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RPG Codex Exclusive Interview: bitComposer's Take on the Chaos Chronicles Dispute

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RPG Codex Exclusive Interview: bitComposer's Take on the Chaos Chronicles Dispute

Interview - posted by Grunker on Thu 8 August 2013, 23:53:10

Tags: bitComposer; Chaos Chronicles; Coreplay; Michael Hoss; Peter Ohlmann; Wolfgang Duhr

UPDATE, August 11, 2013: Coreplay has issued a statement in response to this interview. See the end of this interview for Coreplay's response.


Chaos Chronicles was the kind of game the Codex had not dared hope for. Isometric perspective. Turn-based combat with a complex character system a la Temple of Elemental Evil. Overland map travel a la Realms of Arkania. To this formula a pinch of Gold Box was added along with a dash of Wizardry. Dungeons to delve into, treasures to find, creatures to kill. And not a single cent from Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform. Chaos Chronicles was to prove to the world and to us exactly what a small developer, full of passion and talent, allied with a small publisher willing to take the necessary risks, would be able to do.

And then, of course, it all went wrong. Chaos Chronicles rapidly sank into the depths of development hell.

After fans petitioned them to allow the game's development to continue, bitComposer issued a statement, and Peter Ohlmann (aka HobGoblin42) of Coreplay responded to that statement. When all was said and done, the question of who was to blame quickly became muddy. Determined to uncover the truth on what happened to Chaos Chronicles, I contacted both Michael Hoss (aka CrashOberbreit) of bitComposer and Peter Ohlmann to hear if they wanted to tell their sides of the story. Michael was the first to respond.

Today, we bring you an interview with Wolfgang Duhr, a member of bitComposer's board of directors. In this surprisingly frank interview, Duhr speaks of the hardships of being an "evil publisher," responds to the accusation that bitComposer was trying to force an early release of Chaos Chronicles, and encourages the community to show ongoing interest in the game so that it might be released.

Regardless of how you feel about bitComposer, this interview is one that we feel is well worth the read.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Exclusive Interview - bitComposer's Take on the Chaos Chronicles Dispute

UPDATE, August 11, 2013: Coreplay has issued a statement in response to this interview. See the end of this interview for Coreplay's response.

Chaos Chronicles was the kind of game the Codex had not dared hope for. Isometric perspective. Turn-based combat with a complex character system a la Temple of Elemental Evil. Overland map travel a la Realms of Arkania. To this formula a pinch of Gold Box was added along with a dash of Wizardry. Dungeons to delve into, treasures to find, creatures to kill. And not a single cent from Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform. Chaos Chronicles was to prove to the world and to us exactly what a small developer, full of passion and talent, allied with a small publisher, willing to take the necessary risks, would be able to do.

And then, of course, it all went wrong.

But why? What happened? Blame was quickly put at the feet of bitComposer, the publisher. After all, if the game was suddenly in development hell, the publisher must have been the one that put it there, right? A fan even created a petition asking bitComposer to allow the game to be completed, which got hundreds of signatures. And that is when things got complicated. bitComposer released a statement in response to the petition, explaining how this was not really a case of an Evil Publisher putting a game in legal hell for no reason. This was a dispute, and it involved two parties. bitComposer claimed that they wanted to see the game released as much as the fans did. Seeing as bitComposer had a lot of money riding on Chaos Chronicles, that did make sense.

Could this really be the fault of Coreplay, the developer? Speculation ran rampant, and suddenly people became a bit more leery of putting the blame entirely at bitComposer's feet. But, then Chaos Chronicles lead Peter Ohlmann (known as HobGoblin42 here on the forums) responded to bitComposer's statement:

During a 5 hours meeting, we have discussed and negotiated every detail of a final agreement between bitComposer and Coreplay for realizing a completion of Chaos Chronicles. We wrote all those terms and conditions into a contract and at the end of this meeting day, both parties agreed to those terms. Unfortunately (and surprisingly) bitComposer rejected to sign this agreement on this day because they still wanted to clarify an open issue regarding the tax. But before leaving our office, they have promised us to check this issue as soon as possible to make a final signment possible in the next days.

This was two month ago and we have not heard back from them since then.

