Today’s Friday morning guest lecture was given to us by Nick Davies, who is one of the founders of Lucid Games and currently working as a producer on their upcoming games. Nick was a joy to listen to, and I enjoyed the content of this talk thoroughly. Nick himself began work in the games industry around 10 years ago, before which he worked as a civil servant and in HSBC banking. He started off at Bizarre Creations as an associate producer, before moving up to design manager and then producer for such games as James Bond 007: Bloodstone. When Activision closed the doors on Bizarre Creations, Nick and seven other ex-employees came together to form Lucid Games, where they initially worked together in a borrowed office and with a single copy of Photoshop to share between them. Two years down the line and the company has grown to over twenty employees and they are now based in a permanent office in Liverpool.
James Bond 007: Bloodstone – Bizarre Creation’s final published title in 2010
As part of the talk, Nick quickly went over some of the day to day tasks that are required by a producer, but did note that depending on the studio, these can vary massively. The tasks included team management, scheduling, hiring, publisher relations and external relations such as dealing with the licensing, marketing teams and external contractors. For larger companies, a producer (or any role for that matter) tends to have a more focused job role, and will be given control over a particular section of a game. This allows a person to become very specialised in their particular area, but this can be limiting. For a smaller company, an employee may be required to have a much broader skill set but will be able to see the bigger picture much more easily.
Nick’s talk focused quite heavily on the business side of developing games, and he began at the early stages – getting a game signed. There are two main ways to get a game signed by a publisher and to receive funding. The first is the most common and this is to pitch to a publisher. There are four main pitching methods, each of which have different costs to the developer and different risks to the publisher. However, no matter which one you opt for, visuals are key for any type of pitch as these are what sells the idea and helps to convince a publisher that the idea is worth investing in. A less common way to receive investment is to be approached by the publisher themselves in order to create a specific genre of game or to help reboot an old franchise, however this usually requires past experience in the field and previous critical success.
A table showing the four main pitching methods and the cost and risk to the developer and publisher
Once a publisher has decided to back your game, the next step is to sign a contract. This is a lengthy procedure and often involves the contract being passed back and forth between the two parties until everyone is happy with the conditions. The most important things to watch out for when signing a development contract are:
Royalties – how much you receive per copy sold. This is usually quite low to being with as the publishers want to recuperate their investment quickly, but once the game begins to make a profit then royalties can increase.
Termination clauses – the right for the publisher to end the contract. If this is due to no fault of the developers, then often the developers can agree to a set number of months worth of compensation in order to bridge the gap between ending and starting a new project.
Ancillaries – the percentage the developer receives for any merchandise that is sold based around the game.
Non-compete clauses – this prevents the developer from creating two games for two different publishers that are of a similar genre. In order to get around this, a studio should try to negotiate this to be as vague as possible. For example, you may agree not to work on any city-based racing games, but this would leave you free to work on a space-based racing game.
IP retention – currently a hot topic within the games industry, many feel that the developers should be able to keep all rights to their own game, but this is often not the case. However as Nick mentioned, it’s important to remember that even if you have a fantastic idea, if you have no money to make that idea, then you will probably have to consider loosing the IP in order to gain funding. Owning 100% of nothing is nothing.
Nearing the end of the presentation, Nick discussed some of the pros and cons of working in large studios versus small studios. For me personally, this is not yet something I’ve completely decided on. In my past jobs I’ve worked in small, close knit teams, so I’m wanting to try working as part of a much larger group. When Nick himself was asked if the future of Lucid Games would see it grow to the size of Bizarre Creations, he answered that both have their challenges but working as a producer for eight years in a large studio involves a lot of work with balancing personalities and managing task assigning, and his personal preference is to work in a smaller, more manageable sized studio.
A table showing the pros and cons of working in a large games studio versus a small games studio
All in all I really enjoyed this guest lecture. The subject was really engaging for me as working in a console development studio is where I hope my career will lead to. As to where I’d like to end up – that I’ve not considered. I’ve got plenty of time to get a taste for the ways things work within a games studio and I hope it’ll all become clear from there.