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Flaregames前CEO谈游戏发行协议可能要面对的问题处理

发布时间:2019-08-29 09:05:29 Tags:,

Flaregames前CEO谈游戏发行协议可能要面对的问题处理

原作者:Klaas Kersting 译者:Vivian Xue

(Klaas Kersting经营一家F2P手游发行公司十多年,如今他发现整个行业在剥削开发者。)

我认为游戏发行商应该降低开发者面临的风险,帮助他们实现他们独立运营所无法达成的目标——无论是创意方面还是商业方面。我从事发行工作15年,总共发行了大约75款游戏,自2005年我踏入这个行业并发行了第一款游戏以来,许多事情都变了。

手游发行一直面临着这样或那样的挑战,手游发行市场的竞争十分激烈,但至少有几家发行商——包括Flaregames在内——在努力坚守道德底线。

但一些新兴发行商却在不断挑战底线,他们几乎只关注用户获取。从表面上看,这些公司的承诺相当诱人:他们动用自己的资金和技术帮开发商扩大用户规模,而开发者可保留IP所有权和自由。开发者用游戏收入向他们支付用户获取费用,因此毫无风险——或者看似如此。

然而,深挖这些发行交易,你会发现诸多存在剥削性质的合同机制,它们榨干了开发者的游戏收入,侵犯了开发者的自主权。我曾亲眼目睹这些合同条款如何毁掉一家公司。

Twinflames3(from gamasutra)

Twinflames3(from gamasutra)

这些有才华的开发者,本应获得好的发展,却被这些吸血条款摧残得体无完肤,最终面临破产。为了防止更多开发者被这类交易蒙骗,我列举出了发行商经常使用的四大剥削手段,以及它们是如何结合起来,将你置于不利的境地。

1. 从游戏收入中收取用户获取投入

这类合同机制的本质是,发行商投入资金帮你获取用户,从用户收入中拿走投资额的1。2倍作为回报。然而这一条款的定义经常存在争议,即“用户收入”究竟指所有用户产生的收入,还是仅由他们带来的用户产生的收入。

开发商利用这一点将风险转移到你身上。如果你的游戏每个月自然安装量可以产生5万美元的收入,则发行商收回他们每月第一笔5万美金用户获取投入的风险为0%。这使你的处境比合作前更糟糕。

扩大用户获取投入的确会带来自然流量的增长,但二者并非呈线性关系,通常当一款游戏成熟后,用户获取带来的自然流量会快速减少。此外,自然流量产生的收入一般低于付费流量产生的收入,因此30%的自然安装量增长只能带来10%-15%的额外收入。

当发行商要求将自然流量收入计算在内时,这意味着他们的用户获取——你与他们合作的初衷——继续扩大下去也无法盈利。你的自然流量收入不应作为发行商用户获取投入的报酬或补贴。

防范策略:

- 订立具有约束力的条款,明确回报直接来自广告支出产生的收益。
- 以当前自然流量为底线,在计算用户获取回报时扣除此部分。
- 确定一个固定(小的)organic uplift系数。(organic uplift: 每一名非自然用户带来的自然用户,通常用百分比表达。例如:1200% organic uplift表示每一个付费安装量将带来12个自然安装量。这里用来确定用户获取与自然流量之间的关系,从而计算回报。游戏邦注)

2. 由单方决定用户获取投入

与第一种手段紧密相关的是发行商可以单方面决定在用户获取上花多少钱。当发行商为了谋利采取对你不利的花钱策略——尽可能多地支出,利润率仍维持在20%——你应改变这种不合理的单方面控制。

若发行商结合第一种手段,从自然流量收入中收取用户获取投入,你的处境会更糟:他们会利用你的自然流量收入让用户获取投入达到20%的利润率。也就是用给你的自然流量收入抵消他们不盈利的用户获取,将你的所有利润圈走。

众所周知,同一款游戏的花销越大意味着利润率越低。游戏的用户获取投入回报从1。2倍提高到1。3倍同时保持用户规模不变甚至提高——也就是你开始盈利的点——是极其困难的,并且随着游戏成熟这会更加困难。

