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Playdead Confirms Limbo's PSN Deal Crumbled Over Ownership Concerns

Developer defends decision to to hold the line on rights to its game.

Limbo, like many digital games this generation, started on XBLA and moved elsewhere.

Limbo developer Playdead has confirmed reports from earlier this week that Limbo could have debuted on PlayStation Network.

Eerie platformer Limbo was released on Xbox Live Arcade first, but eventually came to PSN (a year later!), PC, Mac, and even Linux.

At the Develop Conference, Sony Computer Entertainment executive producer Pete Smith said if Sony had given up its demands to control Limbo, it may have premiered on PSN.

“There are obvious benefits to keeping it, but also to giving it up: you're way more likely to get the deal," said Smith. "Remember: 100 per cent of nothing is nothing. A publisher is much more likely to commit to marketing and merchandising if they own the IP [intellectual property]. [...] Sometimes all we want is protection so [devs] don't make a game, finish it then go to one of our rivals. We look at IP on a case by case basis. With a bit of common sense, you can find common ground."

Clearly, common ground did not include giving up ownership of Limbo and its potential future. In addition to confirming the reports were accurate, the studio gave me a brief comment on its argument.

“As a development studio, the IP is the greatest value you have,” said Playdead CEO Dino Patti in a statement. “Especially creative IPs, they should always stay with their creators.”

When the story started spreading, Patti found support from creatives like Double Fine’s Tim Schafer.

“Developers who give up their IP thinking they'll get more support from their publishers are in for a frustrating lesson,” said Schafer on Twitter. “Every developer currently negotiating a pub deal: demand your IP rights! If only 1% win, it's still easier for the next developer! I never said publishers are evil. They can be great partners. But it's better for both parties if devs own IP. Better games!”

Playdead is actively at work at its next game, which will apparently be "more crazy than Limbo."

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek
Limbo, like many digital games this generation, started on XBLA and moved elsewhere.

Limbo developer Playdead has confirmed reports from earlier this week that Limbo could have debuted on PlayStation Network.

Eerie platformer Limbo was released on Xbox Live Arcade first, but eventually came to PSN (a year later!), PC, Mac, and even Linux.

At the Develop Conference, Sony Computer Entertainment executive producer Pete Smith said if Sony had given up its demands to control Limbo, it may have premiered on PSN.

“There are obvious benefits to keeping it, but also to giving it up: you're way more likely to get the deal," said Smith. "Remember: 100 per cent of nothing is nothing. A publisher is much more likely to commit to marketing and merchandising if they own the IP [intellectual property]. [...] Sometimes all we want is protection so [devs] don't make a game, finish it then go to one of our rivals. We look at IP on a case by case basis. With a bit of common sense, you can find common ground."

Clearly, common ground did not include giving up ownership of Limbo and its potential future. In addition to confirming the reports were accurate, the studio gave me a brief comment on its argument.

“As a development studio, the IP is the greatest value you have,” said Playdead CEO Dino Patti in a statement. “Especially creative IPs, they should always stay with their creators.”

When the story started spreading, Patti found support from creatives like Double Fine’s Tim Schafer.

“Developers who give up their IP thinking they'll get more support from their publishers are in for a frustrating lesson,” said Schafer on Twitter. “Every developer currently negotiating a pub deal: demand your IP rights! If only 1% win, it's still easier for the next developer! I never said publishers are evil. They can be great partners. But it's better for both parties if devs own IP. Better games!”

Playdead is actively at work at its next game, which will apparently be "more crazy than Limbo."

Posted by andrewf87462

awesome

Posted by Akyho

@andrewf87462 said:

awesome

Have you read the article?

Edited by falling_fast

good for them (playdead)

"Unless a publisher is really asleep at the wheel, they will never allow a developer to retain IP rights without being muscled into it.

