Practitioners and players alike demanding “authorship rights”

Is it possible to implement a signature system for F2P game production teams?

Recently, Touch Music has organized several dialogues between players and game developers. During these events, we observed a phenomenon: from the perspective of players, many people have proposed the requirement of “copywriter signature system”. Specifically, they hope to add the list of copywriters who participated in the plot writing to the game, or publish it in public for players to read and understand.


This is quite interesting. In most cases, people assume that authors have the right to sign their own works or the works they participated in. In the gaming industry, even if we don't mention the famous “Sid Meier” series, most games will have a “Developer List” option in the start menu. Even if the player does not take the initiative to check it, the developer list will often pop up after the game is completed.

But in China, game developers have always lacked the opportunity to be credited in game works – in fact, most games do not have a developer list. In the early years, the reason for not adding a developer list to the game was “worrying about being poached by competing companies”, which some developers were dissatisfied with, but slowly, this seems to have become a customary rule in the Chinese game industry, and it has continued like this, so that many people don't think about this issue much now.

Today, we bring up this issue again, and the reason is not the developers, but the players.

The “copywriter signature system” has been brought up again recently on the Internet because some game copywriters are strongly dissatisfied with some players. These players claim that they hope to know the pseudonyms of the copywriters of these games so that they can “avoid spoilers” in the future; accordingly, if the copywriter is well written, no matter which project team the member joins in the future, they will give priority to playing the games made by the corresponding project team.


Players who are angry about playing bad content

This issue has not stopped being discussed among game developers. For this reason, I talked to some game developers in different categories and positions. What surprised me was that most of them were against being named; or in other words, most of them did not want to appear on the list of game developers.

What went wrong?

Responsibility and “opening the box”

Since the development of the domestic game industry, the issue of attribution has been raised intermittently, but no broad consensus has been reached. So far, practitioners have tacitly accepted the “no attribution” rule, or in other words, few people have thought about the concept of “right to attribution”. Some practitioners believe that from a development perspective, it is meaningless to attribution to the production team of F2P games. Since the birth of F2P games, almost no F2P games have made the list of project team members public.

Lao Mao, a developer with 17 years of experience, told me: “When I first started working, someone in the company mentioned adding attribution to the team. In my opinion, adding attribution is not a difficult thing to do, but where should it be added? How should it be added? Does it have any specific benefits for the development team? For developers, this is a useless feature that will not improve player experience, revenue, or retention.”

From the perspective of attribution of responsibility, when a player is unhappy with a feature in the game, it is difficult to “avoid” a specific developer. Some large-scale games may have hundreds or thousands of people involved. Whether a piece of content can be presented to players requires many people and many levels to make decisions. It is actually meaningless to get entangled in one or a few people.

A practitioner used the “Copyright Owner” on the startup interface of “Genshin Impact” to give me an example: The only company that should be responsible for “Genshin Impact” is MiHoYo.

It is like a person buying a house. The key point is not who tied the steel bars or who painted the plaster, but whether the quality of the delivered product is up to standard. If there are defects, the real estate developer is directly responsible.

“In the field of film and television, directors may have personal style issues, but the personal style of game producers is not so obvious.” Lao Mao said, “Compared with screenwriters, actors, directors and other staff in traditional content industries, the turnover of personnel in the game industry is much faster. It is normal for a project to take two years, and more than half of the planners at the time of project establishment to be replaced by the time the project goes online.” In this case, it is difficult for a signature to help accountability, or in other words, if the company really wants to be held accountable, it does not need a signature.

In this regard, grassroots planners at small companies cannot accept “signatures” at all. A numerical planner working at a small MMO company in Guangzhou asked me: “The gap between players and planners is actually very serious. If a game gives you a 'rubbish' feeling, do you think it's the company that's rubbish, the producer of this game that's rubbish, or a small planner of this game that's rubbish?”

Ye Ye, a copywriter at another small company, has a similar view: “If the game industry wants to force people to sign their work, then practitioners should be able to use pseudonyms, but if we want to be 'accountable', what's the point of using pseudonyms? And sometimes, small planners can't decide the content at all. Every day I feel that the plans given by the leader are quite stupid, but I can't change his mind.”

Among the practitioners I have come into contact with, the proportion of copywriters is quite high, and almost all of them do not agree to sign their names in the game. They generally believe that if a game's copywriting “goes wrong”, the copywriting team leader should be held accountable and the work should be stopped. If signatures are implemented, in today's more extreme network environment, some people may pour their anger on grassroots employees without any bottom line. What's more, many project teams have the phenomenon of “forming cliques” and “power struggles”. If the division of responsibilities to the extent of “signature” is to be achieved, the project team will most likely push someone out to take the blame.