In their recent statement to the petition, they mentioned a meeting last week (24th July). But they did not mention the fact that they already announced not to sign anything in that meeting. That's why we haven't attended it, because we don't have time for this 'play for time' bullshit anymore.​

This seemed to put the blame firmly back in bitComposer's territory. Yet something was not right. The two parties clearly had very different views of the dispute, to the point where their statements directly contradicted each other. According to bitComposer, the main issue was a new shareholder at Coreplay who brought new claims that violated the contract they had already signed with Coreplay. According to Coreplay, the main reason for the dispute was bitComposer's demand that the game be released prematurely, way back in March 2013.

At this point, anyone who claims to know the truth and is not directly involved is probably talking out of his or her ass. Since the Codex is so invested in this particular game, we have decided to personally investigate the matter. We did not want, however, to paint a picture of the Evil Publisher pressuring the small developer, or the unreliable developer wasting publisher money through dubious production decisions. Therefore, we decided to let both parties speak for themselves.

To begin with, bitComposer have agreed to be interviewed by the Codex. What follows is the conversation we had with their representative about the dispute surrounding Chaos Chronicles. Hopefully, it will add a bit of clarity to a mess that most of us would like to see cleaned up as soon as possible. After all, any honest Codexer should hope for one thing above all - the release of more solid cRPGs.

RPG Codex: First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. We understand that with lawyers involved and what-not, it can be difficult for you. Chaos Chronicles is a game we have been following since August 2012 [http://www.rpgcodex.net/article.php?id=8369]. Coreplay promised us all the old-school turn-based style RPG action we like, and it probably would not be wrong to state that Chaos Chronicles is one of the games in 2013 that our members look forward to the most. So much so that we even agreed to host their official Chaos Chronicles forums in March this year. We do not want to get too much into a he-said / she-said spat and we are mindful that lawyers are involved, which may limit you from saying what you would really like to say. That said, naturally stories about the game now not even being published have us worried, and we would like to cover the dispute between you and Coreplay truthfully and from both points of view.

Wolfgang Duhr, bitComposer Board of Directors: First of all, thanks for the opportunity to share our point of view concerning the current situation. It is not easy to share all the details within such a dispute, but since Coreplay has started sharing some information about the legal dispute, we now have the opportunity to correct their statements as well as answer your questions. If we were really the ‘evil publisher’, then we would not care about the controversy and bluster at all. However, we do need to respect the legal aspects of the current dispute, and withhold many details that would otherwise support our answers.

Let me also add that the huge number of comments on your forum and the online petition from GamesInquirer have encouraged us even more to find a solution to this unfortunate dispute. Of course, we also know the RPG Codex forum and their audience, and we agreed with Coreplay that they could use this platform to communicate freely about Chaos Chronicles and to get direct feedback from gamers. The same goes for the Chaos Chronicles Blog. We did this because we all know that a publisher would never get such an amount of credibility within these forums. In general, we have a lot of faith in our teams, and will not influence game design decisions in detail as long as the overall scope and timing is more or less ensured.​

To provide some background, would you like to tell us why you got involved with Coreplay and the Chaos Chronicles project in the first place? What is it about the game that interested you, and made you think Coreplay and their game would be a good match for bitComposer?

WD: We have worked with Coreplay on several projects on a work for hire basis since 2009. Chaos Chronicles (formerly named Myth of Glory) was planned as a Hack and Slay game for PC, PSN, and XBLA. During our ongoing partnership, Coreplay asked us if we were interested in funding a prototype of this game, as they would get additional funding from FFF Bayern (a local state support program) based on our commitment. During this time, we also discussed Jagged Alliance: Back in Action with Coreplay. The game design they made and the passion they had for the franchise led into another work for hire project. We decided to start with Jagged Alliance first, as income from this project would ensure the additional investment we would need to do the full production of Chaos Chronicles, which started end of 2011.​

Can you state - at least in general terms - what your agreement with Coreplay was?

WD: The full production of Chaos Chronicles began in 2011, based on the prototype from 2010. The full production was also supported by external funding through FFF Bayern. To get this funding, Coreplay needed to find a publisher to cover the majority part of the investment, and then contract them to do the game and handle worldwide marketing and sales. As we already financed the prototype on a minority basis and liked the concept, we agreed to continue the project together with Coreplay and the support of FFF Bayern. The overall individual investments for each party was as follows (sorry, we cannot mention the specific amounts): 67% funded by bitComposer, 28% funded through FFF Bayern—based on bitComposer commitment—and 5% funded by Coreplay. Coreplay suggested we use the ongoing contracts that had been in place since 2009, and so we did an addendum to those.​

Obviously, there is now a dispute between Coreplay and bitComposer. As a publisher, you no doubt would know many gamers often side with the developers and hate those "Evil Publishers". At least, you seem to be aware of that given your statement to GamesInquirer. So, in your own words, what would you say is the main cause for this dispute?

