Buying Old Games: Where Your Money Goes

Raaaaaaaage indeed, Mr Horny

Edit: cos there are various theories flying around below about my perceived intent in posting this, I shall clarify my own feelings. I would really like to see contracts between publishers and developers more commonly include an arrangement whereby key (and ideally, but rather less plausibly, all) creatives on game projects continue to see some post-release royalties, as is the case in some other entertainment and publishing industries. That so many old games are being (apparently profitably) rereleased lately highlights this disparity. That is all.

There’s obviously a very good chance you already know this, but just in case: when a developer is bought out by a publisher, it’s usually the case that they then don’t see any ongoing royalties from the games they make for them, or indeed for any existing intellectual property that was swallowed up as part of the studio acquisition. It’s standard practice, knowingly agreed by both parties during the dark deal some studios made to ensure immediate financial viability and larger project budgets. But what it does mean is that a great many of the PC games we regularly celebrate around these parts are no longer bringing in any money for their creators, despite still being on sale. Whenever we excitedly see an old classic appear on Steam or GoG (such as Thief last week), chances are very high that whatever we pay for it goes purely to the publisher and the download service. And while it may well be right that these bodies profit from projects they funded and distribute, it’s sad that the men and women who toiled over that game’s creation won’t see another penny from it.

Veteran developer Simon Roth – now working with Frozen Synapse creators Mode 7 – has compiled a partial list of some of the games for which this is true. I have selected just a few of the most renowned, including Deus Ex, System Shock, Vampire Bloodlines, Dungeon Keeper et al, but there are many more listed on his site, and many, many more yet to be compiled.

Yes, it’s part of the agreement made at the time, and many of the studios behind these classics – including Ion Storm, Troika, Looking Glass, Bullfrog and Westwood – are now defunct, and so royalties pass to the rights holder rather than the individual creators, wherever they landed up. It is a sad fact of business life, and to cry foul is almost shouting at the wind. But as it becomes easier and easier to legally purchase copies of these groundbreaking, vital games, it becomes sadder and sadder that the financial appreciation we show for them does not reach their original creators.

It’s also a lesson as to why devs might want to, if possible, remain independent: even if their new owners don’t close them down when times are less rosy, they just won’t see the long-term royalties an independent operator would. Of course, being independent often isn’t possible, at least not if you want to work on large projects. Publishers’ funding enables that, and thus to some extent the success and acclaim that can result.

Ion Storm:

Deus Ex
Deus Ex: Invisible War
Thief: Deadly Shadows

Looking Glass Studios:

Thief: The Dark Project
Thief II: The Metal Age
System Shock
System Shock 2

Troika Games:

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Temple of Elemental Evil
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.


Populous series
Syndicate series
Magic Carpet
Theme Park/Hospital series
Dungeon Keeper series
Theme Hospital

Core Design:

Tomb Raider series

FASA Studio

MechCommander 1/2
MechWarrior 4

And ever so many more, big and small, profitable and unprofitable, acclaimed and despised.

Of course, those games’ new rights holders – i.e. their publishers – do get a big old slice of any payment you offer. It doesn’t just vanish into the digital distribution ether. EA, 2K, Square-Enix, Microsoft: perhaps they’re not the guys you ideally want to be sending your love down the well to, but abstractly, there is a theoretical chance that mass purchases of these good old games might eventually encourage greenlighting of projects in a similar vein, or better support and even updates for these old titles. So it’s a double-edged sword, of a sort.

Proud games and their proud creators, I salute you. I am just sorry that I cannot salute you with money, at least not directly.


  1. mouton says:

    At least there are the numbers – “look, mr CEO, that old game still sells quite well, perhaps you shouldn’t discard our new, similar project so easily just because it has no regenerating health and a brown palette”

    • Belsameth says:


      The dev’s chose to sell their rights, mostly. Might not have been the best choice in hindsight, but that’s hindsight for you…

    • Alec Meer says:

      Yes, as I say in the post. Odd that so many comments suggest otherwise. Were I more a cynical man, I’d wonder if people were only reading the headline before posting.

    • Unaco says:


      You do say that in the Post… But Simon’s page doesn’t make any mention of it, and, as you yourself mention a little down thread, seems to ‘edge’ towards the justification of Piracy. I’d say it was a bit more than ‘edging’ towards it myself… I think the 3 sentences at the top of the page are pretty obvious with what they’re saying.

    • Cooper says:

      GoG, like with Thief, occasionally do more than just bundle an old game with DosBox. That if definitely deserving of monies. (This gets brought up so often; but imagine not being able to watch, say, Dr. Strangelove or listen to Nina Simone in 20 years time because the format / technology to play it doesn’t exist…)

      But what I wonder is if these old games actually key into publisher decisions. What with the FPS XCOM and Syndicate, I wonder if the only messaage that’s being sent is “this IP comes with a fanbase and has value” not “these types of games, the likes of which aren’t being made any more, are popular (despite their flaws, which a new version could work on)”

      If the result of big publishers making money off of old games are crap IP-driven bore fests, then what good is happening?

    • dangermouse76 says:

      For me this is what the post is about and what Alec is getting at, to my mind anyway :

      ” It’s also a lesson as to why devs might want to, if possible, remain independent: even if their new owners don’t close them down when times are less rosy, they just won’t see the long-term royalties an independent operator would. Of course, being independent often isn’t possible, at least not if you want to work on large projects. Publishers’ funding enables that, and thus to some extent the success and acclaim that can result.”

      Game funding and IP control are still a mixed bag of concessions and gambles from what I can see.

    • Gnarf says:

      It’s one of those issues that are brought up by pirates in order to support piracy.

    • HothMonster says:

      We should never discuss or question any moral or ethical issue relating to gaming or gaming development be-be-because PIRACY!

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  2. c-Row says:

    That’s one of the few things other industries could learn from the music industry – writer’s credits and royalties. Whenever your game is sold, it would earn you a small amount of money, depending on a pre-determined level of profit participation, though we would probably need something similar to the MCPS to keep track of sales and profits to distribute.

    • Shuck says:

      It’d be nice, considering the nature of the game industry. Churn in the industry makes it likely that a good chunk of the developers at a studio probably won’t be around in a development cycle or two after a game has been released to benefit from a game’s success even if the studio exists. Not to mention that increasingly, development studios lay people off as soon as the game is done (but before it’s released) so they don’t have to fulfill promises predicated on the developer sticking around until the end of the project.
      I rather suspect, however, that if royalties existed, very few developers would be in line to get any. A few lead positions would probably be eligible, but everyone else would be out of luck. Having seen some game companies with profit sharing, there were times when employees were told the profits weren’t high enough to share, only to later discover their bosses collectively got millions. Plus, the music industry has become increasingly good at disenfranchising musicians, turning song creators into “session” musicians, legally speaking.

    • Astroman says:

      Not all musicians make royalties. Copyrights for old bands like the Beatles are traded as if a commodity by people who had nothing to do with it’s production. The copyright system is out of control, the concept of public domain is almost totally dead and this is why I have no problem with file sharing despite being a game developer myself. At least GoG sells the games for cheap.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      From what I understand of the music industry, they often make the artist assume all the initial risks, including monetary. They don’t really care if you fail, however should you happen to succeed most of the profits go to them and recovering your initial investment alone can take a long time because of how small the royalties are.

    • Shuck says:

      @ MellowKrogoth: Given how poor game industry wages tend to be, they’re halfway there already; royalties could only increase what people make…

  3. apocraphyn says:

    Is Daikatana listed purely for comedy purposes?

    • Foosnark says:

      Yeah, it is kind of brain-melting to realize that Daikatana came out of the same studio as Deus Ex. What kind of twisted universe do we live in anyway?

    • Eclipse says:

      why is everybody so bitter about Daikatana? Yes it was a bad game, at least the first levels, but it’s definitely not the worst fps ever. And it had an awesome multiplayer and a lot of weapons

    • timmyvos says:

      Because of “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch”?

    • apocraphyn says:

      @Eclipse: I’m not saying it’s the worst game ever created, I was just amused by the use of such language as “these groundbreaking, vital games” when used in the context of Daikatana. I mean, it whipped up a storm of intrigue and anticipation akin to that of Duke Nukem Forever prior to release, only to end up delivering…something akin to Duke Nukem Forever. (In other words, a massive letdown).

    • Skabooga says:

      Yes, there is a good measure of schadenfreude involved.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Ideally, he’d have listed Ion Storm Dallas & Austin as separate studios, but that would only draw more attention to the fact that Anachronox was begat from the same festering hole as Daikatana.

