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Here's What A Publishing Deal With EA Looks Like

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Curious about the nitty-gritty details behind a video game publisher’s development deals? Rhode Island’s got you covered.

This afternoon, as part of an ongoing legal war with ex-game developer-slash-MLB pitcher Curt Schilling and his failed company, 38 Studios, the Rhode Island Superior Court released a treasure trove of documents including depositions, e-mails, and contracts. There are thousands upon thousands of documents in there—if for some reason you want to read them all, you can find’em here.

I’ve spent the past few hours digging into these documents, and although there isn’t too much interesting stuff in there that we haven’t already heard, there are some fascinating details about the conditions Electronic Arts set when agreeing to co-publish 38 Studios’ first and only game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Turns out 38 Studios would have received a $1 million bonus if they’d hit an 85 on Metacritic, among other conditions. Gross. (The game got an 81.)


What follows is a rare look at the mundane details of a video game publisher agreement. These things are usually kept under lock and key, never discussed and never shared with anyone who isn’t sitting in the board room when it happens, so it’s fun to look through them, even though they’re a bit dry.

An important note: This is NOT the actual EA contract in question; it’s a memo from a law firm to 38 Studios CEO Jen MacLean that sums up the contract. First, some details on the publishing agreement, which specifies that EA will give the company $19,700,000 as part of their arrangement. Big Huge Games, the Maryland-based developer that was then owned by 38 Studios, would serve as co-publisher:


So, yes, in case you were wondering—all those logo animations you see when you turn on a video game are legally required.

Subsequent parts of the memo aren’t super interesting—they get into the fine points of bank loans and intellectual property rights—but this next part sure is.


Here’s how the royalty breakdown was meant to work:


A good reminder that Metacritic is an ineffective, severely flawed tool that publishers certainly shouldn’t be using to determine bonuses.


38 Studios, of course, closed in 2012 after laying off all of its staff and filing for bankruptcy despite receiving a $75 million loan from Rhode Island.

You can reach the author of this post at or on Twitter at @jasonschreier.