The Interactive Entertainment Law Group (also known as IE Law Group or simply IELG) may be a relatively new name in the games industry, but Patrick Sweeney is hardly new to games and the entertainment industry.
Patrick started his professional career back in the late 1990’s, working for Vivendi Games (prior to their merger with Activision). From there, he moved on to private practice. Patrick’s first client after leaving Vivendi was Gas Powered Games, where he worked on all of their game projects for about a decade, culminating in the sale of the company to Wargaming.net in 2013. Most recently, Patrick was Counsel at Reed Smith in Los Angeles, where he headed up their global games practice. “I was really proud of what we built at Reed Smith,” Sweeney says. “But I had a different vision of how to take it to the next level.”
As Sweeney explains, “Ten years ago, very few attorneys would take the risk of dedicating 100% of their practice to the games industry. But in today’s market, there is a clear need for just that kind of practice. My clients don’t necessarily need the resources of a large law firm. Most of the time, they just need the specific industry experience and expertise that we can provide without all of the trappings of a large firm.”
So, after fifteen years of working both in-house and in private practice, he decided to venture out on his own and started the Interactive Entertainment Law Group in late 2013, and his clients followed him to his new practice. That’s when, as Patrick puts it, “Things really started to take off. In hindsight, I underestimated how quickly the firm would grow.”
Since opening its doors in El Segundo, California nearly two years ago, IELG has worked with nearly one hundred clients spanning fifteen countries and four continents. The companies range from startups to publicly-traded companies, movie studios, middleware, publishers, developers and everything in between. Today it’s likely that Sweeney heads up one of North America’s largest legal practices solely focused on the games industry, despite only having a team of five on staff.
IELG has had some significant deals and clients to tout. Notably, the firm represented Double Helix in its acquisition by Amazon. They also represented Lions Gate in its deal with Kabam for the mobile rights to The Hunger Games. Other clients include GameStop, BANDAI NAMCO, D3Publisher of America, Nexon America, Havok as well as independent studios such as Cryptozoic, Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency, Double Fine, Iron Galaxy and Finger Food Studios. Sweeney hints that there are a lot of unannounced clients and deals that the firm is very excited about. Many of these clients have worked with Patrick for years and all tend to be fiercely loyal to their lawyer.
Ryan Peterson, the CEO of Finger Food Studios in Vancouver (and an IELG client) noted, “Patrick helps us build long term value with our clients and crafts fair deals in an efficient manner. He’s also found us a few deals. I’ve never worked with an attorney that actually generated work for us! What is most important is that all the deals we have done have resulted in follow-on work, in part because of the way Patrick has helped us structure the relationships.”
IELG’s connections and networking within the industry is the aspect of the firm that seems to separate it from its competition. On average, the firm attends about a dozen game-focused conferences and trade shows per year, including GDC, DICE, E3, Gamescom and Casual Connect. It’s here where the firm really excels. They combine efficiency and networking with an old-fashioned “ear to the ground,” opportunistic approach. “Part of our value is having a broad-based understanding of what’s going on in the business and knowing what a ‘market-value’ deal looks like,” says Mona Ibrahim, IELG’s Senior Associate and first hire. Ms. Ibrahim, a “young veteran” in the industry and a former student of Sweeney, has used that knowledge for the benefit of clients and the independent game development community alike. She is a frequent guest writer on the industry news publication Gamasutra, and a regular speaker at conferences such as Casual Connect, LOGIN, GDC Next, PAX and PAX Dev.
Everyone on the IELG team tends to reflect the personality of the industry and the firm’s client base. “We definitely work hard and play hard,” adds Patrick. There is also no doubting the passion that drives this small office—the rapport is casual with a distinctly “nerdy” tilt, and every member of the firm has worked in the industry for several years independently before joining the practice. The most common complaint around the office is, “I don’t play enough games.”
Sweeney adds, “That’s the best part of my job. My clients are so diverse and often have different goals and priorities. Working across the spectrum is really gratifying and makes me a better advocate for my clients. And I tend to really like the people I work with on a personal level.”
Part of that network is having a close working relationship with other “players” in the space. IELG has a strong working relationship with most of the agents, PR specialists, marketing firms, and even other law firms that operate in the digital media market.
“I’ve worked on both sides of the table from Patrick and I’ve always appreciated the integrity and experience he brings to each deal,” notes Jeff Hilbert, Founder, CO-CEO of Digital Development Management, one of the premier agencies in the industry, adding that “Patrick is on the very short list of attorneys in the industry that truly understands the industry and how to craft a legal agreement that incorporates the realities of the dynamic gaming market.”
In additional to his practice, Sweeney is also a founding member of the Video Game Bar Association, a non-profit networking association for lawyers in the interactive entertainment and games space. The organization recently ran its 3rd annual VGBA Summit. Focused on the legal issues in the industry, this year’s event was the organization’s most successful yet. On August 6th at Gamescom in Germany, the VGBA will be hosting its European Game Business and Legal Affairs Summit. For more information please go to – http://vgbaeurosummit.org/
He also serves on the advisory board of Interactive Entertainment Professionals (www.iepro.com), which is an online educational program for industry employees. That educational angle runs through a lot of Sweeney’s activities. In addition to the ongoing law school course at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles (which he’s been teaching for over a decade), he’s also spoken to students at over a dozen universities and law schools, most recently at U.S.C as well as the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas.
When pressed about what’s next for the firm, Patrick’s answer (not surprisingly) has many components. The firm will likely open a second office later this year. “First and foremost, we will continue to provide top-notch services to our clients. I don’t have any specific internal growth targets or goals other than to continue doing great work on behalf of our clients. Beyond that, I want to grow the practice into some other targeted practice areas that cater to the issues my clients will face in the future. I always want to keep giving back to the industry through the educational initiatives that we are involved in. Keeping the VGBA and IEP on the right trajectory is very important to me. But my most important measure of success is to continue enjoying what I do and who I have the privilege to work with.”
It is often said that the journey can be more rewarding than reaching a final destination. To Patrick and his team, there is nothing more rewarding than helping their clients navigate to the “next level.”
- You can follow the Interactive Entertainment Law Group on Twitter (@IELawGroup) or find them at www.IELawGroup.net.
- You can follow Patrick directly on Twitter as well: (@psweeney99).
- For more information on the European Game Business and Legal Affairs Summit taking place on August 6th at Gamescom visit: http://vgbaeurosummit.org/