How to publish a mobile game and not make my mistakes

    Hello, Habr!

    I want to share my story of launching a mobile game. This is a story about collaboration with a publisher, in which I want to talk about the pitfalls that await the indie developer while working with the latter.

    The history of my game began in 2015 - I moved to Unity and became interested in 3d, the result of this was my first (second, which is not embarrassing to show) game: Out of Brakes - a runner in which the player must avoid obstacles on a typewriter, the speed of which is constantly growing:

    Work took almost a year. Then there were short launching torments: I decided that I wrote a cool game (Crossy Road killer and all that), that I didn’t need a publisher, and that the game would be picked up like hotcakes as soon as it appeared in the AppStore ... Well, that was good experience: an independent launch can be compared to throwing stones into a stormy ocean, hoping to see circles on the water. This experience became very important, and taught us to think more realistically: we often hear about success stories, and it seems to us that we can easily repeat them, losing sight of the many details and difficulties that the very successful developers faced, focusing on one is on success.

    So, after tearing my tears and analyzing the situation, I understood 3 things:

    1. one is not a warrior in the field: making a one-person game, trying yourself in different roles is fun, but not too productive
    2. need a publisher: he can objectively evaluate the game, give advice on improving it, as well as build a marketing campaign and increase the chance of featured in the AppStore / Google Play
    3. you need to continue to make games, staying within the chosen genre and existing developments: this reduces development time and gives results much faster, thereby reducing risks

    Taking into account all of the above, the game Blocky Racing was developed:

    Two people were already working on Blocky Racing, the game was based on the ideas and graphics of Out of Brakes - this allowed us to focus on the gameplay and develop the runner into full-fledged races with tracks, opponents and pumping cars. Upon completion of the development, we began to search for a publisher.

    And here he is, the triumph of the indie developer: after a bunch of sent press releases, negotiations and rejections, the publisher is found, the contract is signed, the game is running and even got featured in the AppStore - there is no limit to joy. But, as it turned out, a huge fly in the ointment was waiting for us.

    The first problem we encountered was a slow work with the publisher: the contract was signed in November 2016, and the game we launched only in January 2018 - of course, a number of changes were made to the game, but the general rhythm of improvements left much to be desired - I think this the moment should be taken into account by all developers - in our case, a whole year passed between signing and launching!

    After the launch of the game (January 2018), the pace of work accelerated: work on bugs, work on a new version, new game modes, and so on.

    We were looking forward to when 2 months have passed since the launch, and the publisher will send us the first income / expense report, and we will be able to receive our first check. And here the fun began: the publisher began to drag out the reports. At first he wrote that the data on advertising networks had not yet been collected, then - that he was at the gaming conference and he had no time, then - that he was busy launching another game, etc. etc. At the same time, work on patches continued actively: “strike the iron while it's hot” - the publisher said ... we woke up only in August 2018 - it came to the realization that we were being fooled. It became clear that we needed help.

    We found a lawyer who read the contract and was horrified: there was not a single clause in the contract protecting the rights of the developer, and vice versa: the rights of the publisher were 100% protected, and the obligations and conditions of their failure by the publisher were either very inaccurate or were absent altogether.

    In this situation, the lawyer advised not to make “sudden movements”, but to try to come to an agreement. The pace of work began to slow down: the publisher fed us breakfast on reports, we fed him promises of new content. At the same time, the publisher received a notification from the developers of another mobile game, in which it was said that the name Blocky Racing intersects with the name of their game Blocky Racer and violates their rights, and that we must remove the game from the store or rename it.

    Work began on a new patch: we changed the name from Blocky Racing to Blocks Racing, and the publisher assured us that he was about to calculate all the revenues, send us all the reports and pay all the money, and in good faith gave us an advance - $ 4k. Hanging our ears, we issued a patch, after which the publisher stopped contacting us.

    Several lessons can be learned from this story:

    1. Drafting a contract with a lawyer - mandatory - this will help to avoid many problems
    2. It is advisable to discuss the improvements that will need to be made to the game before launch, and to fix the launch dates in the contract - during the oral discussion, the publisher promised us that we will start in 2-3 months, but in reality it took us a whole year, most of which took us to wait for the return communication
    3. Respond more quickly, do not work “by inertia” if you suspect that there is a problem - do not sit back
    4. You should not think that everyone abroad works on honor and conscience - there is scam everywhere (most likely, you don’t think so, but the author of the article naively assumed that the IT business is devoid of this drawback)

    So, more than a year has passed since the launch of the game. The game has not been updated for a long time, the monthly income dropped to $ 1.5k per month.

    There was a period of apathy, when it seemed to me that I needed to put up with defeat, and move on: do what I love, make new games and take the publisher’s choice more seriously next time. The total income from the game, based on data from the App Annie, is approximately $ 50k. This is not the same order of numbers that makes it worth going to court.

    But, at some point, the realization came that it was MY game, MY intellectual work, and MY time spent, and it’s worth fighting for.

    I want to achieve the following:

    1. For the publisher to remove the game from the stores and stop making money at my expense
    2. For the publisher to pay the rightfully owned income
    3. To convey to the public the consequences of my collaboration with the publisher

    To date, the action strategy developed by the lawyer is as follows:

    1. Send a claim letter to the publisher: we notify him that he is grossly violating the contract, and if he does not fulfill his obligations within a month, we will terminate the contract unilaterally
    2. If the publisher ignores the claim, terminate the contract and notify the publisher
    3. The contract is structured so that all disputes must be resolved in the United States by the California Court of Justice. In this case, we need the help of legal entities. a company from the United States, which can act on our behalf and negotiate with the publisher, and in a pinch, transfer the case to court.

    The first 2 points of the plan have already been implemented and did not bring any result. I don’t know if the game is worth the candle, I don’t know if I have enough money to conduct a trial in the USA. And even if the court obliges the publisher to pay me money - how he can influence the publisher from Malaysia - I also do not know.

    I am convinced of one thing: the worst thing that can happen is inaction. I hope that the article will attract the attention of developers like me. I think such an experience will be useful to everyone. Thanks for attention!

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