    • NamelessPFG says:


      Not quite. There’s actually two studios that went under the Ion Storm label.

      Ion Storm Dallas was the first one, with the luxury skyscraper glass dome office and John Romero and all, responsible for Daikatana, Dominion, and Anachronox.

      Ion Storm Austin was the second one that had a lot of ex-Looking Glass Studios staff and had a much humbler office, who brought us Deus Ex and Thief: Deadly Shadows.

      That said, it is a shame that something good like Anachronox goes under the radar simply because it’s from the studio that will never live Daikatana down.

  4. HisMastersVoice says:

    Don’t see a problem here. People making games follow the same principles any other IP related craftsman does. I make illustrations for a living. If I make one for a customer, I get paid and that’s that. Whatever the customer does commercially with my work is none of my concern and I sure as hell have no right to complain they’re making money on my work or transferring rights to another party.

    Textures have been made, models have been built, levels laid out. They got their checks and that’s it.

    • ironman Tetsuo says:

      You let your clients re-use your artwork for whatever purposes they like and as many times as they want?

      I do hope you’re charging a higher rate for such an open service as otherwise you’re diddling yourself out of money. When i sell artwork i will have the client sign an agreement that clarifies any rights i allow them over the work itself. If someone commissions me to create a poster they can’t then use that artwork elsewhere willy-nilly or indeed sell it on to someone else, it’s still my work!

    • PopeJamal says:

      The financial value of art is ridiculously overrated. It has been for years and years. At some point in the distant past, all the greedy types discovered that if you can convince people that you can “own” ideas, then you’ve made it to the end of the rainbow.

      Not only is this game royalty proposal impractical, it helps to prop up an already bad idea: That everyone “deserves” to be compensated “fairly” for absolutely everything they do:

      “Look! I literally took a dump in a dutch oven, planted a flag in my log, and covered it with confetti: ART! Pay me!$$!$!$!$!$!$!$!$!$!”

      Don’t get me wrong, I think art is valuable, but it’s seriously fucked up that an artist can lip-sync at a televised concert and make more money than the guys that actually, physically built the damn stadium.

      This man seems to know what I’m talking about somewhat:
      “And if you can stand me sounding even crazier, here is this: making money from art is not a human right. It so happens that technological and societal blahbity bloos have conspired to create a situation where selling songs about monkeys and robots is a viable business, but for most of human history people have NOT paid for art.”

    • Nogo says:

      The market dictates the cost and compensation for art. It’s utterly silly to claim all art is overpriced especially since you seem to be talking specifically about pop music.

      And people have been paying for art since the beginning of civilization. Most ‘high art’ is done on commission or grant whether it was for a king, pope or local arts counsel. Furthermore there’s tons of art released for free all the time. Just look at deviantart or the ‘free’ tag on this site.

    • Chainspork says:

      PopeJamal:The financial value of art is ridiculously overrated…[snip]

      Not only is this game royalty proposal impractical, it helps to prop up an already bad idea: That everyone “deserves” to be compensated “fairly” for absolutely everything they do:

      “Look! I literally took a dump in a dutch oven, planted a flag in my log, and covered it with confetti: ART! Pay me!$$!$!$!$!$!$!$!$!$!”


      Except we’re not talking about people selling turds (which, by the way, if some people really wanted to hang that on their wall, then the creator is perfectly entitled to pursue compensation according to what the market allows).

      We’re talking about creations that people actually want. Things that are still selling. Things that people want so much they’re sometimes willing to break the law to acquire them. People don’t steal baked turds–even free, they have little value.

      Art has the same value as anything else if people actually want it, and it takes labor, skill, years of training, tools and material to produce. If you buy a picture from an artist, you’re paying for the years of time they invested to learn how to produce that picture, and the tools they produced it with, not the paper it’s printed on. Because you’re not interested in the paper. You’re interested in what the artist puts there. Likewise, you’re not paying for the ones and zeroes of digital information in a computer game…you’re paying for the acquired skill and vision it takes to arrange them into something you enjoy playing.

      If your point is some bad art is overpriced, that’s always been true, as it is for any bad product. But just because something isn’t valuable to you, doesn’t mean that other people wont value it. If people are really producing something nobody wants, that sorts itself out.

    • durruti says:

      here we go again: ‘the market’ dictates jack-shit, it’s a metaphor for several interrelations deemed to complex for the average consumer to understand. stop using ‘the market’ as a subject.

      and, chainspork, you somehow must’ve missed the transition from art to pop culture and mass (re)production. your whole argument is anachronistic at best. the appreciation of craftsmanship as denominator for the value of a work of art is questionable also, display of status comes to mind. but if you think your painting example carries over to pictures, movies and games unscathed feel free to elaborate.

    • Amun says:

      I want to live in a society where people pay for art. That doesn’t mean that I want artists to be able to pull a george lucas and say that since they “own” their art, they don’t have to let anyone buy it/remix it/share it.

      Ideally we’d a have a system where if you made your art public, you had to sell it to anyone who wanted it for the same price as anyone else. If you ever stopped selling it directly (or you died), it would become art under the public domain.

  5. wccrawford says:

    The original creators chose to sell these right to the new rights holders. It was best for them at the time. In short, the publisher made it possible to still play these games legally.

    This post suggests that it’s okay to pirate those games because the original creator won’t see it. (No, it doesn’t say it directly. It’s sly.) That’s the wrong attitude.

    And where do you draw the line? If a programmer leaves, does the company no longer deserve to profit from the game? Artist? Musician? How do you decide that these people matter but the publisher doesn’t?

    This whole article has exactly the wrong attitude about game creation. Without the publisher, the game wouldn’t exist. They bought the rights, and they helped make sure the game still exists.

    I don’t usually come out in defense of publishers, but there’s more to games than just the ‘original developers’.

    • Alec Meer says:

      No, my post doesn’t say or imply that. Simon’s is perhaps edging into that territory, however.

    • NathanH says:

      Unfortunately even if you didn’t mean it, it can easily be inferred, particularly from the language and content of the last paragraph (“payment you offer” is an odd phrase since You are not offering anything, They are; the implication that the only reason you’d pay for these old games is because it may make some similar things made in the future). I read it as slyly pro-piracy too at first.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      The post doesn’t tell you to go pirate things, but it was written as a resource for use in piracy discussions when people wheel out “BUT YOU’RE STEALING THE DEVELOPERS’ BREAD” as an argument.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I’d argue that says more about the reader than the writer.

    • Jams O'Donnell says:

      Like it or not, the publishers need bread too.

    • simoroth says:

      I think perhaps I conflated the argument by mentioning piracy. But I certainly feel that Mr Norris point is valid.

      But conversely I wrote it because many people, in this day of bundles and crowd frunding, want to support the people making the product. The amount of people shocked to hear that Ion Storm don’t get any money from Deus Ex was mildly humorous.

      Also… I’m hardly a veteran developer. I think I’ll have to start wearing an eye-patch and rolling myself around in a wheelchair at this rate. :p

    • NathanH says:

      I don’t think it’s the reader’s fault for drawing some conclusions when the writer writes that a standard business transaction is a “dark deal” and a “double-edged sword”, links to another sly pro-piracy post, and implies that the only reason to pay publishers for such games is because it might create more of them, not because paying the publisher is the only moral thing to do.

      You’ve stated that you’re not meaning to be pro-piracy, and I and everyone else here should now take that on good faith. On the other hand, before you denied it it was a reasonable possibility and that shouldn’t be just dismissed.

    • Alec Meer says:

      You are this many kinds of wrong: 12.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Jams O’Donnel But will we need publishers in the long run?

    • NathanH says:

      OK, the writer of a piece has no responsibility to think about the possibility of being reasonably misinterpreted, and is entitled to respond grumpily whenever that happens. My mistake.

    • Alec Meer says:

      If you were openly accused of/told off for saying something you flat-out didn’t, followed by someone else using spurious misinterpretation of buzzwords to support that accusation, you’d probably be belligerent too.

      For instance: your post seems to suggest that we should all go around sniffing dogs’ bottoms.


    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      That sort of depends on what you think “reasonably misinterpreted” means.

    • NathanH says:

      I’m sorry that you think that I was suggesting we should all sniff dogs’ bottoms. I will attempt to be more clear in the future and wish to take this opportunity to deplore the widespread bottom-sniffing of dogs that goes on in the gaming community.


      I notice I wrote “even if you didn’t mean it” above. I apologize, I meant to write “even though you didn’t mean it”.

    • Shuck says:

      @Alexander Norris: That’s the anti-piracy argument that publishers make, ironically. It’s not anyone else’s fault if that argument is disingenuous.

