This week, Paradox Interactive, the owners of the World of Darkness and Vampire: The Masquerade, are giving indies the chance to sort-of make their own “Vampire The Masquerade” games. My choice of words here is very deliberate, because, when you start reading the rules, you see quite a few objections.
The name of the “program” is “Unbound”, and it is a continuation of the “Vampire Jam” event they had late last year. The idea is pretty simple: indies can make their own Vampire: The Masquerade games and sell them through the Itch.io game distribution platform. You can use anything from the VTM Intellectual Property to make a game, and you will own the rights all the original assets you create to make the game (meaning you can re-use those assets or distribute them to others). Also, you get to keep 67% of the revenue (it can be less if you end up sharing your revenue with Itch.io, since World of Darkness will keep 33%).
If this sounds interesting to you, first you should definitely read the licensing agreement found on the World of Darkness Unbound program, because there are a lot of interesting things there. For example, the “ownership of your original assets” comes under the discretion of Paradox Interactive, because they will check if your original assets are “distinguishable enough” from the actual IP. Since I am not familiar with the IP, I can’t really give you more examples other than the one they use: “the original music you produced is distinguishable from the IP’s music.”
The usage of the trademark, as seen in the licensing agreement, is also somewhat confusing because they “allow” certain things but “forbid” other things. However, the content rules in you read after you click the “Join The Unbound” shed a little light on this. To put it simple, the title of your game cannot have the words “Vampire The Masquerade” or “World of Darkness” in the title, and this is why I said you can “sort-of make your own VTM game.” You can make the game but you can’t use the title. Imagine Marvel told you “you can make a Spider-Man game, but don’t use Spider-Man on the title”. It pretty much sounds like a very unbalanced deal, “we want your talent but we don’t want you to use your brand”.
Another thing I don’t like is how you can only distribute through Itch.io, and any other distribution is strictly forbidden. This includes getting payments for the game on your own website, or putting the game on another platform. Not that I have anything against Itch.io, but it would take a lot to convince me to release a game just on that platform, because it only gets a fraction of the traffic Steam gets, and the entire user experience on that website leaves a lot to be desired.
Personally, I wouldn’t take on this opportunity. I don’t know the Vampire: The Masquerade IP, but I imagine it would be like being told “You can make your own Star Wars/LOTR/Dune game, but you can’t use Star Wars/LOTR/Dune on the title”. If you want to see the power of branding in action, just look at Amazon’s not-LOTR series, Rings of Power. The series is not about The Lord of the Rings but they still use the name because that’s the hook. Similarly, “Moon Town” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Moon Town” sound very different.
On top of that, I am not a big fan of Itch.io, and I really question the reason behind limiting distribution to that platform. While we have games on that platform, we have zero sales there because we don’t really promote it, and also organic traffic is really bad. Lastly, the whole thing about “your assets being distinguishable enough from IP material” is way too confusing. Considering all this, I’d rather make my own dark vampire game.
But that’s just me. If this deal sounds good to you, and you are a VTM fan, go ahead and join Unbound.