Imagine you are an indie developer who has been offered about half a million by a publisher. Sounds good, right? But what if the terms of this contract are so exploitative that it might be dangerous to sign it.


That’s what happened to indie developer Jackfriend, who shared his story on Twitter. Last week he turned down a big publishing contract, and here’s why.

Jackfriend is now working on his game Scrabdackle. An indie PC/console publisher offered him a six-figure contract, but he decided to not name the company. “It’s the industry that’s failing devs, not any one company,” — the developer wrote.

The most exploitative parts of the contract were penalties for breaching its terms. If the breach clause is triggered, the developer loses rights to the game and all royalty. On top of that, Jackfriend would have to pay back all the money ever given to him.

And penalties don’t end here. “I also pay them all development costs yet to come for them to finish the game without me, with no limit to what that budget or cost is,” the Scrabdackle creator wrote. “The debt would be anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 a million dollars, and with no option for further income”

But what happens if the publisher breaches the contract? The developer will be able to keep rights to his game, and that’s it. However, it will be pretty hard to prove that the company breached the terms, as its responsibilities are described in “maybe 5 vague sentences.”

According to Jackfriend, there is also no penalty for the publisher underpaying the developer. Moreover, “you’re going to pay for that auditor even if you do prove fraud.”

Here’re a few pieces of advice Jackfriend gives other indie developers:

  • Always read contract and especially terms of termination before signing anything;
  • Check how often the publisher will pay you and what might trigger penalization;
  • Don’t pay attention to what the publisher tells you conversationally, as the legal terms are your only guarantee.

The full thread can be read here. Jackfriend also answered a few popular questions that other developers asked about working with publishers.