WD: Of course I know publishers are normally seen as evil from the point of view of gamers. Since I have worked on both ‘sides’, I am not personally offended by negative comments against publishers. I do know of some that are very bad, on both sides, but this does not apply to Coreplay, as their situation is special. I am sure other publishers in our situation would have already shut down the studio a few months ago. But we still believe in the people and the vision/potential behind Chaos Chronicles. As stated before in GamesInquirer, I think the reason for the dispute is the new shareholders.​

Coreplay tells us that at some point during development, it was decided to increase the scope of Chaos Chronicles and expand the game. Were you involved in this decision, and if not, when did you become aware of it? As one of the game's funders, were you happy with that decision? What impact do you think that had on the chances of the game getting completed?

WD: Actually, the scope was changed, not increased. In June 2012, we had a meeting to discuss the latest milestone. At that time, the team had some issues with the PSN and XBLA version. On the other hand, we discussed the possibility of changing the focus from Action RPG to a full-fledged cRPG, which was possible if we skipped the other platforms. Since Coreplay confirmed that such a change was still possible within the remaining budget and time frame, we skipped the PSN and XBLA versions, and both parties decided to change the focus of the game accordingly to PC only.​

Coreplay have stated that the dispute between yourself and them started in September 2012, when bitComposer failed to pay on an agreed milestone. Is this accurate? If so, then presumably you were upset or disappointed in how development had progressed - are you able to tell us anything about that particular milestone and the relationship between BitComposer and Coreplay at the time?

WD: The dispute started at the beginning of December 2012, when a Coreplay lawyer and investor presented a completely new contract, which was quite different from the original terms to which we had agreed. While Coreplay and their investors were ready to increase the budget from their side, they were not able to present a new milestone and budget plan showing the additional features they wanted to include. On the other hand, Coreplay did not match the originally scheduled milestones, and because of this uncertainty, we were not able to continue from our side – never mind the fact that such a change would have to be approved by the FFF Bayern. At that time, the Goldmaster was planned for January 2013, but the complete project was already behind schedule.​

By not funding the game, you run the risk of Evil Publisher Syndrome™. You are already being called "ShitComposter" on our forums by some people. When disputes like this happen between developers and publishers, especially over games that have already begun development, why is it that you think the publisher often takes the blame from the public? As publishers yourselves, how does that make you feel?

WD: I know blaming the publisher is the easiest way in the industry. In the case of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, we also got a lot of criticism from gamers. But as a matter of fact Coreplay and bitComposer decided to implement the new ‘Plan and Go’ system, as we both thought it would bring something new to the game. We would never blame one of our studios by saying: ‘Hey, that was their idea’. Another thing is that ‘Evil Publisher’ stories seem to be much more interesting to the press and gamers, and maybe it is also easier to blame publishers, since they do not normally make casual statements about a bad partnership, but rather try to solve conflicts in the best way possible. In the mean time, I am also getting used to getting all the blame as a publisher. If a game is successful, it was the developer. If a game fails, it was the publisher. Still I hope the majority of gamers do not think like this. Apart from this, you should not judge a game based on the publisher or developer behind it.​

The reason some forum dwellers may be skeptical of your company, is that they disliked Jagged Alliance: Back in Action. When you recently released Citadels in what many describe as a very unfinished state, and when TotalBiscuit described the game as unplayable, skepticism towards you grew. That lends credibility to the claim that perhaps the same is true of Chaos Chronicles. Ohlmann claims that "the main reason for this dispute was the controversy about an early release of Chaos Chronicles in March 2013." Did you demand the release of the game at this time? If yes, why did you demand an early release? Had Coreplay fallen behind schedule?

WD: Jagged Alliance Back in Action was a really difficult project. Having such a big name as IP, you also raise many expectations. For all of us, it would have been much easier to take Jagged Alliance 2 and do a 1:1 version with up to date graphics and keep the rest as it was. If you take a closer look at feedback from the community and the press, you see a lot of contradictory feedback: One side is complaining about the difficult level being too high, while the other thinks it is too low. Some like the new combat system, some do not. The Metacritic rating ranges from 30% to 75%, so we have players who liked it and others who hated it.

