Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Revenge of the Litigated

Shamus Young | 13 Aug 2010 21:00
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dogstile suggests:

Why not just make massive fines for companies who are obviously suing on a case that would never win. Or better yet, if the little guy fights and wins, the losing company has to pay all their legal fees.

The second point is called loser pays and is a popular idea. (Le_Lisra can feel smug that most western countries use this system outside of the U.S.) I don't know enough to comment on it beyond that.

But taking the first point: Who would decide if someone was "obviously suing on a case that would never win"? To make that kind of determination, you'd need a judge. And a jury. And lawyers so that both sides could make their case...

And "massive fines" is a tricky notion. What's massive for a ten person company is peanuts for a hundred person company. And a massive fine for a hundred person company would be a rounding error for a thousand person company. And how do you calculate how "big" a company is, anyway? Some companies employ a ton of people. Some are just a few people who employ a lot of contractors.

I am reminded of a very wise saying:

"Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong." - H. L. Mencken

Thankfully, we don't need to muck about with the court system or change any laws to fix this. The solution to this problem is easily explained and costs nothing to implement. Several people pointed it out in the comments last week. The solution is this:

"Don't go into business with people who have dealt poorly with their other business partners."

I can't imagine what would possess anyone to sign a deal with Activision, knowing what is publicly known about the company now. Even if the deal seems nice and the Activision people seem friendly and Bobby Kotick has your company over for a barbecue and shakes hands with your team and you meet his cute kids. When you are signing a contract with someone far out of your financial weight class, the paper is only as reliable as the character of the guy who hands you the pen.

I don't know Bobby Kotick personally. I don't know the particulars of any of the cases that Activsion had against former Infinity Ward employees, current Infinity Ward employees, No Doubt, Double Fine, Genius Products, Greg Hastings, or any of the other cases we didn't hear about because they never went public. I can't say for certain that Activision is the bad guy. Maybe they're just a victim of extraordinarily bad luck and worse PR.

But a lot of former Activision business partners are very unhappy with how they were treated. As the president of a development studio, I know I wouldn't bet on his word with the jobs of all my friends and everything we've built. Activision is like a guy who has had his last five spouses die under "mysterious circumstances". Maybe he's a murderer and maybe he's just had bad luck, but at this point only an idiot would marry him and find out.

Gamers are angry that there's no way to punish Activision. But this is the punishment that Activision should have to endure: Smart and talented people should simply refuse to do business with them out of fear of finding themselves in Greg Hasting's shoes.

Character matters. Don't do business with people you can't trust. This advice will never change, no matter what business you're in.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning. He's never run any business ever and you should probably not rely on him for business advice. Use your head.

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