Developers Spar over Hard Lines Ownership

February 21, 2012 -

IndieGames.com has an interesting story chronicling the falling out of the people behind the popular iOS and Android game Hard Lines. The fight involves Spilt Milk, who by their own admission provided art assets and marketing for the game, and the game's programmer Nicoll Hunt. The argument is over who owns the game, who was wrong in breaking a contract they had in place, and what a reasonable amount of compensation is for hard work. Since we have not seen the contract that will soon be mentioned at length below by both parties we cannot ascertain who is telling the truth and who is bending it like Beckham.

All we do know is that Spilt Milk's sole proprietor Andrew Smith and Nicoll Hunt decided to argue the matter in the public square of IndieGames.com. First Nicoll Hunt lays out his side of the story claiming that, after a year and a half of work (from concept to final product) his game Hard Line was released. At some point in the happy partnership, Nicoll claims that Smith asked him to sign away his rights. As the creator of the game he thought this was wrong and so he refused to sign anything that would take away his rights. This is when, he claims, Smith terminated their existing contract and stopped paying him. He claims that he has not seen a payment from the game in three months. In his own words:

"When I refused to sign away my rights to the game Spilt Milk Studios terminated the contract between us, stopped paying me my share of the revenue, and claimed full ownership of all my work and intellectual property. This was at the start of December 2011 and made for a pretty stressful Christmas.

I've since spoken with a very helpful and experienced games lawyer and sent a cease and desist notice to Spilt Milk Studios. More recently I have also sent one to Apple, after Spilt Milk Studios failed to adhere to the original notice. It's now only a matter of time before Hard Lines is removed from sale altogether.

This will probably all come as a bit of a surprise, but I can't stand by while my work is passed off as someone else's. It's wrong, goes against everything indie development should be, and most importantly, I don't want it to happen to anyone else."

Naturally Spilt Milk's Andrew Smith has a different version of the events that lead to these two parting company. He says that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion and that Nicoll was insisting that he get 50 percent of the profits from all future games sales - even on platforms he didn't develop the game for..

"I love Hard Lines, and I'm really saddened that my part in its design and conception is not fully recognised by my former partner-in-indie. I did cancel the contract between us (under the terms of said contract) - the dispute only arose because Nicoll said he didn't want to work on Hard Lines any more, but still wanted 50% share of revenue on all future platforms - not just the ones he coded. This, as anybody out there can probably tell, made it commercially impossible to develop, say, a Steam version, a Windows Phone version, or whatever. I had no choice but to terminate the contract, although I do wish to point out that I have no intention of stopping sending him his fair share - all I intended to do was wipe the slate clean and start talking about a fair contract to move forward with.

Sadly it is this lack of willingness to communicate and reach a fair deal that has led to the current situation. I'm hopeful that my reputation as an open and honest developer reassures anyone reading this that my intention was never to steal the idea, and will never be. I've never claimed ownership, only co-creation and co-development. It's a really uncomfortable position to be in, because as I'm sure you know, I really do value being able to be completely transparent with Spilt Milk and what we get up to. "

Finally Nicoll responds to Smith's comments, calling them revisionist history:

"Revisionist history of events aside, I'm glad that Spilt Milk Studios finally appears to be recognising my rights and look forward to receiving the money that has been withheld from me for the past 3 months. It's such a shame that I have been effectively forced to take these steps but do not see how it's acceptable, both morally and legally, for someone else to use my work and IP for a game I developed without my consent."

The moral of the story is simple enough: when you enter into a partnership with someone it is paramount that you lay out what you expect for your work. You cannot leave details like future royalties to a verbal handshake. Get it in writing. Hard Lines is no longer available for sale as of this writing.

You can read the whole thing here. The comments section of the article is of particular interest.


 
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