Where Credit is Due

[this article was originally posted on MochiLand.com]

Credits are those long, scrolling pages of text at the end of the movie that you watch just to see if the filmmakers added a special jokey tack-on scene at the end of the flick. If you read closely, you’ll see that they are the names of people who worked on the movie, listed alongside their job titles. In film, there are credits for the big people – the executive producer, the director and the principal actors – all the way down to the little people – the sandwich grip, the second-line gaffer, and the assistant schloob.

Credits

The elusive and rarely-seen credit roll, photographed here in its natural environment.

If you look closely, you’ll begin to see credits everywhere. They’re tacked on to the beginning and end of teevee shows, they’re inside album liner notes, and they pop up at the end of your favourite home console or computer video games. But the one place you won’t find them is in online free-to-play Flash games – partly because Flash game developers decide not to put them there, and partly because developers are actively blocked from adding credits to their games by corporations with selfish interests.

Flashsploitation

More than just being a token kind gesture recognizing the hard work and effort people put into an entertainment product, for mature industries like film, television and music, credits are actually a key cog in the machine. The CVs and resumes of performers and technicians rely on the credits system; often, your ability to land future jobs is based on the credits you’ve amassed on earlier projects. Because of this, there are unions and guilds strictly guiding the practice of giving credit, in order to protect entertainment professionals from exploitation.

Nunsploitation

It’s equally important to protect entertainment professionals from nunsploitation.

The Flash game ecosystem is notorious for being packed with non-professionals, but we boast our fair share of pros. Many game developers do what’s called “service work” to pay their bills. A company will approach a known game developer, and will contract him to build a Flash game to certain specifications. My own company, Untold Entertainment Inc., is just such a developer. We survive on service work, largely building Flash games and Flash websites for clients like kids’ television production companies. If a prodco has a teevee show, especially if it’s targeted towards kids, they’ll also want someone to build them a web game to help promote and extend their brand. Companies like Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney regularly contract Flash game developers to build their arsenal of online games.

Disney

Disney. i’m posting their logo because i have a death wish.

If you wanted to find out which developers built these games though, you’re largely out of luck. Try fishing through the games on the sites i mentioned and look for production credits – even a single logo of the developer who built the game. With a few rare exceptions, you’ll come up empty-handed, game after game. Before founding Untold Entertainment, i worked at a media conglomerate serving a number of kids’ teevee stations. Throughout my time there, i made over fifty games. i was not credited for a single one.

Keep it Secret, Keep It Safe

Once out in the “real world”, i began to actively ask my clients for credits in the games i produced for them – a logo, at the very least. Credit is one way to boost morale and mutual respect among your developers, and beyond that – it just seems RIGHT, you know? When teevee and film are crediting their most important people down to the very guy who tapes the pylons to the road, it just didn’t seem right that the team or individual who created the entire game wouldn’t be recognized. And having my logo feature in the game somewhere could be a compelling driver for future business. All a prospective client need do is cruise through Cartoon Network’s site, for example, see my logo, and call me up with a contract offer.

Bananaphone

With any luck, they’ll call me on the bananaphone.

Aye – there’s the rub. That’s exactly the situation that a client like Disney or Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon wants to avoid. They don’t want anyone else contracting out “their” developers. More competition for developers means that the devs will be more highly paid, and it may be more difficult for them to get their games made if the best devs are in higher demand.

No Promo

The second excuse i hear for not allowing credit is that these companies don’t want to let on that they didn’t do all the work themselves. There’s this strange macho corporate pride in pretending that all of their interactive work was done in-house – or at least, that’s the excuse they all give me. But a quick look through the credits of any special effects-laden film, for example, shows that individual effects shots are farmed out to numerous different special effects houses. This serves the special effects team in two ways: they can say they worked on Blockbuster 2: the Awesoming, and prospective clients can see their name in the credits, which both increases their brand recognition, and enables clients to contract them for new work.

Explosion

The Awesoming is two and a half hours of explosions, nudity, and Hasselhoff.

