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Monday, January 12, 2004



First and formost, I must point out that I'm not even in the industry. I'm in college hoping I will be one day. And even then this type of info is something I wouldn't have to worry about for a while, if at all. That said;

Do rentals really cut into sales that much? I guess I never thought about it much, as I assumed that rentals cut into sales some, but also supplemented sales to some degree. And do developers not get much from the rental?

Scott Macmillan

This is great stuff, thanks Scott. I don't know anything about how rentals and console games are usually done - is it customary for it to be on the shelves at Blockbuster, etc., immediately?

Joost Schuur

This is great reading material for someone who expects to go into business with 3DRealms, but how realistic are these terms for a development house if they aren't Epic/id/Valve and a few other select powerhouse independent companies who can take their product to any publisher they chose?

In today's climate, if you have a great product, but no established reputation, is it realistic to get most or all of those points agreed upon by publishers?

Joe McGinn

Joost, I'm sure many points are unrealistic for developers ... but they are still valuable points to consider during contracting, because you should be able to get *some* of them.

And as, hopefully, your company improves in stature, you add as many as possible.

Ryan Hagan

I was an agent in the game industry in my former life. I represented smaller developers that wouldn't normally have gotten publishing deals by themselves, mostly because their games weren't that great. I specialized in the "casual" market. Many people also refer to my games as budget titles.

I certainly loved my job when I was doing this, but I'll NEVER forget when Scott published "The Ten Developer Commandments". This article made my life a living hell! All the sudden, my clients (who were mostly writing puzzle games) were demanding every single point in that article be matched on their contract. This was a HUGE fire to put out.

Thanks Scott!


Would be useful (and fun) to see excerpts from a highly biased contract with translation comments like "What this really means is that the publisher owns you, your company, your IP and your house - including the kitchen sink..." or "This says that if the publisher kills the project, you owe THEM money."

I've heard some of the old GT contracts were a bit like that; I wonder just how common contracts like that are today?


"Do rentals really cut into sales that much? I guess I never thought about it much, as I assumed that rentals cut into sales some, but also supplemented sales to some degree. And do developers not get much from the rental?"

I don't know about you but I rarely buy games that are shorter than 15-20 hours and have little or no replay value. There's just no point to it really, even if the game is really good. The only exceptions to this are games that I'm really looking forward to and can't wait for them to come in at the rental place. That said, the only games I don't ever see available for rent are online titles (like phantasy star online) and lesser known games (disgae, ikaragu, etc). I can see a benefit to renting out games that take a long time to beat but not the shorter ones. This is why it kind of surprises me that you recommend delaying rentals and so few companies do this. I had kind of assumed that the rental places couldn't be prevented from carrying them or some other strange logic since it makes so little sense for them to allow it.


This is why I pointed out that I'm a student. I don't know the business, I just know what I like.

If a game is short and has no replay value, it probably was a bit of a chore to sit through the first time. I'm sure there are some short games that are good only once through, but I usually look at games like a good book or movie. If I enjoyed it the first time, it's highly likely I'll enjoy it again.

I could very well be in the minority. I'm not trying to troll, in fact, this could be the thing I get to argue with people about. ;) There's no way in hell I'm buying a game I haven't either played through entirely, or at least played extensively. Just as I wouldn't buy a movie I hadn't seen.

Though I'll concede to buying books I haven't read. If I hear really great things from a pal I'll give it a chance. Being a big comic geek this bites into me at $20 chunks, but being a student, well, that's on hold.

Scott Miller

Guys (no gals here, right?), the rental issue is GIGANTIC. I'll have a full entry on this before the year is out, but the bottom-line is that games should not be available for rent at the same time they appear in retail. This is KILLING retail sales, especially for shorter games like Max Payne.

What if the movie industry released DVDs/videos for rent at Blockbuster on the same day the movies hit theaters? Box offices sales would plummet. But the movie industry uses its collective gray matter, and they smartly delay the release of rentals. The game industry needs to figure this out, otherwise were giving far too many sales away to the rental market, and that money doesn't come back to developers. The result is that more developers will fold, and less will be able to take risks with innovative titles.

Derek Smart

Against my better judgement....

Those are some excellent points that Scott makes and I adopt, I'd say 90% of them in all my contracts since my run-in with Take Two back in 1996.

But Joost makes a very good point. Unless you are one of the big boys, have a track record or don't need publisher funding, you probably won't get away with 50% of the points in Scott's document.

If anyone has heard about the farce* with Dreamcatcher, the publishers of my last game (released in March 2003) and my upcoming game (being released this month), I can safely say that no less than six of Scott's points were instrumental in my preventing them from shipping 30K duds into the retail channel this past December. Naturally, they're not very pleased about it. My thoughts? Screw 'em. I'd rather piss off a publisher who I DON'T need, than 30K gamers who I DO need.

HOWEVER, point #10 was not something I had thought about. If I had, I would not - right this minute - fighting with them over unreported sales, royalties and sub-licensing deals they did in Europe without (a) telling me about it (b) reporting it in ANY of the royalty reports. And how did I find out about these shenanigans? From the very gamers who buy my games. Once BCM Gold popped on Akella (Russia) and other licensee sites, then checking the Q1/03 and Q2/03 figures for the game, I knew something was up. So I started digging. The rest is history and I can't talk more about it without leaving myself open to a lawsuit for breach of an NDA (or similar nonsense). Unfortunately, I cannot terminate the contract due to a cure clause in it. Otherwise, coupled with the Universal Combat farce, I certainly would have, because I have no problems finding a publisher to distribute a 100% finished game based on a popular franchise.