    • Melliflue says:

      I don’t see why people think this is implicitly or explicitly condoning piracy. The only part that has been quoted as evidence is “payment you offer”, which is technically what happens when somebody buys something. The customer offers to buy the item for the advertised price.

      I think it is impossible to write anything that cannot be misinterpreted. Language is never definitive and interpretations will always vary, based on the readers own beliefs, expectations, and usage of language.

    • jrodman says:

      Once you start cataloging people (or posts!) as “pro-piracy”, you’ve kind of given up on any kind of useful discussion. Doubly so in this case because it’s not a post about piracy.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      “Proud games and their proud creators, I salute you. I am just sorry that I cannot salute you with money, at least not directly.”

      This is hardly the thinking of a piracy advocate.

    • Fentanyl says:

      your inference that the article implicitly condones piracy is subjective, damn egomaniacs

  6. darmwand says:

    While I agree that it would be nice to see the people who actually [i]made[/i] the game get (some of) the money, they pretty much said “I don’t want your stinking money, instead I’ll take whatever big publisher X pays me” when they sold their business.

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:

      Yes, because every single person in a development studio always completely agrees with the suits at the top when they decide to make a cashgrab by selling to some ginormous publishing conglomerate like EA or Activision. How much of the money from the sale of (insert company name here) do you think the lowly grunts saw when their company was sold to one of the big giants?

  7. Mungrul says:

    This is also why I get upset when publishers con their developers into decrying used-game sales. A developer on a publisher’s payroll has seen all of the money they’re likely to see from a game once it has been published, so no, they’re not going to see anything from the sale of a game, be that first or second hand.
    Intellectual property in this day and age is very rarely owned by individuals, and big business goes out of its way to ensure that this continues to be the case so that they can get copyright laws rewritten in their favour.
    The only people who benefit from Project $10 and its ilk are the publishers and their shareholders, not the actual creators.
    So next time you’re asked to do an interview regarding used game sales Mr. Developer, consider that even if you’re able to charge twice for the same SKU, you yourself won’t see a penny of that money.

    • Zanchito says:

      Exactly. I find it extremely ironic that “used game sales are the devil, day 1 DLC, GameStop is going to kill the business” and then publishers go and act like this. Now, it’s a business decision, selling all my rights to the publisher (like say, a painter) or keep getting royalties (like a writer), but seriously, the games industry is really effed up regarding consumer and developer rights, and their interaction among themselves and the distributor/publisher. I hope it grows out of it some day, instead of this subscription-no resale tendency that, in the end, only hurts consumers and developers to strengthen the middle man.

    • jezcentral says:

      To be fair, I’ve never heard the third-C++-programmer-from-the-left-Dev complain about used sales, just the man in charge, like the Heavy Rain bloke. (Pro-tip: next time, try making a game that can be played through more than once, if you don’t want people selling your game on.)

    • Archonsod says:

      The thing is it’s the kickback to the publisher that makes these games available in the first place. The value the companies place on the IP means it’s generally in their own best interests to ensure they have a record (i.e. usable version) available. Going by most of the developers I know if it were up to them Deus Ex would have been destroyed around five years ago when the one guy who remembered to keep a copy of it lost his laptop.

      It’s also the fact the publisher gets to pocket all of the money which puts the games on the market in the first place. Because the only person taking a cut besides the publisher is the distributor (if any) it means it’s still viable to stick it on somewhere like GoG for a mere $5. The more people taking a cut, the higher they’d have to price it to cover costs, and I doubt very much you’re going to be able to sell that many copies of a ten year old game at much more than $10.

    • Veracity says:

      They’ve done better than that: they’ve conned their customers into the same. If they have a problem with still-important-however-unaccountably retail stores putting used items with outrageous mark-up on the same shelf as new, they should be taking it up with the retailer, not recruiting user armies to make their ridiculous claims for them. But they won’t, because they’re frightened of retailers, because they’re still important, and not really even all that unaccountably, at least outside PCland.

  8. Unaco says:

    I’d argue that some of these publishers/services deserve recompense for making these games available… especially something like GoG which even goes so far as to make the games compatible with modern systems, provide support and bundle in some extras. Or to repay their investments from when they bought the licence to them. How do we know that when Publisher X bought the licence for Game A from Developer Y that they didn’t pay them a whole bundle of cash, and that selling Game A is a way for them to make that bundle of cash back? The Developers DID get paid, just in advance by the Publisher, who have invested that money in Game A, hoping to make it back through sales.

    If we (customers) stop buying Old Games that no longer recompense the Developers directly, then Publishers and others will stop buying them, making them compatible with modern systems, bundling and selling them.

    • Greg Wild says:

      While I don’t disagree entirely, surely you’re not paying for the game itself, but the service rendered (getting it to work, hosting it on a decent server etc)?

      If you download the files via a P2P network of the “original” release, no longer in distribution, and fix it yourself (e.g. fan updates for Thief over the years), then I’d argue we’re in a different situation. Should we be waiting for publishers to excise their (fairly arbitrary, IP based) monopoly of distribution now it has suddenly become profitable again? Or could we look more to payment based on services rendered, encouraging the publishers to think more long term if they’re to remain competitive?

  9. Llewyn says:

    To me this misses one hugely important point – the people who actually made the games wouldn’t, in most cases, be seeing any ongoing income from the sale of games, even where the studios remain in existence and the creative talents remain in their employment.

    As HisMastersVoice says above, they have been paid for their work and that is generally the end of it.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Except it doesn’t miss it because it said it aaaaaaaargh aaaaargh aaagh rage

    • Llewyn says:

      I’ve just reluctantly re-read the article and no, you didn’t say it at all. You didn’t even get anywhere near it. You talked about publishers rather than development studios receiving ongoing revenue, but not about the difference between studios and developers seeing any money from sales of old games. Only a small proportion of the creative talents involved in making great games will have had any financial stake in the studios which produced them.

      Rage, etc.

    • Alec Meer says:

      “when a developer is bought out by a publisher, it’s usually the case that they then don’t see any ongoing royalties from the games they make for them, or indeed for any existing intellectual property that was swallowed up as part of the studio acquisition”

      If you’re now saying you meant individuals within the dev – which you weren’t clear about in your initial comment, I have to say – then yes, it’s doubly true and also very sad that even if the dev is independent they (probably) won’t receive any royalties unless they’re very senior within the company. Though that is something that is broadly true in business as a whole (as opposed to the big difference in how royalties work in games publishing vs e.g. music publishing).

    • Llewyn says:

      That was indeed what I was saying – from the outset, not now. Possibly it was ambiguous but ‘people’ and ’employment’, distinct from businesses and the inevitably unclear ‘developers’, were what I was talking about.

      However I should perhaps have been clearer about my point, which is that I care less about whether big company A makes money instead of smaller (even if inherently more creative) company B than I would if it were A making money at the expense* of talented creator C. Of course B and C do overlap in some cases.

    • Nogo says:

      It’s also worth reiterating that HisMastersVoice’s practices are not the norm and anyone in the industry would advise him to change the way he sells his work.

      It is much more typical for a commissioned artist to retain rights for their work if it’s going to be used commercially for some pretty obvious reasons.

  10. Lemming says:

    Yeah, I fail to see what we as customers can do about it. There is a demand for these old games to be rejigged to work on newer machines, and if they become available you won’t see me complaining.

    The devs that designed these have gone on to bigger and better things in most cases, so I can’t say I really give a stuff whether they get royalties for a ten-year old game or not if I want to play it and the publisher is willing to make it available again.

    You make a good point about studios remaining independent to reap the benefits, but I’d also say it would be in there interest to negotiate more long-term clauses in their contracts with bigger publishers.

    There is just no way that anyone could have foreseen older games bringing extra revenue down the line. The industry has always been about the present and the future and never the past. That’s clearly changed, so today’s indie developers that decided to ‘sell out’ should be a little wiser when negotiations take place.

    However, being a cynical ‘crusty old gamer’ from the early 90s era I doubt the games of today will be seen this way in 10 years time as the likes of Baldurs Gate and Dungeon Keeper.

    If anyone gives a flying fuck about Skyrim in 10 years I’ll eat my hat. ;-)

    • Greg Wild says:

      The latest release on GOG, Thief, has been maintained in working order by the community for over 10 years now. I’ve bought it, lost the disks, torrented it and applied fan fixes a few times since then; and still bought it on GOG.

      To me, that suggests that the right service model is still profitable.

