Oh international norms (or whatever), where art thou
I was watching the latest DreadOut developer diary the other day, and even if the video was very interesting (if you’ve read my blog before, you may or may not know DreadOut is at the top of my list as most-expected horror games of 2013), the part that caught my attention was when they were talking about Steam distribution.
No, this is not another “Steam sucks/let’s fix Greenlight.” I’m saving that for a future blog post. This blog is about “legal issues and paperwork.”
The game director mentioned they had had “obstacles regarding legal issues and paperwork” that had to be addressed because Valve is a US based company, while they are from Indonesia. Now this struck me in a very familiar way because I am also dealing with the problems that rise from 2 parties not knowing what the hell the other party is talking about.
Just a (very) quick intro in case you never read my Gamasutra blog posts about building a game development studio: I started a company in 2006 and got into media production, it was so-so but then I realized moving to game development in 2010. We released a first game, it flopped, but it was still a very good learning experience. Right now we are working on another horror game titled Enola, which will be released in Q1 2014 (or at least that’s the plan).
Back to subject. I will only briefly explain our problem: I contacted technology company X because I wanted to license their “technology stuff X” so we can use it in Enola. Having made deals with a few other technology companies and distributors in the past, I didn’t think this would be such a big problem.
Then I took an email to the knee.
I won’t go into details, so let’s just say it’s a problem of not knowing the other country’s laws and regulations regarding companies and such.
We’ve heard many times how this is the best time to be an indie, how making games is easier than ever, and all that jazz. Tools are widely available to anyone regardless of physical location, social status, and whatever distinction you may want to come up with. Long story short, anyone can get a tool and start making a game.
If the PC and mobile space wasn’t enough, we are seeing console manufacturers opening up their systems, dropping the barriers and making it easy for indies to self-publish a title, meaning that as long as your game doesn’t suck, it can make it to consoles.
At least on paper, that works just fine, but what if somewhere down the road you find “obstacles regarding legal issues and paperwork”?
Let’s come up with an example: What if today a guy from [insert third world country here] decides he’ll register an individual company and become the indie solo developer, starts making his game and then, after 1 year and something of hard work he is told he can’t distribute the game through X distribution channel because of “legal issues and paperwork.” What if today a girl from [insert another third world country here] also decides to register her one-woman-company and becomes a solo developer as well and starts making her game and then she decided she wanted to use some novel crazy input device, but then she’s told she can’t commercially use that crazy input device because of “legal issues and paperwork”?
I can make it worse for you: What if both of them had none of the issues I mentioned but then they want to bring their games to the Xbox One because any Xbox One can be turned into a devkit, but it turns out Microsoft won’t let them do it because of the same legal issues and paperwork? On the other hand, what if they are accepted as MS developers but then a technology company says they can’t have whatever piece of technology they need (like an engine or any other middleware) because of the same legal issues and paperwork?
Note: I wanted to clarify I am not an Xbox fanboy. I only used the Xbox One as an example because, unlike the PS4, any Xbox can be used as devkit, so game development is “made even easier.”
In cases like this, lowering the barriers of entry only gets you halfway there, because can always be an unexpected obstacle around the corner.
Coming from me, this may sound like some very good (or bad) screenplay about a dude trying to overcome all obstacles to get what he wants. Unfortunately, something like this can happen (and will happen to many at some point). Going back to my case, it’s ironic how getting a deal with company Y can be a piece of cake while getting a deal with company X can be so difficult, even if they are both located in the same country.
Then I thought “there should be a better way,” and that’s the point of this blog post.
I was wondering what would happen if all game-making related companies (big, small, and tiny) had a normalized set of rules and regulations to work by, and then I thought, what if there was some sort of international office where all game development companies from around the globe could subscribe to (let’s call it GameDev International just for the lulz). This office would work with representatives from the different countries so they know their laws and regulations. So when a new company tries to register, they go through the whole paperwork and the office already knows what kind of company that is (sole owner, a society, public company, or whatever).
This way, when you have to make a deal or license some technology, you don’t have to go through all the paperwork all over again (and hope they don’t tell you you can’t move forward because of some company-related issue), because all you’d need to do is show your “GameDev International” credentials, and they could even pull your entire company information just by using that id.
I began to wonder “well, isn’t the IGDA supposed to do this?” but the first impression I got from the IGDA when visiting their website was that it doesn’t. Besides, in the 2 and a half(ish) years I’ve been into game development, only one person has ever asked me if I am an IGDA member (and it was just out of curiosity, because he’s a gamedev friend of mine, not a company representative trying to sell me something).
I know this is a lot to ask, but usually I ask for a lot of unrealistic things just because they would make things a lot easier for everybody, specially in third world countries. After all, keep in mind that now games can come from the most unlikely places like, say, Cameroon.
I thought it was worth posting this even if I know we’ll never get this office, just to make more people think about this issue. It’s good that all platform holders and technology providers are into this “bring them indies” movement, but it seems many things are being overlooked, and need to be addressed, to actually “bring them indies.”
At the end of the day what’s the point in making tools available and open up platforms if, at some point, indies will have problems publishing their titles because they face “obstacles regarding legal issues and paperwork.”