Just because a famous game-development name is associated with a particular franchise doesn’t mean they always have control over it—or even see a penny from their work. Ken Levine, for example, doesn’t even own the rights to BioShock, his most famous creation. But even if a developer takes all the necessary precautions to keep all the rights of an intellectual property, they can still face an uphill climb—as Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning can attest.
In an interview with Metro UK, Lanning opened up about his experience fighting for the right to see royalties from his creation. Lanning’s goal was to create a universe to which he would have creative control and financial rights—but it didn’t work out that way.
“[The idea was] that we would be creating a universe the way that Jim Henson built a universe, the way that George Lucas built a universe, the way that Walt Disney built one, the way that Warner Bros. built a universe,” Lanning said. “We thought we could do that organically; we thought we could do that with successes. But the fact is I sold over 5 million games at retail and I never saw one royalty check. Now, go around and ask the rest of the developers who say, ‘Oh, we sold a million units!’ Ask them how many royalty checks they’ve had, and it’ll be, ‘Oh, well, that’s a sore spot.’
Fortunately for Lanning, he was eventually able to audit the Oddworld numbers, which showed “millions and millions of dollars of error, not in our favor.” It took ultimately took legal action from Lanning to get back full rights and profits to what he’d created nearly two decades ago.
“That’s ultimately how we got the company back,” he said. “Because when we were able to prove that things were not what they should be, then it was, ‘Pay us or give us the company back.’ Very simple. And so that’s how we got the company back, 100 percent.”
It’s thanks in part to Lanning taking action that we’ll be getting Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, an enhanced remake of 1997’s Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, later this month on PSN.
We had a chance to chat with Lanning at E3 ourselves, and he was as outspoken as ever regarding some other issues currently facing the game industry, so look forward to what he had to say in our next print issue, which will be on newsstands in September.