The democratic label + Rainstorm EP

Badru, Isa, Zoe, Jeff, Michael, Grizz, & Meagan
Join us!

Ice Water Games is now officially a democratically run games label: a community of artists sharing resources and an audience within an institution controlled collectively by the membership.

More importantly, we intend to grow our label by signing the beautiful and strange work that we think our audience wants.

Our work has been covered by Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, National Geographic, the New York Times, Polygon, Waypoint, and in many other places. We’ve been in Humble Bundles, made and sold work on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, and have a player base of millions of people.

Just today, Ice Water Games is releasing an unannounced new title, by new label members Jake Grizzly Pierce and Jakey Mumfie.

Rainstorm EP is a wistful poem to found lost things and rainy nights, the love child of a music box and a snowglobe.

If you make great work that’s at all like ours, we want to support you by helping our audience connect to it.

What do you get out of it?

As an artist currently working on a title signed to the label, Ice Water Games provides you with:

  • a marketing apparatus and marketing advice
  • an audience that wants things like it
  • helpful shared resources like press and festival lists
  • other artists who know when your work is coming out and who benefit from it being great and being seen

What do the artists already on the label get out of it?

After your game comes out, as a normal label member:

  • You have a vote in a democratic body with the potential to have larger influence than you could otherwise, to help shape the industry (and the label) into something better for everyone, yourself included
  • The label links your game and its audience to a brand and body of work that has an output much greater than your own, keeping the audience healthy and alive, keeping people talking about the work, and ultimately boosting the sales of your back catalog
  • If you see artists working on something you love, membership in the label gives you the ability to meaningfully support that team by providing them a platform and an audience
  • A lightweight, non-profit label structure gives you the ability to take a back seat if you like — the label has benefited plenty already from the presence of your work, and you have no obligation to volunteer extra time
  • A democracy based on consent gives you the ability, regardless of your level of involvement, to stop the label from being misused

The basics of the label

We filed in Washington State as a non-profit corporation on the winter solstice of 2018 — almost exactly 5 years after Ice Water Games’ initial founding in 2013. Shortly afterwards, we approved initial bylaws which give full membership to all credited artists on any title published under the label, and which give all members the right to veto any proposed label action.

So our democracy is not based on majority rule, but on consent. Consent democracy is exciting to us because it protects minority concerns from being overruled, and instead forces internal compromise and shared understanding.

The label is run by volunteer members and a core of directors — the board — who are elected by consent at quarterly meetings.

Right now there are 13 of us, and hopefully we’ll be growing steadily over the coming years, by scouting titles that we think make sense aesthetically for our audience, and whose labor practices we approve of.

For now our labor requirements are rather specific. The very basic outlines are:

  • No NDAs or exclusive contracts
  • Project contributors retain all rights to their work
  • All contributors are credited individually
  • Everyone receives an indefinite royalty share that matches their relative contribution to the project
  • Or they’re paid a fair market rate and receive some royalties for at least a year

These are designed out of a desire to ensure the ethical treatment of people on a project, and can be waived in parts if the label membership approves of specific contracts. The above list isn’t exact to our bylaws, which already stipulate some other conditions that are acceptable, and it’s likely they’ll expand (or change) over time, especially as we bring in other teams who do business differently.

The label signs titles for simple representation and promotion deals. IWG doesn’t handle distribution directly for now — someone on the game team will need to carry that — but neither does it charge any fees or royalties.

Why are we doing this?

Because burnout in this industry is more complex than the story of overworked employees in AAA. There’s been something of a boom in the peripheral art/alt/indie game world over the last decade, followed by a contraction — and now it’s become very clear that most independents are either going to coalesce under old-school publishers, get a job in AAA, or else fall out of games entirely.

Publishers have benefits that independents just don’t.

  • They’re old and strong and connected enough to platforms and press that they can get games in front of audiences in ways that independents can’t.
  • Individual teams can’t release games at the pace that their audience wants to play them, but publishers can, and that release cadence helps maintain their audience and create more consistent revenue across titles.
  • Publishers’ marketing apparatus, built around old titles, can be easily reappropriated to upcoming titles.
  • Publishers are able to survive the financial failure of individual games because of the breadth of their portfolios.
  • Publishers can boost sales of their backlog by cross-promoting their titles, bundling, or working with platforms to create special sales.
  • Publishers have data about what’s selling, what marketing strategies are working, etc.

None of these things are available to independents — but with shared democratic institutions, they could be. All it’ll take is coordination, trust, and determination.

Another force eating away at the health of the art game world is the lack of trust between artists. Independents often work without contracts, for exposure, with little consideration to how that will affect their relationships or their ability to pay rent. If we want to build long, healthy careers in this medium — and if we want to see others do the same — then we need to establish the kinds of practices that will make those careers possible, and we need to help new artists start on the right foot.

And finally — it’s lonely out here! One major hope with the label is that it’ll create a healthy community of mutual support, where like-minded artists can get advice and encouragement from their peers, where collaboration feels easier and safer, where someone can tell you you’ve messed up without it being a public call out, where we can share inspiration and dreams and hardships alike.

So if this seems compelling to you — and especially if your work is adjacent to ours aesthetically, and you think our audiences might appreciate seeing each other’s work — please reach out!

Since proposing a title means supporting it, we really will have limited bandwidth, and will have to choose new titles carefully, but we want to hear about your work regardless. Even if we can’t represent you immediately, there are plenty of other ways like-minded independents can work together for mutual benefit.

Badru, Isa, Zoe, Jeff, Michael, Grizz, & Meagan

scouting@icewatergames.com


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