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Developers Deserve Residual Royalties

Recent discussions bring the question of royalties existing beyond the current Publisher Studio model. If you are part of a team that creates a massive success, should you continue to benefit once you've moved on from that studio?

Dustin Clingman, Blogger

February 4, 2012

3 Min Read

"A man does not plant a tree for himself, he plants it for posterity" - Alexander Smith

I was reading Simon Roth's (@SimoRoth) recent blog post about "Games that no longer support their Creators". This got me to thinking about how the future our our industy might evolve. 

My first reaction to Simon's post jarred an interesting memory from the dark recesses about royalties and publishing from the Music Industry. When the brilliant Don McLean was asked in the 80's about what his biggest song "American Pie" meant to him, his response was:

"It means never having to work again for the rest of my life."

My mind then flashed to a recent Kotaku post that listed all the Game Studios who have closed since 2006

Add to all of this the growing, ready access to classic evergreen titles whether they be Donkey Kong or the infinite resurrections of Tetris. These franchises continue to make money while many of the developers responsible no longer have any financial connection or benefit from them.

This must stop.

What we need is an employment contract structure that normalizes the business dealings between publishers, studios and talent. If you're a talent, you will be entitled to a specific percentage (however small or divisible) of the profits that a game product generates. This percentage must be a permanent benefit to you as a talent. This benefit goes with you if you move on to another studio or if you go on to form your own company.

This structure will be contractual and understood right from the beginning of your employment with a studio. If the game dies on the vine, you get nothing but your earnings for the effort. If the game comes back 20 years later, even after you have died, your heirs are allowed to claim your due residuals.

Sound crazy? That's exactly what happens in the Screen Actors Guild

Here's one of my favorite sections of the SAG FAQ:

Will my heirs receive residuals?

Yes. All residuals will continue to flow to designated heirs as long as the TV or movie product continues to generate revenue for the producer. Remember, it’s an heir’s responsibility to keep his/her mailing address up to date with SAG. Heirs can also visit the unclaimed residuals section of the website at www.sag.org.

Developers can't expect this change to just happen on its own. Furthermore, I think that we need an organization to manage this new relationship in our Industry. We need our own equivalent to the Screen Actors Guild! 

When SAG was formed, there was an argument that it would ruin the Film Industry. Many refused to join SAG and of course there were the Blacklist Years as well...

But look at today. SAG is just part of the backdrop and the Film and Television Industries have done just fine, while still managing to pay scale as well as decades of residuals for syndication.

We've already built an industry on the crushed backs of the developers who came before us. As it sits, they get nothing going forward. When will we begin to show the self respect that publishers will never give us? What will it take for us to make this next step? 

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