What beef do publishers have that they are burning to tell game developers about? At the annual Game Developers Conference rant session, this year dubbed “Burning Mad: Game Publishers Rant,” five executives from the publishing side of the industry were given opportunity to speak out about any topic they feel impassioned about in the world of games--primarily, whatever most ticks them off.
In previous years, the rant has encouraged developers to speak about issues that they see as needing to be addressed with immediacy. Speakers often ranted with fiery gusto, rambling into lesser topics at times, but typically with enthusiasm, if not a twinge of bitterness.
But this year, the tables turned toward publishers, who on the whole regaled with a little more decorum and a little less zeal, reading from notes and delivering brief speeches rather than letting themselves go.
Aside from guest speaker and developer Chris Hecker, there was not a red face on the panel, only calm or mildly excited expressions. Still, a few panelists, particularly Alex St. John (CEO and founder of Wild Tangent) who berated Microsoft for its poor practices in handling games on Vista, and Lee Jacobson (vice president of business and acquisitions at Midway Games), saw fit to truly air their grievances about the industry.
Jacobson told a few cautionary tales of dishonest developers, studios that have lied, stolen money, breached contracts, and otherwise jeopardized their business by behaving badly. Jacobson, who at one time also worked for global corporate giant Virgin, said that although the “development community at large is honest, hardworking studios and companies that want to do good jobs” there are serious offenders whose actions he called “dishonest and frankly illegal.”
He told one story of a studio head who withheld milestone money from his employees, claiming that the publisher had not paid out on the milestone as promised. When the employees circumvented the studio head to confront the publisher directly, they realized that the studio owner had been lying and stealing; he soon skipped town with $300,000 in his pocket. “In building a relationship with a publisher, this is crap you just can’t pull,” Jacobson said. “This is real world stuff.”
“We’re not just ranting for ranting’s sake. ... We’re here to make great games. The purpose for us to have this session is for us to think about--in a playful way--what are the problems with our industry, ” said the panel’s host Eric Zimmerman, CEO of GameLab.
Gamasutra will have more in-depth coverage of the Game Publishers Rant next week.