Some time ago I was having a rather vocal argument with a programmer who was hopelessly stuck in code misery that he’d created himself, misery he now considered to be my fault. During the discussion I suddenly felt very dizzy. I blamed the dizziness on prolonged sleep deprivation so I decided to go home and rest a bit. The dizziness went away but I still had strong sensations of pressure in my head so I went to a doctor who told me that my blood pressure was way too high. He thought I was too young for that, so he suggested I adapted my diet, try to un-stress and if that didn’t help, he’d give me some medication.
The un-stressing part stressed me out, as I was in the middle of a bitter fight with a publisher over exactly when Larian was going to get some of the money I felt they owed us, and it looked like we were going to court.
This wasn’t the first time I was in such a situation, but it was the first time that my entire future was on the line, as to cover the lack of money in, I had pledged everything I had to my bank in order to safeguard “the continuity of the studio”, and I was looking at a potential personal debt of over a million $ if I didn’t manage to find some cash fast, as well as the prospect of having to fire 40 people.
How did I end up into this situation ? I trusted a publisher, as naive as that sounds now.It seemed like a good idea at the time 🙂 How did I solve it ? I became one of them, and used the same tricks on them they used on me. The exact details I’ll leave for another time.
One of the most important things I learnt during that period was that one of the intrinsic problems with the developer-publisher relationship is that the publisher de facto becomes the bank of the developer, and that it’s a bank you in general can’t trust. It’s also a bank that likes to keep the money on its accounts.
I was reminded of this recently when a developer who now only does work for hire complained about not getting any royalties for a game that sold more than half a million units and only cost a couple of million US$ to make. He had a 50% royalty rate, the publisher made over 10MUS$ on that project, and yet still he didn’t get any profit.