But I got even in a recent contract amendment. Lets put it this way, you won't be seeing the sequel (which goes into development next month) to UC, nor the XBox title (been in development since June last year) out on the Dreamcatcher label. Ever.

Unscrupulous publishers just keep finding every frigging loophole in a contract in a concerted attempt to either (a) keep devs out of money and relying on them or (b) reducing their income stream for their hard work.

Yes Virginia, the biz side of the industry still sucks and its only getting worse. But once you find a good, honest publisher - one that is not run by the mob or wankers in monkey suits - you'll do OK. There is a damn good reason why indie devs move around so much, mass exodus of entire dev teams at publishers is rampant and just on the rise. Publishers are - FOR THE MOST PART - run by DISHONEST people whose sole intent is to cheat developers and piss on gamers, while making a buck the whole time.

* http://www.3000ad.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=26;t=000012


Scott - "What if the movie industry released DVDs/videos for rent at Blockbuster on the same day the movies hit theaters? Box offices sales would plummet. But the movie industry uses its collective gray matter, and they smartly delay the release of rentals."

But they do (these days) usually release DVDs / videos for sale simultaneously with the rental release, which is probably more relevant to the gaming industry. In fact, in the bad old days DVDs / videos were only available to purchase after an exclusive rental window! A movie's theatrical release is (if anything) more equivalent to an arcade release for a game.

Having said that, any comparison between the gaming and movie industries is generally not tremendously helpful. ;) Games tend to have a life cycle which goes retail / rental, bargain bin, mobile devices, landfill. Whereas movies have theatrical release, pay-to-view, rental, retail and TV. Not to mention the fact that a movie made 50+ years ago can be just as popular as a brand new one and sell for much the same price.

I think the other issue is that games these days are mostly quite expensive, often overly long, and don't get replayed very often. So whereas you might buy a movie you enjoyed after renting it, you're less likely to buy a game you rented if you've managed to complete it. Maybe the answer is shorter, cheaper, higher quality, more replayable games? That way the difference between purchase and rental cost won't be so great, and people will have more incentive to buy after renting if they enjoyed it.


what about smaller companies which dont have the ability to push around publishers quite as much, would you be able to rate these in an order of importance perhaps for a negotiation? which would you say are mostly a convenience? which are essential?

Brian Krueger

Scott, I'm curious about this bullet point:
o Penalties for leaks during development (e.g. penalty of 25k per leaked screenshot or demo, penalty 250k for leaked build).

How on Earth do you proove that the leak came from the publisher? It's quite easy for them to turn around and say "We think the leak came from the developer, and therefore this clause does not apply." How is this avoided/dealt with?

Jay Woodward

Well, the vast majority of console and PC games are not arcade ports, and therefore they don't have any analogue to a movie's theatrical release. Almost all games are effectively "direct-to-video". :)

Like Jeffool, I've always assumed that video stores didn't need publisher permission. After all, if they did need permission, it would seem obvious that publishers would wait at least several months before allowing the rental of new games.

So: DO rental stores actually have a legal obligation to obtain the publisher's permission before they offer a game for rent?

Derek Smart


"How on Earth do you proove that the leak came from the publisher? It's quite easy for them to turn around and say "We think the leak came from the developer, and therefore this clause does not apply." How is this avoided/dealt with?"

Thats easy. The dev can use a copy protection scheme or DRM to protect interim builds. In my case, when I send stuff to my publisher, it has a DRM signature and a specific serial number. If it leaks, I know where it came from. Same thing happens to press builds etc

In fact, this practice was instrumental in preventing my publisher from recently shipping an RC1 build of my game (they had to destroy all 30K copies) into the retail channel. Someone apparently forgot to tell the suits that my interim builds - any build that is not a GM candidate - has an expiring DRM, serial number and whatnot.

Most publishers won't let you do this but thats why you should (a) know who are signing with (b) own your IP so that your vested interest in what happens to it is communicated in a manner that they are fully aware that anything resembling pissing around with said property, is a no-no.

I don't have any penalities and such, and you'd be hard pressed to find a publisher who is going to sign any such deal - unless they *badly* have to have your game. But so far, apart from this recent fiasco, none of my games have ever leaked into the public.


I would think that publishers would agree on the whole wait-a-while-before-renting thing. If you think about it, rentals hurt game sales.. so why on earth would a publisher do something like this?

If your a developer that has something thats fresh, new and fun and most importantly hasn't been done before and should sell millions, I'm sure they'd agree to a mojority of the "rules". That is, provided you have some clause in the meeting with them that they're not allowed to copy any of the ideas seen which you show to them *signed*. Too much corporate bull and red tape for my liking.. whatever happened to honesty and simplicity? :)

Kathy Schoback

To Ben - it's not as interesting as some of the more egregious contracts of the past, but the IGDA Business Committee has put together a Contract Walkthrough project that explains variations on contract clauses and how they affect the developer. (See the URL.)

And Scott - can't wait to see the blog on rentals. I had seen internal publisher research that showed that the #1 impetus to buy is hands-on trial of the product. If you believe that, then rental is just an extension of the marketing effort.

