industry that purports to exist through fair dealings, it smacks on hypocrisy. (dictionary.com - definition 2).

Yup, it *is* very one-sided. If you don't like it, don't submit a prototype to a publisher. They get hundreds a year, so one prototype less won't hurt them.

I have to agree, and also add that everyone should keep in mind that the publishers, such as Zev, are trying to run a business!

Keep in mind, just like you are working hard on your designs to submit and hopefully to be published, publishers such as Zev work hard to build their publishing companies. As such opening themselves up to legal issues, or stealing ideas, or any other type of foul-play could ruin a publishers business. And do you think they are willing to risk that?

Another point is to keep in mind that the designer to publisher ratio is a bit heavy on the designer side. Imagine trying to weed through hundreds of prototypes and rules a year to pick the *right* games to publish and have enough *profit (or break even)* so that you can continue to publisher more games... and imagine that after spending all of this time trying to find the *right* games to publish, a legal issue occurs, it would just be a horrible outcome for a publisher!

Katherine
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Hey Darke, Several reasons

Hey Darke,

Several reasons for hanging around.

I alternate game boards with books during quality time, for a very special child in my life, but the acronyms etc confused me. ...so I come to learn.

I beleive the design of real games (as opposed to the pixel type) are an art form, and underated in their value as entertainment.

...And, even thought it is not often, when real designers answer a question, it is honest.

caradoc
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:D Awesome!

Well you've been listening since the get go then!

Thanks!

I throw the odd idea around, at this stage I don't think of myself as a designer, but it is something I have always been interested in. I have written/designed a few homebrew RPGs of varying qualities over the years, as well as a few basic board games. The last few years I have been getting more of a desire to go back and start designing/thinking of designs again.

I have certainly been involved in the processes in other ways though, I have playtested games as well as offered ideas/advice on direction early in the process for others. I find that process hard though because it is very time consuming, and between a day job, three podcasts and a newsletter (as well as actually playing games for fun) I don't believe I have enough spare time to do those jobs to the level I would expect of myself. If I get particularly passionate about a topic, or I get some spare time on a holiday... :)

On our last holiday we went to a place called Phillip Island here in Australia, I dragged my poor wife around looking at the tumble-down remains of Chicory Kilns commenting that a game about the 100-50 year old Chicory Industry that used to exist on Phillip Island would make an interesting topic for an economic game. We also went and look at the Fairy Penguins though - so she was happy (and suggested that I should instead make a game about tourists trying to get the bext seats to see the penguins crossing the beach to their nests)! So the desire does sit close to the skin, waiting to climb out!

We'll see!

Cheers,

Giles.

Willi B
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Shazzaz - just one more note...

At least 3 designers here at BGDF have games published with Z-man (I am not one of them)... they have never said anything bad about that experience here. Reputation is the only clout a game publisher has against the claims of idea stealing, so, even though that isn't much, maybe it can help to alleviate some of your concerns.

Katherine
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Hey Willi B, My question was

Hey Willi B,

My question was not a swipe at Z-man games, it was a swipe at a clause I did not understand ... and now do.

The mere fact that many have jumped to Z-man games defense, should be enough to allay the concerns of anyone wanting to submit to them.

Willi B
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It's all good...

I didn't think you were taking swipes at Z-man... I had the same position as you have expressed. I just wanted you to know that Zev and Z-man have always been stand-up.

I even chose not to submit to a company because of their contractual wall... they went too far with their wording and I moved on to other publishers. Too many lawyers can ruin a business in my book.

caradoc
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Issue 6 of the Z-Man Games Newsletter has been posted!

G'Day!

Issue 6 has been posted. Based on this great discussion we made this article in the business series about Product Submission Agreements - check it out and feel free to let us know what you think.

If you have anything to say, any questions or ideas for future articles post here, or email me at newsletter@zmangames.com (I may take a little while to respond as I will be away for a few days).

Cheers,

Giles.

Katherine
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Thanks Caradoc ... joined the

Thanks Caradoc ... joined the group.

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