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So, as of last Friday, I’ve left EA.

I greatly enjoyed most of my time there, working with incredibly talented people like Doug Church, Randy Smith, Jeff Lander, and the whole amazing team they assembled. Yet the chaos, layoffs, and project cancellations of the past few months have been too much for me to take.

As I went around talking to folks to see what other work was available, I slowly came to realize even the projects that I might have found some nugget of interesting-ness in, earlier in my career, no longer did anything for me. They no longer aroused that same flurry of creative ideas that I know drives me all the way through to complete the product. I just felt I really needed to be captain of my own destiny for a while.

So, I’ve got a couple game ideas, and a few weeks before I do anything else to get them started. I’m going to be pursuing some contract work to pay the bills, like helping Dave Mark at Intrinsical Algorithm with some AI consulting

I’m going to attempt to finish at least one of the games even if I’m full time contracting – one of the demotivating factors working on something in your spare time while at a big company is that they typically own all your work. It’s funny how just formalizing the relationship between studio & worker such that it is clear I am working on someone else’s game, and afforded all the rights implied, can feel incredibly freeing. I’m also talking to a handful of promising startups, so it’s possible I’ll be someone else’s employee again, but we’ll see.

Regardless, moving forward I’ve decided on two things I will insist on in formal work agreements to:

  • I own the work I do in my spare time, or I own a piece of the profit from the game. I refuse to give up the former without getting the latter.
  • Any contract will include a very simple crediting requirement for work done. I’m not sure yet how this would fly with an employment agreement, but I think it’ll be easy to get for a contracting agreement.

Batting around a few game ideas, but there are two at the top of the list currently. The main requirements are that they deal with at least one issue I talk about on the blog, can take a short timeframe to make (2-5 months or so), and allow for a distinctive art style:

  • A top down game set in the streets of Tehran during the election riots. It’s not about the politics directly per se, you play a parent looking for their lost child. So some stealth, a little bit of combat, and some hand-holding Ico-esque mechanics. 
  • An emergent narrative experiment, for a lack of a better description we’ll call an adventure/RTS hybrid. It takes place in a SoCal diner.

While I leave behind a host of talented, great people at EALA, I know for me, for the foreseeable future, smaller is better.

14 Responses to Smaller & Better Things

  • Daniel Kline says:

    I’ve always crossed-out things in the employment contract, such as that requirement that things on my own equipment and time are the company’s. I also call them out in the exception list. I inform them every time I’ve made minor changes, and it’s never come back. Not sure why – maybe they think it’s already legally shaky. I wouldn’t back down over the owning your independent work, even for profit-sharing. Things change. But I’ve also heard it’s not difficult to add exceptions later, and their more likely to need you then.

    Good luck out there (again). The ideas sound intriguing!

  • Borut says:

    Ooh, that’s a good idea, I hadn’t thought of directly blacking out statements in the contract, that’d be much easier than actually having them revise it. Nice!

  • A Tehran game! Movin’ straight from corporate work to newsgames, skippin’ indie darling altogether! I don’t often say crass shit like this, but: that takes balls. If you can successfully marry a documentary setting with engaging (or “fun,” if you like it that way) combat and stealth mechanics, then I can guarantee you 1000 words in this book we’re working on. Even if it ends up being totally awful, you’ll get at least 500 ;-P Shoot me an email or Twitter message if you want literature/links on previous newsgames and documentary games. And good luck!

  • Jeff Orkin says:

    Good luck Borut! Sorry to hear how things went down EA, but congrats on escaping the industry machine. Looking forward to your indie experiments.

  • ALEXJC says:

    You’re absolutely right about the contract. I’ve done the same with the parts I feel uncomfortable with: I crossed out non-compete agreements, guarantees that my contract work does not clash with other IP, etc. I think Dan’s approach would work fine, but one thing I’ve done instead is to tell them it costs more for you with these clauses. So I said I’d sign their contract as-is for 200% their offer. Of course, they prefer the cheaper option — but it’s good to realize every contract clause has a price. During a renegotiation, I even got a contractual agreement to be able to write/talk about some of my work like this.

    Anyway, best of luck with everything, Borut!

  • Damian Isla says:

    I’m late to the party as usual. Really exciting to hear about this Borut. Good luck moving forward. Your Tehran game sounds fascinating. There is a beautiful synthesis awaiting somewhere out there between ludology and humanitarianism — please invent it!!


    Now that’s a piece of news to get just back home from vacations … Sorry it didn’t work out any more at EALA, hope you’ll find what you’re looking for being the captain of your own ship :)

  • Michel says:

    Sometimes I think about what I would do if/when offered a real job and have some of the same concerns as you. I’m just in QA now but I’ve seen co-workers in permanent creative positions get screwed when it comes to crediting with absolutely no reason given. And is not owning the work you do in spare time typical of big companies? I don’t really remember what the hell I signed when I was given a 1-year QA contract but it would be fucked if it turned out some indie game I designed at home could belong to EA. Ridiculous. The longer I work in the industry, even in my limited capacity, the more I sympathize with people like you and Phil Fish who quit to do their own thing.

    Good luck!

  • Borut says:

    Yeah, not owning all your work is typical of most employment agreements I’ve seen in the US, but as Dan and Alex pointed out, the key is sticking to removing them/blacking them out. It’s also typical of universities, sadly, for students’ work (which I mean ok, if they work on university equipment, but they also pay for the damn schooling).

    It’s funny, when I first joined EA I originally didn’t care much about that clause. Though i didn’t like it, I was really into the project I was joining (and if I worked on stuff my spare time I figured it would involve the project). But there’s a good lesson for me, things change, especially in large wacky corporations! :)

  • Cedric fiorentino says:

    Congrats Borut, it’s been a pleasure working with you on. Good luck with your future endeavours.