Since a Supreme Court battle in 2011, games are protected under the 1st Amendment. Politics and video all media is under scrutiny. In a presentation at Casual Connect USA, Brandon Huffman described the journey video games have taken through expression, legally protected speech and where video games are headed. Be sure to check out the full presentation below.
Brandon Huffman is an attorney and the founder of Odin Law and Media. After several years working for other law firms and building a practice in digital and interactive media and entertainment, Brandon was ready to establish his own firm and focus on supporting the clients with whom he most enjoyed working. Brandon is also general counsel for the International Game Developers Association.
Odin Law presently consists of two people. Brandon is the only attorney, and a freelance consultant assists with certain tasks. The two had a number of mutual work contacts, including veteran game producers, an obvious advantage when they met through a local Slack channel.
Companies of All Sizes Need Legal Advice
Odin Law and Media has clients ranging in size from a company with forty employees to one that consists of a single person. Some of the clients include Heart Machine, the company which created the award-winning PC game Hyper Light Drifter; Limited Run Games, which is actively porting and publishing physical PS4, Vita and Switch titles; and Ker-Chunk Games, which just released the mobile game, Prince-Napped.
Brandon’s work most often involves employment, corporate and intellectual property issues. This work includes business formation, contracts, licenses, trademark and copyright issues, and publishing matters, and, if necessary, litigation. He describes, “I try to be a resource to my clients which means understanding their business in a way that allows me to be the first call for any legal issue – even if it is one I can’t handle. I can always make a connection or find a solution.”
A Focus on Entertainment Law
The most enjoyable aspect of his work, Brandon claims, is “working with creative people who have a way more interesting job than I do!” He compared this to an old cartoon he saw by Barbara Smaller. It features a boy in a cowboy outfit telling his father, “Well if I can’t be a cowboy, I’ll be a lawyer for cowboys.” He admitted to envying his creative, innovative clients.
Brandon did, in fact, go to law school to focus on entertainment law. Games are particularly appealing, not only because Brandon plays them, but because they are a “unique cross section of the audio visual artistry of film, the technical accomplishment of digital animation and cutting edge software, and add the layer of interactivity that makes them even more fascinating.”
Every associate attorney position Brandon has held has prepared him in a different way for the work he does today. Certainly his first priority has been honing legal skills. But Brandon also worked for several years as a free-lance graphic designer, web developer and content writer. This experience has given greater understanding and perspective on what his clients really care about.
Keeping Up and Staying on the Radar
One of the greatest challenges Brandon faces comes from the fact that the law is constantly changing, so it is critical to keep up with the news. It is also essential to stay on the radars of clients and prospective clients. They try to bridge this situation by subscribing to several different resources and tweeting out the updates that will be interesting for those in the game industry.
The rewards of the work he does comes when he sees clients succeed, knowing he had a role in that success. Brandon describes a particularly rewarding incident: “My very first industry client had a trademark dispute where a studio was trying to release a game with the exact name of their studio, in the same font. Even though it was a minor issue in the grand scheme, it was big for that client. And, because they were my first client in the industry, it meant that much more to me when I was able to resolve it quickly and efficiently.”
Everything about the game industry interests Brandon. He loves learning what others are doing, “from AI to Zbrush.” And Brandon is a gamer when time allows. Favorites are the classics such as SMB3, but he will play almost any genre. He has enjoyed Half-Life and Half-Life 2, the Civs and World of Warcraft.
When considering future trends in the industry, he says, “I think AR has a brighter future in non-games applications that in games – though I am always hopeful to be proven wrong!”
Brandon has two pieces of advice to offer game companies, especially indies. Admittedly they are clichés, but important all the same.
A. Know what you don’t know. It can be really tempting to rush headlong into an agreement. Before you do, you probably aren’t going to do the research to fully understand what every term and the consequences of every term of the agreement are. So, know what you don’t know. Know how to issue spot for your chief concerns, and know how to manage risks around the stuff you know you don’t know anything about (which might include hiring someone to help). Think about it: a great artist could learn to program, but it might not be the most efficient way to fill that role on the team. Legal services are similar.
B. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Spending a little bit on legal help, or accounting advice or just business consulting at the outset can save much more in the long run. A minor error not caught and corrected at the beginning can be a major problem at the end.”
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.