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On Publisher Reputations

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Yesterday on this board I participated in a thread which mysteriously vanished. In it I said some things I consider important, so I was quite disappointed at seeing it disappear. It''s obvious to those who participated why the thread was removed. I hope we can discuss the issue of publisher reputations while keeping things hypothetical for the purposes of this thread. I''d hate to see this one disappear as well. In the missing thread it was implied that it''s none of a developer''s business to know of other developers'' experiences with a given publisher. I hope we can agree this is not the case. I think it is very important for a developer who is seriously considering a relationship with a given publisher to know of others'' experiences with that publisher. What then is the best way to find truthful, reliable information on a publisher''s track record? For an innocent startup developer I feel this is very important information. They are too easy prey for disreputable publishers. How do we make sure that a publisher''s relationship with a developer be fair and honest? How do we learn of a publisher''s reputation while avoiding lies? How should the developer community handle a disreputable publisher? Discuss...

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Some threads have obviously vanished, but there''s nothing mysterious about it to me. Some people on this board just can''t stop bashing on certain publishers with no first-hand knowledge or facts whatsoever. So far just about every thread on this board about publishers has degenerated into libelous tirades against Crystal Interactive for no good reason, and people just won''t let up. Nobody is listening to the CEO of the company when he tries to defend himself, either. It''s a shame.

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quote:
Original post by Diragor

Some threads have obviously vanished, but there's nothing mysterious about it to me. Some people on this board just can't stop bashing on certain publishers with no first-hand knowledge or facts whatsoever. So far just about every thread on this board about publishers has degenerated into libelous tirades against Crystal Interactive for no good reason, and people just won't let up. Nobody is listening to the CEO of the company when he tries to defend himself, either. It's a shame.

Diragor, I was hoping no one would mention company names. If you read carefully along my post you'll notice the mysterious bit was meant as ironic. Lets keep the discussion away from Crystal Interactive. Haven't we had enough of it already? Please stick to the general topic. Avoid mentioning specific publishers.

To the moderator: Should it prove necessary I hope you can remove individual messages instead of the entire thread.

Edited by - chronos on July 16, 2000 1:45:26 AM

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Having carefully followed the discussions about publishers on the board, I came to the conclusion that 3rd person information is in no case reliable and that one needs to make own experiences.
This is true in my opinion because:
1. Those developers who have success with a publisher won''t talk much about it, because they are not interested in a public spread of confidential data (like sale volume, etc.).
2. Those developers who had no success are more than willing to complain.
--> If you take 3rd person information for granted the conclusion you need to make is that you fight vs. the rest of the world.

So for my part I give the publishers a chance and if I found one that I like I stick with him.
It is important to ask questions though, that''s why I think the posts about said publisher were not that useless. The problem was that they were all very aggressive and already intended to lower the reputation of said publisher.
This is very strange. I had posted a message ("Something strange") that was aggressive too, but I only intended to ask some questions. Why these kind of messages always sound so aggressive is really strange. It must have something to do with the general mood in these public forums.

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I think what would be even more constructive would be for people to post when they have POSITIVE experience with a publisher. Not only is this more helpfull information for those looking for a publisher (We want to know which publishers we should approach, not the ones we shouldnt. having a list of no-go publishers dosent actually HELP me), but the publisher is hardly like to complain, and furthermore, such a system is verifiable as we can all see (in stores or on the web) if someone is being truthfull when they say their game x is currently published by publisher y and they are happy with them.

As a side note, I think the reason why some published developers are not keen to shout about their publishers and recommend them, is that the good publishers tend to deal with the more professional-minded developers. Nobody wants to be responsible for sending a whole army of newbies who have never even coded pong to their publisher saying ''x recommended you to me...''

http://www.positech.co.uk

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Even a well known (co)publisher can be bad, like EA.
I didn''t expect that until I read this.

System Shock 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts / Looking Glass Studios
Developer: Looking Glass Studios / Irrational Games

Why It Deserved Better: Without a doubt, System Shock 2 is one of the best games we''ve ever played. The entire game drips with atmosphere amd tension, and at times the experience is truly terrifying. In fact, System Shock 2 easily holds its own against the current benchmark of first-person games, Half-Life.

And yet, System Shock 2 has not enjoyed even a small percentage of Half-Life''s success. Why? Because EA dropped the ball when it came to marketing System Shock 2. Despite the fact that EA handled all of the game''s PR and marketing and was the game''s copublisher, its logo did not appear anywhere on the box. That pretty much sums up EA''s support of the title.

