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"People and technology" key to publisher deals

Plus developer pitch costs now run to $250,000, says exec panel

While many independent developers have expressed their concern that commissions from publishers have dried up in the past year - thanks to the contracting recession and greater caution about new IP - a panel of publishing executives has identified the people on a team and the technology it uses as two of the crucial elements taken into account when looking at a pitch.

During a panel discussion at the Game Business Law summit hosted by SMU, senior representatives from Activision Blizzard, Digital Development Management, Foundation 9, and Namco Bandai Games America also revealed that the cost to developers of seeing a pitch through can now run to as much as $250,000.

Activision's Bob Loya revealed that his first question when looking at any project was always: "Who in the company is going to make this game?" adding that whenever he reviews a team, he wants detailed biographies and a history of the company.

"People are what's important," he said. "People and technology," and Foundation 9's Chris Charla agreed: "It really is person and team based," he explained, going on to say that some publishers will make specific requests on which team they get when signing with a developer.

Meanwhile DDM's Joe Minton had a slightly different take on the matter, and stated that in his view the question should really be: "How many games has that team shipped together?"

He added that while no one asks that, he does believe that the chemistry and working history are important. "That's the key," he said, underlining the importance of the visionary when looking to recapture the magic of a previous game.

"And you want to make sure they're only working on your game," Loya chipped in, pointing out that once you find the right team and the right leaders, you need them focused on a single project.

The panel also discussed the green-light process, with the Activision man stressing the importance of quality and saying that more than one approval along the way acts as a series of gates: "You have to be able to kill a game," he added.

There was also talk of the change in the length of time that deals are taking to get signed off, and the spiralling costs to developers of the entire pitch process.

"Three month deals are taking six, six month deals are taking nine, nine month deals..." said Minton, while Namco Bandai's Zack Karlsson added: "Pitches now are costing developers between $100,000 and 250,000 of their own money."

He went on to explain that in the current climate it's become increasingly important for a publisher to understand how a developer is funded, and to have confidence in its ability to survive the process.

"I know we won't sign a deal unless you show us your books," he revealed, echoing comments made to late last year by Capcom's Christian Svensson.

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