Ingmar: I’d suggest that you can have the best game in the world, but you’re not going to sell it with bad marketing. How can you improve sales for the enhanced edition of J.U.L.I.A. and make it the type of success it deserves to be?
Jan: While we don’t have the best game in the world, it certainly deserves more than a publish’n’forget™ scheme. I was moved by the reaction of many gamers writing me personally about how they loved the game. So I believe that being sincere with the community rather than pretending the game is something it isn’t is the best plan. I also don’t plan to sell the game for an insane amount of money, which is already visible from the IGG campaign. That’s another good thing about self-publishing. You can control your price.
So we plan to focus much more on the community. I want to try to reach players more directly, explaining why this game might be special for them and why they should give it a chance. Our crowdfunding experiment has proven to me that this is the correct direction we should have taken years ago. Also, I have a tremendous amount of help with the whole #IndieSupport social media movement started by Say Salazar and followed by such indie stars as Agustín Cordes, César Bittar, Steven Alexander and many others. It’s incredible to see how Say, as a single individual, invested her whole self into this movement made a difference for the whole world!
I believe that if indie developers share their support, it will be beneficial for everyone. It’s a no-brainer that community effort will always have much more direct impact than individual attempts to survive.
We will never have millions to do the same amount of marketing as the big guys do and to be honest I’m more interested in getting J.U.L.I.A. to players than to sell them plush Mobots.
#IndieSupport chat on YouTube
Ingmar: Though it doesn't seem that long ago, lots of things have happened since our last interview with you. Please tell us in detail what happened between the release of J.U.L.I.A. and now, especially where your ill-fated publishing deal is concerned.
Jan: It’s already a quite well known story. J.U.L.I.A. and J.U.L.I.A. Untold were exclusively published by Lace Mamba Global, and we were almost destroyed by the fact that our three years of extremely hard work and my own investments yielded no financial result. Actually, it was quite the opposite, as I’ve spent an insane amount of time trying to obtain a royalty report which, to this very day, I still don’t have.
So in the meantime we created another game called Vampires! (PC, Mac) and Crazy Vampires (iOS, Android) with in order to survive this blow. However, we were not able to reach the proper market with this game so it still awaits its discovery.
We’ve also created a few prototypes for two new adventure games that we wanted to get properly funded, but unfortunately, even if we set the price as low as humanly possible, the reaction is that adventure games won’t be getting funding anytime soon. So this all contributed to the bad situation we’ve faced and was a key factor in my crowdfunding decision.
Ingmar: I was an eye witness to you and Lukáš (Medek, co-developer at CBE) chasing Lace Mamba at gamescom last year to confront them with the fact that they hadn’t paid you a single dollar. Without success, unfortunately. Since then, you decided to go public with the way that company treated you (and others). How did you come up with that unusual decision and how much of an effect did it have from your perspective? I was quite impressed by the wave of solidarity from other developers on Facebook.
Jan takes a break from chasing Lace Mamba in Cologne, relaxing between Lukáš Medek and Steve Ince
Jan: I came up with this decision just after we’d paid expensive lawyers to get back the publishing rights. Just to be clear: we never sold away the property rights for J.U.L.I.A., only the publishing rights. When even sending such a formal legal letter didn’t trigger any reaction, I decided to warn the world. Simply stated, I don’t want other naïve developers falling into the same trap. Keep in mind that LMG acted like a solid company and it was quite easy to trust them. This turned wrong as soon as they were supposed to provide their reports or pay.
Ingmar: The official excuse from LMG seems kind of odd to me. They blame Jason Codd and claim that one department didn’t know what the other one was doing – which is kind of hard to believe. Is it as easy as that? Find a scapegoat, blame him as the sole person responsible, and we’re out of this mess? I doubt that’s going to work. What’s your take on the Lace Mamba reaction, and did you finally receive your money?
Jan: To my understanding, this is another false fact. Lace Mamba Global is informally part of the so-called Lace Group and there are entities like Lace Mamba Digital, Mamba Games, etc. I’ve heard that Jason Codd is still CEO in at least one of those companies so it almost seems to be just a show for the public. Also, this shady chain of companies allows them to diminish the developer's cut along the way. The actual income really doesn’t come even remotely close to what you would expect from the contract.
In January 2013, we finally received the "advanced" payment for J.U.L.I.A. (based upon the invoice we issued in July – after the game was released – and was still never paid though the course of 2012) and it almost seemed that Lace Mamba Global wanted to seriously clear this mess. But look at the calendar – it’s March and we still don’t have a proper report for 2012.
When they asked me to hunt down one of their sub-licensors myself, I just abandoned my hopes. So while I still plan certain steps to get something from them, it’s obvious that the “reformed LMG” was just a way to shut us up. If I really wanted to fix such a nasty situation, I’d work my ass off to get it done.
My last comment about this “deal” – even if we forget about lies and everything – would be that if the worldwide publisher to whom you entrust exclusive rights gets you less money for the whole year of exclusive sales than you do for a week of an IndieGoGo campaign (and I am not talking Kickstarter here), you know that they are lousy partners. I am really glad that the story was picked up and other developers joined this cause, resulting in that open letter which was published here at Adventure Gamers as well. I hope that it helped shine light on what really was going on behind the closed door.
Ingmar Böke and Jan Kavan at gamescom
Ingmar: We both have quite a few friends in the industry, so we've heard lots of horror stories about other publishers as well. Has the time come for developers to finally stand up and tell the public about the disgusting behavior of publishers in detail and to fight back after CBE took the first step?
Jan: It’s hard and expensive to fight back, and the result is really unsure. Even if you manage to take it to court, the company just shuts down or resells to a different company (in name only), thus breaking the paper trail. So at the end of the day you end up with having to pay your lawyers with no way to squeeze the money out of the publisher.
I don’t think that most publishers are really even the solution because, especially in the adventure genre, they almost never fund anymore. They expect you to pour your money into the game and then they have no risk attached. So the game is published and they don’t have to care because either the game brings them money or not. If not, they just ask for the next game, effectively killing (especially) small developers in the process.Continued on the next page...