Welcome back to Part II of my interview with Michael Iachini of Clay Crucible Games. In Part I, we discussed Michael’s background, business entity formation, his “humble” Kickstarter campaign for his game Otters and getting Game Salute to publish Chaos & Alchemy. This part of the interview will cover the artwork agreements and some tips on legal issues for new game designers. Enjoy!
Let’s jump back into the legal stuff. On Otters, you opted to use Creative Commons-licensed images, whereas on Chaos & Alchemy you hired illustrators and designers. Can you speak to why each method was appropriate for its particular game?
For Otters, the whole notion for the game in the first place came from my love of otters and my love of looking at adorable otter pictures online. I built a game that would give me an excuse to play with cards that had pictures of otters on them.
Thus, with Otters, I was using photographs from the start, and it just so happens that there are tons of fantastic otter photos available under a Creative Commons license.
I actually had a stretch goal during the Kickstarter campaign that would let me hire illustrators to draw otter pictures to replace the photos on the cards, but my backers strongly preferred sticking with photos. So, I ended up just tracking down more photos to use.
With Chaos & Alchemy, there was not a wealth of Creative Commons licensed images that I felt would work for the game. If there had been, I probably would have used them for my initial print run. Instead, I hired illustrators for low-cost black-and-white sketches on the cards. I also needed a large number of illustrations for Chaos & Alchemy, since the game has 43 different cards.
Ultimately, it’s about availability. If fantastic images are available via Creative Commons, I’ll use them. If not, I’ll need to hire folks. And if you’re running a less-humble campaign, you’ll probably want to commission new art just to make the game look worth the money you’re trying to raise.
What sort of agreements did you have between your artists, designers and publishing/distribution on both of the games?
For the first edition of Chaos & Alchemy, the one I published as Clay Crucible Games, I had a contract with a graphic designer and contracts with each illustrator. With the graphic designer (the talented Bree Heiss, who now works for Wizards of the Coast), she had her own contract that worked fine for me, so we used that.
For my illustrators, I hired an attorney (Robert Bodine) to draft a contract I could use with them. Basically, I purchased the copyright to the illustrations they created, and licensed the rights to use these illustrations back to the artists for their portfolios and such.
For the second edition of Chaos & Alchemy (published by Game Salute), I have a publication contract with Game Salute that they provided (which my attorney reviewed before I signed it, of course). All of the contracts with illustrators and such for the second edition are between Game Salute and those individuals.
For Otters, I have a contract with my graphic designer, Dane Ault, which he provided. He designed the logo for the game as well as the look and feel of the cards and the rules, and our contract lets Dane keep the copyright, but gives Clay Crucible Games a broad license to use the work he has created.
Do you have any advice for startup and solo designers regarding the legal protection they should have, and how to do that when they are just starting out?
Do your research to make sure you understand your rights and, critically, your potential liability. You don’t want to get yourself sued for using anything that you don’t have the rights to (such as artwork).
Also, if your state is anything like mine, setting up an LLC is ridiculously easy and very affordable, so you might as well do it just to protect your personal assets in case you do screw up in your business.
Zachary’s note: It may be helpful to contact an attorney just to ensure that you are “acting” like a corporation and ensure that your corporate documents are all squared away. This can help to avoid any issues down the road, particularly when you have shareholders.
Don’t worry too much about registering a trademark if you’re a small publisher. I hold two trademarks for Chaos & Alchemy that are federally registered, and I think that was a waste in the end.
Zachary’s note: it’s only a “waste” in the sense that buying auto insurance is a waste, in my opinion; you only “need” it when someone steals your brand
Finally, the best scenario is if you can afford to hire an attorney. Not everyone can, I understand, but it’s a great help if you can, especially when it comes time to draft a contract with an illustrator or sign a contract with a publisher.
Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to answer these questions. I wish you and your company the best in the future!
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