Speaking at the Develop Conference in Brighton last week, Sony Computer Entertainment executive producer Pete Smith admitted that the company was in talks with Danish studio Playdead about releasing Limbo exclusively on PSN. Talks broke down, however, after Sony insisted on retaining IP rights as part of the deal.
The revelation came at the close of a thorough breakdown of the dos and don'ts of pitching games to publishers. "I maybe shouldn't say this, but we had issues when we were trying to sign Limbo because of the IP," Smith said. Playdead then signed a deal with Microsoft that saw its game released in July 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade, and on PSN and Steam a year later.
Smith's admission was at odds with the IP advice he gave earlier in the talk. "There are obvious benefits to keeping it, but also to giving it up: you're way more likely to get the deal," he said. "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.
"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."
But not in the case of Limbo, which sold 300,000 copies in its first month on XBLA; by the end of 2010 it had sold over half a million, and by the close of 2011 sales had passed the one million mark. It sold well on PSN – well enough to be named the top-selling thirdparty game on PSN in 2011 – but it would have done much better had Sony got there first.
Yet there is logic to Smith's advice, and earlier in his talk he gave the example of one unnamed developer who wanted the moon on a stick in return for the publishing rights to its new game "They pitched a good game, and wanted to keep the IP, have a massive development spend, bigger royalties, and guaranteed unit sales and marketing spend," Smith said. "They'd have got one of those."
Smith's talk was nonetheless full of good advice for devs building up to their first pitch, and we'll be publishing a full report of his advice on how to pitch a videogame to a publisher later this week.