The poison that’s killing game development

Oddworld Inhabitants co-founder Lorne Lanning has spoken out quite strongly against the big gaming publisher model of doing business, saying it was the main reason he, and his studio, decided to pack it up in 2008.

Speaking in an interview with Metro (definitely worth reading through the full thing), Lanning explained that Oddworld Inhabitants closed up shop after becoming disillusioned with big-name publishers making money off the backs of developers who never saw reward for their toils.

He noted that, while his games set in the Oddworld universe sold over 5 million units, he never saw a single royalty cheque from the publishers.

“We’d had enough of the terms. We’d had enough of what was happening. And what was happening was quite simply if you wanted to build big expensive games, and you were getting them funded by a publisher, you were basically giving up your company,” Lanning said.

Without naming and shaming, Lanning said it is “common practice” for big publishers to force developers into debt so they could acquire the studios or IPs at a cheap price.

“When we created [Oddworld] we didn’t create the company to sell the company… but you would basically have these deals where if you wanted to sign a $15 million development deal, you were simultaneously signing an acquisition deal. If you had success they would be able to buy you…and they would leverage the power of that money.”

After battling against the publisher of the Oddworld games over the royalties, Lanning managed to get his intellectual property back comepletely, and subsequently exited the game development industry.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to build games, I just didn’t want to be a slave. I don’t want to be a slave to these guys who are making tons of money while the developers are not,” Lanning said.

Indie the way to go

According to Lanning – who is weeks away from releasing the completely revamped New ‘n Tasty: Abe’s Oddysee on 23 July 2014 – Oddworld’s comeback to gaming sees the developer position itself as somewhat of a “triple-A” or mid-tier indie, embracing the benefits that self-publishing and digital distribution brings.

What benefits? Well, for one, Oddworld doesn’t have to sell millions of copies to make up for a multi-million dollar marketing budget, Lanning said.

The other plus is that money earned is effectively the studio’s to do with what it likes in terms of picking the projects it chases, without stakeolders breathing down their neck.

According to Lanning, if the Abe’s Oddysee remake sells 250,000 copies (conservatively), the developer would be able to move onto giving its sequel, Abe’s Exodus, the same treatment. By shifting over 500,000 copies, it could start working on new IP.

Lorne Lanning

Lorne Lanning

“The big publishers are businesses that have investors…our plan is not to grow to 200 people and destroy some publisher and take their marketshare. Our plan is to build a great product that we enjoy building, be able to expose that to people that enjoy it, that feel it’s worth the value.”

“As a designer, an artist, as a creative, sure, I’d like to build really big, great, adventurous stuff. But, the terms are so unappealing that it’s just not worth it. You know? It’s just not worth it,” he said.

“I’ve worked too hard in my life to just make other people rich and drive a team into the ground.”

Do you think big publishers make it tough for game developers? Or is this just one man’s account? Let us know what you think on the forum or in the comments below.

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The poison that’s killing game development

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