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MechWarrior Creator Weisman On IP Rights: 'Don't Sell 'Em'

FASA founder Jordan Weisman -- co-creator of BattleTech/Mechwarrior, Shadowrun, and Crimson Skies, and now of Smith & Tinker -- tells Gamasutra what he's learned about IP over his long career.
FASA founder Jordan Weisman, co-creator of BattleTech/Mechwarrior, Shadowrun, and Crimson Skies -- and one of the game industry's perpetual entrepreneurs -- has learned a lot over his long career about managing intellectual property. He now licenses the game rights to those franchises back from owner Microsoft at his latest venture, the cross-media company Smith & Tinker, which also fully owns the ambitious children's franchise Nanovor. So what exactly has Weisman learned about property rights? "Don't sell 'em," he told Gamasutra flatly in a recent interview. Starting with pen-and-paper games and moving into a number of different entertainment segments, the now-defunct FASA Corporation and FASA Interactive once managed an impressive array of fictional universes, most of which are now tied up in a convoluted ownership mess. "You know, for twenty years, or a little less, we carefully managed those properties MechWarrior and Shadowrun," Weisman said. "We made sure all the video games, the novels, the games were all really woven together. It was all..." He trailed off, then started to lay out the state of FASA's former assets: "We ended up selling both companies off to two different people. WizKids bought FASA, and then Topps bought WizKids, and then [Michael] Eisner bought Topps." "Now, sort of, Eisner owns the movie rights, and all the story rights for MechWarrior, and Microsoft has the video games. And then I license the video game rights back from Microsoft." Weisman added that this didn't just add complexity to the legal state of the properties, it had a direct negative effect on the brands. "Once that ownership got a little fractured, it became really difficult to manage cohesively," he said," and I think the property suffered." Still, the recent announcement of a new MechWarrior title -- and unconfirmed rumors about some other classic FASA properties making a return -- indicates Weisman has no intention of letting the worlds he helped conceive fall into disrepair, even if he no longer owns them. "One of the motivations on licensing it back was to get it back on track and create a more cohensive home for it," Weisman explained, "so I'm working with Eisner and his people, and with Microsoft, and we're trying to do this in a much more cohesive fashion again."

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