Unless, of course, a) your game sucks and the word about it gets around before you can sucker enough people into buying it sight-unseen, or b) your game can be polished off in a rental weekend.

Looks like Max Payne suffers from the latter, along with many other games of reasonable scope(ie not 50 hours).

Kathy S.

Scott Miller

-- " I had seen internal publisher research that showed that the #1 impetus to buy is hands-on trial of the product. If you believe that, then rental is just an extension of the marketing effort."

Kathy, word-of-mouth (a.k.a. buzz) and hands-on trials are, unquestionably, the best marketing a game can have. Demos do a much better job than rentals at the hands-on part of this equation (getting into more gamers' hands), and without the risk of losing a sale (unless the game stinks).

Many game styles are only going to get shorter in the future so games that are 10 hours or less will be more common. This is because many game types, like shooters, require much longer to make a single level due to increasing detail, interactivity, and scripting. In Wolfenstein 3-D's day it took about two man-weeks to make a good level. With Doom it took about 4-6 man-weeks. With modern shooters it can take a man-year (usually split between several level designers/specialists). The trend will only grow longer, meaning that games will become shorter, but more content dense.

-- "DO rental stores actually have a legal obligation to obtain the publisher's permission before they offer a game for rent?"

Jay, the music industry has protection from rentals, so it must be possible. Perhaps the game industry needs to lobby for similar protection.

By coincidence, this same topic about rentals is undergoing a thorough thrashing in a popular member-only, dev-only forum, and the landslide opinion among developers is that rentals hurt game sales far more than they help. But, pubs seems to have a different view, which is mind boggling to me and other devs. I don't think they've analyzed this properly, and one day they'll realize their mistake.

You can bet that in future agreements for 3DR, we will fight hard for a delayed rental release. This is a relatively new contract point on my list, and so I've not had to negotiate it, yet.

Greg Findlay

Do publishers get the rights to electronic distribution as well as traditional retail channels? I'd imagine that they do but with things like Steam coming out it would be interesting to know if Valve (or others) negotiated to get the rights to electronic distribution. That would be a significant increase in profits per sale of each game. I'm sure Valve has a lot of power in their contract but that would be something I would look for when negotiating. Particularly if you find a publisher without the means or who are unwilling to provide the means for electronic distribution.

By electronic distribution I don't mean sale of a game online but downloading the game after purchase therefore not receiving a box.

This could also potentially be a way for developers to provide a game before it goes to retail shelves (and rental) by providing it online from the gold disc until the publisher has time to burn and distribute the copies to the public. Good luck negotiating that one though ;)

Daryl Pitts

These deal points are really excellent. I'll be adding some of these to my already very long list for my lawyer to weave into our development agreements. Since our game is an original concept and we're self-funded, many of the abovementioned points are going to be crucial for us. Thanks for the heads up.

Regarding rentals, there are great arguments for both sides of the equation, so what if we compromise:

- we generate 1-2 hour long demo versions of our games and release them 4-6 weeks before launch
- these demo rentals can be sold retail at Best Buy for $5 or rented from Blockbuster for $2
- retail versions cannot be made available for rental until at least 60-days after retail release

Does this sound fair? Does anyone foresee problems with this system? I've found that has worked great with me, but quite by accident:

A few months ago, I was in Best Buy and I noticed that they had Ubisoft's Prince of Persia and XIII PS2 demo disks for sale on the shelves (XIII was $0.01, and PoP was $4.99 -- don't ask me why, because they both had NOT FOR SALE labels on the back). I was anxiously awaiting both games so I bought both disks. PoP was a captivating 2 hours of fun, so of course I went out and bought the full version 4 weeks later when it finally came out. XIII just didn't do anything for me, so I never even finished the demo, and of course, never purchased the game.

I think consumers would be willing to risk $2-$5 on demos of the game.

(Deserved) sales would not be lost under such a system because the onus for a good quality product falls squarely on the shoulders of the developer.

(BTW, I think the GT4-Prologue demo disk is the best selling game in Japan this week.)

Mick Solomons

Regarding rentals - obviously the best thing for the customer is to download the demo off the net, see if its any good, then decide whether to purchase it or not. My guess is that publishers just prefer to make some money by selling units to video rental shops, rather than taking a chance and only selling the game at retail. As for marketing, I don't know many people who rent a game, then buy it. Most people just rent the game for one or two weeks, finish it, then return it. Seriously, how much money are dev's losing because of this?

btw thanks for all of your articles Scott, i have learned so much from them.


Actually, I figured that publishers can negotiate rentals. The movie companies do. That's why if you fail to return a movie you're charged just over $100 a copy for VHS. Those copies are 'rental copies', and the price is jacked up accordingly, I assume to help lighten the pain of lost sales. It's not just 'loss of possible income' on the part of the store; it's a replacement fee.

And like Scott said, you can't rent music at all, save DVDs of concerts.

Also, they place different trailers and ads at the beginning of the VHS tapes than they do the retail copies. Different, and often more. Of course with DVDs there's no difference (that I know of) so far as content. And the price I wouldn't be sure about either, but I still assume it's marked way up.

And if I'm not mistaken, most of the time new movies are available for rental before they're available for purchase. I could be mistaken, but I think there's some payment involved by the stores. Or possibly just the insane mark-up on rental copies. I don't know, on those points I'm just guessing.