This is also a reason why royalties are such a big deal to developers. Often, if a developer has even one hit with a decent royalty attachment, they can have a foundation of capital that gives them enormous leverage with publishers. Long ago I heard the tale of a big publisher that let a very small developer (I will not name them) earn a good royalty on a product that was not expected to be insanely successful. It was insanely successful and the developers earned an enormous amount of money. When the sequel to this product rolled around, the developer owned the IP (another big mistake of the publisher) and didn't like the publisher's offered terms. The developer was shopping it around to other publishers. Angry, one of the reps of the publisher said to the CEO of the developer, "You need us to make this game." The CEO said, "I can pay my team to do nothing for ten years and be just fine." The publisher huffed and puffed and eventually broke down, giving in to most of the developer's contractual requests.

This is a rare and legendary story for a reason."

-J.E. Sawyer

Posted by andrewf87462

"More crazy than Limbo", sounds good to me!

Posted by Maitimo

You can't really blame them. And the game got pushed well anyway, so it doesn't seem like they've really lost out here.

Posted by NegativeCero

This is really interesting. Behind the scenes things like these make me wish so much of things that happen in the industry weren't so closely kept secrets. But good for them, they got the best of both worlds-- ownership of their game and promotion of it in Summer of Arcade.

Edited by heavymetalwaffle

I don't necessarily want a sequel to Limbo, but if those Limbo 2 concept screens that leaked a while ago were real I would play the hell out of that game.

Posted by Zippedbinders

@damnable_fiend said:

good for them (playdead)

"Unless a publisher is really asleep at the wheel, they will never allow a developer to retain IP rights without being muscled into it.

This is also a reason why royalties are such a big deal to developers. Often, if a developer has even one hit with a decent royalty attachment, they can have a foundation of capital that gives them enormous leverage with publishers. Long ago I heard the tale of a big publisher that let a very small developer (I will not name them) earn a good royalty on a product that was not expected to be insanely successful. It was insanely successful and the developers earned an enormous amount of money. When the sequel to this product rolled around, the developer owned the IP (another big mistake of the publisher) and didn't like the publisher's offered terms. The developer was shopping it around to other publishers. Angry, one of the reps of the publisher said to the CEO of the developer, "You need us to make this game." The CEO said, "I can pay my team to do nothing for ten years and be just fine." The publisher huffed and puffed and eventually broke down, giving in to most of the developer's contractual requests.

This is a rare and legendary story for a reason."

-J.E. Sawyer

Damn, now I want to know who that was.

Posted by warmonked

"...With a bit of common sense, you can find common ground."

See how he still found the time to get in a subtle dig? Love executives.

Posted by Paindamnation

Thanks patrick.

Edited by Xeirus

Man I am excited as hell for the next game from them. I'm truly happy for them and hope they can keep this thing rolling!

@heavymetalwaffle said:

I don't necessarily want a sequel to Limbo, but if those Limbo 2 concept screens that leaked a while ago were real I would play the hell out of that game.

I don't think their next game is going to be another limbo...

But I would def play it

Posted by SpecDotSign

So, Sony's Pub Fund is bad?

Edited by JDillinger

So I guess publishers who fund games should have no guarantee that the potentially millions of dollars they front for development will actually lead to a salable product?

Posted by lordofultima

@Akyho said:

@andrewf87462 said:

awesome

Have you read the article?

awesome

Posted by BlackLagoon

@SpecDotSign said:

So, Sony's Pub Fund is bad?

This wasn't pub fund though, it was a straight up publishing deal. The pub fund is precisely for devs who want support from Sony without giving up their IP rights, but I guess Playdead though Microsoft offered a better deal.

Posted by Goldanas

If you ask me, I'd rather give up an IP if the product is made and done already. Personally, I have a distaste for sequels most of the time, especially if the first product is exactly the way I liked it. Let the publishers have the IP so I don't have to be a one note artist, and so I can go on and make whatever I want later. Stagnation is bad for this industry, and if creative heads only want to iterate on the same concept and setting over and over, then publishers will let them.

That said, Sony is not in a position to push hard like that for indie games that generally end up being smash hits. They need more heavy hitters to be relevant when they're in second or last place. However, had Sony gotten this game, I don't think it would have been as big, since most people don't care about games released on current Sony devices, regardless of quality, due in part to the way this generation has been playing out, and to the fact that Sony doesn't quite push enough. They need to put those Indie games at the same level of huge blockbusters, because that's really the best thing they have going for them.