And when System Shock 2 earned Editors'' Choice awards from nearly every major publication and then went on to win numerous annual awards, including our 1999 Game of the Year award, nary a peep was heard from the folks at EA. The game was not repackaged and reissued with better retail support--or any retail support at all. (Even now, it can be difficult to locate a copy for sale online.) And though some boxes of the game sported a sticker proclaiming the game''s accolades, those instances were few and far between.

http://www.gamecenter.com/Features/Exclusives/Deserved/ss01.html

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Sorry, that I mention the name EA. But everybody knows that EA is the number 1 worldwide publisher/distributor of computergames.
They are the biggest on earth. And I am sure nobody expects this.

And for your information, Looking glass studio's was recently in big financial troubles and doesn't exist anymore.
There wasn't a investor who could saved them. I find that very sad.

Edited by - richy on July 16, 2000 7:14:25 AM

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Dear Chronos,

Yes, I was also sad to see the thread disappear as I thought we were talking about something constructive in the end. Possibly you haven''t read my reply because of this, but I basically stated that we have a confidentiality clause in our contracts which prevent both publisher and developer from disclosing any information regarding the contents of their deal. Also we can take any of our developers to court if they decide to make any internal problems public. Alas we can''t always rely on people to do the smart thing, or even comprehend the clause first time round... There''s nothing we can do against a developer drinking one too many and telling his friends about the deal. If one of his friends turns out to abuse this information we''re quite upset of course...

In that sense it''s none of your business since only the court can order a developer to disclose information like that. I do however understand that it''s in a developer''s interest to know whether he/she''s making the right choice. All I can say is pick and choose and be smart when it comes to signing contracts. But even that is no guarantee for success. If a publisher grants you an audit it''s on you ($5.000 fee) and they have 3 to 4 months to bring in a financial heavy weight to add up the numbers correctly for the audit. So you''ll loose. Always... But that''s business I guess. I can only TELL you we''re honest and that we''re trying our best to do what we promised. You don''t have to take my word for it though. If you don''t trust us then simply don''t do business with us. Take care, Alex Share this post Link to post Share on other sites The following is my opinion why Looking Glass is no more. You can flame me, but I won''t change my opinion about that anyway. The only game I liked of Looking Glass was Ultima Underworld (was from them, wasn''t it?). Why haven''t I seen the rest? Easy. There were two civil flight simulators. There were two System Shock. Well they got many awards. Dunno. I never liked it. I would rather buy three times Half-Life than System Shock. There was a infantry game. Some mix of Mechwarrior and Shooter. Not good if you ask me and it sold VERY bad. There were the two Dark Projects. I never even looked at the demo, simply because I don''t want to hide and sneak. I want to FIGHT! Was that all? All I remember. So what I wanted to say was that they had very innovative design. Yes. But it looks like the public never liked these design ideas or they would now be rich and would have not vanished. What do we learn? You make games for the public and not for yourself or to make art. Follow the market or die alone. Just my 2 cents. Share this post Link to post Share on other sites I think you''re right Jester. It''s sad though that a company daring to be innovative is punished with bad sales and in the end bankruptcy. Look at a title like Homeworld. It only sold 33.000 units in the first year. Very bad, even though it was proclaimed as the game of the year by the press! With large companies (publicly listed on stock exchanges) you always have to struggle for funding since all investors care about is profit. Big profits. So even if game A makes X profit, but game B makes X + 1 profit it''s likely that game A''s sequel gets axed in favour of the project which has a more profitable future. Very sad since it encourages developers to revisit proven concepts over and over again until the genre goes stale. I''m just mentioning RTS, FPS and RPG for the argument''s sake. I''m sorry my friends but revolutionary concepts were never popular. The world is round? Ludicrous! Burn the man at the stake! Just n example of the power of public opinion... Take care, Alex Share this post Link to post Share on other sites Dear Alex De Vries, I must still object to the phrase "it's none of your business". I feel it's quite simply too strong a statement. When your developers sign confidentiality agreements responsability falls on them not to disclose any information. A person who asks for this information does nothing wrong. He is only asking for information, not demanding or stealing it. The developer should simply deny him such information, as is required by the contract. The problem with "none of your business" is simply that it it attempts to limit what my concerns might be (who better than I to do this) and is far too critical of an individual who tries to acquire information in a straight manner (by asking). Regarding what others have said, I can definitely see the value of positive comments on experiences with publishers. Of course, this requires an unbiased source. PS - Alex: Although I've hinted at it before I wish to state once more that I've nothing against your company. In fact, you're currently irrelevant to me given that I'm not working on any games that might be considered budget software. My interest on this topic is primarily philosophical. Edited by - chronos on July 16, 2000 8:19:20 PM Share this post Link to post Share on other sites >When your developers sign confidentiality agreements responsability falls on them not to disclose any information. Do some publisher contracts include confidentiality agreements that may even prohibit how well/bad the publisher has been? If some include such agreements, isn''t it illegal to write such information confidentiality agreements? Bob Share this post Link to post Share on other sites Yes, I believe you may sign a confidentiality agreement but in many countries if the company doesn''t fulfil it''s responsibilities or is simply a horrible company that country often has some sort of area to report these sort of companies too. Here in Canada we have the Better Business Burea (BBB) Which I believe may also cover the United States. If let''s say we want to know if a canadian publisher is *bad* we can call or look on the web through the better business burea and it will tell us what businesses have been reported as bad or dificult to deal with. You can also become a member of the BBB as a business and they''ll contact an inspection of your business watch what you do for a while and if your a good business you''ll be BBB certifide and if some goes looking for info about your company they''ll find that your a good company! So yes there is a limit... also there''s troubles with international agreements, if a Canadian Game was to be published in the UK the contracts don''t cover so far, because your legal system does not govern me, only the agreements between our countries. Just my 2 cents. - Ben Share this post Link to post Share on other sites Anonymous, Is it illegal? Should it be? I don''t really know, but if you ever find you''ve been mistreated by a publisher with whom you''ve signed such an agreement you should certainly consider a lawsuit. I''m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong about this, but as I understand it a confidentiality agreement will not prevent you from making a detailed complaint as part of your case. You provide whatever information you must to prove your case, regardless of any agreement you have with the publisher. I''m sure the media would pick up on some of this information and people would therefore learn of the publisher''s questionable practices. Again I must warn you that I don''t really know what I''m talking about. Someone please correct me if I''m wrong. Still, if you ever find you''ve been mistreated it would be very wise to consult a lawyer to explain what your options are. Share this post Link to post Share on other sites Dear Alex, It would be cool if you would comment postings not only concerning your company too, like the answer you gave about what I said about Looking Glass. It could prove very useful to see different topics from a different point of view (not the developers, but the publishers). Cu. To the other posters about confidential agreements: Would you like the publisher to tell other people that you (for example) get XY% Royalty and the game sold XY times and you got a check about XYZ$ in december???
I would not! This is confidential information!
Now on the other hand. If you tell XYZ that your game XYZ has sold very bad with publisher XYZ and he spreads this information the publisher XYZ reputation will be lowered. But wheather a game sells good or bad not only depends on the publisher! The quality and PUBLICITY (how the people like it) is important!
So it''s sure that a publisher doesn''t want everyone who had a bad deal (because of the developers faults) to tell everyone that it was the publishers fault.

