Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What's in a Name?



Ever set out on a project with a single goal in mind and end up doing more?  This article is one of those times for me, for I set out to tell one story and I ended up finding two.  This is part one, my original tale to discover “what’s in a name” for a Kickstarter project who found themselves in trouble because of their name.

Story Realms, I mean Storm Hollow...


In August 2012 a little Kickstarter was started for a board game called Story Realms.  It was published by Game Salute through their Springboard system.  The game did quite well earning over 4 times their original goal coming in with a final total of $87,757.  YAY Go team right?  Well, not quite.  

Production was going along as normal in a post Kickstarter campaign situation.  Art was generated, layouts were established, pieces finalized, orders readied, everything that a well run post Kickstarter project does until a little letter arrived.  

A cease and desist letter was sent both to the designer and to Game Salute from the owners of  StoryRealm.com, a website dedicated to “Inspirational Stories for the Entire Family”.  They felt that the Story Realms board game was infringing on their trademark even though one was a website with nothing to do with games and the Kickstarter was for a board game.  Does this story sound familiar to anyone else?  

Trenched, I mean Iron Brigade...

Back in 2011 I was lucky enough to go to E3 and play a little game this small game company was putting out, you may have heard of them they’re called Double Fine Productions.  The game was a hybrid Tower-Defense / Third Person Shooter game for Xbox Live Arcade.  I had heard about the game for weeks before the conference and was looking forward to it with great anticipation.  Based on the buzz I saw while there I wasn’t the only one.  

It released June 22nd, 2011 and sold quite well to American audiences under the name Trenched.  The European release was originally planned shortly after but it was held up by a boardgame "Trench," owned by Rui Alípio Monteiro.  For months the gaming blogs and websites were abuzz with discussions about what would happen most boiled down to “how much will Rui take” before he just lets Microsoft have their way.  (Since they were publishing Trenched) Then at Gamescom that year they announced that the game would be renamed “Iron Brigade” in both the US and Europe and released it in November.  

So what happens now?  

That was my question as well, which is why I reached out to Dan Yarrington CEO of Game Salute to try and understand what was going on.  I had originally heard the story from the “Funding the Dream” podcast when Angie Hickman Newnham was relating the tale and how her team was dealing with the sudden shock and surprise.  

powered-by

Luckily the team already had a lawyer involved so they were able to review their legal options.  In the end, it didn’t come down to whether either party would win in a legal battle. It all came down to cost.  

There were only two real options open to the Story Realms team, they could either negotiate a fair licensing of the trademark or they could rebrand the game.  The Game Salute team are all about Excel spreadsheets and figuring out real costs of things so they were able to give Angie & Julian the rebranding costs while the lawyers tried to negotiate a sensible licensing.  Though Dan wasn’t sure that was ever really an option.

Of course, it seems entirely plausible that the entire thing was just a money grab.  Looking back on the history of the Story Realm website, the focus was “interactive fiction” and there was very little to no focused gaming content.  Then a “game” section showed up on the site around the time the Kickstarter ended.  Coincidence perhaps?  Maybe, until you notice the art in this new game section is very similar in theme to the art on the Story Realms Kickstarter page.  

The negotiations pretty much settled it for Dan because the “prestige” of a very successful Kickstarter project affected the trademark holder’s negotiations.  It seemed like they thought, “we had a big pile of money just lying around we could throw at them” to make the situation go away.  Of course anyone who knows Kickstarter, especially in the board games segment, that most of the money is used in publishing and development so there isn’t extra money lying around.  Heck it sounds like many are lucky to break even and not be left holding a bill!

That left Angie & Julian with pretty much no choice at all, either they would rebrand or be stuck in court where, even if they won; but it’d be a Pyrrhic victory, as the game would have been delayed if not cancelled outright.   As it stands the whole hullabaloo cost the team at least a month and half delay to an already delayed schedule thanks to reaching all their stretch goals.  

The Silver Lining

In the end the game has been changed to Storm Hollow: A Storyboard Game which, for Richard Bliss from Funding the Dream and I, is a much more evocative name.   Storm Hollow is the name of the setting in the game which made it the obvious “main” name for the game, but it’s the subtitle that really draws my attention.  

To be honest I hadn’t looked too closely to Story Realms as the name didn’t “grab me” so I gave it a pass; but now I was genuinely interested in finding out what the heck a “Storyboard Game” was.  Not only is the storyboard a key named component of their game, it is a fair description of how the game plays out, you storyboard your tale!  I thought, “Brilliant where do I sign up?”  The plan was always to possibly do expansions in other genres, but now the subtitle set them up perfectly for all sorts of expansions and directions. With this new bit of interest due to the rebranding and the story around it the team now has a renewed interest in their product beyond the Kickstarters which will hopefully translate into better sales when it hit store shelves hopefully in August 2013.