The Games Game October 2008
Don't Buy Into Big Ideas (October 2008)
This guy wants me to work for him on his game idea but he can't pay me now. He says he'll pay me later when the game makes money.
I'm acing my classes and I've got an easy class schedule anyway, so I think I can manage the time to work on his game. I'm kind of tempted to do it because it'll be good practice, but he says I can't put his game in my portfolio.
I could use the money when the game ships, and that's where my question is. How much of the proceeds should I ask for? I was thinking 60% since I'll be doing all the programming and level design, and there'll be an artist on the project too. And I'm thinking the copyright in the code should belong to me. What do you think?
Head in clouds
I think you're headin' for trouble with this guy.
First off, the two of you (leaving the artist out of this for the moment) have vastly different expectations regarding the money issue. You're thinking you're doing 60% of the work so should get 60% of the profits. He's surely thinking the idea's 100% his and he deserves the lion's share, but out of the generosity of his heart, he'll give you a small piece of the pie.
Secondly, you're both totally deluding yourselves about the game's money-making potential. Think about it. He doesn't have enough money to pay you to develop his brilliant game. After you finish the game, what makes you think he's going to be able to get the thing published? It's called "marketing," and it costs money. Remember, he doesn't have any.
Thirdly, how big is the design? These guys are always designing MMOs. At some point, he'll probably realize it's too much to chew, and he'll change the plan. "Let's just do a demo instead," he'll say. "We'll use that to get funding." That means a lot more time until you see a payday, and a much smaller piece of the pie. Speaking of which, don't forget that the game will also need sound and music. Everybody always overlooks audio.
What about the ownership and rights issue? You want copyright in the code, he wants copyright in the game, he doesn't even want you using the game in your portfolio, let's call the whole thing off.
Guys like him are a dime a dozen. Got a great idea, but no money and no talent for making games, so they have to wheedle somebody else into doing the work for them. My recommendation is that you just say no. Concentrate on your degree, then work on your portfolio. Do build indie games, but not in hopes of selling them. Rather, because you love games and it's good practice so you can get a job. After holding a game job for a few years, then you'll know enough to play the startup game.
The bottom line is that what this guy is offering you is not a good opportunity. I know, he's a smooth talker. He paints a beautiful picture of a wonderful future. But don't buy what he's selling. It's going to end badly, especially for you. Even if the project succeeds in making a game, it'll never make aTom's Bio
Tom Sloper's game biz career began over twenty years ago at Western Technologies, where he designed LCD games and the Vectrex games "Spike" and "Bedlam". There followed stints at Sega Enterprises, Rudell Design, Atari Corporation, and Activision. In 12 years at Activision, Tom produced 36 unique game titles (plus innumerable ports and localizations), designed four games, and won five awards. Tom worked for several months in Activision's Japan operation, in Tokyo. He is perhaps best known for designing, managing and producing Activision's "Shanghai" line. He is currently consulting, writing, speaking, teaching, and developing original games. Find out more at Sloperama.
© 2008 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.