Again, if you ask me, keep away that paranoia from your mind. Optimism! That''s it.
And keep the discussion positive!

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cyberben and chronos, thank you for suggestions on how to treat possible complaint. So far, it seems OK, but still am cautious.

Bob

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Jester101,

I think you are simplifying things a bit too much. We could argue day and night about what exactly should be considered confidential information, but this would accomplish very little. In any case, the sort of experiences with publishers I''m referring to are far less specific than the examples you give. I''m speaking of "failure to perform or deliver" and "questionable business practices". These are things developers considering a relationship with a publisher would want to know about. No doubt these too are subject to interpretation, but they are still very different from the examples you give.

One thing I will say about confidential information is that sides do matter. To put a spin of your examples, I see nothing wrong in telling my friends how much money I''ve made from my game or how many copies of the game have been sold. Likewise, if my side has been cheated or otherwise mistreated, why should I not be able to unmask the villain? It is in such cases that I question the ethical value of a confidentiality agreement (and the law does too, I believe, under the proper circumstances).

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Well, I understand that some people might think different about telling their friends about sale volumes and the like.
I for my part keep this information, because (if I may use this term) it is none of their business.
I really can''t go into detail why it is in your personal interest to keep this information confidential (because it is confidential ). If this "confidential clause" is a reason for you not to sign a contract, well ok, it''s up to you.
But please don''t blame the ones who are demanding to keep information confidential. If you don''t like them, don''t do business with them.

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Despite how it may seem to people outside the game development industry, it''s actually a rather small industry.

The number of people involved is almost miniscule, and while you probably won''t ever know everybody, everybody is only a couple of steps away from each other, at most.

What this means, is that while you might not know anyone at Publisher A, you probably know Developer B, who works with Game Designer C who *does* know someone at Publisher A. And you can assume that people at the different publishing houses *do* know each, at least in passing from attending the same conferences a couple years in a row.