(This is one of those things you learn from working in fast food (Subway) beside a movie rental place. Ahh, the good ole days, when I made sandwiches and borrowed free tapes from the Sanford and Son collection. ;) )

Personally I think, at the least, not offering rentals after a certain period is crazy. And possibly, like Daryl mentioned, cheap demos. I'd even say a few bucks for a few demos on one disc, much like those that come with magazines these days. Maybe even free, at a joint expense of both the publisher and store, both for the sake of marketing?


John Feil

Demos: Demos are great ideas for marketing, but are very painful for the development team if the management doesn't realize that creating a demo is, essentially, creating a completely separate game. Though much of the demo can be derived from the game itself, there are user interface issues, stability issues, installer issues, etc that require a lot of programmer hours. At the end of a development cycle, the last thing you want to do is suck a couple of your most valuable and experienced programmers off the main game to finish the demo, unless you've been explicitly planning for it the entire time.

Further, remember that you have to do this for all demos, especially your E3 demo. I've seen more projects get kicked off of schedule because the entire project ground to a halt while all the developers focused purely on hacking together and polishing the hell out of the E3 demo. And then, to make matters worse, this hacking creates unstable code that will bite you, for sure, in the final months of development and cause more delays.

Rentals: The secret here is not to make longer games, but games that are replayable to the extent that you want your own copy. Think about the library. They let people borrow books for *free*. Has it killed the book industry yet? No. How about your local Suncoast? Has Blockbuster driven them out of business? No. Why do bookstores and Suncoasts survive? Because people will always buy what they think they will use more than once. They'll gladly go to a library to borrow War and Peace or to a Blockbuster to rent the entire "24" series, which might take them more than the rental period to return, but they'll go and buy a book or movie that they feel they'll use more than once. A good example is the game console itself. You can rent a Playstation 2 at the same time you rent the game, but, because people realize they'll be using the console again and again, they buy it instead of renting it. Party games like DDR and Mario Party, arcade games like Tekken and non-story-based fps' like Unreal 2003 or Quake 3 will be bought because of their innate replayability. Games like XIII or Dark Cloud will only be bought by the hard core or the collector if given the choice between rental or purchase.

Scot Le May

Word of mouth has proven time and time again to be the best marketing tool for any game.

Rentals are a killer, GOOD demos are a winner.

While I agree with John in the terms of rentals perhaps making developers create better games, with a longer replay factor. This issue does not work with every style of game. Games that want and push story driven content will do alot worse than mindless button smashing adrenaline fun styled games. Whats worse is most games would have better replayability if it were not for most publishers.

So while to a certain extent one would assume a rental would make for a sale to a happy customer this is not always the case. The style of game has alot to do with it. not so much as if it is a killer title.

Scot Le May

Scott sorry for the back to back post:

You reach on a serious point about why games will become more in depth and at the same time smaller in length. Unless a developer has a serious hit title in its arsenal. The amount of money and much, much, more time needed soon to make a top end fps, will be truly on scope and scale with movie budgets. Perhaps even farther because of the nature of game design. I feel this factor, given most game publishers histories, will also drive alot of developers out of the market.

Back on point, I do think the game industry does need to lobby for some form of legislature on protection against early rentals. I also think that the whole publishing side of the industry really needs some congressional oversight =-p (but thats a whole other topic in itself)

Greg Findlay

I think it also depends on whether the hardware keeps evolving at the same rate. If it doesn't then the content will become more re-useable and speed up dev time, so the potential to make a longer game becomes a possibility.


"Rentals: The secret here is not to make longer games, but games that are replayable to the extent that you want your own copy."

From a design standpoint, that's the most sane thing I've heard in this thread thus far. If the primary enjoyment a player gets from your game is in seeing new content, then the game becomes a progress bar, ticking down until the player has exhausted all of the one-off surprises the developer had time to create, and moving on to play something new. The rental system is only dangerous to games that are content-driven in this manner. A game that is instead "process-driven" (a dichotomy that Greg Costikyan and Chris Crawford have proposed) can provide, if not infinite, significantly more interactive depth - which in sales terms means more value per dollar.

It is the unwillingness of developers (and the publishers who frequently decide what they do) to deviate from this paradigm that accounts for the current situation - and, some argue, the hit-driven nature of the game industry in general. Mixed up in this is the desire of many game developers to tell some sort of story with their games. A story is a linear, non-interactive device with a beginning, middle and end; a game on the other hand is nonlinear, interactive (duh) and need not have a definite conclusion. If a story is the central purpose in playing the game, the player is "finished" with the game once the story is over (once the content is exhausted). If the gameplay itself is the incentive to play, the enjoyment a player can derive from a game is limited only by the possible meaningful permutations of the game state (which is extremely large in games of even low complexity). Witness, the fact that I need never play through Max Payne again after I've "completed" it, I can play a more gameplay-driven but still level-based FPS like Doom2 at least a few times over and a game like Civilization yields an almost infinite amount of play (personal tastes notwithstanding).

The concept of process intensity doesn't fit very harmoniously at all with many modern game designs, however. As Scott points out level-based FPS and action games are taking longer and longer to create while at the same time getting shorter (taking less time to play through). Data-driven games have a lot to gain by riding Moore's Law - ever-better technology means ever-fancier content - and so it remains profitable to create data-driven games like this and sell them to the public as glitzy "interactive movies". Thus, mainstream games creep further up the "Time Needed to Create Content / Audience Expectation of Content" function curve. This is why the game industry of 2010 will probably be comprised of a small number of extremely large studios (probably wholly owned by an even smaller number of publishers) with enormous harems of programmers and artists churning out games that take two hours to play through and can be discarded after that.


