Team17's Debbie Bestwick explains why indies must never let go of their rights
Creativity, innovation, expertise, technology and patents – intellectual property is at the core of business today. Owning and protecting your IP rights is a priority, whether you’re a corporate giant in the city or a start-up in your bedroom.
In today’s economy and global age, businesses are looking for creative ways to improve competitive advantages, attract investment and grow profits. Some companies have learned that their IP assets can play a key role in achieving these goals and have begun to explore ways to leverage and deploy them. Many more business, however, still have much to learn.
Companies that do not actively manage their IP are essentially destroying value and, worse still, businesses that relinquish their IP rights are sailing a fine line between survival and death.
The ever-changing environment that is the games industry has seen a huge shift in the past eight years. The traditional retail market, while not dead and buried, has certainly been constricted by the arrival of digital distribution. Team17 was an early adopter of this brave new world and our pioneering spirit has recently seen it return to third-party publishing, where its attitude towards developers’ intellectual properties makes up one of the central pillars of our strategy.
Our third-party ethos is to help grow and nurture independent developers with an eventual goal of seeing them achieve not only profitability but, more importantly, self-sustainability. To this end indies are actively encouraged to keep hold of their own IP – a sentiment that was recently echoed by Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, who tweeted: “We are the first generation of developers where giving up IP is not the normal publisher requirement. Do not waste that. Own your stuff.”
As one of the world’s oldest independent development studios, Team17 has learned the value of keeping its IP the hard way – twice we faced losing the Worms brand. Simply put, without keeping ownership it’s highly unlikely Team17 would be in existence today – it’s that important.
The closest Team17 came to losing its IP was in the late 1990s. The business had to recoup on a loan with an unnamed publisher. For a number of reasons, we were behind schedule by around four to five months on a big game. Extra funding was needed in order to make it through to release. Sales targets were set by the publisher, together with a clause that the Worms IP would be relinquished should those figures not be met. A close working relationship with the publisher’s team allowed Team17 to monitor orders on a day-to-day basis, knowing every single unit sold and where it had shipped over the previous 12 months (the target had to be hit within 12 months).
At the time, the extra funding was necessary but agreeing to clauses that include IP seizure is beyond stupid. In the end, the close monitoring paid off and Team17 beat the target by 1.7 per cent.
The game went on to actually beat the numbers, but it was certainly a lesson learned. Back in 2006/2007, Team17 was struggling to find a boxed publishing partner – not because anyone wasn’t interested but rather the refusal of Team17 to give up its IP. Indies need to understand the value of their IP both in the here and now and in the future. Be strong and walk away (we did).
In our industry, intellectual property is everything. It’s at the very heart of a game’s creation and for an indie it’s their lifeblood. Without owning of your IP, you’re essentially a work-for-hire studio. Don’t get me wrong, there is merit in this – just look at some super successful studios like Sumo Digital.
With your IP rights in place, you become open to opportunities and are able to tap extra revenue streams by maximising the potential of your assets. By controlling your own IP, you also control your destiny.