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GAME DOCUMENTATION AND TRADE SHOW DEMOS

IGDA Business Committee – Contract Walkthrough

Game Documentation and Trade Show Demos
(rev. 0.1 – 12/25/02)
by Thomas H. Buscaglia, Esquire

Introduction

Game Documentation and Trade Show Demos are often not given serious consideration in, or omitted from, developer contracts. Though their impact is often overlooked, the failure to consider these elements when negotiating a developer/publisher contract can result in alienated end users and delay in the timely delivery of milestones and advances throughout the term of the development agreement.

Sample Clause

Game Documentation and Trade Show Demos, if present in the contract, are usually included in the Deliverables portion of the contract and may also have specific references similar to the following:

Game Documentation

“The Developer will provide content for the end-user documentation including an instructional manual, quick reference card, and any other documentation related to the gameplay and back-story.”

Trade Show Demos

“The Developer will provide Demo versions of the game for trade shows such as E3, ECTS, SCoRE sufficient to demonstrate the then current playability and functionality of the game in a positive manner. Developer will also, at (Publisher's or Developer's) expense, provide sufficient personnel in attendance to operate and maintain the Demo and to participate in media contact for interviews and other promotional events.”

Discussion

Game Documentation and Trade Show Demos are deliverables that are well outside the core business of the developer, making their game. But these elements are essential to the successful sale of the game. Contracts that overlook these elements can result in significant problems when the need for these deliverables arises, especially for small teams on a tight budget.

Game Documentation

Game Documentation is the written material included with the game media. The background story for the game and world it occurs in, as well as the “how to play” user interface instructions, are included here. Obviously, the end users need to have the user interface and play elements explained. Who the characters in the game are and what the game story is about are also often essential to understanding the gameplay. So too is a narrative background for the world the game occurs in. Often much of this material is contained in the Project document (“Game Bible”) delivered to the Publisher at the commencement of the relationship. The problem here is that often the Game Bible descriptions do not provide sufficient information to give the end user what they have come to expect - a compelling story about the game and its world.

Developers are usually adequate at explaining how to play their games. However, development teams may not include gifted copywriters able to compose a well-written description of the game world, let alone provide a compelling narrative. Also, too often these matters are left until the last phase of the development cycle. When crunch time hits, the last thing the developer needs is to take a member of the development team off of debugging or the completion of that last game element in order to draft the manual and other game documents. Cut and paste from the design document and a superficial back-story often results. Unfortunately, poor work here can seriously effect the end users initial impression of the game. And often, that first impression of the game may make or break the games ability to succeed in a crowded competitive marketplace.

Make certain that as a developer you understand the scope of your responsibilities concerning game documentation and pay the same through attention to it that you do to all the other aspects of your game. If necessary, out-source the documentation to a professional copywriter. Just be sure that the documentation provided with your game enhances, rather than hinders, your game's chance of success.

Trade Show Demos

Trade Show Demos are required to preview your game to the press and retailers. The press helps create the necessary ‘buzz” to drive initial sales. Previews by retailers establish the initial orders for your game. So, these demos are as important to the developer as they are to the publisher. The Trade Shows also provide an opportunity for the developer's spokespeople to provide interviews with on line and printed media to help promote the game prior to its release.

Trade Show Demos are not the demos that are included on Game magazine CDs. They are often not even fully functional. In early stages a Demo may be comprised only of a few key elements presented at the show by a development team member. At later stages of Development the Show Demos may be a fully functional "hands on" demo that can be played by those previewing the game. In either case, these Show Demos present a huge opportunity to promote the game. But they also require a substantial diversion from the straightforward completion of the game. It is the diversion from the game development that must be taken into account when determining the impact these Show Demos will have on the schedule of milestone deliverables and the cost of development.

It is not uncommon for a publisher to expect the developer to provide several key development team members to accompany the demo. The problem here is that the week or two that it takes to polish the Show Demo and the 4-5 days at the show can cut deeply into the resources available to the development of the game itself. Sure taking a few days off to go to E3 or ECTS sounds like fun. But, in reality, it just means a lot more work for the core members of the development team. It distracts from completing milestones on schedule and, if not properly taken into account when setting the timetable for deliverables in the development contract, can easily throw the development of the game over a month behind schedule. The result, not only can the publisher become upset because the deliverables are late, necessary advances are also delayed resulting in unexpected financial stress on the developer. So, the time necessary to meet these additional requirements, and what that time means in terms of your budget, should be taken into account when estimating completion time for key milestone deliverables and the contract value.

Conclusion

Make sure that as a developer you understand your obligations regarding both the Game Documentation and Trade Show Demos before you sign your development agreement with the publisher. If a publisher presents a developer with a contract that fails to take into account either the Game Documentation or the Trade Show Demos, as some do, it is up to the developer to raise these issues and make sure that they addressed in a realistic manner in the contract. If not, the impact of these two items will result in unforeseen issues when the time or ability to negotiate them has passed.

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