The Escapist has become embroiled in a financial dispute with the team behind Extra Creditz (a webtv show that has called The Escapist home). The creator of Extra Creditz James Portnow claims that The Escapist hasn’t been paying the team behind the show and that The Escapist has even taken a chunk of money that was made in a charity drive for the benefit of Extra Creditz own Allison, who had hurt her arm and needed money for a surgery.
The claims made by James Portnow were posted in the form of status updates on the teams Facebook profile, but just in case you don’t have the time (or the profile) to read all of it, I’ve compiled all of the information down below. These are all direct quotations from the Extra Creditz Facebook profile. The posts appear in the order that they were posted.
(Taken directly from Extra Creditz Facebook profile)
I’m sorry about a lot of things over the last month. I’m sorry that I’ve been incommunicative. I’m sorry that I’ve been snappish. I’m sorry that I haven’t talked to you about what’s been going on. It’s been a rough few weeks, but I can finally talk about it, so here’s what’s been happening with us…
(this may take a bit, I’m sorry for spamming you too…)
When Allison hurt her arm all I wanted was to help her. I believe that a person has a responsibility to those near them and you should feel shame when you can’t live up to that responsibility…but I couldn’t. I was near destitute. I had spent all my money on the show.
Dan and I work on it for free and I pay Allison’s salary out of pocket each month, then, in turn, The Escapist was supposed to pay us for our work – not much, but enough to cover Allison’s wages – unfortunately they were never able to.
When Allison hurt her arm, The Escapist had only paid us for four episodes over the course of a year. That meant I was down $20,000. That was the $20,000 I could have put in to help Allison. That was the $20,000 I would have used to get her surgery while figuring out how I could earn more money. It hurt that I couldn’t tell you that then but I was asked not to.
I felt so bad asking without being able to do more than sell a computer and call in old debts…but you taught me a lesson in humanity and the goodness of people. I had never lost my faith in mankind, but that first Rockethub week you redoubled it.
And that was truly one of the greatest weeks of my life. Better than releasing games, better than lecturing in the halls of GDC. I really can never say thank you enough.
But since then things have not gone so well. We joined The Escapist because we believed in what was going on there. We believed in the idea of examining games more thoroughly, whether it was Yahtzee’s blunt honesty or ENN delivering game news, we liked the idea that it was a place where consumers and developers could have a real conversation about games. We believed we were all in this together, fighting for the same ideals and goals.
We asked the guys at The Escapist if we could trade some of the debt they owed us for the rights to our intellectual property back if they weren’t going to be able to pay us so we could do things like sell t-shirts or write a book. We thought this was going to be an easy discussion. Instead they responded by telling us that they felt that they were entitled to 75% of the Rockethub money, thus their debt was covered and, despite not paying us for nearly a year, we owed them $9500 dollars
What followed was weeks of legal wrangling, lies and muck. Unless you guys really care about the details I won’t go over them here. I do think The Escapist does some good, and I wouldn’t want to destroy what good it does with how they operate their business. I’m going to work under the idea that our situation was unique and that their other content creators are paid regularly and don’t have a contract that was as onerous as ours.
Again: we don’t want to add to the damage done. I’m already kind of heartbroken that things turned out this way. I had faith in what The Escapist stood for. That faith is in tatters, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t good people doing good things for The Escapist.
What matters is that the show won’t stop. We’ll be releasing it on YouTube every Thursday until we find another site to pick it up. We’ll be posting links to here and on our twitter feed whenever a new episode goes up…but we’ll be counting on you guys to help let people know.
Sorry, I’m trying to manage our twitter feed as well. I’ll try to be on all night answering questions.
(Though there’s a limit to what our lawyer says we can share at this point, otherwise I’d just be publishing everything…)
Sorry, so much to respond to between here and twitter. I just wanted to also let everyone know that now we probably won’t be able to honor the “Escapist Club Membership” portion of the Rockethub but I promise we’ll find something as good or better.
Hal (head of the ECA) just offered to let us give away ECA memberships in place of the PubClub ones! Most of the time I really do love humanity…
Gordon Bellamy (head of the IGDA) just called, again, I love people.
Sorry, again, so many response to make… I just want to repeat that this doesn’t change the fact that there are good people making good content for the escapist. I don’t want to see this end up hurting them. Unfortunately we keep getting more and more people telling us horror stories privately and people tweeting that they’re in the same situation.
I’d love to see this wrap up with everyone getting treated equitably and the Escapist being able to continue and prosper on a stronger footing. No one here wishes them harm, but it seems like they’ve been unfair to a lot of people for a long time; it’s better for everyone, Escapist included, if we can all find a way to help change that.
