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Sharing an interview that Adrian gave to Red Hare Games Studios for their gaming blog, accessible here. We covered video games, lawyering, views on the games industry and Singapore scene, and more!
"When we think of lawyers, we often think of courtroom dramas, back-door shady deals and greasy palms. It is not often we associate lawyers and gamers in the same equation. But many events in 2018 has brought the legal implications of games and game design to the light of the mass media. So it is only appropriate for the interview that ends the year to touch on such matters. Take a peek behind the curtain with Adrian Kwong from Consigclear as he talks about his experience being a lawyer in the game industry (minus the spiky hair and screams of “Objection!”)."
Thanks, Red Hare, for the feature!
Q: Give the readers a short introduction about yourself and your company. What is your role? What is your company about? What is your “origin” story?
I am a lawyer. A video game and entertainment lawyer, to be precise.
I used to be a Vice President in Electronic Arts (EA) and was the internal top lawyer for its operations in Asia, Africa and Middle East. I was there for 10 years.
I now run my own Singapore law firm, called Consigclear. It has two main business areas: first, providing legal support to businesses through contract or business advice, or through secondments. Second, given over 15 years of experience with various game industry players including EA, Creative Technologies, Sony Computer and Razer, as well as dealing with Tencent, Nexon, Garena, Changyou, and Playfish, I practice in the media and entertainment sector. This includes clients who do web video, content creation, media personalities, e-sports, and of course, video game companies, both on the development and the publisher side.
Q: Most people associate game development with artists, programmers and game designers. Not many recognize the legal side of things. Why should a game company consider legal support?
For sure, not every game company needs its own lawyer all the time. However, making games is also a business, and most businesses do need some legal help at some point in time.
This can be for things like reviewing their lease, getting advice on their employment letters or website terms, dealing with customer or regulatory complaints, or licencing-in content such as characters, music, voice-overs, sounds, art, and tools. They might also want a lawyer to review their platform and publisher agreement, or when someone wants to invest in the company. Lastly, definitely get legal support if the company gets a nasty letter from another lawyer!
Q: Is there such a thing as Video Game Law?
Definitely. Consider a few sample scenarios loosely based on real life experiences:
Q: What are the most common game-related legal concerns?
Some recent concerns include:
Q: Compared to other forms of entertainment like film and music, is legal counsel for games different in any way?
Video games are just one form of entertainment. Other forms include broadcast (television and radio), movies, music, and increasingly, newer things like OTT video and animation.
While there are of course sector-specific nuances, most entertainment law centres on similar legal issues, heavily involving copyright law, brands and lots of licencing and transactional work i.e. contracts. Legal counsel across different entertainment genres should usually feel comfortable with dealing with talent, distribution, platforms, territories and of course, business terms such as minimum guarantees and royalties.
Video games stand out in one way from the rest though: the highly interactive nature of the medium, creating whole different levels of emotional connection. When you watch a movie, you don’t get to jump in and help kill the enemy hordes to save the princess. There is a reason that video games are a bigger global business than films now.
However, the adaptive nature of the medium can create some interesting issues around user-generated content for lawyers. For example, it took less than a day for players to use the Spore Creature Creator to make hundreds of their own sex organ creatures (go search online for “spornography” – probably NSFW). That was a rather odd day in the office, but just one of many memorable ones in the business (running around the office with NERF guns in the middle of the afternoon was another one; game people can be lots of fun too).
,Q: While gaming is popular here, Singapore’s game industry is still relatively small. What future do you see for the legal landscape of Singapore in regards to games?
The simple answer is that Singapore is an extremely small market for the development or publishing of content in general, let alone video games.
I do believe there is a market for legal services in the game sector, but it is unlikely that Singapore will lead the world in novel game-related issues in the law. For that, we will continue to look to bigger markets like the US, as well as North Asia.
You might be interested, however, to know that the first reported Singapore court Computer Misuse Act prosecution for WiFi ‘mooching’ in 2006 did involve video games. It seemed the 17-year old accused had gone outside his house to tap into a neighbour’s unsecured network so he could play online games (his parents had disabled the home wireless network to stop his addiction). The case made the news in the UK and in Australia.
Q: As a neutral and experienced advisor to the industry, how do you feel about the Singapore game scene?
I think it is small, but vibrant and passionate. While in the past people tried to bring the big multi-national game companies into Singapore, I think those days are gone. Instead, you now have a fair number of home-grown studios dotted around one-north, Pemimpin, Tai Seng, and beyond. Some are ex-AAA teams, some have made respectable sums of money, or gotten investments, while others are indies truly still finding their way.
Because of that variance in experience, it is important for people to try to help each other succeed (or at least avoid making the same mistakes twice!). This is where the various local associations and groups are probably super helpful and should be encouraged as sources of mentors and collaborators. The government can help, too.
However, seeing how small our domestic market is, it is both inevitable and promising that some of our Singapore developers are expanding overseas such as in Taiwan, SE Asia and even Japan and Korea. And it’s great to see Singapore game companies getting recognized on the regional or even world stage.
I wish that Singapore developers secure both critical acclaim in terms of awards, but also, from a business perspective, that the recognition also turns into material revenue for them so they can sustain their businesses, reward their employees and investors, and, ideally, make a second or third game! And that’s not just because I hope that they will have the budget to pay for legal support the next time…:)
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