Category Archives: Incorporation

Top 5 Video Game Studio Legal Mistakes

We represent quite a few video game studios, many of which are indie.  Regardless of studio size, we are often called to fix legal mistakes that could easily have been avoided.  These legal mistakes frequently fall into one (or all) of the following five categories:

  1.  Don’t forget to incorporate or incorporate too close to the date of launch.  Often incorporation is left to the last minute and only happens when Steam or Apple asks for a company name.  This is a problem as game intellectual property (IP) must be transferred to the new company at its fair market value, which may be more than nominal (given that it is about to be sold) and could involve complex tax solutions.  By incorporating earlier in the development cycle, you can put in place proper agreements so that the company owns game IP from day one.
  2.  Don’t create complex corporate structures with no purpose.  If you don’t know why your company has a particular corporate structure, you likely don’t need it.  The more complexity, the more likely mistakes will be made in the future when you use a certain structure for a different purpose than originally intended.
  3. Don’t  forget to assign IP to the studio.  The company needs to own game IP as, without, it cannot sell the game since it does not own the game in the first place.  This can be remedied through employment, contractor or IP assignment agreements.
  4. Don’t use oral agreements with independent contractors.  Use independent contractor agreements to document the studio’s relationship with contractors and to ensure the company owns the contractor’s work.
  5. Don’t sign publishing agreements without review.  Have a lawyer review your publishing agreements as there is often a disconnect between the terms you negotiated and the publishing agreement terms (often unintentionally, given publisher reliance on agreement templates).

By keeping the above in mind, you should be able to structure your studio correctly and save the legal fees otherwise incurred to clean these sorts of mistakes up.  For our indie clients, we certainly understand that they would rather put money into development than into legal fees!

Delaware vs Canada Startup Structure

Canadian startups are frequently influenced by U.S.-centric blog posts concerning startup company structure.  Relying on these posts ignores some fundamental differences in how Federal and British Columbia corporations can be incorporated compared to a Delaware corporation.  Indeed, Canadian startups should not ignore such differences as they permit a more lenient corporate structure from which to grow a company.

To start, here is an overview of the Delaware corporate structure typically recommended to startups:

  1.  Authorize 10,000,000 shares.  Delaware corporations must authorize a fixed number of shares at the time of incorporation.  This number can be altered in the future but will require shareholder approval.  The large number is used as: (a) it avoids fractional shares; and (b) looks expensive.
  2. Issue around 5,000,000 shares.  Shares are issued to founders but at least a 1/3 of authorized shares remain unissued for option pool grants and investment rounds.
  3. Allocated shares to option pool.  A certain number of shares are allocated to the option pool.  The art of structuring the option pool, especially in regard to finance rounds, will be discussed in a future post.

Once complete, assuming a 10% pool, 6,000,000 shares (5m founder shares and 1m pool) have been issued or allocated.  The remaining 4 million shares, or 40% of the company, will be reserved for future investment rounds and expansion of the option pool (if needed).

Conversely, Federal and British Columbia corporations are NOT required to authorize, and thereby set a cap on the number of, shares.  Instead, shares can be unlimited, thereby granting the Canadian startup great leeway in granting shares in the future without having to worry about running into the authorized share limit that Delaware corporations face.

Here is what the same startup, incorporated Federally or in British Columbia, would look like structurally:

  1. Authorize an unlimited number of shares.
  2. Issue about 5,000,000 shares.
  3. Allocate the option pool, fixed or rolling.  Given that shares are unlimited, you are not forced to set a fixed number of shares to constitute the option pool, although you could.  Instead, you can set the option pool size as a rolling % of issued shares creating an automatically adjusting pool size regardless of the number of shares issued in the future.

Ultimately, the Federal/BC startup is not faced by the same rigid share structure, governed by the authorized share requirement, that a Delaware startup is, thereby taking away a few of the corporate structure challenges that U.S. startups often face.  With unlimited shares, the Canadian startup’s future share grants are only restricted by the corporation’s constituting documents, agreements with shareholders or third parties and BC corporate law.  Conversely, the Delaware corporation needs to review how a share grant will reconcile with the number of authorized shares and, if needed, increase that number and seek shareholder approval to do so.

Of course, if you want to structure the company exactly like a U.S. startup, you certainly can authorize a fixed number of shares in your Canadian startup!

So, You’ve been Accepted to a Startup Accelerator

Startup accelerator acceptance season is upon us and those lucky startups are now going through the vetting process that follows acceptance into an accelerator.  In order to simplify the lives of founders and lawyers everywhere, I’ve put together a list of key items that often need to be addressed as part of the accelerator vetting process:

1.  IP Ownership.  Make sure all intellectual property developed relating to your startup has been assigned to the company through separate assignment agreements or as part of employment/independent contractor agreements.  Remember, this is where the value in your startup lies.

2.  Clean up the CAP Table.  This is the time to clean up your CAP table and make sure that everyone you’ve “promised” equity is issued their shares and represented on the CAP table.  There’s nothing worse than calculating the number of shares of the company to issue to the accelerator only to realize that you forgot an intended shareholder – your uncle granted 0.5% (undocumented) for doing company taxes a year ago.  Go in with a clear picture, and proper documentation, of company capitalization.

3.  Lock Down Founders.  The accelerator will want to see that the founders and key persons are tied to the company, whether by an employment or contractor agreement.  If your resources are limited, a reverse vesting agreement for founders should suffice.  In addition to IP, founders are a key startup asset.

4.  Canadian Company?  Determine Cross-Border Structure.  If the accelerator is in the U.S., Canadian startups have the extra steps of determining what Visa will allow them to work in the U.S. while at the accelerator and what cross-border company structure will meet company and accelerator needs.  A discussion of company structure can be found HERE.

If you’re not in an accelerator yet, the above are important considerations to keep in mind for running any company and will make future accelerator vetting a seamless process.

When Non-Voting Shares CAN Vote

I frequently encounter a misconception that non-voting shares in British Columbia companies do not have a right to vote.  Unfortunately, this is not the case as, in certain circumstances, non-voting shares DO have voting rights.

The obvious circumstances where non-voting shareholders can exercise a right to vote are, for example, alterations to company articles that impact rights held by non-voting shareholders or a company’s decision to amalgamate.

The often forgotten voting right held by all shareholders, including non-voting shareholders, is the annual right to vote on whether the company appoints an auditor and, separately, whether the company produces and publishes annual financial statements.  This vote can be made through a consent resolution (by all shareholders) or through a majority vote at the company’s AGM.   Barring a Shareholders’ Agreement or other voting trust that takes control of how each non-voting share votes, your company will need to seek the approval of non-voting shareholders on an annual basis.

When you sell non-voting shares it is important to understand that these non-voting shareholders do have certain, limited, voting rights to exercise in relation to the company, its structure and direction.  Therein, contrary to the mistaken belief of some founders, the non-voting share class is not entirely passive and can, in fact, take a limited active role in the company.