Just a clarification from a publisher (now now, put the tar and feathers away!) - no, a game cannot be released through rental channels without permission. Price per unit is significantly higher than wholesale retail price.

Rounding out what most people here seem to have realised, a smart publisher does not release a title to rental that has no replay value. However, as devils advocate I have to point out that it IS a good channel for titles that are appealing to the rental demographic, that have little to no real buzz, or that have really bad press.

As a final point, consider it's impact on the non-gamer - Jane Blogs might never buy a video game, but while waiting in line to pick up a film might spot the Sims, Animal Crossing, or a game based on her favorite movie. That isn't money being "stolen" from the industry - it's a new customer being recruited. For any industry to grow, it must attract new fans, and this is a valid growth channel.


Sorry for the double post, but on two points:

o We must have credit/logo on packaging, at least equal to the publisher's logo size and placement

On console titles, this is actually a Sony/Microsoft/GameCube requirement, so no real need to stress it. :)

o COGs must be precisely defined and capped -- never leave this open-ended.

This is highly unrealistic, specifically with console titles. Just one example would be disk manufacture - for each "run" made there is an initial payment followed by a cost per disk royalty. Two runs of 100,00 cost more than one run of 200,000 in other words. This number cannot be taken into account at the time of contract negotiation, and that's just one of many.


JP - "If a story is the central purpose in playing the game, the player is "finished" with the game once the story is over"

Of course, you do get games which offer a mix of gameplay and story as the player's incentive. In most good western style role-playing games, for example, you can have fun playing through again using a different type of character, even though you already know how the story turns out. Games which offer multiple solutions to problems / quests make this more worthwhile, even if the story behind those tasks is largely linear. You can have as much (if not more) fun getting from A to B to C in different ways as being able to go via D instead of B and end up at E.

Of course, the real holy grail is a game which generates most of its story itself out of a set of basic rules, the AI, the ecology etc. This would be particularly useful for massively multiplayer games, where you need to generate enough interesting content for thousands of players. Your average random quest generator just doesn't cut it, and you would need a huge team to add enough real quests to keep everyone busy without just making every quest infinitely repeatable.

After all, wouldn't it be more interesting if you're talking to someone you met in the virtual pub about slaying a dragon that was harassing the people of a nearby village, and he couldn't turn around and say "oh yeah, I did that quest too - here's the Helmet of Phat L00t he dropped", "oh, I got that too". Yawn.


That's quite true. I should clarify by saying that I have nothing against story in games (that would rule out an awful lot of excellent games!), but that a designer's desire to tell a story often turns into an excuse to make a 100% content-driven (and thus sort of disposable, finitely interactive, finitely *enjoyable*) game. If your primary focus is on game mechanics the end product is less likely to have that problem.

And yes, algorithm-based goal / world generation is a huge unexplored field. Of course, most current generated structures (goals, worlds, other content) aren't nearly as varied and exciting as something a developer creates "by hand". To that I would respond by suggesting that said designer spend an equal amount of time (possibly with the help of a programmer) creating an algorithm that generates something as interesting as what they would otherwise create. If more brain power had been devoted to that problem we would be decades ahead of where we are now in just about every facet of game design.

Scot Le May

While I agree that algorithm-based questing / content generation for RPG's and other data driven games would be excellent. I think that there will always be a need for world designers. Even if they are just creating static blocks by the hundreds that can be used in an algorithm to redesign the world on the fly. When dealing with topographical height maps to create terrain this is a different story. The reality is though that terrain generators based on algorithms are useful but inferior compared to 'hand done'. So while the data side of most rpg's(or other data driven games) is feasible with 'on the fly' content generation. The story stays the same on making the actual mesh's. In the future it will only get worse, as the polycounts increase.

This is sort of the same as the debate between procedurals and materials in the texture department. To be realistic in order for an algorithm for true world generation to be created, you will still need the 2d/3d artists to create the foundations. The only way this is currently sucessful is the 'lego block' style. Which tends to look very repattive. Where as in the future, and even now to some extent, focused and hand created world design, is far more immersive. For instance, in an rpg like Morrowind, true hand crafted terrain would have allowed for alot more unique experiances to make the travelers path more entertaining. As running half way across the world can be quite boring. Ultima:IX really shined in this area. As the explorer was rewarded by hand placed items in the oddest of places.

While I may be jaded as world design is my specific area(heh), I do not think in the near future that the lego method will replace hand design worlds. All though in certain styles of games the lego method works remarkably well(Diablo II). In the FPS area at least I do not see autogenerated maps replacing hand design. I do agree that data driven side can make use of the auto generated algorithms though.


I'm not suggesting in the slightest that process-driven games will make world builders obsolete (I'm an artist and level designer myself), but I think they will play a different role than they might in the development of data-driven games - one of "teaching" the game's systems how to generate a better, more adaptive environment for play. The weakness of pre-made content is that it is necessarily less responsive to a player's interactions - but on some level every piece of content has to be pre-made. A good illustration of this in current game development is how artists create meshes for barrels, beams and other environment objects that will be designated "dynamic" and behave according to physics simulation. The artist in this case still makes something, but the appearance and behavior of the content (a mesh that would normally be static, a pretty thing you can look at and nothing more) is driven by an intelligent system - another human creation - and the result can be many things, only some of which the artist anticipated. That's what I'm getting at - process-driven games are about creating systems rather than cramming content into a box.

