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Alterations from publishers

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Kreitler
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Here's a question for all published designers (or anyone who's had a design changed by a publisher):

"If a publisher accepts my design for consideration, how much might they change it?"

I'm looking for anecdotes, not a single answer. I'm also interested in details: what did the publisher change (art? theme? mechanics? everyhing???); which publisher are you talking about; how long did the process take -- details like that.

Thanks!

K.

FastLearner
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Alterations from publishers

This is anecdotal, not personal, but since no one has responded yet, hopefully it will be worth something.

On mechanical changes, some editors love to be involved in the development process, to have a real hand in refining the game. These editors are always going to want to change things, and will only accept games where they see that their hand can improve it. As I understand it, Stefan Breuck at Alea is one such editor. Others have no interest whatsover in changing your game, and will simply not accept anything that doesn't feel perfect. The rest lie somewhere in-between.

Published designers have told me very positive stories about how the editor saw some small thing that could be improved and the two of them worked together to create a real winner. Others have told me stories of having publishers massively modify their games, effectively "ruining" them, from their perspectives. I've heard some very specific stories about exactly what was changed, but unfortunately can't remember any of them right now.

Theme is changed a lot (a good example of a theme change that made the game a little more strange is when the publisher changed Tom Jolly's "Cave In" to "Cave Troll," with the "troll" acting exactly like a cave-in, just sealing the room, and making very little sense). Art is almost always changed (professional graphic designers are probably better at information presentation than you).

The most successful designers that I've talked to, like Alan Moon, suggest that changes are simply part of the business, something that simply is, not something to fear or rally against. I'm working hard to cultivate that attitude in my head, but so far my babies feel far to precious. :)

-- Matthew

Kreitler
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Alterations from publishers

Thanks for the reply, Matt. That's very helpful.
I am already reprogramming my brain...

K.

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Alterations from publishers

FastLearner wrote:
Others have told me stories of having publishers massively modify their games, effectively "ruining" them, from their perspectives. I've heard some very specific stories about exactly what was changed, but unfortunately can't remember any of them right now.

I don't undstand how this could happen; it seems to me that since your name is going on the box, you have right of refusal to any changes the publisher wants to make. Of course, it's highly likely that if you reject their changes, they won't publish the game, but that should still be your call to make. On the other hand, I can see the flip side, where a publisher wouldn't want to invest the effort to develop a game if they knew the designer was going to pull it back if he didn't like the changes. So the question becomes, I guess, at what point you sign over creative control of the game?

-Jeff

IngredientX
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Joined: 07/26/2008
Alterations from publishers

I haven't heard many stories of publishers changing games after submission, without contacting the designer. For most publishers, it's a dialogue with the game designer to incorporate their changes. Many of these changes actually wind up improving the game, or at least better focusing the game to a specific demographic.

Of course, I have heard some stories of these behind-the-back changes happening. As I understand it, since the publisher is the one shelling out the money to put the game into existence, it's the publisher's perogative to make sure it sells well as it possibly can.

These changes aren't always for the worst. I hear a rumor that one of the biggest game-changing companies is actually Alea, and that even crowd favorite Puerto Rico's role-selection mechanic was tweaked after it left Andreas Seyfarth's hands and without his input.

I assume no faith in the validity of this rumor! (and I don't know exactly what was changed, so don't ask. :) I think it's better left as a parable. Just because the game company changes the game without a designer's knowledge or consent does not immediately make it a bad change, though I'd imagine it raises the potential for bad feelings between the two parties.

Still, there are turkeys. I always wondered about Andrea Meyer's "Mall World." Why design a relatively heavy strategy game around constructing a mall? What a dull theme! Later, I read that the game was submitted to the publisher as a game about the re-drawing of the borders of formerly Communist European countries after the Berlin Wall fell. While I can see how that would be a touchy subject for a European family game publisher, I think I know which theme I'd rather play. :)

zaiga
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Alterations from publishers

jwarrend wrote:
So the question becomes, I guess, at what point you sign over creative control of the game?

Basically, when you sign the contract. Then it's the publishers game, for as long as the contract is valid, within the confines as stated in the contract. If you want to keep creative control over the game, for example you want to be able to veto the publishing of a game, then that should be stated in the contract. This could be part of the negotiation process. Perhaps the publisher will pay you less royalty in exchange, or maybe they don't want to bother publishing it all.

I don't think you should be too afraid of a publisher botching up your game. After all, as Gil pointed out, they are putting their money into it, they are the ones running the most risk, so I think it's normal they want creative control as well.

A lot of publishers know their market well and know what needs to be changed to cater to that market, and often these changes are for the better. Most publishers will involve the designer in this process anyway.

However, sometimes, as a designer, you just have to say "no" to an idea though. I know Klaus Teuber offered Settlers to various publishers, one of them being Hans Im Glueck. Now, the people at HiG said they liked the game, but thought the dice mechanic was a bit too random, so they wanted to change it to a more predictable, card based mechanic. Klaus said "no thanks", because he felt the luck of the dice was central to the game, and published the game with Kosmos. The rest, as they say, is history.

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