Microsoft has the mainstream captivation. Sony needs a firmer grip on the Alternative audience. Sony's Android to Microsoft's iOS.

Posted by probablytuna

Well, at least it was released on PSN eventually. I also agree that developers should have control over their IP.

Posted by Evercaptor

Am I the only one that thought Limbo was reserved and somber? As such, "more crazy than limbo" sounds like saying "darker in tone than Viva Pinata..."

Posted by Nomin

IP is the lifeline of the developers where good novel ideas can propel them into the mainstream. I believe giving up control of it means tentatively giving into indentured servitude or suicide, whichever it eventually ends up, given how the small developers nowadays have only one chance to make it or go broke. And there's no guarantee had they acquiesced to Sony's demands, that Limbo will ever see its day outside of PSN, stifling the developer with lowered sales, at least in short term, and exposure.

Posted by GalacticPunt

Good on them for standing up for creator rights.

I say this as someone who got Limbo as part of the Humble Bundle, and hates everything about the game!

Posted by Humanity

Limbo had a terrible ending but a solid game.

Posted by Lego_My_Eggo

@JDillinger said:

So I guess publishers who fund games should have no guarantee that the potentially millions of dollars they front for development will actually lead to a salable product?

If the game sells well the publisher gets a cut even if they don't own the IP and gets there money back and then some. A publisher owning the IP just gives them more control over the property, so if the developer makes a hit game they cant make a better deal later with the same publisher or someone else, because they now effectively own what the developer made.

Posted by KillyDarko
@JDillinger said:

So I guess publishers who fund games should have no guarantee that the potentially millions of dollars they front for development will actually lead to a salable product?

The vast majority of indie games are not really funded by publishers. And Sony most certainly didn't fund LIMBO.
Posted by Korwin

@JDillinger said:

So I guess publishers who fund games should have no guarantee that the potentially millions of dollars they front for development will actually lead to a salable product?

That's not really relevant in the case of IP ownership. They still get their cut of the sales either way after the release, they just aren't able to run the IP into the ground if it's successful.

Edited by Kosayn

The battle to lock down platform exclusives for two nearly identical consoles, which are only going to be even more identical in the next generation. It's a good reminder that some forms of competition don't always result in innovation.

That's the main reason for publishers want the IP rights. The other one is perhaps so they can force out a sequel to original IPs in under a year, because we all know that game 2 after a fan favorite is the one that makes the big money, almost regardless of quality. Word of mouth always sells the next one, not the current one.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair
@JDillinger

So I guess publishers who fund games should have no guarantee that the potentially millions of dollars they front for development will actually lead to a salable product?

Because taking someone's intellectual property is the only way the game will make money, right?

Plenty of things you can build into a contract to protect against that sort of thing.
Posted by UltimAXE

The funny thing about wanting to hold onto the rights to your IP is that it probably has less to do with maintaining creative control of the IP's future and more to do with being able to release it on every platform under the sun. Why limit yourself to Sony when you can also see sales from MS and Steam? I feel like this is true now more than it would have been in the past.

Posted by m2cks

@Evercaptor said:

Am I the only one that thought Limbo was reserved and somber? As such, "more crazy than limbo" sounds like saying "darker in tone than Viva Pinata..."

I agree with you on Limbo's tone, but I think what they meant by "more crazy than Limbo" was a shift in said tone to a more chaotic, action-focused one. That's how I interpreted it, anyway.

Posted by Freshbandito

@Goldanas: I don't think you understand all the reasons as to why a developer would want to maintain the rights to an ip.

Posted by chilibean_3

Good on them. Were those dudes industry vets that already knew giving up the IP would be a mistake or just savvy newcomers that took the right advice from the right people? Either way the discussions Tim Shaffer had were very interesting.

Posted by tourgen

Good for them. Publishers serve a function but they shouldn't own IP rights to anything.

Posted by Milkman

@Humanity said:

Limbo had a terrible ending but a solid game.

The ending is absolutely perfect but whatevs.

Good for Playdead for sticking to their guns.

Posted by yyZiggurat

Good for Playdead for both hanging on to the IP and not holding a grudge against Playstation (releasing the game on PSN albeit much later than XBLA)

By the way, -

"Remember: 100 per cent of nothing is nothing.