Another example, one that might be years (if not decades) down the road, is the current role character animators have in game development. Right now, animators are responsible for pre-programming a character's animations, generally by creating motions in a 3D package (or cleaning up motion capture data) and then importing those motions into the game's engine, where they play back (hopefully!) in real-time. The obvious limitation is that no character in the game will ever be able to do something the animator didn't anticipate. However, in a theoretical, more process-driven system, the animator would collaborate with a programmer (code is the language of systems, after all) or use a tool to "teach" that character how to walk. The character however would be driven by a higher order logic that tells it how to piece together the various motions it's been taught, and reconcile that with the conditions that surround it. There's already plenty of AI driving most game characters today, but that AI usually only calls upon certain animations to play - it can't actually think out how to walk, how to run after its leg has been damaged, how to stop drop n' roll if it's on fire (unless the animators and AI programmers intended that behavior). Animators are still just as crucial to development in this case, their role simply involves less direct influence and more high-level reasoning.

Again, it's a bit far-fetched, but once developers work out how to do these things (IF they do, which they won't so long as conventional data-driven games are profitable) it will lead to a level of emergence, freedom and interactive depth that will make games of our era seem like "television with a hand crank".

Scott Miller

-- "This is highly unrealistic, specifically with console titles."

DM, you are right that it cannot be exactly defined, but it CAN be capped, which is how we always handle it. A cap around $2.50 is what we shoot for on PC titles.

As for process-driven vs. data-driven games, not all games can be process-driven. How would Max Payne or Half-Life work as a process-driven game? Both game types have their purpose and place. So, the solution can't be to make all games process-driven. Story-driven games, in particular, tend to be content rich. These games are likely to trend shorter in length, and therefore most likely to be eaten alive in the rental market.


There *are* greater and lesser degrees of process-and-data driven-ness, of course. There are plenty of games that are still highly story driven that manage to give lots of allowance for player choice - a designer-created structure that the player still has some freedom to navigate. PC RPGs like Fallout and Deus Ex are a good example of this: data-drivenness with a smattering of process to make the interaction less trivial. These are superior pieces of interactive design because they offer the player more meaningful, interesting choices - instead of the non-choice most modern action games offer... to go forward and see more designer-created set pieces, or to not and do nothing.

"Both game types have their purpose and place."

They certainly do, but only strongly process-driven games truly take advantage of the strengths of the medium. Movies are still better at delivering the "action-packed thrill ride" experience than games, and that's still where most people (read: not the still quite insular, self-sustaining videogame crowd) go for such an experience.

It seems like a better long term (VERY long term perhaps) strategy to come up with ways to truly differentiate one's product from offerings in other media instead of developing more efficient ways of producing "Stupid Action Movie: The Game!". Of course, it's made millions for some people so far, but then foresight is probably not a quality synonymous with the game industry.

John Baez

Concerning rentals degrading the market for games:
Here is some of our recent data we collected from approx. 65,000 fans who took our poll over the holidays. Along with specific questions about our game, we also did some demographic polling.

Do you rent or buy console video games?

Buy 22,203 34.31%
Rent 4,870 7.53%
Both 37,645 58.17%

You can take a look the full poll here:


These numbers generally reflect what we discovered when we interviewed hundreds of parents, older teens and core gamers at Comic Con 2003. The bottom line in the personal interviews at Comic Con was that if the player felt that there was a reason to keep the title they'd buy it, otherwise they'd rent. That reason tended to be either familiarity with the IP, trust in the developer, hands on experience, so something they want to collect. Lesson? Make original IP which has a value beyond the game itself and make sure you have a fan base waiting for the game to be released the day it hits the shelves.

Additionally, we found that many gamers these days don't finish the games which they purchase or rent. This kind of contradicts what Kathy was saying about the 50 minimum hours of playtime. They play them for a good number of hours then move on to some other thing. (And that some other thing doesn't necessarily mean games anymore.)

As the game industry matures I'd agree that there will be fewer and fewer titles by ever larger publishers created by in house development teams. At that point, how many consumers will buy a $50.00 with 10 hours of gameplay consisting of a small environment modeled down the level of dust and scratches?


"As for process-driven vs. data-driven games, not all games can be process-driven. How would Max Payne or Half-Life work as a process-driven game? Both game types have their purpose and place. So, the solution can't be to make all games process-driven. Story-driven games, in particular, tend to be content rich. These games are likely to trend shorter in length, and therefore most likely to be eaten alive in the rental market."

As JP pointed out, you can have a mix of process and content driven styles. Deus Ex's story is fairly linear, but there are multiple ways to solve tasks along the way. This increases replay value and gives players more freedom to complete the game the way they want to.

About as far as Max Payne went in that regard was deciding whether to use an Uzi, twin berettas or a hand grenade to clear the room. ;) It was an incredibly linear experience, not just in terms of the story but also the level design. The console ports were even worse, because they cut the levels up into smaller parts and didn't allow you to backtrack. I don't think this style of game is necessarily an evolutionary dead-end, and such games can be a lot of fun (first time through, at least), but there are certainly more interesting things you can do with game design.

