Game Sessions Made Easy: How to Craft Rock-Solid Contracts to Slay Deliverables, Timelines, and Expectations for your games.

Learn how to create effective game session contracts that clearly outline deliverables, timelines, and expectations. Get access to valuable templates and key considerations for comprehensive agreements. Boost your gaming experience with well-defined contracts.

Having a solid contract in place is essential for ensuring a smooth and successful project. In this post, we'll dive into the key considerations and provide some handy templates for crafting clear, comprehensive contracts that outline deliverables, timelines, and expectations for your game sessions.

First things first – why bother with a contract at all? Can't we all just shake hands and trust that everyone will do their part? Well, as much as we'd like to believe in the inherent goodness of people, the reality is that misunderstandings happen, scope creep occurs, and sometimes things just don't go according to plan. A well-written contract serves as a roadmap and safety net, making sure everyone is on the same page from day one and has a clear course of action if issues arise.

So, what should a good game development contract include? Here are the key components we recommend:

Project Scope and Deliverables
This is the meat of your contract – outlining exactly what work will be performed and what the end product will look like. Be as specific as possible here. Instead of saying "Create handout assets", break it down into "Create character sheets for 5 characters etc…".

Include a detailed list of all deliverables – concept design, handouts, prototypes, etc. Specify file formats and any other technical requirements. The more detail, the better.

Milestones and Timelines
Games are complex projects with a lot of moving parts. Break the work down into key milestones with associated deadlines to keep things on track.

For example:

  • Milestone 1: Game Design Document complete, approved by [DATE]
  • Milestone 2: Prototype build delivered by [DATE]
  • Milestone 3: Alpha build delivered by [DATE]
  • Milestone 4: Beta build delivered by [DATE]
  • Milestone 5: Gold master delivered by [DATE]

Make sure to build in some buffer time for unexpected delays or rounds of feedback and iteration. We usually recommend adding 20% to your initial time estimates.

Acceptance Criteria
For each milestone and deliverable, specify the criteria it needs to meet to be considered complete and acceptable. This could be certain features implemented, minimum playtests achieved, etc.

Getting sign-off at each milestone based on pre-defined criteria helps avoid subjectivity and scope creep. It also provides an opportunity to course correct early if needed.

  1. Payment Terms
    Show me the money! Your contract should clearly lay out the payment schedule, tied to the major milestones. A common structure is:
  • 20% upfront
  • 20% on prototype delivery
  • 30% on alpha
  • 30% on gold master

If you're working with a new client, you may want to request a larger upfront payment to mitigate risk. For established relationships, back-loading can work well.

Also specify if this is a fixed price contract for the entire project scope, or if it's based on time and materials up to a certain budget cap. If the latter, include your hourly or daily rates for each role on the team.

IP Ownership and Licensing
This part often trips people up. By default, the creator (i.e. your studio) owns the IP rights to any custom work you produce, unless explicitly transferred.

If you're working on an original game, make sure your contract states that you retain IP ownership of all assets, etc. You can then grant the client/publisher a license to use those materials solely for that game.

If you're working on a client's existing IP, the opposite applies – spell out that they own the IP and you're essentially "work for hire". But try to maintain ownership of any pre-existing tools, engines, or reusable modules your studio brings to the project. (obviously not legal advice, but creator to creator).

Communication and Approval Process
Games require a high degree of collaboration and feedback. Set expectations upfront about communication channels (email, Slack, weekly calls, etc), stakeholders involved, and typical turnaround times for approvals.

We find it helpful to designate one main point of contact on each side to streamline communication and have a single "throat to choke" as they say. But also build in some flexibility for getting key approvals or info from other departments as needed.

Change Orders
Despite your best planning, requirements sometimes change mid-project. That's okay, but your contract needs a formal change order process to handle it.

Specify that any changes to the agreed-upon scope will require a written change order, approved by both parties, that details the revised requirements, updated price, and extended timeline. This ensures you get paid fairly for additional work.

Termination and Kill Fees
No one likes to think about a project going south, but it happens. Have terms in place about how either party can terminate the contract (usually with 30 days written notice) and what payments are due upon termination.

If the client cancels after work has started, you should be entitled to a kill fee – typically a percentage of the remaining project balance based on how far along you are. 25-50% is common. Make sure that's spelled out so you don't end up eating costs for work performed.

Confidentiality
Game projects often involve sensitive information – new IPs, critical business information, etc. Consider Including a mutual NDA in your contract to ensure confidentiality on both sides.

The NDA should cover what info is considered confidential, the duration it needs to be kept under wraps (usually a few years after project completion), and any exclusions like information already in the public domain.

Limitation of Liability
Finally, every contract should have a section limiting your liability to direct charges under the contract itself. Exclude liability for things like consequential damages, loss of profits, etc.

You're responsible for delivering the game you scoped, not for how well the game ultimately performs in the market or how much money it makes the publisher. Keep your liability contained to the four corners of the agreement.

So there you have it – the key ingredients for an airtight game development contract. We know this stuff can seem daunting or like overkill, especially for smaller projects. But trust us, nailing down these details upfront will save you countless headaches down the line.

Of course, every project is unique, so be sure to customise these ideas to fit your particular needs and get a lawyer to review for your jurisdiction. But this will give you a solid foundation to build on.

We hope this guide helps you navigate the wonderful world of game-running contracts with confidence. Remember, a bit of extra paperwork at the beginning can save you a world of pain later on.

Happy contracting and here's to many successful game sessions ahead! As always, feel free to reach out to the LGP team with any questions. We're always happy to nerd out about this stuff.

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