在此情况下,只要发行商自己能赚到钱,他们不仅无需提高利润率,他们也很难提高利润率——无论他们怎样对你花言巧语。因此,放弃对用户获取支出的决定权是极其不明智的。

为了防止被剥削,除了前面提到的三条策略外,你还可以在合同中加入否决权条款,或者规定双方必须就用户获取支出进行协商。

3. 夺走你的IP控制权

若发行商承担了游戏开发的大部分风险,则他们要求享有对游戏IP的控制权甚至所有权是合理的。然而,如果发行商仅仅负责用户获取,他们无权限制你自由使用IP。

若发行商仅要求享有自己所在用户获取渠道的独家分销权是合理的。但如果他们要求控制各大分销平台但又不能保证有所作为则不合理。在签订合同时要小心此类限制游戏在其他商店或平台分销的条款。

任何限制开发者继续开发“衍生产品”(以防与原游戏形成竞争)之类的条款都相当于开发者在合同期内将IP控制权授予发行商,同时自己承担了创造IP的一切风险。

若发行商承担了用户获取以外的责任——比如提供所有开发资金——此类条款或许是合理的。但仅负责用户获取的开发商提出这样的要求绝对是不合理的。

4. 限制终止合同的权利

当以上三类条款同时出现在合同中时,开发商尤其需要有效的终止合同权,从而能够在发行商服务表现令人不满时终止合同。自动续约合同中缺失终止条款是不合理的。

然而,即便开发者在法律意义上享有终止合同的权利,真正实践起来极其困难,因为开发商尚未收回他们的用户获取投入(当然还要加上20%的利润)之前开发者无法终止合同。

这将使开发者在很长一段时间内被不合理的合同束缚,或者不得不挪用其它资金偿还。更糟糕的是,即便由开发商终止合同,他们也有权索取用户获取投入回报。

当然,发行商有权要回他们的投资,但更合理的做法应该是先终止合同,开发商再通过用户获取投入产生的收益逐渐偿还这笔投资。一些限制开发商终止合同的条款,特别是和上述三类条款结合在一起时,将严重影响你寻找下一名投资者。

不幸的是,那些接受了这些条款的开发商最终不是倒闭就是被廉价收购——这是他们唯一的出路。那发行商呢?这种剥削性的商业模式是无法长久运作的,迟早有一天也会死亡。

因此当你签订发行合同时,我强烈建议你仔细地研究它,检查是否存在上述陷阱。如果你无法确定,最好向有这方面经验的人寻求帮助。

我写这篇文章的目的之一,是希望开发商与发行商间的合作能回到最初互利共赢的状态,至少让双方都得到回报。但可惜,目前的手游发行商连这项最基本的要求都无法做到。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

My view has always been that game publishing should be about reducing risk for developers, giving them the means to achieve more — creatively and commercially — than would be possible independently. But many things have changed since 2005, when I published the first of around 75 games in a 15 year publishing career.

Mobile game publishing has always posed a different challenge, being such an ultra-competitive market, but there were at least a few publishers in the space — including Flaregames — trying to adhere to these same values.

This has been challenged by the emergence of a new form of mobile game publisher, focused almost solely on user acquisition。 On the surface, these companies make a fair promise: they invest their capital and skills to scale your game, while you keep your IP and freedom。 Their UA spend is paid back from revenues, so there’s no risk for you — or so it seems。

Dig into some of these deals, however, and you’ll find several exploitative contract mechanics that are designed to suck revenues and autonomy from developers. I have seen firsthand how damaging these mechanics can be to a company.

These are talented developers being bled dry by some truly vampiric contract terms, brought to the brink of bankruptcy by deals supposed to help them grow。 To help prevent more developers falling foul of such deals, I have identified four of the most exploitative publishing techniques and how they’re used in combination against you。

1。 Organic revenues as collateral for UA spend

The essential mechanic of these contracts is that the publisher will invest in user acquisition for your game, with a fixed return of ~1.2x on everything they invest. However, often hidden in Legalese are questionable definitions that entitle the publisher to recoup from all traffic — not just that which provably comes from its UA.

This shifts the risk to you。 If your game already has new organic installs worth $50,000 every month, the publisher would have 0% risk on getting back the first $50,000 it spends on UA each month。 This can leave you worse off than you would have been without its intervention。

When UA scales, organic traffic does often increase. But the relationship is not linear, and often the effect wears off quickly as a game matures. Organic traffic also normally monetises less than UA traffic, so an increase in organic installs of 30% would only translate to 10% to 15% additional revenue.