But surely, a Flash game developer can at least SAY he worked on a given project, right? Actually, no. Many of these clients specify in the contract language that the game developer cannot even say he worked on the game. That means no screenshots on his site, and no link to the game. The developer must disavow any knowledge that the project ever happened, Mission: Impossible style. On one of my contracts, the client forbade me from ever mentioning i worked on the project. This became a sticking point, and when i fought for the right to promote, the client struck a bizarre bargain: i could promote my involvement in the project anywhere but online. Of course, the web is the only place i ever promote my work with Untold Entertainment.

It Doesn’t Ad Up

You could argue that the work we Flash game developers do for these companies amounts to advertising. Creating a game to promote The Family Guy or the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse shows is tantamount to creating an interactive advertisement online. And since teevee commercial spots don’t credit their creators, games promoting shows don’t need to either.

This argument falls down for two reasons: for one, there’s really no room in a teevee spot to credit the creators, but there’s plenty of room in Flash games, as they’re not temporally limited to 30 seconds. On the second count, advertising agencies promote their work all the time. Visit any agency website, and you’ll see the logos for the brands they’ve repped displayed proudly and prominently on the main page. Many sites actually do list credits for the commercials they created. Industry awards like the Clios list teevee commercial and print ad credits in full on their websites.

2010 Clio Award Winner

The 2010 Grand Clio Award winner

Credits are important. They serve as proof that a developer completed the work he said he did. They help to increase a developer’s brand awareness, and they help new clients reach Flash game developers that they otherwise may not have known about. Clients who refuse to credit developers, and who actively block developers from promoting the work are preventing the industry from maturing in the name of their own selfish interests.

Resistance by Insistence

So what’s to be done? When I started hearing from new clients that they wanted to use me instead of my more well-known competitor, i asked what he’d done to lose their business. Their answer? “He started getting pushy about credit.” Asking for credit, or even demanding credit that is rightly due to us as developers, is apparently hazardous to your health. It can harm your business. It may even be possible to land new contracts simply by forfeiting your game credit. Clients really seem to go for that type of thing.

But you know what i say? Screw that. The solution is for ALL Flash game developers to demand the credit they are due on ALL projects. Even if you’re not in this fee-for-service racket, you should add a Credits link to the main page of your Flash game as a matter of course. You need to create a logo and preface your own game with it – or simply use your own name (e.x. “A game by Ryan Henson Creighton”) Build your personal brand so that if clients come calling, you’ll have established a credit expectation in all of your games.

If ALL Flash games have a credits page (just as ALL teevee shows, movies, album liner notes, gallery installations, operas, stage plays, and nearly every other mature form of artistic expression or entertainment already has), then it will be simply unspeakable for a client to ask that you remove your name from the game. You can also support the IGDA in their efforts to create a Credit Standards guide, and point your clients to that guide during contract negotiations. For our part, Untold Entertainment now requires credit and promotion rights on all of our contracts – otherwise, we simply don’t take the job. If we as developers band together and demand recognition for our creative efforts as they do in so many other entertainment industries, together we can drag online games kicking and screaming from adolescence to adulthood.

Credits: this article was written by Ryan Henson Creighton, assistant schloob.

22 thoughts on “Where Credit is Due

  1. John

    The way I see it, I am legally obliged to tell the truth on my CV, no exceptions.

    That means describing what I did, who for etc. And my CV is available online in the form of a portfolio.

    Any client that wants me to lie on my CV needs to state this explicitly in writing, which is something they’re unlikely to do, especially if they consult with their legal dept first.

    John

    Reply
    1. Sean Bawden

      There’s clearly a difference between lying, i.e. saying you worked for WidgetCo when you did not, and not telling the whole truth.

      Reply
          1. Ryan Henson Creighton

            Yeah, well that’s the thing … the biggest reason i want to promote all this work is that i want to have constantly refreshed content on my site so that it looks like my studio is very active, and that we’re producing a lot of great stuff (which we are). If i go a year with the same game featured on my home page (as i actually have), i worry it gives people the sense that we’re static and that we don’t really / can’t really handle a variety and large intake of projects. (We can.)