Some practitioners with overseas experience said that overseas, most medium and large-scale F2P content games will have the producers or major participants in the content production of the version release information to players publicly when the new version is released. Large-scale domestic F2P games have basically achieved this, but the most fundamental problem is that most players who require signatures do not think that these representative decision-makers are willing to take responsibility, or that there is a system within the game company to hold these people accountable. Driven by their own needs, players hope to replace “leadership signatures” with a wider range of “team signatures” in exchange for the attention of practitioners and manufacturers.

In the discussion about responsibility, the viewpoint of a former 2you fan editor impressed me. “First of all, the signature itself is an infringement of the privacy rights of the production members. If players lock down the grassroots practitioners who don't care about the matter based on the signature, no one can afford the chain reaction caused by it.” He said, “Players just want a list of 'opening boxes' (searching for other people's real information and posting it on the Internet) to vent their anger. This is obviously very unfair to the practitioners. I don't think real 'normal players' will support the promotion of signatures, because in essence, this is in exchange for sacrificing some of the legitimate rights of game developers.”

Practitioners generally resist signing

For practitioners, it is also quite difficult to define “problematic content”. Some content may be liked by most players, or indifferent to them, but only a small number of players dislike it and use it as a pretext to vent their emotions. The project team has to make changes due to community pressure, but the changes will cause new problems.

Binbin, the chief planner of a major second-hand game company, told me: “Promoting signatures will cause many problems, the most important of which is the serious problem of 'opening the box'. If the content is well done, it's fine, but it's impossible for someone to do well all the time, and there will always be times when mistakes are made.”

However, players have different opinions on the considerations of practitioners. Some players said that if they are worried about being “opened”, they can use a “vest” (pen name), which can also achieve the effect of allowing players to identify and “avoid thunder”. For example, practitioners in other content industries will also encounter the problem of low quality of works, such as the screenwriters of “dog blood dramas” or the authors of “toilet paper online articles”. When publishing works or updating, they are also signed. The audience may not care about the names of these works and authors at all, and game practitioners are no more special than them.

Value and limitations

In fact, for creators, the right to authorship means both responsibility and benefit. During the dialogue, a player asked: “Why do Hollywood screenwriters fight to the death for the right to authorship? It's the same creation and service, but in the game industry, why don't they fight for it?”

The explanation given by practitioners is that the gaming industry is a high-tech industry that requires many complex types of work to work together, and the presentation of a piece of content is the joint effort of many people. There are many cases of people sharing the blame and robbing credit.

Some practitioners believe that if the industry implements attribution, many people's credit may be “robbed”. Attribution “credit” is directed at the outside, just like Japan is rich in star producers, and European and American game companies emphasize the team. For example, people remember Hideo Kojima, but they don't know that in addition to Hideo Kojima himself, Kojima Studio has more than 100 employees.

The Japanese game industry once produced many star producers, and Hideo Kojima was one of them

Lao Mao said that practitioners do not need to prove their ability or enhance their industry reputation by signing their names. “If they need to sign their names, grassroots employees are likely to be PUA, and the leaders will tell them, 'Your name must be written, come on.' If something serious really happens, it is enough to ask the producer and the person in charge of the corresponding module to be responsible, and the same applies to achieving good results and distributing credit.”

Many times, practitioners do not need to prove their value to the industry by signing their names. When applying for a job, practitioners have ample opportunities to prove themselves in portfolios, written tests, interviews, and probation periods; if the position is at a higher level, the company will also conduct a background check. If the project that the applicant has participated in previously had problems, and the module with the problem happened to be the part that the applicant participated in, the company will often make a cautious decision.

At the same time, applicants for some positions also face some “difficulties”. An old veteran who has been in the industry for more than ten years told me that some online writers will cooperate with the game project team by outsourcing copywriting, and well-known online writing platforms will sign a “literary creation agency” contract with the author, covering all other places where the author has “authorship rights” outside the online writing platform in the contract. To put it bluntly, once the author signs such a contract with the online writing platform, all the copywriting output they have “authorship rights” will need to be shared with the online writing platform. Outsourcing copywriting can avoid this risk to a certain extent because they are not signed in the game.

I talked about this with a friend who is doing copywriting and writing novels on online platforms. Although he is not restricted by the “literary creation agency” contract, he does not support the promotion of the game signature system.

I asked him, “If you want to sign your name, can you use a pen name? It just needs to be different from the author's name on the online writing platform.”

He said: “If pseudonyms are allowed, then the 'signature system' that players are calling for is meaningless. Practitioners will use a different pseudonym every time they go to a game company. How can players 'hold them accountable'?”

From a professional perspective

After collecting opinions from both practitioners and players, we asked lawyer Zeng Xiangxin from Shanghai Xieli (Hangzhou) Law Firm. Lawyer Zeng specializes in the field of intellectual property and has been paying attention to the game industry for nearly 20 years.

Attorney Zeng said that there are differences between F2P games and buyout games in terms of attribution: “F2P games mainly make profits through in-app purchases, advertising and other value-added services. From a business model perspective, they focus more on continuous operation and long-term retention of players. The requirements for content are lower than those for buyout games, and the professionalism of the game development team is not as important. In contrast, the buyout system means that game companies need to present the advantages of the game to players as much as possible before purchasing, just like film and television dramas, showing the development team is one of the selling points of game promotion.”