If a publisher argues the need to take organic revenues into account in order to scale more, that’s because its UA — the reason you signed with them in the first place — is not profitable enough to scale further. Your organic traffic should be neither collateral, nor a subsidy for the publisher’s UA spend.

Solutions to protect yourself:

-Defining a binding direct Return on Ad Spend target (not a “soft goal”)
-Excluding your current organic traffic as baseline from the UA payback
-Including only a fixed (small) organic uplift factor

2. One-sided budget decision authority

Tied in closely with the above point is the publisher’s right to unilaterally decide how much to spend on UA. When the publisher is fundamentally incentivised to pursue a spending strategy that doesn’t benefit you — to spend as much as possible that still generates a 20% profit margin — it is unhealthy to allow it sole authority over budget.

The conflict of interest is even worse if the publisher recoups from organic traffic: this would allow the publisher to settle for a UA spend that reaches 20% profit margin only by including the revenues from your organic users。 This means unprofitable UA, subsidised by your organic income, and it moves your potential profit entirely into the publisher’s pockets。

It is well known that on the same game, a higher volume of spend means lower profit margin。 Going from a 1。2x return on UA investment to a 1。3x return with the same or higher scale — the point at which you begin to profit — is incredibly difficult, and only gets more so as the game matures。

So not only does a publisher under this model have no need to deliver higher returns, as long as it’s comfortably pocketing its own margin, it also has very limited ability to do so — no matter what it tells you。 Leaving its budgets unchallenged under these circumstances is extremely unwise。

Additionally to the protections mentioned in the previous point, a veto right or a binding consultation requirement are clauses that can help protect you against exploitation.

3。 Loss of control over your IP

When a publisher carries the majority of development risk, limitations over or even ownership of the game IP is a reasonable request。 However, a publisher only taking minimal risk on a user acquisition deal does not justify them restricting in any way your freedom to utilise your IP。

It’s reasonable if the publisher demands exclusivity for the specific UA channels they work on. It’s unreasonable if they have broad distribution exclusivity but don’t guarantee activity. Look out for clauses restricting distribution on other stores or platforms.

Any limits on “derivative works,” or similar clauses restricting the developer’s creation of “competitive” products, mean a developer effectively granting the publisher control over its own IP for the duration of the deal after carrying all the risk creating the IP themselves。

This might be reasonable if the publisher were offering more than just UA investment — fronting all development costs, for example — but it is certainly unfair in the context of these UA-focused deals.

4。 Restricted termination rights

Particularly if any or all of the above mechanics come into play, as a developer you need an effective termination right if you’re dissatisfied with the publisher’s performance. A prolonged period without regular termination right is unreasonable.

But even in cases where the option to terminate is technically in the hands of the developer, it can be made incredibly difficult in practice thanks to forced and immediate payback of any UA spend the publisher has yet to recoup — with their ~20% margin on top, of course.

This can keep you locked into unfavourable deals for a long time or force you to take an unpleasant cashflow hit. Worse still, the payback requirement is triggered even if the publisher terminates the deal.

Of course, the publisher has a right to recoup its investments, but a more reasonable way to do this would be to simply let the previous UA spend be recouped from revenues of the acquired cohorts as they mature after termination. Restricted termination, particularly in combination with the three clauses listed above, can also severely reduce the value of your company for a potential buyer or investor.

Unfortunately, the outcome for those working under these arrangements is clear: they will either die or be acquired very cheaply because it’s their one lifeline。 And what of the publishers pushing these deals? Exploitative business models only exist for some time, and sooner or later this one will die out, too。

So if you’ve been offered a publishing contract, I’d urge you to study it carefully for any of the hidden traps outlined above。 If you’re still unsure, the best approach would be to seek help from someone experienced in publishing contracts and who knows what to look out for。

I write this with the hope that we can return to agreements between developers and publishers that are crafted in the interests of both parties, with at least the ambition for both to reap the rewards. In its current guise, third-party mobile game publishing fails to fulfil even this most basic requirement.(source:)

 


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