April 26, 2022

Game On: A Video Game Lawyer Who Plays By His Own Rules

Zachary Strebeck has always loved games, whether on a board or a video screen. In law school, he took classes and participated in internships to gain the skills he knew he would need to represent clients in the games industry. And a niche law practice was born.

A digital nomad who works from a laptop from any place in the world, Zachary solves the legal issues of game start-ups, successful video and board game publishers, and related industry players. His work as a graphic illustrator before law school informs his knowledge of the business, helps him build trust with clients, and allows him to speak their language. From contracts to copyrights to privacy law, Zachary has advised clients on myriad legal issues as their industry evolves to include artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality.

In this Sticky Lawyers episode, we hear how a guy with a passion for games created a successful practice built and operated on his own terms. Have a listen.


Guest Insights

  • Decided as a law student to incorporate travel into his career, moving around the world. [2:30]
  • As an animator, he drew paper designs for puzzles and concept art for various digital games. [3:26]
  • His background as a designer and devoted gamer is an advantage. [4:31]
  • What video game law looks like as a niche practice. [5:37]
  • The intellectual property areas of gaming law. [6:15]
  • Employment law issues in the games industry. [8:34]
  • Acting as outside general counsel for most clients. [9:25]
  • Privacy and regulatory issues in the industry. [9:52]
  • Data collection in gaming. [10:46]
  • Selling data to third parties – or not. [12:29]
  • The client leads the type of law he practices. [14:43]
  • When you know what your clients need, you can focus marketing directly on answering their questions. [15:54]
  • Business law internships in law school helped him learn the business and get real-world experience. [17:40]
  • Zachary’s typical clients. [18:53]
  • Gaming is a tough industry with lots of competition. [20:52]
  • Few lawyers represent the massive gaming industry. [21:25]
  • Legal issues when representing clients in the virtual reality space. [22:30]
  • Different legal needs of board game companies vs. video game companies. [24:29]
  • Crowdfunding is a popular financing source in the board game industry. [25:16]
  • Building a solo practice took time. [27:12]
  • Using content marketing to build his practice. [27:24]
  • The three pillars to content marketing. [28:09]
  • Zachary’s strategy around building his website. [33:46]
  • No educational background on his website because no one cares. [34:51]
  • Offering flat rate pricing for his services builds trust. [36:12]
  • Upcoming travel plans and the beauty of having gaming conventions to attend around the world. [37:48]

Links From the Episode

Transcript

John: [00:00:00] Today's episode is our 21st, which is a big deal for us. Did you know that approximately 80% of podcasts do not make it past the first 10 episodes? We've done 20. So that earns us at least a B, which is way higher than my high school GPA. 

[00:00:18] You may not know this, but the Sticky Lawyers podcast we launched just about a year ago was actually version three. The initial iteration was awkward and a cure for insomnia, mainly because I was doing most of the talking. 

[00:00:34] The second version introduced the Sticky Lawyers name and the interview format, but it was missing a key component: lawyers. Yep. It was various guests and me talking about interesting lawyers without talking to interesting lawyers. 

[00:00:48] As we learned with versions one and two of the podcast, change is good. Take a look at what you're doing and don't be afraid to pivot or even start over. It's a common attribute of many sticky lawyers we've spoken with and we're doing it now. 

[00:01:03] We received feedback that my introductions were too long. Okay. Gone. Our listeners told us that the mid-episode breaks interrupted the flow of conversations with our guests. Done. No more breaks or ads. To me, those weren't harsh criticisms; they're signs that our growing community of listeners seems to enjoy what we're putting out and they want to help us make it better. So, thank you. And now onto our guest.

John: [00:01:29] Zachary Strebeck is a real player in various definitions of the word. A former game animator and designer, he parlayed his skills and business knowledge into a successful video game law practice. There aren't too many attorneys in that area, which has made him a go-to authority and resource for both creators and established gaming companies. And Zach has figured out the game of living his best life, too. Taking advantage of our flat-connected world to work and play by his own rules. 

[00:01:59] Zach, welcome to the Sticky Lawyers podcast. So, two questions to kick things off. How are you and where are you? 

Zachary: [00:02:06] I am wonderful. Never better. And, uh, right now I'm in the suburbs of Bangkok, Thailand. 

John: [00:02:12] Well, you win the longest phone-in award or farthest distance phone-in award. So, you've traveled extensively with long-term stays in different countries. Did you build that wanderlust into your law firm business model or was there some other impetus for it?

Zachary: [00:02:29] Absolutely. Before law school, I had never really traveled anywhere. So, while I was in law school, I kind of had the idea germinate from reading things about these digital nomads who sort of run their businesses just on their laptops completely remotely while they're traveling from country to country. So, I said, well, why can't I do that? I'm going to be a sort of tech-focused lawyer. I'm going to work with very tech-oriented clients in video games. So that was the mission. 

[00:02:57] And then in late 2013, 2014, when I passed the bar, I made the move, sold my car, sold everything and moved around with just a backpack from country to country. I started here in Thailand, actually first, and moved around Southeast Asia. I had a client bring me to China for a while. I went through Europe, went to Mexico and various other places. 

