Stockholm syndrome in the games industry.


In Games Industry - posted on Sun 5th February 2012 8. 36PM

 


Two days ago, I made a list.

It was a list of games where no money from a sale goes to the souls who created them.

As I have learnt, expressing my opinions openly is ill advised, so this time I abstained and just presented the facts. I expressed no agenda, other than to encourage thought and discussion over some interesting data. Yet, despite my neutrality, I received yet another violent backlash from the AAA development community.

It confounds me that developers, creating million pound products, sometimes for below minimum wage(unpaid overtime), receiving almost no benefits and with no job security will, so predictably, rush to the defence of a broken and abusive industry. I have often pondered as to why this occurs, however, today Richard Perrin found the words I had been searching for: "Stockholm Syndrome".

"In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness" : Wikipedia

Many of my fellow developers just don't want to face the fact that things have to change. There are many places to start, so I'm picking the most pressing...

Royalties


The era of "Work for hire" has to end. I am unsure as to why we relentlessly stand by this model, perhaps its a fear of the unknown, or the comfort of being just another cog in the machine. Advances in mass digital distribution means that games now have revenue earning tails that will run for decades. Every developer, and when I say "developer" I mean a person, not a studio, should have contracted royalties.

"Now wait a minute!" you cry, "This will reduce the upfront payments made by publishers, leading to financially weaker studios and more failed projects!". No. After-the-fact digital distribution is, by most publishers books, "all gravy" and I believe that anyone worth their salt in the industry knows this fact. If an employer uses residuals as leverage to push down base salaries, the employee can kindly tell them where to go.

The next tired argument against royalties, is to state that tracking down and paying individual developers years after release, would be difficult and far too costly to be worthwhile. In the era of instant international communications this reasoning does not fly. If it is too much work for the distributor to actively organise, state in the contract that the developer must ensure their payment details are up to date or forfeit the payment. You can be very sure that if a developer owed money to a publisher they would be aggressively hunted down for it.

If you are a games developer sitting here feeling angry about this post. Why? Why don't you want a fair share of what is yours, why don't you want the financial strength to achieve creative freedom? Please go forth and think about the issue, bring it up with your employer, pluck up some courage and stand up for yourself.

Good luck,

-Simon

Note: While writing this, it came to my attention that my previous article also inspired others to question the failure of our industry to adopt royalties. Here is a much more eloquent argument from Dustin Clingman on Gamasutra.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this blog are solely my own and not those of my employer, sponsors or research centre.

(56) comments :

Comment by Nicholas Lovell on Mon 6th February 2012 12. 54PM

The basic problem is this: big publishers and large development companies want to run an work-for-hire style employment business. So that's what they do. It's hard to see why they would change.

There are ways of getting royalties (i.e. make your own game, join an indie studio) that are easier than ever before.

But complaining that the work-for-hire industry exists seems like an exercise in futile energy wasting to me.

 

Comment by Nicholas Lovell on Mon 6th February 2012 12. 59PM

Also, a thought. In most entertaiment industries, there are no royalties. There are no royalties for cinematographers or wardrobe managers. There are no royalties for editors or typesetters. There are no royalties for sound engineers or album cover designers.

Royalties go to people whose involvement is believed (accurately or not) to increase sales. It is not a universal structure in entertainment.

 

Comment by Stephen on Mon 6th February 2012 1. 34PM

"Other industries don't have universal royalties" seems like a poor excuse not to look at alternative structures for payment in this one.

 

Comment by James Parker on Tue 7th February 2012 9. 09AM

Why should games developers be treated differently to 99% of professions?

Engineers don't get royalties, surgeons don't get royalties, teachers don't get a cut of the salary of every pupil who passes through their care.

As a freelancer, I take work on a fixed payment model - because the certainty of being paid enough is more important than the possibility of being paid more. It's actually better for me!

The same for work-for-hire developers, being paid for the work you done should be enough. Triple-A Developers normally don't share the financial risk (and indeed shouldn't!), so why should they share the financial reward?

 

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