I also agree with John Baez that longer isn't always better. Most of us don't have time to play all the way through a 50 hour epic, and most developers can't make a content-driven 50 hour epic that has enough in it to keep things interesting all the way through anyway. I think there's a general realisation amongst developers that a lot of gamers don't finish their games, which is partly why so much polish goes into the first few hours of the game. So why make them so long in the first place?

Take Halo, for example. Great game, but with a lousy middle act made up of cut and paste levels, huge amounts of pointless backtracking and hordes of brainless zombies. I for one would have enjoyed the game a lot more if it had been two or three hours shorter. But oh no, someone says they have to make it ten or twenty or however many hours long, so in goes the second rate filler content to pad it out. :-/

Unfortunately some hardcore gamers (certainly in the RPG community) seem to turn up their noses at anything less than 50 hours long. Luckily those people are a very small (if very vocal) minority, so we can probably afford to ignore them. ;)

Scott Miller

John, thanks for posting your poll numbers there -- they do indeed reveal the scary truth, that a total of 65% of players rent, and I think that number is on the rise.

I agree with Kathy that for weak games, might as well let them go to the rental market right away, as they're not gonna sell anyway.

But for the stronger games with solid sales potential, the rental avenues should be delayed for at least several months. Smart publishers will look at the rental release as a secondary marketing boost (with new ads), right when retail sales are starting to slip.

Any smart publishers out there?

Greg Findlay

I'm not set in stone on this but I think dynamic levels in a story driven game are over rated. Just because a level will be different next time doesn't make me want to play it again. Unless there is a different reward for completing a level a different way, there is no purpose. Given the choice between a level being different and there being a fork in the road, I'd take the fork in the road.

Why not have both you ask? If I were to replay a game to get to a fork in the road I'd want to get to that fork as quickly as possible. Already knowing where to go would make it faster.

Ben Sawyer

I've looked at this issue a bit too and the rental issue is very big. I never realized how big it was til I looked at the rental numbers for many hardcore gamers for some research I did. It was pretty amazing.

I think the bigger issue though is one of publishers building the rental business into one that is uniquely profitable vs. potentially (or actually) cannabilistic. This definitely includes rental revenues shared with developers. From what I understand rentals generate royalties to the studios - not just sales of the rental tapes themselves (although certain backlists may just have a direct buyout) and this is money shared with creators depending on whatever profit sharing they may have in their contracts.

This is money developers should definitely share much like you would a license or sub-license of the game which I would think means a much higher royalty rate since some COGs is much lower.

If a developer can get a pub to contractually agree to avoid a rental market for X months I can't see how that hurts them too much especially at a stage where it seems publishers at least circumstantially may be mismanaging the market. However, I would say the larger issue is for the industry as a whole to improve the rental market overall, and systematically approach in ways that maximize revenue.

I almost wonder MORE about used game sales. If you analyze the used game market right now it seems to also be growing exceedingly fast and the margins for the retailers are really good making the incentive for them to do it very high.

I see no evidence used games sales result in a royalty for the publisher or the retailer yet it seems there is little to no grumbling publicly right now on this. If you want to talk about something also cannebelizing sales look at that as well. Consider also the case of a used game being sold to fund the purchase of another used game. First you're adding to the inventory of a used game meaning someone else can come along and buy it used, and you're then taking the money and buying another used title which doesn't result in any revenue back through the food-chain.

I for the life of me can't understand why between used games and rentals the industry seems to be acting somewhat oblivious. I don't think this will continue unabated.

Scott Miller

Ben, there IS talk of used games hurting new game sales in other forums, but there doesn't seem to be anything that can be done about this. It's definitely hurting devs and pubs, but the selling of used games is fair capitalism at work. We (devs & pubs) DO have control over the way rental games are handled, so that's where we need to take action. Fast.

Kathy Schoback

Just sat in a meeting yesterday with a repescted industry researcher whose research has validated the magic threshhold for rentals:

Dull game = rental kills sales (no play-hour threshhold)

Under 15 hours of gameplay + high replay value = could go either way, depends on marketing push

Over 15 hours of gameplay + high replay value = rental demonstrably feeds sales; lack of rental (or other sampling opp'y such as a demo) is blown marketing

As for rentals' attraction for publishers, it's twofold:

1) Usually it's a straight sale to the rental chain at the same wholesale as for trad'l retailers. However, since those units never get returned or marked down, the publisher makes more money as the reserves against markdowns are effectively zero.

2) Some rental chains have revenue-share programs for the hottest titles. However, the publisher must "subscribe" to those using co-op at a higher price than a straight sale, so the back-end revshare has to be worth the up-front investment for a publisher. So it rarely happens.

John Baez's poll numbers were great but Scott, I think you're coming to a blanket conclusion based on them. "No console rentals" as a deal point cuts both sides off from a potentially useful tool. "Console rental policy to be mutually agreed" makes a lot more sense and gives you the leverage to participate in any financial benefit rental would bring the publisher.

John Baez

Another interesting development revealed by our polling and interviews is that it seems the hard core gamer segment of the industry is shrinking while at the same time the casual gamer segment is increasing in size. Part of this can be attributed to hard core gamers who as they get older they tend to play less and less until they are effectively in the casual gamer segment. (You know the drill, wife, kids, real work...)

With the success of GTA, publishers seem to be pushing more mature content which is leaving a content gap for younger kids who might otherwise become hardcore gamers. And without hard core gamers in the future, publishers won't be able to charge $50.00 per title.

