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A question about the MI license

posted by Swashguy on - last edited - Viewed by 272 users

For those more knowledgeable than I, what do you think is the reason LucasArts right now shows no interest in granting Telltale the rights to do another Monkey Island game?

As a business layman, all I see is a popular IP being left fallow. If LA had plans for it - and so far we've heard nothing in that regard - I'd find the current situation less quizzical, but what we've got here is a company (TT) that picked up a franchise that hadn't been touched in almost ten years, made a commercially successful and critically acclaimed game out of it, and showed plenty of interest in going for another round with the franchise. However, from what we've heard, LA isn't interested. Wouldn't another game be a win-win situation for them, as opposed to having a clearly fan-favorite series collecting dust in a Star Wars memorabilia-ridden shelf, I wonder?

Granted, TOMi was no Skyrim or anything, but from what we've heard it exceeded sales expectations, which I assume means at the very least that it more than broke even. Its reception evidenced that there still is a crowd for this type of game and for this franchise in particular, and that the genre's fans would welcome another addition to the series. Isn't that preferable in just about every conceivable way to carrying out the gaming equivalent of crop rotation to a non-best-selling but evidently still very popular IP?

And yes, I am aware that the presidency has changed at LA and that their focus has shifted, but this is strictly business we're talking here, no releasing a new title just 'out of love' for the series or as a gift 'for the fans'. The franchise gave them money with TOMI; right now, it isn't, but it very much could, and with little to no effort from their part. I suck at economics, but that just doesn't make sense to me.

Am I missing something here? Did LA's involvement with the game require more effort from them than I thought, that in the end TOMI wasn't all that profitable? Did they only wish for another Monkey Island game to coincide with the releases of SMI and MI2's enhanced editions? Your thoughts, please.

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  • The only reason why ToMI, SoMI:Special Edition and MI2:Special Edition exist was because Darrell Rodriguez wanted to get LA closer to its adventure gaming roots. Darrell Rodriguez is not president of LA anymore. Therefore we will probably not see MI in a long time.

    all I see is a popular IP being left fallow

    Popular is a strong word. Monkey Island is a very niche IP, and I don't think there is a reason to deny that. It's hard to speak numbers when digital distribution is involved (because it's hard to find sales figures), but a MI game will sell, what? 100,000-300,000 copies? That's pretty realistic, although I'd lean closer towards the 100,000 mark, especially when talking about SoMI and MI2 re-releases. With the price range of 10-25 dollars, have in mind. While any single Star Wars game will sell at least a million of copies, and most likely much more. With a full price value of 40-50 bucks, plus some of the older Star Wars games are still sold being sold too (of course, unless it's digital distribution, a small sum of that goes to retailers and then half of what's left to the developer if it wasn't internal LA studio). Whoever is in charge of LA now just probably doesn't see any reason to serve a niche market when they can spend more money on Star Wars to get even more money, because, really, as far as they're concerned, they can get a lot of money with Star Wars even with all the possible cuts to third-parties and make quite a profit.

    The sad truth is - MI is not a money maker nowadays, not by a longshot. The only reason for the company to spend money on MI is, in fact, 'out of love' and 'for the fans'. Like UbiSoft did with Rayman: Origins. You think Rayman was a profit for UbiSoft? No, they barely made it even with all those numerous platforms they were selling R:O on. Which was enough to warrant a sequel, actually. The reason why I'm using UbiSoft as an example, is to kind of prove a point that you don't have to be a small indie company to do something 'out of love' and 'for the fans'. Which is also what LA did back in 2009-2010. It all depends on leadership, as in video games you have to combine art with business to survive.

    As to a possible question of 'why then LA won't just sell the IP to somebody who's interested, like TellTale'? The answer is simple - you NEVER sell rights to an IP unless you're in a REALLY bad situation.

    EDIT: Man, I've edited little bits and pieces in my post so much that it has transformed into a garbled mess.... sorry about that, I'll try to more clearly state my thoughts next time.

  • Not at all. I appreciate your thoughts and I believe it is my post that needs some clarification.

    @Farlander said: Popular is a strong word. Monkey Island is a very niche IP, and I don't think there is a reason to deny that.

    I tried to be careful with my wording, so as not to come across as your friendly neighbourhood self-centered gamer who thinks that, just because he likes a game and knows a couple of friends who like it too, then the game must be popular and a sequel has to be made.

    The Point&Click(&Drag) genre is indeed very much a niche nowadays, and Monkey Island gets the dubious honor of being a silverback in that niche jungle, but that was not my point really. My point was that TOMI was developed with little to no effort from LucasArt's part (it was mostly creative consulting work and serving as a liaison between Telltale and people involved in past MI projects, I believe; please do correct me if I'm wrong). The game was no SW:TOR, but it was profitable, ported to multiple platforms, and the boxed edition did very well in Europe almost two years after the episodic release. Ergo, money for little to no effort. It's not even 'serving a niche market', as you put it, but allowing others to pretty much do all the work to mine a fallow IP of theirs, an IP which could be turning in a profit instead of just lying around sipping grogatinis.

