milk.png It's always sad to see previous collaborators fall out, especially when it's over business matters. But that's what seems to have happened here. Spilt Milk, the indie studio behind the iOS and Android snake-a-like Hard Lines, are at the centre of a row over ownership of the game. In a statement to IndieGames.com, programmer Nicoll Hunt has alleged that Andrew Smith, Spilt Milk Managing Director, is withholding his share of the revenue unless he agrees to sign away his rights to the game.

Whilst Spilt Milk Studios is Smith's (one man) company, he isn't a coder, so he collaborates with other developers to make his games, although the exact division of labour on Hard Lines is one area where there seems to be disagreement.

We don't know exactly what has gone on during the development, release and subsequent dispute over Hard Lines, all we can do is present both sides of the story, and hope that the individuals concerned can find a resolution before ending up in court.

Here's Nicoll's statement in full:

"Last year I spent most of my spare time developing an iOS game called Hard Lines. It's been described as Geometry Wars 2 meets Tron, and is something I'm intensely proud of. Which makes someone else claiming ownership of my work for it all the more unpleasant.

I was the sole coder & main developer for Hard Lines, and conceived the initial idea for the game. Spilt Milk Studios contributed some of the design and art, and handled the PR & marketing, while a 3rd party composed the soundtrack (apart from the rather awesome credits song, that was my girlfriend and me :).

In simple terms, I was the developer and Spilt Milk Studios was the publisher.

When I refused to sign away my rights to the game Spilt Milk Studios terminated the contract between us, stopped paying me my share of the revenue, and claimed full ownership of all my work and intellectual property. This was at the start of December 2011 and made for a pretty stressful Christmas.

I've since spoken with a very helpful and experienced games lawyer and sent a cease and desist notice to Spilt Milk Studios. More recently I have also sent one to Apple, after Spilt Milk Studios failed to adhere to the original notice. It's now only a matter of time before Hard Lines is removed from sale altogether.

This will probably all come as a bit of a surprise, but I can't stand by while my work is passed off as someone else's. It's wrong, goes against everything indie development should be, and most importantly, I don't want it to happen to anyone else."

And then here's Andrew's version of events:

"The whole thing has gotten blown out of proportion, and I'm very disappointed it's come to this sort of attention-grabbing situation. Not least because I've spent my every waking hour working to make Hard Lines a success ever since we started the game on the 1st January 2011. My full time job is to try and make the best games I can and collaborating with him saw some great success - which is why it upsets me to see that tainted now.

I love Hard Lines, and I'm really saddened that my part in its design and conception is not fully recognised by my former partner-in-indie. I did cancel the contract between us (under the terms of said contract) - the dispute only arose because Nicoll said he didn't want to work on Hard Lines any more, but still wanted 50% share of revenue on all future platforms - not just the ones he coded. This, as anybody out there can probably tell, made it commercially impossible to develop, say, a Steam version, a Windows Phone version, or whatever. I had no choice but to terminate the contract, although I do wish to point out that I have no intention of stopping sending him his fair share - all I intended to do was wipe the slate clean and start talking about a fair contract to move forward with.

What this does mean, and since he's seen fit to involve lawyers, is that neither of us is able to develop it - and I am wary of talking about it - any further. As for the cease & desist, Apple got in touch, but only to ask us to resolve the situation between us, nothing more. I did not ignore it. I asked for more discourse on the subject from his lawyers, to no avail. It's a purely commercial dispute, and all I want to do is discuss a way that we can come to terms so that creating future Hard Lines content is viable, but Nicoll has consistently refused to negotiate.

Sadly it is this lack of willingness to communicate and reach a fair deal that has led to the current situation. I'm hopeful that my reputation as an open and honest developer reassures anyone reading this that my intention was never to steal the idea, and will never be. I've never claimed ownership, only co-creation and co-development. It's a really uncomfortable position to be in, because as I'm sure you know, I really do value being able to be completely transparent with Spilt Milk and what we get up to.

I am very disappointed he's chosen to take this course of action, but I'm still hopeful that in the end we can come to agreeable and fair terms, so that Hard Lines can thrive in the way it so richly deserves, and that its wonderful and loyal fans can experience even more fun with Lionel and friends."

To which Nicoll replied:

"Revisionist history of events aside, I'm glad that Spilt Milk Studios finally appears to be recognising my rights and look forward to receiving the money that has been withheld from me for the past 3 months. It's such a shame that I have been effectively forced to take these steps but do not see how it's acceptable, both morally and legally, for someone else to use my work and IP for a game I developed without my consent.

I'd like to thank indiegames.com for the opportunity to put my experience across and hope I can soon put this trying situation behind me. My next step is to continue work on my new projects, which I'll be announcing some, none or all of in the near future"

A rather messy situation, but perhaps one we are going to see cropping up again and again in the future as there's more and more money in the indie scene.

Perhaps this highlights the importance of having concrete written agreements between collaborators as early on in any development project as possible. In this situation it appears that there were contracts from relatively early on, but perhaps more comprehensive discussion of potential future plans at an early stage could have avoided this disagreement. At the very least, let's hope this serves as a learning experience for both parties, and ideally that they are able to find a resolution that satisfies them both.