Workshop Reflections

The IP Business Model Workshop, Dundee, 20/5/18

Robyn McMillan, PhD student, The University of Abertay

Can you tell us about yourself and why were you interested in getting involved?

I am a first year PhD student at the University of Abertay Dundee. My thesis currently focuses on exploring and developing interactive narratives to support cancer patients. It is my hope that through research and engagement with the cancer research community that I will be able to develop a game that helps future patients and survivors.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to help out at the IP workshop organised by Helen Mullen and Matt Barr. Whilst I understood the importance of Intellectual Property within the games industry, as a person who is has been primarily concerned with developing games based on research I must admit that IP hasn’t really been a primary focus in terms of what I will develop in due course over my project. Nevertheless I believe it is important to involve myself with issues outside of my main research focus, so I was eager to hear what Helen Mullen (University of Glasgow), David Hamilton (Ninja Kiwi) and the audience’s thoughts were within the games industry were.

What was the aim of the workshop and who attended?

The workshop itself focused on figuring out the key problems with the industries IP, through a discussion of these issues, a presentation of Helen's’ work and a talk by David from Ninja Kiwi were used to provide an in-depth dialogue of the key issues involving IP. Helen highlighted that the session was interactive, which I believe was key to generating this conversation! The audience was comprised of students such as myself, academics, people within the industry from Ninja Kiwi, Pocket Sized Hands and the Biome Collective as well as others that joined the conversation from a business perspective.

Can you talk us through what was covered at the workshop?

Helens initial discussion focused on how it felt for companies who currently are involved in work for hire to the shift into an IP model and the distinct tension that arose from these two models. What was interesting for me was the notion of values in terms of the ownership of an IP and growing a company around it, creative autonomy and the broader values that go beyond money as a primary factor for motivating individuals and companies to drive for an IP model. On the other hand, the work for hire values conflicted with games being used as a means to generate profit and sell, how realistic is it to take the more creative ideas and build a company around it and the sense of being looked down over in terms of developing an IP to quote the “cringe factor over work for hire”.

The initial interactive part of the workshop involved focus on getting the audience into small groups to discuss and write down their views on what IP meant to them and if they were feeling extra creative draw a doodle to visualise this! Common themes of ownership, creative control and the transition were key to many people. However, whilst legal recognition was important it is clear that developers also recognition from a wider audience.

Following on from this David from Ninja Kiwi (initially Digital Goldfish) talked about his take on IP. As a previous undergraduate in the School of Design and Informatics at Abertay, it was great to hear that Ninja Kiwi had initially started from an honours project. However, he did highlight that part of their success was down to luck and opportunities presenting themselves and that starting such companies can be about timing. He described the release of the IPhone as being like “graduation all over again” in terms of developing apps. Moreover, he talked about the creation of IP’s just to bring about funding, and had a great success with their project “Balloons”, so much so that they turned down a project for SpongeBob (even thought they loved it!). The reasoning behind this being that “why give the other company the rights to something that they had made”.

His talk also brought about the discussion about whether it is more difficult for people to become successful now and in ways, it might be because most platforms are now filled with a variety of games that will be competition to what you are trying to create.

The final part of the workshop focused on selecting a problem with IP and how the industry might collectively find solutions for this. What was interesting that some people within the audience had similar ideas, which might lead to finding some productive solutions!

What did you learn from attending the workshop?

Overall, this workshop has been very interesting for me as I previously hadn’t given too much thought in terms of IP on work that I have done previously. My main focus has been on what the best approach for my own work might be, however it has definitely inspired me to consider what IP should mean to me with regards to my final output for my PhD. Moreover, I was surprised by how everyone was keen to see more support in terms of the exchange of ideas in order to help others starting out within the industry, which was fantastic to hear. On the whole, I feel like I still have a lot to learn but the workshop was very informative, engaging and fun; and I would encourage others to attend any future workshops!

The IP Business Model Workshop, Edinburgh, 6/6/18

Carina Assuncao, Masters student, University of Edinburgh

Who are you and why were you interested in getting involved?

I’m a games studies researcher, so being at an industry-engagement workshop sounded very interesting in itself! The specific theme around IP was not something I had had to research before, so it was a nice interactive way to start thinking about these issues. In addition, I have a paper in the pipeline that relates to licensing and IP; just a few days before this event, the developers of PUBG announced a lawsuit against the developers of Fortnite. I thought the situation would come up in discussion.