    • Jumwa says:

      Yeah, the Elder Scrolls games have always fallen into total irrelevancy almost immediately after launch. Who remembers, uh, what’s it called? Marrowinding was it?

      Oblivion was still routinely making headlines in the gamer consciousness up to the launch of Skyrim, and even now big community modding projects are ongoing for Morrowind. If Skyrim doesn’t follow a similar trend, I’ll be quite surprised, especially considering Bethesda has shown a greater deal of commitment to it than they have to any previous title, making me start to believe their claim they plan to support it for the long run.

      The nostalgia factor is strong, best to keep that in mind when judging old vs. new.

      Anyhow, back to the topic at hand.

      Just because the creators of games don’t typically ever get any proceeds from their work beyond their paycheck, doesn’t make that particularly right by peoples moral standards either. Certainly it’s legal and the norm, but I think it’s obvious a lot of people don’t believe it’s right. Perhaps that should lead to a broader discussion on the industry and IP laws in general.

      And more immediately, I know that some people have their backs up about anything hinting at piracy, but disingenuous arguments do not help your cause. Talking about robbing the creators of their hard-earned rewards when that’s not the case, in many cases at least, only weakens your argument against piracy. Much like anti-drug ads that blatantly lied about the effects of use that then eroded peoples trust.

    • Lemming says:

      @Jumwa: But now Skyrim is out, Oblivion will get forgotten as I imagine will happen with the next Elder Scrolls. I’d argue that Morrowind was different because of the timing of it was released, but gaming is a different animal these days and Morrowind was released at the beginning of that phase (I mean it was a PC only release for a start).

      Everyone raves about Call of Duty but each one ends up swallowing up the previous one in relevancy.

      With the focus on consoles for alot of developers there just isn’t that community to keep a game alive long after it’s sold its last copy.

      Obviously I’m not saying nostalgia for games won’t exist in 10 years, but I don’t think it’ll look anything like todays.

  11. Jimbo says:

    I don’t see anything sad about it at all. The creators probably didn’t either when they were able to pay their mortgage and feed their families before a single copy of these games had been sold.

    • InternetBatman says:

      When the creators sold their stock options, put double mortgages on their houses, worked for free, and still had to declare bankruptcy they didn’t exactly get the best end of the deal. Read about muddyfoot before assuming that the developers made it rich or even got paid for their work.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Quite. And even when things aren’t that troubled from the get-go, most dev buy-outs are made in the hope/presumption that they’re securing themselves a future of steady and sizeable profits. Then you look at something like Activision closing Bizarre just a couple of years of buying them and it’s quite the opposite. Sure, no doubt some eywateringly large sums of money changed hands during acquistion and redundancy, especially for the studio founders and executives, but outside of that there’s just no financial legacy for the games’ creators.

    • Jimbo says:

      It seems to me that people not getting paid wages / fees they *are* owed is a different matter entirely. If you wanna say that’s sad then I totally agree with you.

      Selling your labour and not getting paid is shitty. Selling your labour and, as result, not owning what you produce, is not shitty or sad at all. Why do the individual creators (of anything really) deserve an ongoing ‘financial legacy’ from something if they’ve already knowingly sold their labour and given up all claim they had on whatever it is they produced?

      You can’t entirely sell your labour and then reasonbly expect to also own the fruits of that labour.

    • Chris F says:

      But Alec, how can you possibly know what contract existed between the creators and publishers? How do you know that Peter Molyneux didn’t negotiate himself a perpetual royalty for his Bullfrog games? It seems to me this whole thing is a giant supposition.

    • Brun says:

      Why do the individual creators (of anything really) deserve an ongoing ‘financial legacy’ from something if they’ve already knowingly sold their labour and given up all claim they had on whatever it is they produced?

      This, really. Most companies these days have agreements that you sign upon employment that state that anything you invent or create while employed belongs to the company. The idea being that the company is paying you for your efforts, and are therefore buying whatever it is you might create with your wages. If you think that you might end up creating something that will generate lasting value at or above what the company is willing to pay you for it, you’re free to not enter into employment with that company.

    • Alec Meer says:

      ChrisF: Well, there I’m going on Simon Roth’s work – he says he came up with this list by talking to people on the projects in question. But your scenario would certainly be a very unusual one in the games industry, at least in cases where a publisher has outright purchased a studio.

    • Hindenburg says:

      Help me Internetbatman! The google wasn’t kind and i couldn’t quite find stuff about muddyfoot!

      Link plz?

    • InternetBatman says:

      My bad. It’s Mucky Foot. Here’s a KG interview with them.

      link to

      It’s not an uncommon situation, but it’s less common now because it seems that there are few independent AA studios left. Most have become publishers or gone out of business.

  12. jimbobjunior says:

    Could it be that the agreements were made at a time that re-releasing those games was not seen as viable. Therefore the creators opted for more capital for the titles, rather than a lower capital and ongoing royalties. Now that there is a proven market for these older games, creators may opt to keep some royalty rights in similar future agreement.

    It’s also fair whack to the publishers to be getting the money from sales on GOG etc. It was them that put the work into developing that market.

  13. Unaco says:

    “There’s obviously a very good chance you already know this, but just in case: when a developer is bought out by a publisher, it’s usually the case that they then don’t see any ongoing royalties from the games they make for them, or indeed for any existing intellectual property that was swallowed up as part of the studio acquisition.”

    They might not see any ‘ongoing’ Royalties… but when a developer is bought out by a publisher, do they not see some recompense then? They effectively sell the right to ongoing Royalties for one (hopefully quite fat) lump sum, do they not?

    • InternetBatman says:

      Depends on the circumstances. A lot of times these developers went under and were then bought out by the publisher. All they got was smaller bills while the publisher got a cash farm for way under value.

    • Shuck says:

      Not to mention situations where the publisher simple shuts down a developer, by, for example, withholding promised funds. Happens quite a bit.

    • Unaco says:


      So… Those developers are sh*t at business? What would they (the Developer) have if the publisher hadn’t come in with their bundles of cash, and paid off their debts for them (in return for their IP)? Bankruptcy, court cases, bailiffs and whatever.

  14. Artist says:

    2 weeks ago I illegally downloaded Populous 1! After that I went to Peter Molyneux’ Villa and dropped 5 pound in an envelop into his mail box. So you see: I risk to get caught by the law for illegal downloads and getting bitten by Peter’s dogs – But it IS possible to show some responsibility towards those poor developers of the past! You just need to get your butt up!

  15. Lobotomist says:

    Troika Games:

    Temple of Elemental Evil
    Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

    • Khemm says:

      Troika would flourish in this “digital” day and age. Their games were hardcore, deep RPGs, which tend to be slow, steady sellers.

    • Wizardry says:

      Only two of them were.

    • ffordesoon says:

      *rolls eyes*

      Oh, brother.

      Do you have to do that every single time, Wizardry?

  16. olemars says:

    The same is true for movies and music. I don’t particularly see why I should care about this when it comes to games.

    • c-Row says:

      Wrong. Writing credits earn you royalties every time one of your songs gets played, even after parting with the distributing label.

    • Skabooga says:

      I suppose that’s something of the deciding factor on whether an industry will pay royalties to its artists: when one or a few people are clearly responsible for a work, it’s fairly simple to track them down, recognize their contribution, and write them a check. But when you have a 50-100 person team involved in creating the work, it can become more complicated. For example, in movies, sure the director would receive royalties, but what about the actors? What about the cameramen and the gaffers and keygrips?

    • Greg Wild says:

      Who says we *do* accept it in other industries?

  17. Mechanicus_ says:

    As you say, this is just a fact of business. The likelihood is many of those games signed the rights for the game/IP over to the larger companies that now own them in order to fund their initial development in the first place, or perhaps the developer later sold the rights along with the studio.

    Either way, non-trivial sums of money ended up in the developers hands in exchange for their games – wanting royalties for them now too, unless part of the deal, would be having your cake and eating it (not that I have seen any of the devs of these games asking for them).

    As you said, allowing publishers to make maximize their revenue by exploiting the long tail of these games, many of which may have initially looked like shaky investments, is likely to encourage them to do similar in future and fund risky projects.

    Remember, back when many of these games were made funding any computer game at all was seen as a very risky prospect – I remember a fair bit of doom saying about the viability of the entire games industry.

  18. Godwhacker says:

    I think the motivation for the list is this: you can download these games free and that is said to be bad, but if you think you’re doing the right thing and helping the developers by buying them from GOG or Steam, you aren’t. You’re just giving money to the publishers and the people running the download service.

    I think it’s particularly telling for GOG, as they’ve got this whole cuddly indie vibe going on.

