A read a lot of development deals. Some contracts from nice folks and others from no so nice folks. It is a great part of what I do. So, when fellow IGDA Board member Darius Kazemi emailed me about a week ago to help clear up some of the issues regarding the Official Rules behind the Activision Independent Games contest, I agreed.
THE EVIL EMPIRE
As you may know, like many gamers, I am no fan of Activision and their, what many consider to be, onerous business practices. I even took a pretty broad shot at Activision head, Bobby Kotick, after his too cute DICE speech in light of the whole Infinity Ward terminations. Also, I have always been a huge supporter of Independent developers. So, reviewing the rules of the contest seemed like a good thing...and after reading many of the public discussions of it on the interweb, I think a little clarification is in order.
THE RULES OF THE GAME
The Activision Contest rules are less onerous than many have portrayed them to be, but they are also extremely limiting in many ways that make submitting problematic for any developer looking to get a start in the industry and pretty much impossible to comply with for anyone already making games.
First off, I think I should dispel the misconception that entries become the property of Activision. I just don't read the Rules to say that. Lets take a look at the operative section...
Sending in a Submission constitutes entrant’s consent to give Sponsor a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, create derivative works from, and display such Submission in whole or in part, on a worldwide basis solely for purposes related to the Contest (including judging, advertising, and publicity related thereto).
The first part sounds very onerous for sure...the whole "royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, create derivative works from, and display such Submission in whole or in part, on a worldwide basis" part seems to convey all rights to the game to Activision. However, the following language, "solely for purposes related to the Contest (including judging, advertising, and publicity related thereto)" is a limitation that makes it acceptable. So, Activision does not end up with your game. But they can do pretty much whatever they want with it in conjunction with the Contest. It does not, however, allow them to actually publish or sell the entrant's games. At least not by the act of merely entering them in the contest.
They also want a right of first negotiation for any publishing deal. No problem there. If their deal sucks you would not take it anyway...and I am pretty sure their deal would suck...so that's not really much of an issue.
So, it's all good, right? Well not really...read on.
STUPID SUBMISSION LIMITATIONS
The actual limitations on what comprises a Game Submission is the real problem.
Game proposal materials include: 1) the game concept or design (maximum of ten (10) pages); 2) may include a video or game play demo (must come with extensive instructions on installations and use or it will not be considered); 3) must include an expected schedule, budget, team make up for development of the game, and execution plan.
So, they are not really looking for Games...they want a 10 (or is it 20 - see below) page GDD (Game Design Doc), a demo (optional!) and a development schedule and budget. This seems at odds with all the other contests out there where actual games are judged. And while it might be worth taking a shot at, it is not the same as IndieCade or the IGF, that's for sure.
And there are further limitations as they drill down a little into the details of what a submission is, and more importantly, is not!
• All of the Submission materials together must not exceed twenty (20) standard 8.5 x 11 pages and no more than one hundred (100) megs of digital material on CD;
• The Submission must be in English; and
• The Submission cannot have been submitted previously in a promotion of any kind or exhibited or displayed publicly through any means.
That last one cuts pretty deep for anyone other than a kid with "a great idea for a video game!" And I doubt that a kid like that would be very competent to draft a development schedule and budget to develop a game. I mean WTF? The last one is the kicker as it pretty much excludes anyone from submitting a finished game, unless they are so sure they are going to win that they would not want to submit it anywhere else or even show it on their own web site. Black box games only please...how dumb is that? IMHO very dumb!
There it is in nutshell...a contest not worth entering...
STUDENT GAMES FROM DIGIPEN AND GUILDHALL
Oh yeah, one more thing. I have been horrified by the fact that a very few Game Schools actually require their students to sign over all intellectual property rights to the games they develop while in school to the school. That's right, the school owns all the games their students create! The last time I checked, only Digipen and Guildhall were doing this...but I think it is a dastardly practice and am opposed to it on moral grounds. But in this contest, since the owner of a game is limited to only one entry, it seems the only one game fro Digipen and one game from Guildhall students would be allowed entry...so at least that's a good thing. Though it may be the only good thing about this contest.
EXPLOITING PASSION FOR PR
It seems more like a superficial attempt to cash in on the interest of so many gamers to make games. This is a good thing as this is the future of our industry. But the ham handed effort to exploit that passion misses the mark. If Activision is serious about wanting to do an effective contest to actually stimulate the Independent game community, they should have taken the time to research and learn about the community first instead of doing this lame-assed contest...but then it did get them a lot of press coverage at a time when they needed it...but I suspect that is all they, or Indie developers, will be getting out of this.
GL & HF!