John: [00:03:19] So, you're an international sticky lawyer. We've never had one of those before. 

Zachary: [00:03:23] It's the opposite of sticky.

John: [00:03:24] That's right. Yeah. It's very fluid lawyer. 

[00:03:26] Back in your game animator/designer days, was this digital and analog or digital only? And were you also designing the games themselves? 

Zachary: [00:03:37] We drew animation on paper, you know, like the old Disney animators where you have a bunch of papers and you flipped through them and do all that stuff. Um, this is when they were sort of transitioning from 2d drawings to 3d computer models and all that. I did some designs of puzzles and concept art and things like that for various games. 

John: [00:03:58] What was your exposure to the business back then? I'm curious what you learned during that time that you bring to your practice now that helped you launch things on day one of your practice.

Zachary: [00:04:13] Yeah, unfortunately, almost nothing. I was sort of a super low-level guy at this, at this studio. I wasn't producing. I wasn't doing anything business-related. A lot of time was spent in the intervening years, and especially during law school, reading as much as I could about the business to kind of learn. 

John: [00:04:31] Do you think you offer advantages to clients because of that background in game animation and design? 

Zachary: [00:04:38] Absolutely. I think even though it was maybe a different type of game than what most of my clients are working on, just having that experience of being in a production environment and being that person on the ground and on the lowest level, doing the artwork and, you know, understanding just the whole production process and everything, I think definitely helps.

John: [00:04:58] You've got instant credibility because of it. But you also speak the language. 

Zachary: [00:05:02] Yeah. Plus, I'm a fan of games, both video games and board games. So, when I work with those clients, they don't need to explain all the things about their industry to me, which I think is a huge leg up that I have over your general business lawyer or a startup lawyer even, who doesn't really understand the nuances of the industry and the specific terminology.

John: [00:05:23] You created this very niche practice for yourself. How do you define video game law? I want to break it down because I think the individual parts show how you've differentiated yourself from other lawyers.

Zachary: [00:05:37] It's kind of a “Jack of all trades, master of none” situation where video game law is just sort of an umbrella term about every type of law that interacts with video game developers or publishers or players, any kind of party that's working in the games industry. So, you've got corporations, you know, you're setting up new studios and their business entities and dealing with that. There's tons of different contracts, service agreements or terms of use on a website or in the game, license agreements, all of that stuff. So, you need to be adept at drafting and reviewing contracts. You need to be able to enforce and register intellectual property. You need to be able to at least answer basic questions about tax issues or, privacy law issues. There's all kinds of different areas of law that this kind of touches on. 

[00:06:27] I'm not an expert in everything. So obviously when we get to a point where I don't know, or I only know enough to get myself in trouble, I will bring in a third-party attorney to help out. In the day-to-day things that I do all the time, as varied as they are, you definitely develop an expertise.

John: [00:06:45] Between the three primary areas of intellectual property, trademark, copyright, and patent, patent, to me, at least in my mind is pretty clear. But if we look at a video game, what parts, what elements are trademarkable, what parts are copyrightable and what are patentable? 

Zachary: [00:07:07] There is a lot of technology that goes into video games. So, there could be some new system for doing something within the software or whatnot. I work with board game developers that develop some new type of puzzle or thing that they can create, some sort of gadget or widget that goes along with a board game that's potentially patentable.

[00:07:29] Trademarks, it's a large part of my business and that's going to protect things like your game's name, your company name, your game logo, slogans. Like EA Sports has "it's in the game" as their slogan. So "it's in the game" is a potentially trademarkable slogan because it signifies their brand. Right? When you see the name Halo as a game, you know that it's coming from Microsoft. Because they're the owner of that trademark. And if everyone can make a game with Halo on the cover, you wouldn't know the quality of the game you're getting, you wouldn't know where it's coming from. That's why we have trademarks to give exclusive rights to the creators and the owners of those trademarks.

John: [00:08:09] Copyright is the code? 

Zachary: [00:08:11] Software code, the 3D models, the game models, the music, the dialogue, the text that's in the game, all the artwork, all the environments, all that stuff. Any creative elements that are in the game, including the software code are all copyrightable.

[00:08:27] So probably the bulk of what's in a game is stuff that's copyrightable, because a game is almost all copyrightable stuff, basically. 

John: [00:08:34] I would imagine because you're working with clients on everything from business formation to growth and maturity of the business, employment comes into play, too, especially when you've got work-for-hire designers, gig economy workers, not unlike yourself. 

Zachary: [00:08:52] Sure. Yeah. That's definitely a big part of it and making sure I know my limits as far as what specific employment issues are. But a lot of the general day to day, you know, employment or contractor related issues are things like I deal with. 

John: [00:09:08] That's really no different than either an in-house general counsel and outside general counsel. You have your area, people tell you where it hurts. And if you can address that great. If not, you call in the specialist in whatever other area to help out. 

Zachary: [00:09:23] I think that's a good analogy because I think for most of my clients, I am basically their outside general counsel, right? I'm there to figure out what their issues are, handle them if I can and find who can handle them, if I can't. Because they just trust me. I can't do everything. But they know that I'm the one that'll point them in the right direction. 