Shouldn't this be "percent"?

Posted by jaks

Aside from the fact this barely deserved one story, much less two. I don't see how the studio could have benefitted by keeping the IP. It's not like Limbo 2 is ever gonna get made.

Posted by YukoAsho

Slow news week?

Posted by random07

Ooohh major companies, you suck.

Posted by TheKreep

@Goldanas: I guess one of the major problems I associate with giving up your IP (not being a game developer) is the potential for them to take your creation and pervert it into something that I wouldn't be proud to be associated with.

Just because you own the IP, doesn't necessarily mean that you have to keep working on that IP forever.

It just means that you have control over what happens to it, which can ONLY be a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.

Edited by KingsMessenger

So... MS charges obscene amounts of money and Sony refuses to do anything unless they own the IP...

I can't imagine that it will be much longer before indie developers just abandon the consoles altogether and focus entirely on PC development with distribution through Steam. That way you get to own your IP, keep the vast majority of your profits and have total control over patches. Throw in the ability to do Steam Sales for publicity/marketing, and consoles look less and less relevant.

Posted by siaynoq

Maybe they'll do a sequel to Limbo with the girl's point of view. Or maybe that would just involve you sitting there on the grass the whole time.

Posted by Humanity

@Milkman said:

@Humanity said:

Limbo had a terrible ending but a solid game.

The ending is absolutely perfect but whatevs.

Good for Playdead for sticking to their guns.

To me it seemed like it just ended like POOF it's over. To each their own of course.

Posted by BlackLagoon

@KingsMessenger said:

Sony refuses to do anything unless they own the IP...

Sony won't publish the title unless they own the IP, but devs are free to self publish on PSN, and can get support from Sony through the pub fund program.

Posted by VargasPrime

Glad to hear that it worked out for Playdead, even though other small developers may not have been so confident or fortunate.

All I know is that I will be buying whatever Playdead's next game is, day 1.

Posted by LikeaSsur

@Humanity: It was an extremely subtle ending. It, heck, the whole game is one of those "make up your own interpretation" things.

Edited by Corvak

@KingsMessenger: Time and time again, consoles have proven to be weak sellers (of digital only indie releases) compared to services like Desura and Steam. Steam moves more games, and takes less of a cut than XBLA and PSN. Valve doesn't release sales info, but when Super Meat Boy released on PC, Team Meat said they saw more money from a week on Steam than a month on XBLA.

Posted by kpaadet

@Corvak: Since like you said nobody releases sales numbers (unless they are really good), nobody can tell if Steam is a better place for indies to sell their games. Super Meatboy is only one developer among many.

Tim Schafers words sounds really hollow to me, when he apparently had no problem giving up the Iron Brigade/Trenched IP in order to be part of the Summer of Acade.

Posted by Vexxan

Can't wait to see what Playdead's next game is, I love LIMBO.

Posted by VargasPrime

@Corvak: And that's with Steam constantly putting things on sale, plus offering at least a slight discount for pre-orders. I've been increasingly disappointed with XBLA and PSN as distribution services. You would think that seeing the sheer amount of fervor during Steam sale periods would have prompted Microsoft and Sony to adapt their own marketplaces at least a little.

Edited by VargasPrime

@kpaadet said:

@Corvak: Since like you said nobody releases sales numbers (unless they are really good), nobody can tell if Steam is a better place for indies to sell their games. Super Meatboy is only one developer among many.

Tim Schafers words sounds really hollow to me, when he apparently had no problem giving up the Iron Brigade/Trenched IP in order to be part of the Summer of Acade.

How do you know Schafer "had no problem" giving up the Trenched IP? Just because that's the way it happened doesn't mean his words make any less sense. The fact that they've managed to get Psychonauts, Costume Quest, and Stacking all ported to other platforms, including PC, makes Trenched look like the exception to his rule, which would indicate that maybe that was a last-ditch effort to get it published. Or maybe they needed the money from MS in order to keep making games.

Also, I would take the fact that Steam has grown into such a huge distribution network, with an immense catalog and constant sales, to mean that they're doing pretty well. Sometimes you don't need numbers to know when something is working.

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