A Case Study on Buying Publishing Rights

Sometimes a publisher sees a hard-to-find game they admire and wants to buy the publishing rights. With any luck, that game is no longer in production and the rights have reverted to the designer. But what happens when the designer and publisher are the same person? I was curious myself, so I invited Travis R. Chance from the new Kolossal Games to share his experience on buying publishing rights from Small Box Games and bringing on John Clowdus as an in-house designer. You can subscribe to exciting announcements from Kolossal Games via their profile on BoardGameGeek.

A Collaboration Built on Gratitude

Omen has been one of my very favorite games for years. In my mind, it is THE quintessential head-to-head game. It captures the spirit of games like Magic, Netrunner, and other living and collectible games not in the model but gameplay. For years I had wanted to approach John, the publisher and designer of Omen. I saw genuine talent in John’s work, not only as a publisher but as a real fan. He is prolific, wildly creative, and was at the very top of my list of people with whom to partner. But, as I saw him continuing to release games, assumed he would not be interested. One morning a friend convinced me I had nothing to lose, so I messaged John.

I sent John a Facebook message and said I was a huge fan and would love to talk to him. I said I was a publisher with a new company and was very honest about my interest in working with him. In particular, I expressed a keen interest in Omen. I tend to approach interactions like this with humility; John was the rock star here, after all. Luckily, he was aware of my previous work. At this time I had made no official offer, no numbers, just a declaration of intent regarding buying publishing rights. But that was enough.

We spoke daily for the next week, wherein we quickly established a mutual desire to partner up. That’s the real secret. This was something we BOTH wanted to work. So we did just that – we made it work.

Within two weeks we had negotiated our terms and began our official partnership. Kolossal would add the Small Box catalog to its roster and John would bring his talent to our team as a designer. It was one of the most smooth and pleasant business exchanges I have had in my career. John is not only a talented individual, but an extremely fair and humble one as well. I could not have asked for a better outcome, where both parties wound up with what they wanted and eager to begin the task at hand. That was the true key to this entire opportunity: honesty, mutual respect, and admiration.

Looking for Mutual Benefits

Two parties agreeing on an accurate valuation when buying publishing rights is not comfortable the majority of the time. I made sure to detail what Kolossal brought to the equation, in spite of being a new entity. Projections and assessments had to be considered fairly by both parties to reach an agreement. Our approach was creative, insomuch that we wanted not only rights to the Small Box catalog, but also John’s talent as a prolific designer. In doing so, Kolossal added John’s experience and creativity to our team and provided him with the opportunity to focus solely on designing new games rather than logistics, production, fulfillment, etc. Lifting the onus of the more mundane aspects of being an owner/operator was beneficial to both parties; John was already making fantastic games at an impressive rate. We all felt confident that structuring the opportunity to devote more time and flexibility to creative pursuits was a win/win.

Ultimately, listening to John’s desire to dedicate more energy and time toward designing inspired the best possible way to map out our deal. Had either party been less willing to listen or think outside of the box, then it is highly likely that things could have shaken out differently.

My advice to fellow publishers when buying publishing rights is the same advice my friend gave me: try, ask, and reach out. While many games that have become available do tend to get snatched up quickly, you would be surprised by how many are ready for a new publisher to reintroduce their game to the ever-growing gaming culture.

Something for Fans New and Old

Kolossal will be reissuing Omen: Reign of War, Omen: Edge of the Aegean, and Neolithic in our 2018 catalog. Omen will see an update to its production and graphic design, but none whatsoever to the stellar art John curated for the game, nor the more-than-exceptional rules of play. Our aim is to have the presentation of this great game match the incredibly rich and deep experience. Additionally, we will release Fires in the East, a brand new standalone Omen game set in Persia/Phoenicia. As Kolossal grows the Omen brand, we will expand into new cultures and mythologies: Norse, Japanese, Egyptian.

Neolithic will see a slightly more thorough revision regarding art and production. Further, we plan to combine the original game with the Advanced Cultures expansion for a more robust single product. Much like Omen, we feel strongly that this is an incredibly deep and deserving game that the public will love.

John and I met just this week to discuss other prospects, namely Soulfall, which has fast become one my top games. We also plan to begin design and development on brand new games that step out of the small box format.

As I said above, Omen is more than a game: it’s a brand. The challenge ahead is merely in presenting these great games to fans new and old.

If you asked me honestly to put my feelings into a single word it would simply be “grateful.” Working with talented people is the greatest joy of what I do. To work with a designer whom you admire, well that’s just plain awesome.

You can follow Kolossal Games on Facebook and Twitter.

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Daniel Zayas

Daniel Zayas is owner and curator of this website. He has been ranking Kickstarter game campaigns via the Board Game Badger for three years. Daniel runs a consultant business via this website as well. Feel free to reach out to him in the links below.

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