While this does seem like a damning accusation of wrong-doing on the part of The Escapist there is still their side of the story to consider. Alexander Macris (Founder/Publisher of The Escapist) has personally replied to these accusations through his own Facebook profile with the following.
(Taken directly from Alexander Macris Facebook Profile)
Hey guys. This is Alexander Macris. I’m the publisher. Jame’s statements are very one-sided so I think they deserve a response.
Yes, we are having a very unfortunate dispute with James over Extra Credits, and yes, he’s planning to leave The Escapist, despite our repeated requests that he stay. It’s also true that we fell behind in paying James.
Here are the key facts as I see them:
1. From November 2010 to June 2011, James told us not to worry about paying him and to focus on paying other people. His exact words were “I really don’t want to squeeze you guys if you’re in a crunch, so you can put us to the bottom of the list for right now…” Given that we have been in a crunch due to the recession, we took him at his word, thanked him profusely for the flexibility, and focused on paying down other debt. (Several other shows were cancelled around November 2010 you’ll recall, as we couldn’t pay them, but James’ flexibility allowed us to keep working with him to promote Extra Credits.)
2. This continued until June 2011, when James emailed us to alert us that he needed funds urgently. The request was partly for family matters and partly for Allison’s surgery. He asked for our permission to raise funds through Kickstarter. We more than gave permission, we threw our weight into supporting it. Unfortunately, Kickstarter refused because they don’t do charity. I then suggested James try RocketHub and RocketHub agreed. We again collaborated to make it a joint effort. Our agreement was that we would be compensated for the wholesale cost of the t-shirts and Publisher’s Club, and that the funds would be used to save Extra Credits. I reasonably interpreted “save Extra Credits” to mean that anything beyond what was needed for Allison’s surgery would be used on Extra Credits production. I also Pay-palled James as much money as we had available at that time.
3. After the RocketHub was enormously successful and James had decided to use the funds to create an indie publishing label rather than to “save Extra Credits”, James decided he would no longer speak to us directly and instead assigned a “business development manager” to speak to us. James’ new business development manager demanded that we assign all the IP of Extra Credits to James.
4. We indicated we would be happy to work out an IP transfer but that before we did that, we would like to make sure we got paid for the wholesale cost of the t-shirts and the Publisher’s Club memberships, and that we would like to see the Extra Credits RocketHub money used to create more Extra Credits. We did NOT ask that James send us $9,500 – we said he should use $9,500 to create more episodes of the show that the money was supposed to be used to save.
5. James’ business development manager at that time emailed me and told us that his position was now that we had no rights to the show, no deal, and that our entire contract was invalid. This was out of the blue as far as we were concerned. We had no understanding at this time of James’ intent to use the “Save Extra Credits” money to start a publishing business.
6. At this point, Russ Pitts, our editor in chief, flew out to meet with James and his business development manager personally. They agreed that we would continue to work together; that we would transfer the IP to James in exchange for some fee to be negotiated; and that James would handle the EC t-shirts directly rather than through us. We agreed to swallow the cost of the Publisher’s Club memberships, a few thousand dollars.
7. I then emailed James and his business development manager to explain that I wanted to get them paid as quickly as possible so that the back debt was not a sticking point in negotiations. I then emailed them again to say that I had talked to our Board and investors and that payment would come in about a week.
8. At this point, James had his lawyer send us an email stating that we were in breach and that unless we sent money more quickly than I had just stated we’d be able to send it, that James was terminating his relationship with us. I presume that James thought we were playing games with him, although we were not.
9. We went ahead and mailed James the money we got from our investors the next week as we had promised. James’ lawyer nevertheless sent us an email indicating they intended to terminate our agreement.
10. Finally, I should add that as of last week, we had paid James over $14,000 of the $20,000 we owed him, and that as of today, our company has mailed James all payments he is owed.
I have all of this documented extensively in email. James is simply in error if he believes we have ever lied to him or any of his staff. We are prepared to defend ourselves against future defamation in a court of law.
After this Facebook note was posted by Mr. Macris both Portnow and Macris decided to turn this into a full legal matter within the comment section of the note. The following is once again taken direction from Alexander Macris Facebook profile.
James Portnow I believe the best resolution would be for the escapist to simply publish all the letters sent by you or russ to me, my business manager or my lawyer…
Alexander Macris If you’d like to do that, James, why don’t you and I get on the phone with our attorneys tomorrow and we can mutually compile all of the emails dating back to November, and publish them in a PDF that’s verified by both side’s attorneys? I’m game for that.
James Portnow I’ll mail my attorney now
Alexander Macris Very good.