What was the aim of the workshop and who attended?

I believe the event aimed at discussing the different business models in the videogames industry. It aimed at getting industry professionals and academics together to talk about the strengths and limitations of creating IP vs. licensing. There were two very short presentations by Dr. Mullen and Mellissa Knox from Blazing Griffin. Afterwards, discussion with attendees started with some exercises to find out each individual’s experience with IP.

Can you talk us through what was covered at the workshop?

From Melissa’s presentation, I found it quite interesting when she said “It’s always work-for-hire in the organisation--Unless you’re the person who owns the place, you’re never doing whatever you want”. It makes sense but, as a games designer graduate, I believe it’s something that needs to be instilled in students’ minds during the degree. I don’t believe that my colleagues, for instance, were made aware of these dynamics at work in the games industry. It would be interesting to know the state of the curricula right now at GCU, for instance, who launched an Indy Dev degree since I graduated. Some other comments on this:

  • Teaching students how to apply for funding and recognise good deals from publishers.
  • Know how to sell the game – because it is a business. Prepare students for commercial reality vs. their existing skillset. Curricula should include communication and marketing skills.
  • Have in mind that a game will only sell half the number of copies one thinks it will.
  • E.g. Dr Matt Barr’s comment that only 1 out of 120 took up the offer for 1-1 tuition on how to pitch game ideas.

What did you learn from attending the workshop?

I found really interesting the discussion around work and being contracted temporarily to work on a specific game. I remember someone asking the question “where does creativity lie?” because work-for-hire disengages the designer/programmer/artist from their creativity. Someone mentioned work-for-hire can even be seen as an embarrassment. Others mentioned the mentality as being like “I don’t care about this, it’s going to be shit and nobody is going to play it but I don’t care because I’m getting paid”. On the one hand, creating their own IP is probably the ultimate goal why they joined the games industry in the first place. On the other hand, work-for-hire brings economic stability, which is very important for a certain demographic; this was brought up by someone in the audience – there was a time in their life that creative freedom and economic stability were simply incompatible. Older people with experience – we're losing them because they're treated badly; there are no unions and people leave because of a lack of job security.


The IP Business Model Workshop, Glasgow, 12/6/18

Alicia Copeland, PhD student, The University of Glasgow

Can you tell us about yourself and why were you interested in getting involved?

I am a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. My research focuses on linguistics and game studies. However – despite my interest in games – I do not know a ton from the developer or business side of things. That is a bit of a pity when you consider it, because I must be missing part of a much larger picture. Attending the industry engagement workshop was therefore quite interesting to me.

What was the aim of the workshop and who attended?

At the Glasgow event we had quite a few people who wanted to break into the gaming industry, (mostly students studying game development at university,) and a couple who were already established within the industry. After a quick introduction by Dr. Barr, Dr. Mullen provided an overview of her research to attendees and then the guest speaker, Colin MacDonald, presented on IP.

Can you talk us through what was covered at the workshop?

I really enjoyed hearing about Dr. Mullen’s research in investigating the experience of small game developers who switched from a work-for-hire model to an IP-based one. She is now using her initial findings to examine the needs of Scottish game developers. It is honestly refreshing to see research so engaged with the “real world”. I know sometimes I feel frustrated with my own work, so I enjoyed hearing about how Dr. Mullen’s research could potentially impact the Scottish gaming industry.

Mr. MacDonald’s talk was naturally business-focused, but the overall concept was something that even I could latch onto and apply to my own life, despite my lack of business knowledge. It is important to balance practicality and creativity in life. Mr. MacDonald stressed that it does not matter how creative you are if you go out of business. Passion is wonderful, but at the end of the day small developers need to keep in mind that they are running a business and their passion is more than just a hobby. Treat a business like the business it is.

What did you learn from attending the workshop?

I was speaking to some of the pre-industry game developer students and apparently, they do not learn a lot of the business side of things during their degree. I think it could be great for the Scottish gaming industry if courses for game development were balanced between the creative and business aspects of making and selling a game. Speaking about things like IP in-depth early on would be very helpful for them.