On theme with my other Halloween-week post about freight shipping, I have a quick story to tell about font rights that I hope will save my fellow creators a lot of money.

Before I share these two stories and the lessons learned, I want to give credit to companies and designers who spend immense time, effort, and talent to design fonts. I think we’re so used to having a vast array of fonts to choose from in word processing programs that we don’t think about how much thought went into every pixel. On top of that, I would wager that publishers far too often misuse fonts (unintentionally or intentionally), leaving the designers without compensation.

Our graphic designer is well aware of all that–she has worked in the graphic design industry for nearly 20 years. But every end-user license agreement (EULA) is a little different, and we recently discovered (and tried to rectify) two situations where we misused fonts. I’m not going to mention which fonts they were, as I don’t want to accidentally reflect poorly on their creators.

Spooky Story #1

Literally on the same week that our graphic designer was reviewing our various font EULAs, we received an email from a font company noting that we had gone beyond the restricted nature of the free use of a particular font for a popular board game we publish. I replied with a sincere apology and a clear desire to pay for the font (and any penalties for not paying for it when we overstepped). We were able to resolve the matter swiftly and amicably for both parties for a little over $6,000.

Spooky Story #2

After reviewing all of our font licenses, our graphic designer found another instance of a font with a peculiar EULA. It allowed for personal use of their fonts for free, but no products for sale, advertising, social media, or basically marketing of any sort. We proactively contacted the company to let them know about our mistake and our desire to rectify it. They replied with a bill for nearly $60,000. This knocked me out of me seat–it was for one of our middle-tier games, and that cost alone comprised the manufacturing cost of a 10,000-unit print run! Fortunately we were able to negotiate down to a much more palatable–but still expensive–$8,000.

Lessons Learned

Before I touch upon a few things, here’s a general explanation from our graphic designer:

“Typically, when you buy a font and you can use it for most purposes without issue (with certain limitations on reselling and sometimes things like logos are off limits). Larger font houses with coveted and well respected fonts typically charge more for their fonts (say $300 per seat for a font family vs $50 for 1-5 seats a font family) and then just expect that everyone touching it has that license (aka a ’seat’). Clients get use of the designer or agency’s font and for the most part it doesn’t matter how it’s used after that (at least in print) as long as the person setting the type has a valid license to use it.”

Beyond that, here’s what I learned:

Read your font licenses really carefully. Particularly look at desktop/personal vs commercial use.
If you have a game that’s has sold or will soon sell over 250k units, that seems to be where the more expensive extended licenses are necessary.
When securing a font license for a major production, make sure to get full, worldwide, unlimited use for both print and digital.
Clearly communicate to localization partners what they must do to properly use the “seats” mentioned above.

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I’m fortunate to work with a great graphic designer who wants to do the right thing for her peers, and I’ve learned a lot from Christine during this process. However, I’m not an expert in this field, so if any graphic designers or publishers would like to share other font-related lessons in the comments below, I’d love to lean from you!

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