    • InternetBatman says:

      The important difference is that GoG provides a significant service. Not only do they maintain an archive of these games, they also make them work on modern hardware. I’d say that GoG is valuable enough to make the purchase worthwhile even though you could download it.

  19. Zeewolf says:

    I don’t get the point of this post. Is it surprising or strange that the publishers who often paid millions for these devs back in the day get the money when they put their back catalogues on sale? Is it bad?

    And the article doesn’t answer the question it asks either. We get a list of games were the original creators won’t see anything, but how about a list of games where the ones who hold the rights and get paid were actually involved in making it (like the Tex Murphy-series)? To balance it out?

    Waah. Pointless reply to a pointless post. :-/

    • Alec Meer says:

      It’s just for awareness’ sake for those who don’t already grumpily know, Mr Grumpy McGrumpy.

    • Zeewolf says:

      No, you’re the grumpy one. :-)

      I think that if you feel this is something that genuinely needs to be told, you should try to tell the whole story. Not just “here are some games where the creators don’t get a cent (even though they sold out ages ago)”.

      Also. There are plenty of devs of new games that never see a single cent in royalties after release, due to the stinky way the business works. I think that’s a more important issue, don’t you? Read up on Swen Vincke’s blog for instance.

  20. povu says:

    So pretty much all money made from Vampire: Masquerade goes straight to Activision. Scary.

  21. Brun says:

    Magic Carpet! One of the very first PC games I ever owned as a wee youngster. Bullfrog, how we miss you so.

  22. InternetBatman says:

    This is why I really appreciate the rise of the indie scene and digital distribution. Hopefully we’ll move to a publisher free model in the future.

    It’s not like I didn’t know this already, but it’s not right that creators get a pittance from a publisher while they rake in the money for decades. You can say all you want that they paid money for the brand back in the day, but that doesn’t make it fair that the bankers are getting more money than the creators.

    • NathanH says:

      Presumably if the game made a big loss you would want the creators to make a bigger loss than the bankers?

    • bill says:

      Publishers don’t make a profit on a lot of their games, in the same way that book publishers, movie studios and music publishers don’t. So they are essentially putting up their money on the basis that if the game happens to be a big hit then they’ll make back enough money to cover all those loss-making investments.

      Otherwise not many games would get made.

    • durruti says:

      @ nathan: think before you write. an indie studio keeps things small – as in – deliberately, you know? your hypothetical logic is severely flawed and doesn’t prove a point.

      @ bill: that’s why the whole model we’re talking here is based around, you know, mass production, part of the stuff being published not making a profit is part of the calculation (lets call it noise for the blockbusters) – and yes, this frequently backfires. heaven forbid we think outside these parameters.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Nathan H, many times the majority of losses go to the developer anyways. Ion Storm had to pay EA for the losses from one of its flight simulators. Publishers usually take their share of royalties before the developers minimizing losses (especially from internal studios), but they almost always take the lion’s share of the success.

      Also, in the other creative fields artists have agents that procure them totals from the gross. This hasn’t filtered into video games so the system as it stands is nowhere near as fairly balanced as the other creative fields, which are still balanced pretty poorly (Hollywood Accounting). This is made worse by the anti-union attitude of the game industry.

  23. iteyoidar says:

    This is why I don’t buy into the idea of intellectual property rights. They tend to only benefit the rich jerks with the bank accounts to get in on the “good end” of the deal every time.

    • Llewyn says:

      You do realise that those same intellectual property rights are essentially what allowed the developers and artists to be paid while creating these games, right?

    • bill says:

      Yeah. People shouldn’t get any money for their work! they should die starving for their art like old painters did! If they want to get real money they should make something real like hamburgers in McDonalds.

    • Skabooga says:

      Perhaps, but I feel that abolishing intellectual property rights would be an extreme disservice to artists, even if it did stick it to ‘the man’.

    • iteyoidar says:

      Yes, it’s basically blackmail. The idea is that I’m expected to support the crappy copyright system and toss my money at faceless corporations or my favorite game devs might lose their jobs. Of course, they probably will anyway, but the idea is that you just have to keep throwing money at these extremely profitable games publishers and hope for the best!

    • Brun says:

      *Yawn* yes yes, profit is bad, anyone who has more money than me must be stealing, we’ve all heard this rhetoric before. In high school or college. So tiresome…

    • Llewyn says:

      I’m not quite sure how deep your lack of understanding of this area is, so it’s hard to know how to respond.

      You’re not paying corporations in the hope that they will employ people in future, you’re paying them for the employment they’ve already provided – the thing you’re paying for has already been created and people have already been paid for it.

      IP rights aren’t intended just to protect the likes of EA and Activision, they also protect the self-publishing indie one-man-band and everyone in between. There are issues with application of that protection, but those issues are separate from IP rights themselves.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I fully believe that many publishers are parasitic scum that suck the creativity out of their workers and studios, and beyond that publishers from all industries are trying to crush free speech because they don’t know how to change their increasingly irrelevant business model.

      But, that doesn’t mean that IP is bad. It just means that the current system is bad. Having bad laws doesn’t mean that you should have no laws at all.

    • PopeJamal says:

      The current system is flawed in many ways, the most relevant here being:

      a) Large corporations are able to use “features” in the legal system that give them more leverage in copyright disputes. For timely evidence of this, see SOPA and think about how many times “Joe Bluesman” would be able to take down any of his pirated music.

      b) Length of copyright: There is seriously something wrong when your great grand-children are able to live off of a royalty check because of something you did 80 years ago. If I’m not mistaken, it’s now creators death +90 years or something ridiculous. The copyright system (at least in the US as fas as I’m aware) was created to encourage the enrichment of our culture. Works were to be created, protected, and then released into the public.

      That last bit about “released into the public” seems to have been forgotten about. Publishers aren’t the only people who have screwed up our copyright system, artists have had a (smaller) hand in it too.

  24. mmalove says:

    To play devils advocate: yes the evil doing corporations that bought out those developers projects now get 100% of your money, but they paid for it. This is akin to those companies that buy up annuities like lottery winnings so that the individual gets a lump sum of money when they need it most (now), and the corporation gets a fairly secure investment which will most likely show a positive return. To undermine this system by assuming it’s suddenly ok to pirate the software leads us towards a situation where developers no longer have that option. And while as a gamer I love the idea of a developer maintaining their own license, and remaining available to provide continual improvements to their IP with the original developers’ insight and vision into what the game should be, at the end of the day I recognize that person is only human too, with mouths to feed, and a life to live beyond the creation of a great game.

    • NathanH says:

      Mr. Meer has made it clear that he isn’t advocating piracy.

    • iteyoidar says:

      This same argument is used to support loansharking.

    • bill says:

      Nope, just implying that the rights holders of these games don’t really deserve the cash….

    • durruti says:

      if i didn’t mistake the meaning of annuity in that context: did you just try to uphold the image of publishers by likening their deals to ones a special kind of which ultimately caused the subprime mortgage crisis?

    • kaiserbob says:


      Yes, you did misunderstand – horribly. Annuities are a VERY simple financial instrument. Wherein I give you money now, and then you give me money regularly for a specified period of time. Bonds are a form of annuities, as is insurance, and your savings account is an annuity.

      Unless you think that’s what caused the financial crisis, in which case you should be institutionalized.

    • durruti says:

      institutionalization it is then!

  25. bill says:

    It’s entirely fair for the publishers to get the profits that they paid for. It’s rather disappounting that an RPS writer would (seemingly) think otherwise – something i’d maybe expect from an angsty teen or blog/forum commenter – but not someone who’s theoretically all grown up and knows how business and the games industry works.

    He is all growed up, isn’t he?

    I’m used to blog commenters believing that developers are all angels (until they do something we disagree with) and publishers are all evil devils… but that’s because we’re ranty blog commenters… who don’t actually give much thought to what we write.

    • Vinraith says:

      I’m confused, where does the article state that RPS (or Alec) believe the publisher shouldn’t see any money from sales? This is an article about the idea that developers/creators should still be getting money from these games, there’s nothing in here to suggest that developers should receive payments in lieu of payments to publishers.

      In many other creative industries there is a royalty structure that provides for creators in addition to the profit seen by distributors, the suggestion that the games industry would benefit form something similar is hardly juvenile.

    • Skabooga says:

      The question is not one of ethics, but of morals; i.e. Yes, they are abiding by the rules of their contract, but is the reality of the situation as equitable as it could be? Where do the rights of artists and publishers meet, and how should any conflicts be resolved?

