Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Creative Hara-Kiri

Blake Schreurs | 27 Feb 2007 11:04
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It's strange, from my viewpoint. Independent studios spend months writing games based on publishers' suggestions. They submit the game on the publisher's terms. In many cases, though not all, they are told to expect a response and feedback in a short amount of time. Instead, the majority of publishers opt to ignore developers they don't know completely. That kind of response isn't just unprofessional or rude, it's insulting. Considering what some people do to create these submissions, it's almost cruel. And this is an industry-wide phenomenon.

I pondered the situation for a few days. I thought about my interactions with these firms and their employees over the past months. Up until the point I wanted to get a game published they were polite, friendly and helpful. These weren't some executive big-wigs who were dismissive of game studios. Something had gone awry.

I decided it was time to make some phone calls. In every case, the publisher hadn't made its phone number available - unsurprising, given the types of calls they'd receive with a public number. But without industry contacts, I had to get technical. After a bit of computer wizardry, I managed to snatch a couple of numbers from the internet.

It took some convincing, but I was able to finally speak with a few producers. It turns out I had done some things very well from the beginning of the development process; my game was innovative and unique. Unfortunately, some of my mistakes during game submission prevented my game from coming to light.

My folly wasn't that I had invented something new, but that I treated the fruits of my labor as an invention. A new invention has to be guarded closely, protected by an assortment of complicated legal agreements. From a publisher's perspective, any legal agreement, even one as innocuous as a non-disclosure agreement, is a liability. God forbid there's a patent involved. Patents can be risky for game publishers. Some publishers even fear a patent arms race, the hoarding of intellectual property over any minor invention, which could stifle creativity and destroy innovative game design.

And, since seeking a legal agreement delays the submission process and introduces risk for the publisher, they're definitely not going to look at you if it's your first pitch to them. But it's a catch-22, because you have to be mindful of your intellectual property, and make sure the full game is not leaked to the public at large.

I remain bemused that an industry which eagerly seeks innovation cannot fully protect creativity early in the publication process. At this point, I am resigned to being treated less like an inventor and more like an author. But I find comfort knowing that so long as people have fun playing my game, my genetic imperative to create will be fulfilled.

Blake Schreurs is a web applications guru who starts projects outside of
his area of expertise, because he hasn't learned to fear failure yet. He
writes in loving memory of his older brother, Brian.

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