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Sim Bin goes barking mad at Slightly Mad

By on February 19, 2009
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I think Marcus Ling, Executive VP at Sim Bin Studios in Sweden has completely lost the plot.

In a strongly-worded release sent to a number of games websites including GamaSutra and Joystiq, Ling stated:

“Sim Bin is taking legal advice and considering to also take legal actions against Slightly Mad Studios, as a result of certain statements made by Slightly Mad Studios that we find to be incorrect, misleading and has a negative impact on our reputation as well as business negotiations.”

The statements in question appear to have been made in EA’s official announcement of Need for Speed Shift, a more-realistic take on the Need for Speed franchise than the game’s traditional arcade-style roots. The description reads:

Need for Speed SHIFT delivers an authentic and immersive driving experience developed by Slightly Mad Studios in collaboration with executive producer Michael Mann at Black Box and senior vice president Patrick Soderlund at EA Games Europe. Slightly Mad Studios includes developers and designers that worked on the critically acclaimed games GT Legends and GTR 2.”

I’m guessing here that Sim Bin’s problem is that Sim Bin itself claims credit (understandably, because it developed them) for GT Legends and GTR 2. So if Slightly Mad Games is claiming that it made the game as well, Sim Bin could see this as damaging to its business prospects.

Well, frankly, tough.

May the best brand win

I think that this is an early indicator of a major shift that is happening in the games industry. For a long time, gamers have known that the publishing label is not as important as the developer brand (think Blizzard versus Vivendi, Maxis versus EA, Firaxis versus Take Two).

Developers are about to discover that their brands are not as defensible as they think. It will be the people and teams who made the games that will matter to consumers.

When you go and see a movie, you don’t care which production house got the movie made (could you even name Stephen Spielberg’s production company? Ridley Scott’s? John Wayne’s?). But you might care that this movie was “From the director of X-Men” or “From the writer of Knocked Up

And I believe that this spat is the an early salvo in the battle for what the public careaabout: is it the development studio or the development team.

Eidos and Sega have already had an initial skirmish, when Sega agreed to publish Football Manager from developers Sports Interactive, which to the fans in the know was “From the team that brought you Championship Manager“, while Eidos kept the name Championship Manager, but not the developers. In the fanatically-tribal environment of football, the fans followed the team, not the name.

In a response to the peculiarly-public complaint from Sim Bin, Ian Bell, MD of Slightly Mad, is reported as saying:

“More than 25 of Slightly Mad Studios’ current staff worked on and are actually credited in GT Legends and GTR2 including the majority of the core development team.”

If that’s true, it’s hard for SimBin to deny it, and hard for them to say that the statements in EA’s press release are untrue. Slightly Mad (and its staff) are simply saying that they are only as good as the products they’ve worked on, and those were some damn good products.

Given how big game development teams have become, this could get very confusing. How many developers could claim to have “worked on” The Sims, for example, or Call of Duty? There will be more confusion and conflict over claims such as this over the next few years.

But I expect to see marketing material for games emblazoned with “From the designers of AAA title” very, very soon.

 

BTW Spielberg’s production company is Amblin Entertainment, Ridley Scott’s is Scott Free, John Wayne’s was Batjac.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com