But coming back to Chaos Chronicles, we never asked to release the game ‘unfinished’ in March 2013. The only thing we asked the team was to come up with a plan for a release in January 2013 (as originally planned), one plan for March 2013, and one plan for June 2013. These plans should have included the necessary budget and the additional features/content we could expect by those dates, but these plans were never delivered, and the complete project was behind schedule already. To compare this with our recent release of Citadels –which has nothing to do with Chaos Chronicles and Coreplay— is unfortunately just a shady attempt to ignore essential facts. Again, the main reason is commercial and contractual in nature.​

We know that one of the founders of Coreplay left and sold or otherwise transferred his shares to an investor and a lawyer. Did this affect your relationship with Coreplay at all?

WD: Absolutely. Since that time, we have only had discussions about the new contract situation and not about the project itself.​

Coreplay have said that since the dispute began, they have been developing the game with their own funds. But in April 2013, bitComposer forced them to stop the development through a legal injunction which has since been dropped. Can you tell us why this injunction was placed? What concern made you take that action? And why did you decide to drop the injunction?

WD: After another attempt to solve the problem in March 2013, together with FFF Bayern, it was impossible to find a way to continue the project. The legal injunction was necessary, as their new lawyer and shareholder had a very unusual view of the contracts we had previously entered, and Coreplay planned to finalize and release the product without our involvement. On top of that, all other attempts to solve the situation from our side had been ignored in the meantime. The court decision was quite clear, and finally Coreplay was ready to come back to the table to find a solution. To ensure this meeting would not be influenced by the court decision, we recalled the injunction as a gesture of good will from our side. We were never forced by law to do this.​

Coreplay says that they did not attend the meeting on July 24 because you had announced you would not sign anything at this meeting, and that you were just "playing for time." What do you make of that statement?

WD: We just made it clear prior to the meeting that we could not simply sign a contract presented by Coreplay without further legal consultation from our side. This was necessary, as the last contract their lawyer presented did not reflect the facts, and would have exposed us to significant risks. On top of this, Coreplay’s lawyers previously expected us to sign a document the very same day it was first presented to us, without the opportunity to properly examine it first. No one can be expected to sign such a document without further consultation, especially in light of the situation. At this moment, I also have no clue why we would want to ‘play for time’.​

Obviously game development is all about money, so if Coreplay were able to source funds from elsewhere (such as another investor or perhaps even through KickStarter), are you able to allow the development of Chaos Chronicles to continue - or would it require this dispute to be resolved first?

WD: We would naturally need to solve the dispute first. The current contract even included a section – also as a requirement from the publicly funded FFF Bayern — whereby Coreplay could bring in more money and get a higher royalty share in exchange. However, as we said before, their new shareholders did not want to stick to this contract anymore, and have rejected everything we have suggested so far.​

Earlier this year, a release date of "June" has been mentioned as a possibility by Coreplay, and it generally seemed based on what they said that the game was nearing completion. What were your thoughts on the state of Chaos Chronicles?

WD: Although the project was delayed compared to the originally intended release date, it was making good progress. We discussed several release scenarios, but at that time, we did not have any specific information about future milestones and planned features. Based on some forum postings, including some in your forum, former Coreplay employees were also talking about good progress in April, but these comments were deleted by a Coreplay forum administrator a few days afterwards, claiming this was not authorized.​

You say that you are still interested in the game. Presumably, neither you nor Coreplay are interested in seeing all this work go to waste. What would say the odds are of Chaos Chronicles being released at some point?

WD: From our side the chances are very good. Besides us, FFF Bayern is also supporting a possible solution. Thus, two out of three parties are willing to continue. Again, if we were not interested in a solution, we would not invest our time in answering questions like this interview, much less attending meetings to find a solution. If Coreplay planned to bring out the game in June 2013 and had to stop in April for three weeks based on our injunction, the remaining time for completion should not be a problem.​

Finally, we would, above anything else, like to see a happy ending for Chaos Chronicles. So: is there anything the community can do to help?