    Star Wars is LA's baby, cash cow and flagship franchise, and even when development is in the hands of third-parties, I'm sure they make a point to be present every bit of the way, be more involved all-around and invest more of their resources. Not so with, say, Monkey Island.

    This is the part where I might be being naive, or simply underestimating whatever it is that creative consulting entails to a company that has most of its resources channeled elsewhere. If there was more to LA's involvement and costs during the development of TOMI, please do enlighten me.

    Hoping not to overdo the agricultural analogies, I invite you to consider the following: LucasArts is a farmer who has a field of beets that he's not working on anymore, because strawberries are all the rage and now his property is a strawberry haven. People still do eat beets when they become available - mostly a bunch of beet connoisseurs in town - and the beets still manage to turn in a profit whenever the farmer does sell them. It's just that strawberries really, really rule and everything else kinda becomes inconsequential. Now, the beet field is still there, it's still good soil, but it's just not being used because, well, strawberries.

    Until one day, when along comes a group of people who are really into beets, and who offer themselves to work on the beet field. The farmer agrees and gets a supervisor to watch over the group while they work, and what do you know, those are actually some good beets those people manage to harvest, and all of them are sold to those strange beet connoisseurs in town. Profits are shared between the group (who did all the work) and the farmer (who owns the field on which the beets were produced and vicariously supervised the whole process). It didn't sell nearly as well as them strawberries, but the farmer doesn't really care, as the whole operation didn't really entail significant costs and made him money anyway.

    Wouldn't it make financial sense to let that group of people keep working on the field of beets, then...?

  • Well, in case of ToMI LucasArts/TellTale relationship, lets take logistics of the partnership into consideration (sadly, we can only speculate as this is something that is rarely released to public).

    Is TellTale paying money to acquire the license for the project or does LucasArts hire TellTale? (which is a logical step since TellTale consists of a lot of proven ex-LucasArts employees). I think LucasArts was funding the project (because licenses are never just 'given away', there's money involved - either self-funding developer pays for license to license-holder, or license-holder funds the developer), just as Universal was funding BttF and JP for example. This is usually the way it goes, and I think TellTale's own money at the time were going into Sam & Max: Season 3. Now... let's suppose ToMI team consisted of 30 people (well, we can be more specific, but more research has to go into that) with an average salary of 65,000 per year (salaries in game industry range from 35,000 to 100,000 depending on your position). And, let's suppose that it took a year to produce ToMI (from pre-production to the release of the last episode), so that's a budget of... 1,950,000$. And that's a pretty small budget (but the game's also episodic, so), but I didn't take into account all the varying salaries plus additional expenses (voice actors, maybe software) plus whatever LucasArts has to pay for their consulting part to their own employees. But let's go with 2,000,000$. Okay, 2,500,000$, kinda taking into account whatever I didn't take into account.

    So, LucasArts funds ToMI with 2,500,000$. ToMI costs 25$, right? Let's say the split is 60/40 (and I can't say for sure if it works that way, maybe it's everything to LA first and then royalties kinda thing... I don't know... but now, let's go with a split) in LA favor, 15$ per digital copy. The game has to sell 166,666 copies for LucasArts to break even, that is, IF the budget is 2,500,000$. More if we take into account Steam which takes its own cut. More if we take into account retail copies which are divided between retailer/publisher/developer (and if we go with the split, then the 'developer' cut is divided between LA and TT).

    And, as I said, I don't know the exact logistics of the deal between LucasArts and TellTale, it could go any way. But the most likely situation: LucasArts funds the project, LucasArts barely broke even, the profit from the project for LucasArts was minimal. However, let's also remember that LucasArts had their remakes going, and all the money for the remakes went straight to LA without any sharing. But there was also some mutual advertising benefit to it too... And I think the remakes themselves barely broke even too, I really doubt that there was much profit for them. So, there is really no financial sense in that for LA.

    Sure, if somebody actually approached LucasArts and said, 'Hey, we're paying you money so we could use the license (because that's what you gotta do when you get the license) and then share the profit! (and that part kinda depends on the deal, it doesn't necessarily go that way)', sure, LucasArts would agree. Because even if they need to spend money on consulting, that's not funding the project. But that doesn't make financial sense for the developer (pay money for license PLUS to fund the project on your own PLUS when getting money give whatever cuts to whatever people necessary), unless they know they can make a profit. And with MI, nobody would do that.

    PS. And the calculations in this post are very basic, I didn't take into account a lot of stuff, like 'there are less people working during pre-production than during production, so less money to be paid in that period' and many other details... But it kinda gets the point across still, I suppose. I'm really oversimplifying pretty much everything for the sake of staying sane in this speculative conversation - we don't have access to most of the data we need.

    PS2. Universal and BttF/JP is kinda another song altogether. First, the licenses are much more well known than MI. Then, the games are for a much more wider non-gamer audience (like people who like the movies but don't really play games a lot), so, all in all, I'm pretty sure that BttF and JP has netted a much bigger profit to TT and Universal than MI did for TT and LA... and, also, since the games were kinda developed in almost-parallel, TT could switch people from team to team when necessary, which means that less amount of money is spent more efficiently. And BttF/JP licenses are worth much more than MI license would ever be, so I'm pretty sure Universal funded the projects.

