The Behemoth’s John Baez started the session by announcing that he was not a lawyer and he didn’t have an MBA from a university; rather, it was taken “from the streets.” During the session, Baez offered many different ways for startups and indies to grab a piece of the consumer mindshare with an efficient use of resources while on the road to completing your game.
Baez began by talking about the various pieces in the console publishing puzzle, such as retailers and distributors, and presenting a graphic of the various relationships. “Most of it is a middleman, and everyone wants a cut of the pie,” he said. Toward this end, developers should be prepared to do much of the legwork in marketing their game, relying on sheer effort rather than various promotional companies to do the work.
Before that, however, comes game contract negotiation. Here, Baez promoted careful attention to detail, insisting that developers have an experienced video game attorney on their side and adhere strictly to the IGDA white paper for pitch preparation.
Also, developers should provide a working prototype at the very minimum. Doing research is essential to getting past the gatekeepers; knowing how companies work on a larger level as well as the specifics on individual producers is key.
Doing research on numerous business contracts is extremely important. Gamasutra’s own feature on the Spark vs. Activision lawsuit earlier this year offers a particularly important example, as the complete contract is available there without any redactions. “Take this back to your video game attorney and say, ‘Make sure this doesn’t happen to me!’” Baez added, “It’s always better not to sign a deal than to be stuck with a bad one.”
The Behemoth was particularly successful in their own contract negotiations, as they were able to maintain multiple income streams, negotiating deals on a per territory basis and maintaining their own webstore. If at all possible, developers should fight to keep their intellectual property. Baez noted how Harmonix was bought for almost twice as much as Red Octane, publisher of the Harmonix developed Guitar Hero, largely because Harmonix maintained control of the IP.
Baez then ran through all of the little things developers can do to express themselves as unique companies. Public relations takes a lot of time, and having a canned press package can help tremendously, but unique items that show off the brand can be worked on cheaply and relatively quickly. Branded stickers, balls, and buttons can be had cheaply if one cuts out the promotional company middlemen. Little tins filled with mints can be had for around 25 cents per unit, compared to $1.50 if acquired from a promotional company.
Figurines were another item that The Behomoth ventured into (“If our game never got published, at least we got toys!”); again, they went straight to the sculptor in order to get something that looked exactly the way they wanted while reducing the amount of money lost to middlemen. Even magazine ads can be affordable for the indie developer given a bit of research into what your target audience reads, and magazine effectiveness per mille is much better than what’s achieved by online-only advertising.
For Baez, all of this adds up to a unique presentation of the developer, a minimum of resources called upon from your own funds or the publisher’s, and even a better relationship between the developer and the console manufacturer. He ended with a simple takeaway: “Take out the middlemen and you have a wonderfully streamlined thing.”