The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) has posted a Game Developers’ Bill of Rights on their site.
Some interesting rights are listed. Though I agree with the thoughts behind them. I would think these are all contingent on the contract you sign with your publisher.
1. The right to full ownership of what we fully create.
While this is certainly a desirable outcome. If you sign this right away in your contract, who’s fault is it? Certainly not the publishers. If you don’t like the deal don’t sign the contract.
Now, I realize that this is a very simplified take on the issue. But is it really? If you don’t like the deal, walk away. Find another publisher, bootstrap the project, or don’t do it.
I face this sort of decision all the time for my day job when doing consulting for clients. 99 times out of 100 they own the work. For the type of work I do, it only makes sense. They aren’t selling the work, they are using it for their internal business process.
But if the project were for sale, you better believe that I would rethink giving away my rights to anything I produce. At the very least I’d want my fair portion of sales.
I understand the frustration that game developers are feeling. The publishers have the upper hand. But, this is the world of the internet. How about self publishing? How about not spending 200 billion dollars on writing that next flop and try self funding?
Turn the market upside down. Get rid of the middle man. Eliminate the publisher, the gatekeeper between you and your customer.
Will you sell as many copies? Maybe not. But you’ll keep more of the profits. My guess is if you do your marketing, you can at least make enough to profit and fund your next project.
Best of all: you get to keep full ownership of what you create.