      The article asks a fair question, and to say that publishers deserve all the money they are currently getting is a fair answer, but that does not invalidate the original question.

    • bill says:

      It doesn’t matter what the article states, it’s what it says that matters. Don’t be picky.

    • Vinraith says:

      What it “says.” I see.

      So, an article suggesting that game creators should be compensated for their work is actually an attack on publishers, implying (in bill-land, anyway) that they should receive no compensation for their part in the industry. You know this because you know this, regardless of the actual content of the article.

      How’s that job at Ubisoft going?

    • Brun says:

      In many other creative industries there is a royalty structure that provides for creators in addition to the profit seen by distributors, the suggestion that the games industry would benefit form something similar is hardly juvenile.

      You make a good point here, but I think this is just a symptom of the video game industry’s immaturity. The industry itself has been around only for about 30 years or so, whereas the film and recording industries (those “other creative industries” to which you clearly refer) have been around for nearly a century.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Bill is making up stories about me. Also, he clearly can’t read. I’m going to tell his parents, and I bet they’ll ground him for MONTHS.

  26. Christian O. says:

    So it’s exactly like superhero comics. Fantastic.

    “Hey mister Nugget! You tha’ bomb! We sellin’ chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’ma write my clowny ass name on this fatass check for you.”

  27. Persus-9 says:

    It is sad that the money doesn’t reach the creative minds but on the other hand from a preservation point of view it is good that these games are still seen as valuable. The abandonware scene is there as a backup and I aplaud their work but they are something of a last lifeline and the fact they exist in a legal grey area is a weakness in that lifeline. The longer games can actually make money legally the better as far as I’m concerned. Services like GOG which don’t just publish old games raw but iron out wrinkles in compatibility are well worth paying for in my opinion. Plus the success of this area of the market should persuade publishers and developers that games are worth making on PC as a long term investment and that the long term rights are valuable and publishers should have to offer a good deal to make the devs give them up. Supporting the old games market can’t change what was signed in the past but it can help preserve the past and it can affect decisions being made now and in the future and from those points of view it is well worth supporting.

  28. Snax says:

    The better these classic games sell for publishers, the more they will be willing to pay for future IP rights. Sales today will boost the value of classic IP rights in the eyes of investors, which will lead to more money in the pockets of IP creators who sell in the future.

  29. pyjamarama says:

    It would be interesting to do a follow up piece on how did the movies creators began to get royalty rights, the role the guilds have in that industry, also who gets royalties? do special effects crew get them? Is it possible to adapt the movie process to games?

    For most jobs you get paid to do something once it’s done the person that paid get’s right to make money of it, should games be any different? can you single out developers in a work that is so dependent on a big team?

  30. Valvarexart says:

    I am not going to buy any of these games. I am going to pirate them if I am going to play them. Why? Because I don’t like giving money to people who don’t deserve it.

    • NathanH says:

      You are a bad man, Mr. Took, with an evil name in Breeland.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I would argue that GoG does deserve the money because they put a substantial amount of effort into making the games playable again. Just think of them as developers.

  31. frenz0rz says:

    I challenge anyone to admit to buying Daikatana within the last 10 years for any reason other than pure curiosity. Is it even sold over digital distibution? Who would buy it, especially when there is so much else on offer?

    And for those wondering, yes I’ve played it. Purchased a copy for 50p in a bargain bin a few years ago because ‘why not?’, and it is a stodgy mess of mediocrity.

  32. KaL_YoshiKa says:

    Composers write song – gets royalties
    Author writes book – can negotiate royalties
    Director directs movie – can negotiate royalties

    Game Developers make game – get barely minimum wage.

    There’s a slight discrepancy in reward for the gaming industry which is the take away point from the article people.

    • Moraven says:

      They get royalties if the movie makes money, which the Hollywood studios try their best to avoid happening on paper.

    • jezcentral says:

      Composers write song – gets royalties, but Session Guitar Person doesn’t.
      Author writes book – can negotiate royalties, but the Copy Editor doesn’t.
      Director directs movie – can negotiate royalties, but Second Camera Unit Soundman doesn’t.

      Game Developers make game – get barely minimum wage. But the bloke in charge does. Look at Duke Nukem Forever, for an example. George Broussard sank millions of his own money into it, but the people under him all got paid for 12 years. They get their guarantees in the lead up to the game (and bonuses if any, for after).

      It’s not the “little people” who deserve the royalty money (I speak as a “little person” myself, an IT contractor), it’s the studio heads, but they aren’t the ones on “minimum wage”.

    • kaiserbob says:


      That x1000. People on this site have a very strange idea about who should be paid royalties and who shouldn’t. Why should random code monkey who got hired to work on Rollercoaster Tycoon suddenly be deserving of a fat check twenty years down the road? If they had a share in the company then they got their compensation but if they didn’t there is no reason they should get royalties. I can think of no other industry on Earth that works the way it does in some of these commenter’s heads.

  33. Iskariot says:

    “Deus Ex, System Shock, Vampire Bloodlines, Dungeon Keeper… ”

    Wonderful games each and every one, but Vampire Bloodlines I play again and again and again and again. I wish I had the money to make the original devs create a huge sequel. That game really deserves it. I know it was buggy at the time, but such great fun, wonderful dark atmosphere, great humor, excellent music etc.
    Why is it that in these days when everything vampire related is immensely popular that nobody is creating a serious vampire RPG like that?

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:

      “I wish I had the money to make the original devs create a huge sequel.”

      Personally, I wish I had the money to make the original devs finish the first game.

  34. Moraven says:

    Reminds me of the time a Gamestop employee was trying to convince me buying used over new does not matter, the developers got paid anyway from their publisher with their salary. Yes, but the game selling less does not encourage the publisher to fund additional games in the IP or from the developers. Also there could be bonuses tied to how well the game does.

    I think the notion of old games selling is whatever random publisher has given little effort to continue to make these games available. If not for good old games, these games would be left to torrents for people who want to still play them. GOG has shown there is a market for classics and hopefully it shows there is a market for future games in the series. The downside is the game market from these big publishers is very console oriented while our beloved classics we mention here are PC games.

    Thinking about it, Sony and Nintendo have done a decent job of bringing classics to their latest systems (PSP/PS3, Nintendo started with Game Boy Advance rereleases of NES classics, today download to DS and Wii). Sony could be making a lot more getting those PSOne classics. Square has used it as a good source of revenue but rereleasing their final fantasies along with remaking them. I collect a lot of non mainstream RPGs, because after their production run I doubt you will see them again. I wish XBox 360 had online support for Xbox games. Appreciate PC gaming where I can go back and still play the likes of Heroes 3 online still.

  35. Greg Wild says:

    The number of people saying “oh this is just the way things are/should be/we should accept/ (and so bend over and take it like a bitch and like it)” is seriously disappointing.

    Particularly painful is the idea that when you sell your labour you disqualify the right to the product of your labour. It’s neoliberalism at its shit-eating extreme. Yeah, yeah, I get it, publishers hold all the money and determine who gets funding and who doesn’t at the moment – that doesn’t mean we have to get on our knees and fellate them instead of trying to consider alternatives. Which, given today’s technological and economic capacity, are probably incredibly feasible.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I know, right?

      It’s like when you point out that the girls in superhero comics are not just wearing floss and cotton balls because they find it comfortable. Seemingly unimpeachable point, but as soon as you start suggesting that there might be something a little unsavory behind it, people freak out and start trying to get you to find that one cask of Amontillado.

      “What are you doing with that wheelbarrow full of bricks?”

      “Nothing. Just keep looking.”

      You know?

    • durruti says:

      neoliberalism? well, actually they’re still the same “charaktermasken” as marx called ’em some time ago. and because these conflicts are so old they’re also gridlocked beyond recognition. it’d require incredible brain acrobatics from ’em to acknowledge the notion of someone not being jealous of their profit margins/market shares/whathaveyou let alone the notion of someone else than the ever so righteous market forces determining everyones lives.

    • InternetBatman says:

      How is that liberalism at all? In the US at least, the conservatives are the one that favor the rights of corporations over individuals.

  36. MadTinkerer says:

    I don’t consider this a problem, because I long ago mourned the loss of Ion Storm and Origin Systems and Bullfrog and &etc. I buy rereleases when I can for two (sometimes 3) BIG reasons:

    1) It sends a message to the current rights-holder that there are people still willing to buy games from that franchise. Games that aren’t even new.

    2) It supports the folks making the games work with current OSs. Some games are just a pain to get working again, even if you have the original, unspoiled copies.