  2. Mike

    I agree that you deserve recognition on all your work.
    Why not make the companies pay extra to not have the credits, like exclusivity contracts the tabloids make with the Hollywood actors. If they want you and only you, then they gotta pay, otherwise they pay less and share your name.

    Reply
      1. Ben Olding

        I think in business its always good to put things in a positive light, and saying “yes i can certainly do that, but it will cost a bit extra”. As for how much its worth, I think that depends on m how much its worth to you and how much you are getting for the project, If you feel that you are already being fleeced, then it should be worth a lot as the potential work could make up for losing out on that project, and vice versa.

        On FGL for selling licences you put different prices in for if they want your logos removed etc. I think in the same way witha cotnract, if you are upfront about wanting a credit and it costing them less if you keep the credit, then lots of people are tight about this kind of thing and wil go for the cheaper option.

        All that said, I do kinda agree that a flash advergame isnt the same as a movie, or record sleeve a bit like with adverts. I think another example is a website, if you are asked to develop a website for someone then they often wont want you leaving a credit at the bottom for yourself (although sometimes they will allow it), afterall a game could just be viewed as a highly interactive website. Although I think them actually asking you not to even tell people that youve worked for them is a bit much, and I think I would take a stand there.

        I’ve got a contract job hopefully coming up soon, so I will see what they say about credits. Its a project i would like to be able to boast about

        Reply
        1. Bwakathaboom

          Valuing credit (and charging extra for anonymity) is intriguing. You’d have to be pretty OCD about your record keeping in order to come up with the right calculation…but then you can’t manage what you don’t measure. My guess is something like this:

          (Average value of a cold-call contract – Average cost of winning a cold-call contract)
          – Average value of contracts won based solely on a credit
          = Credit value
          * 20% for being a dick and asking you to remove credit in the first place.

          Things are different in the non-profit sector. We slap our logo all over everything and post everything we do on our site. I don’t get credited by name but that’s by choice. The blind shrieking violence of my planned personal projects would conflict with my employer’s brand so I keep my name clear of it :)

          Reply
          1. Ryan Henson Creighton

            One of the commenters over on the MochiLand mirror of the post says he writes a 15% fee into the contract. Later, when he puts his logo and credits on the game, the client may complain … he just says “no problem … just pay me the extra 15% to remove it.” Says he never been asked again to remove it.

  3. Bwakathaboom

    All of this highlights the danger of the “contract treadmill” in general.

    I’ve done contracts as a financial band-aid but they always ended up being more work and for less money than if I had just done my own thing. $xx,000 sounds like a lot for a simple “quick” Flash game but when the client stretches it out over months of back-and-forth it becomes a loss. Then it’s on to the next contract because I still haven’t had time to get my own games done and the next set of bills are already coming due.

    I see developers balk at sub $10,000 sponsorships as low-ball business but then fight like crazy for some unwatched CBC Kids* cartoon that offers a similar payout, factoring in the length of time and lack of any traffic / revenue potential.

    In the end your contract work is growing someone else’s business more than it is yours. You’ve got to get your own IP out!

    *Sorry I tend to pick on CBC Kids…but that’s because they’re just awful!

    Reply
  4. Seantron

    Also, another way that some of my friends (other devs) that have worked at shops that never gave any credit is we started a “tagging” system. It consists of setting up an Easter Egg that is made up of your name (type in “seantron” on this certain page and you’ll see something happen). It’s ridiculous, but it’s a pretty solid way to show that you really did make the game. Backdoors FTW.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Heh … that’s one way to do it. But if i made a teevee show … like, the ENTIRE teevee show, i wouldn’t be satisfied with a hidden credit.

      Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Heh … no. It’s a well-known fact that i TOTALLY STEAL all my blog images from Google. i’m kind of like the Hamburglar, except not as endearing. i didn’t want to saddle Mochi with the burden of hosting illicit materials.

      Reply
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