Here’s What A Publishing Deal With EA Looks Like

Here’s What A Publishing Deal With EA Looks Like

Curious about the nitty-gritty details behind a video game publisher’s development deals? Rhode Island’s got you covered.

This afternoon, as part of an ongoing legal war with ex-game developer-slash-MLB pitcher Curt Schilling and his failed company, 38 Studios, the Rhode Island Superior Court released a treasure trove of documents including depositions, emails, and contracts. There are thousands upon thousands of documents in there — if for some reason you want to read them all, you can find’em here.

I’ve spent the past few hours digging into these documents, and although there isn’t too much interesting stuff in there that we haven’t already heard, there are some fascinating details about the conditions Electronic Arts set when agreeing to co-publish 38 Studios’ first and only game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Turns out 38 Studios would have received a $US1 million bonus if they’d hit an 85 on Metacritic, among other conditions. Gross. (The game got an 81.)

What follows is a rare look at the mundane details of a video game publisher agreement. These things are usually kept under lock and key, never discussed and never shared with anyone who isn’t sitting in the board room when it happens, so it’s fun to look through them, even though they’re a bit dry.

An important note: This is NOT the actual EA contract in question; it’s a memo from a law firm to 38 Studios CEO Jen MacLean that sums up the contract. First, some details on the publishing agreement, which specifies that EA will give the company $US19,700,000 as part of their arrangement. Big Huge Games, the Maryland-based developer that was then owned by 38 Studios, would serve as co-publisher:

So, yes, in case you were wondering — all those logo animations you see when you turn on a video game are legally required.

Subsequent parts of the memo aren’t super interesting — they get into the fine points of bank loans and intellectual property rights — but this next part sure is.

Here’s how the royalty breakdown was meant to work:

A good reminder that Metacritic is an ineffective, severely flawed tool that publishers certainly shouldn’t be using to determine bonuses.

38 Studios, of course, closed in 2012 after laying off all of its staff and filing for bankruptcy despite receiving a $US75 million loan from Rhode Island.


  • I’m keen to see how much of that money gets spent where during a game’s development. It’s not exactly an insignificant amount

    But yes, seeing as anyone can quickly make a metacritic account and mark everything 1/10 for shits n giggles, it shouldn’t be a basis for a $1 million bonus

    • I’m curious to know if that refers to the score from recognised review outlets or the user reviews. On the one hand it’s easy for people to make accounts and dish out 1/10’s, but it’s equally easy for the developers and their friends and families to do the same and give out 10/10’s. I would have thought it would be just based on the magazine / website reviews rather than the user reviews for that reason.

  • So BHG’s royalty was to be based upon EA’s net revenue – ie after all of the deductions they require are made.

    I wonder how much Hollywood accounting goes on in the games industry….

  • it doesn’t see, right to me that the people actually making the game get less than a third fo the profits, would be interesting to see how such a situation could come to be the norm.

    • That’s simple enough. EA holds all the leverage in the deal, it’s the devs who are unable to afford the product that they’re producing, EA can make their own terms and it’s up to the devs to agree or walk away.

  • arent the only metacritic scores that are counted the ones from confirmed pulblications not just random site users.

    • Unfortunately there are a lot of confirmed publications that are there because they’ve always been there. It seems there is no ongoing quality controls in place, and even if there were it would almost need to be done on a journalist (use the term loosely!!) by journalist basis. There are some real clowns out there that can’t put two words together however are acceptable to Metacritic because of the website they contribute to.

  • I for one don’t go to metacritic for the review scores from critics; I go there for the review scores from users. Been doing this since I got burned on Watch Dogs and a few other releases last year and haven’t been steered wrong since.

    • Generally I look at both and make a judgement between them. If it’s a AAA game with a high critic score but a low user score I’m gonna be pretty sceptical.

      • I’ve just become very skeptical over the past 2 years to trust reviewers/critics; either my taste and what’s generally accepted by games journalism has diverged a lot or reviewers are afraid to be overly critical of AAA games. I find my taste is much more in line with the general user score and my expectations are managed better thanks to it as well.

        Perfect example would be Mad Max; going off the critics I might’ve avoided but decided to give it a chance on the user score and been enjoying it as a giant sandbox game since. Haven’t had this much fun collecting shit since AC: Black Flag.

        • Have to agree. User reviews, once they reach a reasonable size, are fare more accurate. There is no telling a reviewers personal bias or want for a headline or even not wanting to step out of line with peers etc., users generally don’t have these issues.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!