WD: We hope that the community’s ongoing interest will make a difference, and as long as there is still a way the game can be released based on a balanced solution, we can also keep up our role as the ‘Evil Publisher’, in case this makes it easier for everybody.​

UPDATE, August 11, 2013: Coreplay has issued a statement in response to this interview. Here is Coreplay's response:

In a statement of August 1 and a follow-up interview of August 9 2013 bitComposer Entertainment AG portrayed its relationship to us, the developer Coreplay GmbH, in respect of the game ‘Chaos Chronicles’ and praised itself as a fair and cooperative publisher. Our following statement should clarify the situation:

The dispute between the publisher bitComposer Entertainment AG and the developer Coreplay GmbH started in Autumn 2012 with the controversy about an early release of the game 'Chaos Chronicles' in February/March 2013. As we (Coreplay) stated then, a release at this time would lead to terrible consequences for the game regarding its quality, content, and stability. Since bitComposer refused to invest more money in ‘Chaos Chronicles”, but wanted to publish this incomplete game by February/ March 2013, we offered to develop and complete the game by June 2013 at our own cost, which of course would necessarily lead to it receiving a corresponding share of the sales revenues. bitComposer refused this proposal without putting forward any alternatives.

It's a common practice of some publishers to withhold payments to put pressure on developers who usually don't have the financial stability to withstand this. This is the way bitComposer also acted. In December 2012 they asked for a further ‘Chaos Chronicles’ milestone, and announced the payment of EUR 45,000.- for it. But after the milestone had been delivered, payment was refused for no reason. Furthermore, bitComposer did not pay the remaining fee for additional work and an Add-On for the game ‘Jagged Alliance: Crossfire‘, which Coreplay had been developing for bitComposer. As bitComposer well knew, we needed these payments urgently to pay our staff and continue the development of ‘Chaos Chronicles’. This resulted in serious liquidity problems for us.

Because of the grave differences as to the further development of the game ‘Chaos Chronicles’ and because of bitComposer’s non-payment of their contractual obligations, we had no other choice but to give notice on the contract with bitComposer in February 2013. In response bitComposer also gave notice on the contract. Therefore the contractual relationship between Coreplay and bitComposer ended in February 2013.

As we were convinced that ‘Chaos Chronicles’ would be a successful game when completed, we borrowed money from third parties and started the further development of ‘Chaos Chronicles’. However, on April 2 2013, bitComposer forced us to stop the further development of ‘Chaos Chronicles’ through a legal injunction. Later bitComposer evidently realized that this injunction was a grave mistake and withdrew it on May 21 2013, but still maintained its opinion that Coreplay was not entitled to continue developing and completing the game.

After that, we made several proposals for a final solution with no success. Finally, a meeting between bitComposer and us took place on Friday, May 31 2013. In negotiations lasting more than five hours, to which bitComposer’s lawyer was connected by telephone, the parties discussed and negotiated every detail of a final agreement between bitComposer and Coreplay to realize the completion of 'Chaos Chronicles.' A contract was written clarifying all the terms and conditions, by which bitComposer would transfer all their alleged rights to the game to Coreplay and would in return be paid immediate compensation. By the end of the negotiations, both parties agreed to sign this contract and bitComposer firmly declared that they would send a signed copy of the contract on the following Monday, June 3 2013. But to our great disappointment bitComposer has up to the present day neither sent the signed contract back nor have they contacted us.

In bitComposer’s recent statements they mentioned a meeting on July 24 2013. Before this meeting took place, bitComposer had already declined to sign any agreement in this meeting. But what is the point of negotiations if one party has no intention of reaching an agreement? As we did not want to experience a repetition of the lengthy and fruitless negotiations of May 31 2013 without any outcome, we did not attend the meeting.

After all the trouble, we have experienced during the last eight months, we firmly believe that this publisher is entirely unwilling to settle the conflict. Although bitComposer has repeatedly claimed that it is interested in a solution, it has never followed this up with deeds. In particular, as opposed to Coreplay, bitComposer has not presented any single contractual proposal since its withdrawal of the injunction.

Their strategy is quite clear to us: bitComposer assumes that we will finish developing the game with large sums of borrowed money, whereas bitComposer incurs no further expense. BitComposer would then prevent the marketing of the completed game by Coreplay or a third party on the grounds that this would violate bitComposer’s alleged rights to the game. In this way bitComposer would be able to force us to sell them the game cheaply and under heavy losses. This is why we were not able to borrow further money in order to continue developing ‘Chaos Chronicles’.

As developers and avid RPG fans, we are deeply disappointed that bitComposer has simply destroyed our possibility of finishing such a promising and ambitious RPG and thereby ruined our financial efforts and our creative work, which was carried out with such great enthusiasm and passion.

But of course, everyone can form their own opinion about how strong bitComposer’s aim is to publish quality games and how fair and cooperative they are.

Coreplay GmbH, August 11th 2013

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