    Sometimes 3) I never owned it to start with, and I want to buy it on principle. (In some cases the publisher is Evil, but it’s a way to tell them to be less evil. For example, only buying older Ubisoft games without DRM. WHEN WILL YOU LET ME BUY ANNO 2070 DAMN YOU UBISOFT)

    I already knew that there was no way any of the money was going to the original devs. But you know what? The fact remains that those guys made games that are still selling today. Games made in the early 90s. That gives them Miyamoto levels of rep. And rep is priceless.

  37. Berzee says:

    I’m pretty okay with just buying games whoever holds the right to collect the money; it is how I support the developer, by supporting their previous business arrangements.

    (Unless I hear reports of swindling having occurred, which is the only reason I would need to re-evaluate).

    Discussing what kind of future business arrangements would be best for new developers to make, is a different matter. =)

  38. MajorManiac says:

    Thanks Alec. This is one of those obvious truths that you don’t realise until someone has told you.

    I honestly thought Devs got royalties in their contracts. Its a shame a portion of the money we spend on these games doesn’t always go to the skilled people who made them. Thus ensuring more games will come from the same talent.

    Perhaps this trend will fade as games publishers seemly to loose power with the ever increasing rise of internet-fuelled indie dev companies.

    • Unaco says:

      How do you know the Devs didn’t get paid a lump sum, in advance of future sales, when they sold the rights to the publisher/company selling the game? Should they get paid twice, once in advance when they sell the publishing rights to their game, and again for every sale?

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:


  39. Doubler says:

    I have absolutely no problem with the money going largely to the download service when that download service is GoG. I feel preserving PC gaming history and continuing to make it available to new players is extremely important for its own sake.

  40. Khemm says:

    Developers ought to have the right to receive a certain royalty from every copy sold, just like in the music industry. No wonder that in the age of digital distribution, they often choose to fund and self-publish their creations.
    The good thing that might come out from buying old classics is sending a message, that certain gameplay formulas people still find appealing, so turning Dungon Keeper into a CoD clone isn’t necessary.
    Btw, where’s my SimCity 5, EA?

  41. mbp says:

    Before I get worked up about this can anybody tell me whether we are talking about significant amounts of money or not? I keep hearing about “long tail economics” but no one seems to be prepared to say how much money actually is in the long tail at least not for games.

    Does a game make more money in its first few weeks after release or over the ten year period that it is on back catalog?

    Does Steam make more money from new releases or from back catalog and how does this break down?

    What sort of money can a game hope to make on GOG. Is it comparable to a good indie release?

    Does anyone know about this (I guess STEAM and GOG do but I haven’t seen them talking about it.

  42. Tams80 says:

    How far do you go with this argument though? You could go as far as to say that each individual developer (i.e. a person) deserves royalties for what they created. This applies to independent studios as well. The publisher studio relationship is just a scaled up version of this. The truth is most developers are salaried and possibly get a bonus if a game goes well. Only a few gain most of the profits. This is true of both publishers and independents.

    • Berzee says:

      Good point — for example, if an indie dev hires a contract artist to make you some nice pixel-y sprites…I’m guessing they don’t always see royalties, nor demand them, nor have Concerned Patrons Of The Arts demand them for them? Sometimes maybe, but on the pixelation forums I seem to remember hearing about plenty of this-much-money-for-this-many-sprites contracts.

    • durruti says:

      somewhat besides the point though, until the clarification the argument was largely a negative one – as in – against one sided deals. and the smaller the scale, time and effort, the less concerned one can be about royalties and settle for an ordinary exchange, quite obviously, unless you like to watch them pennies pouring in or something.

    • PopeJamal says:

      I don’t think it’s beside the point. What if I bought “Man Shooter 7: The Gallery” specifically because I thought the weapon model for the RBFG 10000 was awesome. The only reason they got a sale from me was because of the contract artist who created that model. Shouldn’t they be compensated? If we’re going to distribute the wealth, do it evenly. Or put another way:

      Why is John Romero more important than Bob the Pixel Builder? Democratize the whole thing, or leave it alone. Don’t just shuffle all the chairs to make first class bigger, get rid of first class. If you want a bigger piece of the pie, do more of the work yourself.

    • Brun says:

      If you want a bigger piece of the pie, do more of the work yourself.

      Publishers do their work by funding the project and taking on the financial risk associated with providing that funding. They also pay for things like distribution and marketing. There are two ways to make money – work for money, or put your money to work. Publishers (largely) do the latter.

      I’m not saying that the developers don’t deserve to make more, but this outlook is incredibly naive.

    • durruti says:

      @ pope: wait, what? i don’t care for petty details of a bureaucratic nightmare to righteously redistribute wealth by compensating each and every lifting of a finger accurately to the hundredth of a penny. you want to wrestle the big issues? that’s not how it works. an insistance on everything being compensated for is part of the issue, more so when it takes its legitimation from equality – hardly the reality we’re dealing with and hardly an idea asking to be taken literally. stop thinking in terms of exchange, trust me on this one. besides, nowhere did i suggest to favour creative processes over plain work.

      @ brun: so publishers fund, they don’t work. don’t conceptually enoble their input. and with a sentence like “There are two ways to make money – work for money, or put your money to work.” you are hardly in a position to call anyone naive, no?

    • Brun says:

      The publishers had to work for that money (or put their existing money to work and earn returns on it) that they use to fund the project. The idea that if you aren’t sitting at a desk doing the coding/art/writing, you aren’t working or contributing is naive.

  43. silgidorn says:

    I wrote a whole wall of garbage, then I erased it and I just wanted to say something that I scratched too, in order to write this:
    “Expecting money from a product usually messes it up,especially when you want money out of something that costs money until it’s out making some. In this situation, publishers want at least two things from the product.
    1) it must sell. And, from an actuary point of view, it’s less risky to try to sell something people have already bought, than something they don’t know. So for the sake of security and ensured sells: “Good luck and Godspeed, originality!”. There are two reasons for that, the former being that people are wary of the unknown, the later being that something that already sold is a precedent that reassures the publishers.
    You might say that unexpected things do come out. Yes, but products that already sold build confidence in the developer of the product, at least to a certain extent. So successful developers might be allowed to originality, a bit.

    2) It must be out quick in order to stop the costings and to get as soon as possible money flowing in.
    So usually products are out without much polishing and are therefore not the whole vision that the developer had for it and are not always carefully bugged out.
    Of course, there are happy exceptions but, sadly, they are exceptions and will never be the standard issue.

    My point is: for the sake of creativity and the well being of games (or any creative product, in my opinion), money should never be something that’s relevant. The fact is that creative industry is a paradox. Industry means “standardisation” and creative means “anything but standardisation”.”
    And all this is quite irrelevant with some afterthoughts, well.

    I guess my point is: In this situation, loaning the exploitation rights to a publisher would be better, but alas, since the publishers hold the reins, we will hardly see less publisher-friendly deals around.

    On another hand, the creator owning the rights is not always good for the IP.
    This may sound counterintuitive, but let me introduce you to our next guest in our talkshow:
    Geooooooooooooooooorge Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucas!

    • durruti says:

      you’re on the right track though, just have to take a couple more things into account and realize that one can pretty much avoid 1. and 2. by being creative part-time. leading a “normal” life besides being creative also could have a negative effect on the swelling of ego and side effects. ;)

    • RakeShark says:

      George Lucas’s problem was nobody wanted to challenge him on various parts of his vision, and he turned into a lazy director that sat dead in his chair in front of two monitors labeled Camera A and Camera B. And he’s pretty much become the system he hated. Never underestimate the value of “Art Through Adversity”. Old tricks and smoke’n’mirrors offer some of the best solutions to creative problems. The problem starts when you use high technology as the creamy filler for your creative shortcomings.

      However, the George Lucas point doesn’t really give a good example. Hell even using Chris Roberts and Wing Commander doesn’t really fit this, because both of them had a revisionist motive for their cash-crop babies. Plus these are mostly just lore and storytelling problems, not problems with the creator holding onto their IPs. I think the issues Square-Enix are having with the Final Fantasy are a better source of argument for your case. What they’ve done not only has hurt the creative vision of the series, but has also hurt the gameplay itself.

      Actually, I’d point at Silicon Knight’s Too Human as a better example. Creative vision is rarely if ever a replacement for enjoyable gameplay experience.

      EDIT: Screw it, just look at DNF. The worst case scenario of someone holding onto their IP and being able to do horrible things to it.

    • silgidorn says:

      One of the early texts i deleted was going the part-time road, but something more part-time developer, part-time waiter (so effective on the ego-swelling issue!). But actually, developer doing part-time orders (Call of Honor 28: an enemy too close or the sims 5, addon 18: Hispter beards and vintage t-shirts) and part-time being creative would be good. The problem would be publishers allowing developers to act like this.

