Friday, October 21, 2005

Licensing woes

Many products these days, games included, use an existing, popular, intellectual property as a selling point. "If you like the IP, this game's for you!" The major advantage to licensing an IP is getting an established customer base. There are, however, also many pitfalls.

Communicating with the property owner can be a big problem if you don't have a clear direct channel. An easy way to get into a low-communication situation is to license an anime property.

If you want to make a game for an anime property in the USA, you get the license from the American distributor of that anime, who gets the license from the Japansese distributor. That's at least one "unnecessary" level of communication. If you work as a game designer for a game company, you might have another layer to go though - the marketing or licensing department in your own company.

Recently, I wanted to get something from an anime IP owner, and I have to go through at least this many layers. I wrote a nice e-mail, explaining what I needed. Prior to this, I had demonstrated directly for the American licensor the game's concept. They found it most pleasing, and at the time verbally assured me they could get this thing I needed for me. Well months later and I still don't have it so I'm writing this e-mail. I remain very polite and professional in my request.

After going through my people, the American licensor, the Japanese company, and back again, all I get is: "No." Not even the slightest explanation. I press my company people and then get a slightly bigger no, with basically a "we're not interested in helping you with that, don't do it that way." Which is nice, after I've spent 4 months of work operating under the assumption that I would be helped to do it this way.

I'm confident in my design, it's a perfect fit to the property. I want to use some images that are from an associated work. That work is not owned by the same people, and aparrently "they hate each other" - the anime IP owners and the owners of this other thing I need. That's all I get though: "they hate each other." Which can't be simply true. I press again, and finally people in my own company actually show me the e-mail they recieved from the American licensor. This e-mail tells me the American licensor is on my side and wants what I want, but the Japanese people are saying they want the anime and the thing I need to be kept separate. This is ludicrous, but there is nothing I can do about it.


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