Here's the link about the used game sales thread Scott spoke of. I thought is was a very interesting read.


Back to the main topic of contract points: Does anyone have any tips on merchandizing contract points? We are looking at this as a strong revenue stream for our game and don't want to shut out of this by ignorance of the issues. (Yes, we've read the IGDA white paper on this!)

Scott, thanks for starting this site. The signal to noise ratio is great and it is a great resource for those not "in the system" enough to be invited to the developer only forums you speak of.


Ben - "I for the life of me can't understand why between used games and rentals the industry seems to be acting somewhat oblivious"

It does seem a bit odd. After all, you don't generally find big CD / DVD chains like HMV, Virgin Megastore or the US equivalents selling second hand records and movies and offering cash or part exchange trade ins. They leave that to specialist second hand stores that often focus on obscure, deleted or collectible records. But a lot of the big videogame chains will let you buy a game, play it, and then trade it in for maybe half the price you paid for it just a few weeks later.

Again, maybe if the cost of a new game was lower and it offered plenty of replay value there would be less incentive to trade it in when you've played it, or to buy it second hand instead of getting a brand new copy.


I've thought about this for a couple of days and figured I'd post what I came up with for any late-night trollers before Scott makes a new post.

Delaying rentals until a month to maximize developer profits? That's not unreasonable, though piracy will grow some. But barring some games from being rented at all? Are games enough of a cultural staple in our cluttered society to finally stand on their own? I'd hope so, but I don't know the business side of the industry.

Sure, you can't rent music, but when albums were initially being sold their only competition were books. Completely different works of art. Games now have to compete with books, music, movies, and every other mass-marketed object in the world.

I don't think that the way to go is to avoid the rental market, but to either merely get a better grasp of it, or for the industry to create its' own rental service. The first obviously being the publishers handling rental business better, the second something along the lines of Valve's Steam. The second might become possible on consoles as more homes get broadband, the 'Phantom' claims that it's going to do this. (Hey, I'm just quoting them, is all.)

Related, but somewhat different, shorter content-heavy games, I feel, can be compared more to TV shows in the minds of the average consumer. You see the show once, and you forget about it. But more and more, people have been willing to dish out major cash for box sets of DVDs or VHSs of their favorite shows. Maybe this is something that developers can use.

Produce a set of tools costing $A (to create the technology and tool set to be used), figure in $B (small team to constantly tweak and work on it through-out the life of the project), and make a series of content-heavy games around an IP, costing $C each (designers and artists to create the content). Then sell the games for $20-$30 each. This would be even cheaper if used in the instance of, say, an in-house engine.

For example, while nearing the end of work on Duke Forever, get a team to start work on an alternate series using DNF's tech. With that you can already write-off $A. As development goes on and more content is gathered, $C would would probably go down. Then release a trilogy of games, month after month, for $30. Possibly a collectors edition for $90 if they do well. (I hear GTA's Double Pack did well.)

And, wow, this went on longer (and into more of a tangent) than I thought it would.

In short, I'm a college student. If I can't rent, I can't afford to play. ;)

Scott Miller

-- "In short, I'm a college student. If I can't rent, I can't afford to play. ;)"

But, if I had my way, you'd still be able to rent any game, just a few months later is all.

And I agree with Kathy that this doesn't apply to all games, and certain games can go to rental sooner than others. However, right now publishers do not seem to discriminate in any way, so all games appear in rental stores on day one of their release. That's bad, especially for games that [1] lack re-playability, [2] are short, [3] or lack multiplayer.


If I may just take this in another direction; What's your view on piracy, Scott?

Do Pubs (and devs?) lose billions each year to piracy like they claim too?

Do you view it as all bad? Some people do buy the games they like after giving it a test drive and seeing that demos are becoming less and less common this trend may continue.

But will even 10% of these 'test drivers' go and buy the game if they like it?

Demos need to stay and they need to do their job well otherwise piracy = up.

Scott Miller

I believe piracy greatly cuts into the revenues the game industry should be making. My guess is that piracy can cut the sales of hit PC games in half. On consoles, I don't have a clue, but I can't see that it could be higher than 10%. Maybe someone from a console-focused studio can give an opinion.

As I learned from when I started selling shareware games, people -- even honest people -- rarely buy what they can get for free when it comes to software, which doesn't seem like stealing to most people as it's just non-tangible bits and bytes being downloaded. Only when I held back two-thirds of my games from my shareware releases did people start paying for what they could not get for free. (As soon as I started doing this, my monthly revenues shot from around $100 to $5000+, back in the late 80's.)

BTW, I'm 100% for demos. There is no better way to sell a game.


Someone above talked about the hardcore gamer market disappearing. It's not disappearing in the general sense. They're just migrating to piracy.

"My guess is that piracy can cut the sales of hit PC games in half" - Scott Miller.


I, also, doubt that piracy is too high on the consoles (in the US, anyway.) But no doubt it's on the rise. Obviusly user-piracy started with the Playstation and Dreamcast using CDs. This immediately lessened with the new consoles using DVDs, but it still goes on to some extent.

It's true that the hardcore gamers do often pirate many games and either a)don't buy any, or b)buy only those they love enough to 'support'. I don't think this is much of a problem; I could be wrong.

Y'know, thinking on what I suggested with the reusing of tech and all, this is essentially what you guys did with Build, isn't it? And here I thought I was doing something original. Heh.

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