      The “Geogre Lucas” point, was sarcastic trolling. I actually do think that an IP should stick with it creator no matter what, a creator that could loan/lend said IP at his will. But, yeah, we can concur on DNF, so eveyrbody (but the people who bought it) is happy.

      I think my approach of publishers and videogames-related money, is approaching the views of Georges Clemenceau on war “War is too important a matter to be left to the military.”

  44. ThaneSolus says:

    Well thank to EA, most of these companies are dead. Buy more products from EA so they force others to sell, so we can have even more dumber games.

    I wished all the money i spent on GOG would go to the original developers. I recently bought Incubation, still a great game with 3dfx glide, and the money i bet, goes mostly to Ubi, since they own Blue Byte now…

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:

      Yeah. The trend almost invariably is as follows: Studio Awesome makes awesome game or even two or three awesome games. EA (or Activision or whoever) swoops along and buys them up. Quality of product from Studio Awesome starts to take a nosedive, due to blatant meddling by EA. EA shuts down Studio No-Longer-Awesome. EA now churns out derivative crap that pales in comparison to the once great game(s) that Studio Used-To-Be-Awesome-But-Now-Non-Existent originally made. Wash, rinse, repeat with the next incarnation of Studio Awesome to come along.

      Just look at EA’s history to see this borne out time and time again. Westwood Studios and Command & Conquer. Origin Systems and Ultima. Maxis and The Sims. Et cetera, et cetera. It’s happening at this very minute with BioWare. (E.g. games like Baldur’s Gate II or Jade Empire, or even the original Dragon Age compared to more recent schlock like Dragon Age II.) They’ve just lasted longer than most because they were Studio Incredibly Awesome before EA sunk its claws into them, and now they’ve been reduced to Studio Still-Kind-Of-Awesome-But-Nowhere-Near-As-Awesome-As-They-Used-To-Be, and it’s only going to get worse from there.

  45. Chainspork says:

    In other words, my money goes to the people responsible for taking the risk to fund the unique game I cherish, without whom said game probably wouldn’t exist, and encourages them to fund similar games, and provide continued employment for those studios in the future.

    I have no problem with this.

    Everyone would self publish/self fund if they could in a perfect world, but it’s not easy to do. If you can’t, this is how your vision gets realized, and the people that go out on a limb to fund a game off the beaten path should be rewarded for doing so. Luckily there are more options than ever before for creative people looking to go this route.

    It would be nice if contracts were more equitable for a new developer in regard to future royalties, but in any other creative industry you have to earn a name for yourself before you have the clout to command such things. A new author doesn’t command the kind of royalties an established writer does, if any. As an illustrator and designer, the kind of work for hire contracts (requiring me to sign away all rights to my work) I have available at the onset of my career, as opposed to a big name who can retain more rights and bigger fees, certainly make me sympathetic. But I’m not sure why it should be different for game developers, when it’s not for any other creative individual.

    If we want to click our heels together and change the way the world works to favor the the rights and value the labors of creative individuals of any stripe and any level of influence, I’ll be first in line with my ruby slippers on. But a community that is in large part hostile to the mechanisms we have in place for compensating creative individuals, and can’t decide whether what they do is worth anything at all, should probably think that through a bit before they start down that road.

    The problem of course is that the only metric game publishers have for the quality of a developer, is how commercially successful the game is. The developers of some of these cherished niche/cult games cant really compete on that scale. But that’s the fault of the consumer public, not the publisher. In that situation, rewarding the publisher for working with that studio to produce those sort of games, until such a time that the studio can negotiate better terms for their games or self -publish is the best course of action, if you want to see those sorts of games continue to be made. Any other course of action will have the opposite effect.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Many of these companies self-funded development. Many publishers were just distributors in those days.

    • Brun says:

      Ah, but even as pure distributors, the publishers were still taking on financial risk (by paying for distribution). As such, they likely negotiated the rights to further royalties on the IP to hedge against that risk.

    • Chainspork says:

      Here’s the random internet blurb I based my statement on. It’s on the internet, so it must be true.

      Computer Game Developers – These are the programmers, artists, designers, sound engineers, musicians, producers, writers and others; who develop the games. Development companies can be independent, part owned or wholly owned by a Publisher, distributor or hardware manufacturer. More often than not the developers are funded by a Publisher to produce a game. The developer pitches their game idea to a publisher who agrees to fund the development work through an advance against future royalties. The developer then proceeds with development of the game, receiving regular payments on achieving pre-set milestones. A few developers do fund development themselves or raise venture capital funding for their business, but publisher funding is still the major method of bringing a product to market.

      Obviously, there are exceptions. And I have no doubt that some niche developers in the 90’s were more victim to the traditional distribution options than developers are today, where makers of niche games have better options than ever before. But I’m comfortable with my statement in general.

      I know jack all about the specifics of developer contracts, but Interestingly, the way that makes it sound, is that developers are paid in advance against future royalties. Which sounds like it isn’t a matter of them not getting royalties, so much as they are paid them up front. In the cases of niche games like some in the article, perhaps the sales never pass whatever threshold is required to cover that advance and publisher fees, in order for the royalties to keep rolling in.

      In the case of a developer that’s gone out of business, it seems odd to me that there would be no contractual provision for the owners of that company to receive something from residual shares. Even though they should, it’s a rare situation when the employees in any business receive anything like that. Thats true of any industry. But it’s difficult to believe a business owner would sign something that wouldn’t ensure their royalties beyond the life of the company.

      Perhaps the point is they didn’t have a choice. Which is all the more reason to celebrate the increase in choice that the contemporary internet and digital distribution options provide, especially for niche developers. Regardless, I don’t think that refusing to pay the publishers on principle does anything to encourage them to invest in these sorts of games or individuals in the future.

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:

      “and provide continued employment for those studios in the future.”


      Wait, you were serious, weren’t you.

  46. jrodman says:

    Incidentally, I don’t think the artist model of the music world works for games, unless they’re handmade by a couple of people or whatever.

    That’s not how movies work, for example. And I don’ think movies CAN work that way.

    Hollywood accounting aside, does 2nd key grip really get royalties? I think they instead come from unions that have worked out good pay for their work. Meanwhile people who put a bit more creative intensive work on a project (creative directors, sound editors) tend to get negotiated pay based on the quality of themselves and those they represent in the past. They get paid for the project, and those who do top flight work get paid top flight dollar.

    I’m not sure that’s the kind of environment I want to work in, but it’s a viable system for compensating people, and it compensates skilled labor quite a lot better than our games industry does right now.

  47. MythArcana says:

    I bought 93% of all these games when they were originally released at full retail value, so I’m covered for the Awesome Veteran Gamer With Great Taste award.

    I’ll shoot for the Queen, and you can shoot for….um, well, whomever…

  48. vivlo says:

    What i think is, game creating is a a fairly new creator’s discipline, as compared to other forms of art, and time is needed to see creators as what they are in a new discipline, and for them to learn how to claim their right. It should happen eventually. I mean, back in the time composers sold their music to some prince, or where sponsored by some prince and after that what they had done wasn’t their anymore at all, and in the late XVII century the first society for copyright, or author’s right, was created, i think, at least in France by Beaumarchais. Before that there was something in England by the queen Anne, in the begginning of this century. Anyway, my point is, videogame’s authoring rights should come eventually, just those said authors need to think and unite and fight about their interests.

  49. Ravenger says:

    Two games I worked on are on GOG, and I don’t get anything from the sales, despite having a senior position on one of them. Many years ago one of the games actually paid back its advance – eventually – and I got a small bonus from my employer out of a royalty payment from the publisher. I can’t remember if that was in my employment contract or not as it was a very long time ago.

    To be honest, It’s great they’re being supported and kept alive for new players could discover, play and enjoy, even if I don’t see any financial benefit. (Though obviously more money would be appreciated :-) ) After all, why make games if no-one is going to play them?

    GOG also did an amazing job on one of the games in getting it working at all – it was virtually unplayable on XP / 7, but now runs very well, at framerates and resolutions that would have been considered unbelievable when we first wrote it.

  50. MellowKrogoth says:

    I think games that old should be Public Domain already, source code included. Problem solved.

    As a bonus they’d all have active open-source communities around them who’d improve the graphics, fix bugs, etc., etc. No more buying unsupported old games from a lazy fat-ass publisher. Or buying them in a Dosbox wrapper with settings the community came up with anyways.