A downer, yes, but not one without a point.
This story isn't exactly prompted by anything new, and I must also state right off the cusp that what's being talked about might be hearsay in some regards. Still, I think that for people that hope to make it in the industry that this might serve as a sobering reminder that even when a small studio is approached by a big one that claims to want to help, that everything might not be sunshine and roses.
Basically, this posting is concerned with the alleged treatment of developer Black Hole by Ubisoft during the creation of Heroes of Might & Magic VI. Now, I say allegedly here because there's no confirmation that the source where the complaints came from is actually affiliated with the studio in any way. Take away from that what you will. If even part of these accusations are true though, then the reality of the situation is somewhat harrowing.
The allegations are that Ubisoft basically left Black Hole high and dry after the publisher got on board, with promises of more money that never came to fruition, complaints being swept aside, content becoming rushed, and Ubisoft generally just leaving Black Hole to take the blame for the entire mess.
As I said there's a question of how much to believe, but it sadly wouldn't be the first time that we've heard a story of a small time developer getting swept in by a big name publisher only to suffer a very pronounced disillusionment with exactly what they will or won't be given or accomplishing.
The want or need for smaller developers to try and court big name studios is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It may get them the resources and funding they need to make the game the best it can possibly be, and it can even help the game get out there to a larger audience. However, it also generally means playing by the publisher's rules, and being pretty much powerless if the relationship goes sour.
Certainly there are other methods, most notably Kickstarter, but I daresay that not all games can be funded by such methods, and some games shouldn't be even if it might be feasible. If I could give smaller studios any piece of advice it might be that if something starts setting off alarm bells early on then get out regardless of how badly it might seem you need to make the deal.
One comment got to me in this regard;
"Things started to allegedly go south in 2008, when 'during the contract negotiation process, UBI business decision makers didn't want to hear about making it into the contract that in case of any UBI delays there would be any penalty for UBI. This was a stupid decision of a business development boss (she said "UBI would never be late with any deliverables".... HAHAHA).'"
It would seem to me that the reassurances of one member of the staff should not have been enough to override the growing and seemingly obvious problems that they were running into in the contract negotiations. Walking away from a bad deal might mean that you're back to square one, but it also means that you don't have to risk things going to Hell if that nagging feeling of doubt becomes a fully fledged case of "I know we shouldn't have done this".