The long-running buyout game “Final Fantasy 14” will release a developer list at the end of each major version of the plot.

Lawyer Zeng also told me that, relatively speaking, F2P games not only lack the “motivation” to sign, but signing will also lead to other problems. For example, do resigned employees need to sign? Do people whose content is replaced need to sign?

“These issues are quite complicated in practice. Simply put, the relevant laws and regulations represented by the Copyright Law of the People's Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as the “Copyright Law”) have not even discussed clearly what “game works” are, so naturally there are no relevant regulations and explanations specifically for games, let alone an explanation of the signature of F2P games.” Lawyer Zeng said.

However, in the future, the attribution system may also be reflected in games. Lawyer Zeng said that in the copyright system of film and television works in various countries, there is a provision called “rights concentration clause”. In my country's Copyright Law, this clause is reflected in Article 17.

The first two paragraphs of Article 17 of the Copyright Law provide that “the copyright of film and television works in audiovisual works shall be enjoyed by the producer, but the screenwriter, director, photographer, lyricist, composer and other authors shall enjoy the right of authorship and shall have the right to obtain remuneration in accordance with the contract signed with the producer. The ownership of copyright in audiovisual works other than those specified in the preceding paragraph shall be agreed upon by the parties; if there is no agreement or the agreement is unclear, the copyright shall be enjoyed by the producer, but the author shall enjoy the right of authorship and the right to obtain remuneration.”

Simply put, the law assumes that the copyright of film and television works is centrally enjoyed by the “producers”. This is a solution to the contradiction between the collective creation of film and television works (due to the large number of people involved in the creation, it would be very complicated to clarify the copyright ownership of each creator) and centralized exercise (unified external authorization and rights protection). At the same time, it also provides some compensation in rights to producers who bear the main risks and invest in the production of film and television works.

In this regulation, we can see that positions such as “screenwriter, director, photographer, lyricist, composer” enjoy the right of attribution. Together with the performer's right to “indicate the identity of the performer” in Article 39 of the Copyright Law, the law clearly stipulates that there are 6 positions that enjoy the right of attribution in film and television works, while the right of attribution for a large number of other positions such as makeup, props, and photography is not stipulated.

Article 17 of the Copyright Law

The reason is that, on the one hand, from the perspective of the Copyright Law, the above positions are considered to be “authors” who have contributed “originality” to film and television works, or “performers” who have “performed” the works, which meets the premise of legal protection. On the other hand, it also shows that the law is only a basic regulation and cannot regulate to a very specific level.

In fact, even the above six positions still face many problems such as “how to sign a multi-person team”, “how to determine the ranking of different positions”, “whether to retain the original author's signature when modifying a semi-finished product”, etc., which are far from being fully covered by legal provisions. These issues need to be negotiated by the parties involved in the film and television works when signing the contract and fixed in the corresponding contract.

Speaking of game works, Lawyer Zeng said that there are great similarities between the development of games, especially buyout games, and the production of movies. They are both developed by large numbers of people, with large-scale investments and high market risks, and they also need to be ultimately authorized and protected by the production company.

Therefore, on the whole, for game works that also have the characteristics of concentrated rights, if there are relevant legislative provisions or judicial cases in the future, it is likely that they will tend to favor game companies as investors. While respecting the agreement as much as possible, they will protect the main investors in original content – such as the right of authorship of producers, screenwriters, main artists, musicians and other positions.


In China, the issue of “right of attribution” has become very special – in the current market, it seems that “players need to be attributable, but developers refuse to be attributable.”

The origin and development of the whole thing seem a bit twisted. Players want to be credited in order to identify the author and hold him accountable – to be honest, to a certain extent, this demand is somewhat similar to the origin of the “signature system”: Enduana, the moon priestess of Mesopotamia, is considered the first poet and writer with a signature in human history. The purpose of the author signing his work is to “leave his name in the crowd and history.” The signature links the author and the work together. The author must of course be responsible for the work and will also gain honor and wealth from the work.

Now, a wide range of game creators seem to not care, or even refuse to exercise this right – I certainly know why. The economic rights of developers can be guaranteed by law, and attribution seems to be only related to “reputation”, and quite a few developers do not want this kind of reputation. What's more, in the current public opinion environment, they will feel dangerous because of it.

The key to the problem is that we may increasingly view games as purely commercial, service-oriented products that appear to meet the needs of others. Game developers are also increasingly accustomed to just “completing tasks based on data and feedback” and don't care about how to express themselves – of course, for a F2P game, or for those workers who are under the pressure of deadlines, work orders and rent, it may be a bit of a luxury to say this.

But no matter what, the change in the concept of “authorship” will become a footnote of this era. I wonder what kind of evaluation we will make of this era when we look back on it decades later.

(All characters in this article are pseudonyms.)

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