So if Developer B has a bad experience with Publisher A and airs his dirty laundry in public, he''s not doing himself any favors. For one, his bad experience will have a completely different spin when related by the people at Publisher A when they talk to their other publishing friends and contacts. For another, it displays a certain amount of unprofessionalism to publicize contract details.

Besides, Developer B''s bad experience might have been *his* fault, and not the publishers. Publishers are so often painted as the "bad guys" in game development, but that''s not always the case.

It''s simply a no-win situation.

What it boils down to is this: If you want the real "reputation" for a publisher, or a game development company, you''ll need to conduct your survey with personal contacts in private, probably even face-to-face (and maybe after a couple of beers). The kind of information you''re trolling for isn''t going to be in public forums.

PS I know that I, as moderator, did not delete the other thread in question. I''m not sure what happened to it.

DavidRM
Samu Games

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Jester101,

Given that I value privacy I'll agree that confidentiality is not in itself a bad thing. But I must insist once again that there are situations in which forced silence is quite simply wrong. I see no reason to tolerate an abusive confidentiality clause. To protest against unfairness is a very important form of speech.

As for the dreaded "it's none of your business" bit, don't let me stop you from using it. Perhaps you feel it's appropriate given that a person has asked you for information you don't want to share. Then again think of that friend you've just insulted by telling him "it's none of your business" instead of something less strong and overused. Instead of deciding for me what I shouldn't want to know, why not simply decide what you won't allow me to know? Sharing is by consent; I can ask and you can refuse. If you don't refuse, but can and should, it's really your fault isn't it?

DavidRM,

I suppose its true that "airing your dirty laundry" might possibly backfire against you. And yes, there are certain situations where the developer, not the publisher, may be at fault. How can a publisher sell a hopelessly buggy game?

The possibility of this shouldn't preclude my ability to protest with facts. Just like there are situations that are higly subjective, there's many that are not. Sometimes a publisher is clearly in the wrong and others deserve to know this.

Edited by - chronos on July 17, 2000 6:49:52 PM

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quote:
Original post by cyberben
Here in Canada we have the Better Business Burea (BBB) Which I believe may also cover the United States.

Thank you for bringing that up. I believe the BBB does indeed service the United States as well. Their website is at "http://www.bbb.com". Possibly a valuable resource for those considering a business relationship.

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Chronos,

No, the public does *not* have a right to know. In almost all cases, the information is covered under non-disclosure agreements and business contracts. Not only does the disbursement of information such as you seem to want to "ferret out" constitute a breach in contract, it can also be construed as libel. And once things hit the "libel" category, the lawyers come a-calling. It''s not pretty.

Thus, as I said before, the information you want cannot reasonably be obtained by posting messages on public forums. You will need to contact the people directly involved and convince them to disclose it to you...off the record, of course, because anything else leaves them liable. And good luck on doing that if you''re not either a personal contact, or at most a contact of a contact.

If a developer is going to enter an agreement with a publisher, it is up to that developer to do whatever research they deem necessary prior to signing anything. If you are the developer, and want to find out about how the publisher treats its developers, you can (a) ask the publisher for a list of references you can check, and/or (b) ask other people you know in the industry to put you in contact with someone who has done business with the publisher. Asking for such information in a public forum is going to result in a signal to noise ratio that is ''way off the scope, and possibly generate enough negative "vibe" that the publisher just pulls the plug on your agreement. After all, why deal with an unprofessional developer more interested in controversy than in getting the job done?

No respectable game development web page will ever maintain a list of "good" and "bad" publishers. The risk of legal liability for creating such a list far outweighs any benefits there might come from it.

I hope this adequately explains my position on this topic.

DavidRM
Samu Games

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DavidRM,

I couldn't disagree more. I strongly believe the public most certainly *does* have a right to know when a publisher behaves unethically. I believe in the value of public information on bad business, like a sort of consumer watchdog. As for libel, I believe this requires false claims to be made as if they were statements of fact. Finally, non-disclosure agreements mean squat when the circumstances are such that providing protected information is necessary to prove your case. No confidentiality agreement can prevent me from seeking action against a company.

You attribute to me the desire to "ferret out" information. I'm going to ask you to please not assign to me imagined intentions. I've no desire to ferret out anything. Read my posts very carefully. All I'm saying is there are certain situations in which a confidentiality agreement should not apply. Perhaps we're imagining different circumstances and different kinds of details being disclosed?

Edited by - chronos on July 18, 2000 4:01:55 AM

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