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New devices, platforms and app stores are everywhere, but developers need to be disciplined to take full advantage, warns consultant Kevin Dent

A Vegas-inspired story of high rolling success

New devices, platforms and app stores are everywhere, but developers need to be disciplined to take full advantage, warns consultant Kevin Dent
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Kevin Dent is CEO of Tiswaz Entertainment, an advisory board member at PlayHaven and chair of the IGDA Mobile SIG.

The following opinions are his own and should not be viewed as professional legal advice.

I spent six days at CES last week; Las Vegas is an interesting town that covers all manner of sins and activities.

Whilst there were a ton of video game guys in attendance, CES is an electronics show. It is not really designed for our industry, but I go every year as I find it interesting to see what opportunities are coming down the pipe.

With open arms

The most interesting aspect of 2012 was the fact an ecosystem that resembles a casino of platforms is being created around us.

We have the app stores, the ad platforms, smart TVs, tablets and sub-platforms etc. Most of these monetisation platforms are exciting and dynamic; in particular, the smart TV aspect is pretty interesting. Most of the vendors are trying to work with developers and are keen to sign up content.

And the reality is most of them must have you far more than you need them.

Let's be honesty for a moment - this is really the only stage of a platforms lifecycle where this is the case.

Of course, there are economic realities and that means you can't support every platform, so I've decided to write this post with the view of describing which 'points of light' you need to address when talking to such platforms holders.

It's not you, it's me

Okay, so they really like your game and let's assume it's also done extremely well on the Apple App Store.

The very first thing you need to do is take a look in the mirror. Will this title play well on a smart TV and other platforms? If the new platform isn't supported by the tools you use such as UDK or Unity, how much is it going to cost you to deliver it on this platform?

These are the initial questions you need to address. Not all games should or could do well on all platforms due to issues ranging from performance to control methods and user experience.

Show me the money

You've answered the above questions and everything looks good, but it's going to cost you $100,000 to port your game.

It can be done, but it is going to take some work. I am putting this in caps to emphasise UNLESS THEY HAVE DISTRIBUTION, YOU LOOK FOR $$$$$ IN THE FORM OF AN UPFRONT PAYMENT.

This is not to say you should expect this payment to be a profit center. It's more along the lines that it should not cost you money to support someone's new platform.

Note this is on the basis that your title has done well on another platform. Also, it is completely reasonable for the new vendor to recoup their initial payment before you get a royalty, so please keep this in mind.

Ignorance is bliss

You could have the best game ever, but if nobody knows about it, you are screwed.

So even if the platform vendor is giving you an upfront payment, tell them that you need guarantees that you'll be featured on the storefront. This should be in the form of a schedule of featured spots and it should be extremely specific.

If it becomes an issue, you walk away from the table and you walk fast.

Sugar the relationship

No matter whether a new device or platform sells poorly, the people who buy it will still buy apps so think about whether you can design a specific title and make the economics work. It's worth swallowing some risk to be a showcase app.

For example, when PSPgo came out, few developers supported it. However, I personally invested in a number of titles for that platform and didn't lose a penny on a single game.

The main reason was I had a good relationship with Sony at the time -and still do - and the titles were featured, often without my urging. I managed to pay off my house with a single title and believe me when I say this: that feels good.

Who's your wingman

My point is you need to be nice but firm in your negotiations.

Being a jerk is easy, but if you're a jerk during negotiations, you are either going to alienate the guy on the other side of the table - keep in mind, you need to work with this person after an agreement is signed - and/or they're just going towards a deal because the boss is expecting it. However, after the deals signed, you'll be ignored.

To this end, please, please, please get yourself a proper video game lawyer. This is not a recommendation, this is an absolute must.

It allows you to throw that person under the bus with the line "Well my lawyer thinks this is a good idea". The other side will hate your lawyer, but hey, let's be honest; they didn't study law to be popular.

If you need a recommendation for a lawyer, follow me on Twitter and I will DM you some options.

The bottom line is that you do not get on a conference call with the local Sue, Grabbit & Runne outfit who did your father's will. The other side will run them into the ground.

All about rights

The game is yours, so unless you really need the money, you do not give away exclusivity. If someone insists on this, you walk away from the table.

Don't even ponder it. Don't consider giving away those rights unless someone's chasing you with a sizeable check.

And if you do get that big check, and are asked for Right of First Refusal on subsequent titles from the same IP, your lawyer needs to drill into the details of how that works, what it means and how wide the IP rights stretch.

What constitutes success?

In the big wide world, the homerun, the hat-trick, the world record are all amazing achievements.

And, there's nothing wrong with making $5,000,000 profit on a title, but equally, there is nothing wrong with doing okay, paying the bills and having some cash left over to pay everyone a nice bonus.

There's an Oscar Wilde quote I like a lot - "I may be in the gutter, but I am looking at the stars".

What I mean by this is that too many developers view titles that break even or only just make it into profit as failures. There is nothing wrong with winning 1-0.