The spending of the marketing budget

I’ve been raging a bit here about creative use of publisher costs, and somebody mentioned in the comments on “How Larian ended up self-publishing” that it’s only normal that costs associated with press events should be deducted from a developers royalties.

So I browsed through my picture library and found some pictures from PR & marketing events I participated in.

Here’s three that should illustrate my point, so I’m not going to write a wall of text here.

The message to fellow developers – require detail in your contracts, lots of detail. And don’t accept the message that the administrative overhead is too much. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and even if the person you are signing your contract with might be sincere , that doesn’t mean that all other people in his or her organization will be as sincere.

It’s extremely hard to argue whether or not marketing costs are allowed. So make sure that they are capped, that there is a detailed plan that’s updated continuously (which requires your approval) and work with continuous reports, preferably monthly. If it sounds too much to ask, it’s not. It’s what publishers put in their contracts when dealing with one another, because they know how things work.

Otherwise you’ll encounter situations like – “Sure I went to a casino, but it was with the editor in chief of magazine X. We want to be in magazine X, right ? And the guy indeed likes strippers. But you got the article right ? Nobody wanted to write about your game otherwise” might be one of the arguments you hear.

On one particular night, I helped a marketing director earn back the money he wasted in a casino, not realizing that it was actually part of my marketing budget.


Ring side seats - yes, it was cool, but really, a deductible cost ?

This I can understand - it makes sense. But a large suite in the SLS in Beverly Hills associated with this trip ? A normal hotel would've sufficed.

  • Arne

    So what? Publishers are just evil incarnated? Should they from now on only be used to get a new studio of the ground with one or two projects? Or would it be wiser to have a loan and immediately start self-publishing? How would publishers respond if every developper starts self publishing?

    • Swen Vincke

      I need to nuance my statements.

      I’m blogging about independent development and for independent developers, the best thing is to self-publish, period. Obviously you need to organize yourself around that, and it’s not that easy, as we’re discovering ourselves.

      But it’s important that developers are aware that the typical publishing deals are not in their own best interest – that business model is not made to help them. There are gradations obviously, and proper negotiating can help you prevent finding yourself in one of the many horror scenarios this industry produced because of said model. This particular post contains three pictures – two showing abuse (because the model allows for it), one showing proper publishing that’s in the best interest of the game. If you are an independent developer and you need publishing, then you’d best make damn sure that your contract is made in such a way that the first two pictures aren’t possible, and that you only get number three. Otherwise you won’t be able to grow and make better games.

      • Swen Vincke

        To stress my point, I’ll give you an example  –

        Can you guess what happened here ?

        • Arne

          Ok so bad publishing deals really are a threat. So you’re saying you’re learning how to do this yourselves, and you still need one to get the retials in store, so now you’re only partial dependent, wich is way more profitable , and I guess that how all smart developpers should become. But any ideas how the publisher’s role would evolve by this new developper’s model?

          • Swen Vincke

            If they’re not creating their own content, they’ll either become service providers for developers or die out. It’s already happening.

          • Arne

            So it goes both ways eh? Perhaps I should look for an ex-publisher’s blog reading how those horrible developpers made them go bankrupt 🙂

          • Swen Vincke

            Yes – putting funds in the hands of developers who spend it recklessly isn’t exactly a great idea either, but that’s a rare case than vice versa.  

          • Sergei Klimov

            I’m an ex-publisher, and I’ve lost significant funds here and there when I gave them to dev teams whom I could not control or direct. 

            Swen, maybe one of the day you can touch on the issue of “here’s your money and bring me the product” approach, where a team takes advantage of the publisher/investor who has no clue what kind of bullshit they report in the dailies? 

            Developers are not saints, publishers are not devils, it’s the model that’s malfunctioning.

          • Sergei Klimov

            Traditionally, publishers were born out of distribution companies. Rarely you have a publisher who did not have logistics, warehousing as the basis for the business.

            But publishing is not bad per se. Publishing is what CD Projekt is doing, publishing is what Runic is doing, publishing is what Amanita is doing. Publishing is positioning the product, promoting the product, and making business decisions to benefit the product.

            In the digital era, publisher is good if he can say, guys – you did $2M with Amnesia, I can teach you how to do $4M with the same product. And you get to take home $3M. Everybody’s happy, no?

            What Swen’s arguing about is “publishers as distribution gate-keepers”. As in, you want to be in this market? Get your 35% royalties, and shut up. I was recently told by a distributor that “a good game will sell itself, a bad game can’t be saved”.

            This can only be matched in stupidity by a developer saying to me the same week, “a good game will sell itself on Steam, no publishing required”. Sure, sure, the world is full of developers missing a zero in their sales reports nowadays.

  • Myrthos

    I feel mistreated now. I never had something like that from any developer/publisher. What do they have  what we don’t (besides being a magazine, more readers and a wider audience) 😉

    • Sergei Klimov

      Luckily for me, I also never went to see a stripper on any industry budget, in my 15 years in games publishing, but this is probably the lucky consequence of Eastern Europe’s games scene being too young in general to inherit the old diseases.

      In the ’90s, I heard from Blue Byte’s employee how they were entertained in Vegas (back when the strippers did not look as medical as they reportedly look right now in Nevada) and how the German journalists were impressed beyond any doubt.

      It’s the sort of corruption that’s born on both sides. As a publisher, you want the attention that the magazines can give you. 5* hotel is better than 3*, and in Hawaii better than in New Jersey, if the budget allows – no problems here. And then, everyone’s doing 5*, so what do you do? You throw in some diving… and a shopping weekend… and it’s all evolving to the point where the game is just a pretext but the clippings and the entertainment are the major focus. I wouldn’t want to do this as a publisher, but I wouldn’t like to think I would accept this as a journalist, either. 

      Heck, I’m writing for a magazine myself. Would I have dinner on a developer’s account? Maybe, but I’ll first try to bill my magazine. Would I have a casino trip on anybody’s account? No way, I don’t want anybody’s point of view bothering me later on when I’ll be writing the interview.

      • Myrthos

        I would think that any article that is written by a journalist that has been on one of these ‘all expenses paid’ trips can be considered useless. If he praises the game, it might still suck, if he writes that it sucks, he might just not have received the right hotel room or whatever other service.

        • Swen Vincke

          Well, in that case I’m afraid a lot of the major publications cease to exist 😉

          • Myrthos

            Next time I’ll visit your offices again I guess we’ll have to skip all the extras and just settle for some tea 🙂

          • Sergei Klimov

            Ha ha ha, the Vedett beer we get next to for free from the brewer, so it doesn’t count, and if the financial reporting quarter is right, the dinner bill is written off before the taxes, so it’s not a big deal.

            Getting on a cruise boat to Zeeland, or on a dune bike in De Panne, that’s entirely new story though. I don’t get this kind of stuff. We’re happy to be great hosts and we’ll go to any length to make the reviewers comfortable, but it has to do with the product, I think by “buying” someone’s entertainment you actually damage the perception. At least I would feel awkward!

        • Sergei Klimov

          To be fair – I don’t think so.

          There’s the implied understanding that the regular expenses buy you the attention, but not the result. 

          I would fly out to Seattle to check a game, and get the ticket paid by the dev team, but I won’t go to a helicopter tour paid by the developer there, that’s the whole difference.

  • JS Zirani

    Thank you Swen for exposing such wrongdoings. Those are rumours that everyone hears in this industry.