Game Developers’ Bill of Rights

Eric Zimmerman has published a “Game Developers’ Bill of Rights” on Gamasutra.com. The bill is based on the Creator’s Bill of Rights, which was written for comic developers in 1988.

It begins with article #1: “The right to full ownership of what we fully create.” The other rights derive from this one, including final say over creative, distribution, licensing, and marketing matters. In other words, ultimate control.

Zimmerman quotes Greg Costikyan, who once argued that developers should retain the rights to their games “because they fucking should.” Points for succinctness, but not much else. In any industry, when you take money from an investor to fund an embryonic venture, the investor usually ends up owning the venture. There are two ways around this:

  1. Fund the venture on your own to start, then negotiate for more control based on your initial, demonstrable success.
  2. Become respected enough that you can negotiate for control rights from the very beginning of the venture process.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I wish things weren’t this way, but they are. Why not focus on practical solutions to developers’ problems? Working towards greater solidarity would be a good start. Support of digital distribution initiatives would be another.

Ultimately, a developer is free to negotiate their own deal — or to walk away from an “unacceptable” offer. A publisher that does business with an inexperienced developer is taking a big risk… which explains (however unsatisfyingly) their ownership demands. Do I think publishers abuse their control? In many cases, yes. Are they wrong to negotiate for ownership in the first place? Probably not.

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