  • I appreciate you taking your time for such an elaborate response; that's something you rarely see outside of flamewars and assorted forum drama. Thanks for that.

    If things indeed were as you posited - conservative guesstimates nonwithstanding, as evidence points out to TOMI having been at least above average in terms of overall profitability - I could indeed understand why LucasArts isn't interested right now in another Monkey Island chapter. That's a lot of money and effort, for a return that pales in comparison to their other endeavors'. However, even if your guess is as good as mine, I don't believe LucasArts funded the project:

    @Farlander said: just as Universal was funding BttF and JP for example.

    I was under the impression that Telltale had simply acquired licensing rights, just like it did with the other IPs, and that the money for purchasing the license and developing the game came from venture rounds. It'd stand to reason that the same thing happened with TOMI, especially considering that, for all their quality, the chapters had that rough-edged charm that does not quite bespeak the deep pockets of a LucasArts-level company funding their development.

    Now, I don't mean to be contentious for argument's sake. My hypothesis would mean that LucasArts is being financially unwise, so Ockham's razor clearly indicates that your line of reasoning is likely to be the case, even if there's no real evidence pointing towards it. Like you said, we're unlikely to ever get a straight answer to these questions, but I'd still like to hear people's thoughts on the matter (and, who knows, maybe catch the attention of a stray dev's eye...)

  • I was under the impression that Telltale had simply acquired licensing rights, just like it did with the other IPs, and that the money for purchasing the license and developing the game came from venture rounds.



    The deal with Universal was signed a year before TellTale closed the deal with those investments. However, that's also a possibility, so.... I don't know.

    the chapters had that rough-edged charm that does not quite bespeak the deep pockets of a LucasArts-level company funding their development.

    Well, IF LucasArts was funding, I do not find that strange - since why they'd spend tons of money on that?

    But, anyway, yeah. I think I've got nothing to say anymore. :)

  • @Farlander said: Well, IF LucasArts was funding, I do not find that strange - since why they'd spend tons of money on that?



    Fair enough. Oh well, until or when someone discloses that information, it'll be difficult to know for sure whether there was some funding or just licensing going on from LucasArts' part on TOMI. But thank you for humoring me with your speculation :).

    Anybody else care to pitch in their two pieces o'eight?

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    Syd

    @Swashguy said: Fair enough. Oh well, until or when someone discloses that information, it'll be difficult to know for sure whether there was some funding or just licensing going on from LucasArts' part on TOMI. But thank you for humoring me with your speculation :).

    Anybody else care to pitch in their two pieces o'eight?



    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that Michael Land is still a LucasArts employee (At the very least, he seems to be their pocket composer since he's done no professional work outside of LucasArts titles, save for ToMI), and he provided the music for ToMI, so at the very least LucasArts had to provide the music, and that costs money. They were also on hand for story consultation (Telltale would have to check in with LucasArts and make sure that they were okay with the story they had planned for ToMI) and to critique concept art, which would also cost LucasArts money since it takes up their employees' time.

    However, I have no idea to what extent ToMI was funded by LucasArts. It does make me curious, since if ToMI was largely funded by LucasArts, it seems like it'd be less likely that we'll see another season in the near future, considering LucasArt's change in leadership and their current priorities (i.e., milk the Star Wars cow until it falls over dead).

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that Michael Land is still a LucasArts employee



    Michael Land has been CEO of SparkPoint Software since 2000 (which is also the year when he stopped being an LA employee), and since then has done some game composing outside of LucasArts projects, like SimCity 4 and Bard's Tale. So for ToMI he technically was a hired outsourcer. ... Oh, and he's also a Technology Consultant somewhere.

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    Syd

    @Farlander said: Michael Land has been CEO of SparkPoint Software since 2000 (which is also the year when he stopped being an LA employee), and since then has done some game composing outside of LucasArts projects, like SimCity 4 and Bard's Tale. So for ToMI he technically was a hired outsourcer. ... Oh, and he's also a Technology Consultant somewhere.



    I stand corrected, then.

    LucasArts still did more than give them the license, though, even if it was just story/concept art consultation, so at least a little bit of their money went into it. It would be nice to know the extent of their funding, but Telltale might not be able to disclose such information.

  • I like your arguments, but TTG most succesfull game may have been TOMI. If we judge the attention the game has garnered by the forum post, TOMI is the 2nd most active forum besides offtopic.

    I thing TTG must have made a profit out of it, unless the voice actors killed the budged with their nonsense demands. We must remember how hard it was to recruit Earl Boen out of retirement.

    TTG continues to grow by making small market games, and yet theres no 2nd sequel of TOMI. I believe the problem doesnt lies in TTG, but in Lucas Arts, and i believe they must have made profit, but just not in the way their franchise Star Wars does.

    The diverted money to make Star Wars using the kinect and that game is being trashed out by gaming sites and reviews are coming in bad fast. I wish they give more chance to the adventure genre like Monkey Island and give it a deserving ending.

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