John: [00:09:43] You mentioned privacy, publicity, regulatory issues. How has that changed since when you first entered the practice? 

Zachary: [00:09:52] Oh man. I mean, privacy, there's been huge upheaval in the privacy landscape with the EU's GDPR law; California has passed a couple of laws related to privacy. There's a bunch of U.S. states that have their own laws that are either coming up for votes or they're in the process of being voted on. So, it's definitely the regulatory nightmare for lawyers that you need to figure out. 

[00:10:15] These video game developers are publishing their games worldwide a lot of the time. You need to be cognizant of what your responsibilities are everywhere and try to be as good as you can to meet the baseline that's going to be compliant with everyone. 

John: [00:10:30] If I'm playing a game on Facebook, Facebook is trying to not only sell me Farmville credits or whatever else, but they're also bringing in all the other information about me that they can gather from my Facebook profile and behaviors. But if we're talking about an Xbox game or PS, whatever number it is now, that's just me playing. What information is Sony or Microsoft trying to get from me? What information are the publishers of the games on those platforms trying to get from me where my privacy has to be protected? 

Zachary: [00:11:05] So much. They're taking your, you know, your IP address, your location, potentially your name, your email address. Analytic info about how you're playing the game, what you're buying, what you're looking at. Modern games have analytics and business intelligence data in them or software inside of them that's collecting all this data and they use that to figure out well, there's a couple sides to it.

[00:11:31] There's the economic side, what are people buying? What are they interested in? Games are not just a game that you buy, and you're done with it anymore. They have a ton of downloadable new content in them. They have subscription services; they have all kinds of stuff that they're trying to sell you throughout the game. In game items and things like that. Like new hats and things. Just trying to improve the game and make them stickier and get people actually continuing to play the game. So, they want to constantly be updating the game either with new content or refining what's there. They're collecting a ton of gameplay data and everything about that too.

[00:12:06] There's a ton of personal information that's being collected and the challenge is, can you minimize what you collect? Can you disclose it all to the user and get them to agree to it? And most of the time they just agree. Nobody reads these things, but occasionally you have the people that do read these things and get upset. So, we want to be honest, and we want to be completely disclosing everything we're taking and why we're doing it. 

John: [00:12:29] Whether it's the gaming system or the game subscription service, is selling that information to third parties a new revenue stream and that's part of it too? 

Zachary: [00:12:39] Well with the clients I work with, we generally will tell them not to sell. We don't sell that information. They use it internally. They may have to share it with a third party that's doing the analytics for you and telling you things, or you have a third-party that deals with your customer service or technical support, and there's information being shared with them, but we're generally not selling it. At least the type of clients I deal with. I like to work with the good guys, the people are doing the right thing and not really trying to take advantage of their users. 

John: [00:13:07] We have no sponsors on this show, so you're not alienating anybody. So, it's perfectly fine. 

[00:13:12] You mentioned earlier, too, the element that used to be the amateurs. Now we have the professionals. E-sports, is that an area you're involved in any way? 

Zachary: [00:13:23] It's not an area I'm involved with. It's an interesting area, there aren't a lot of game lawyers, but there are a few of them that concentrate pretty heavily on e-sports. And I think the reason I don't do it is because it's almost a different skill set when you're representing players or teams. It's more akin to being a sports lawyer. Cause even though they're e-sports and they're game-related, a lot of the issues are the same issues you have dealing with a football player, a basketball player.

John: [00:13:49] That's what I find so fascinating as a non-practicing lawyer but law geek, those core classes that we took: property, contracts, torts, criminal law, con law, you take those and you throw them together in different combinations and permeatations and you get different practices. Sports law is an amalgamation of all those things. Entertainment law is not too dissimilar from that. What you're doing is not a new area of the law. Maybe a new industry, but the law behind it is age-old. It just is modified, or it gets applied that way. You do have this crossover between video game law and entertainment law, and licensing and intellectual property. So, it continues to evolve, I'm sure.

Zachary: [00:14:37] Yeah, I'm dealing with that stuff in my practice, right? You know, licensing, uh, films and things like that to make games out of them. But what's interesting for me though, you talk about all these different types of law kind of coming together. This is sort of how one of the things I did when I was starting my practice is rather than thinking, well, I'm a trademark lawyer and I'm a contract drafter and all that stuff. I didn't think of it that way. I think of it, I want to work with video game developers, right? And so, what do video game developers need? The client leads the type of law that I practice rather than the type of law that I practice leading me to finding whatever clients. For other lawyers, I think that's sort of the thing that a lot of them miss.

[00:15:17] I'll see a lot of people asking, whether it's on the internet or people email directly, “I do trademarks. So how do I find clients?” And it's like, well, it's such an open question. How long is a piece of string, right? How do you find clients for trademarks? Because there's so much competition for that, but how much competition is there for some very specific niche that you can go after? As long as there's enough clients there, you can directly target them. Like with video game developers, you go after them and, and that sort of leads what you learn how to do. 

John: [00:15:47] I don't know that I've had a discussion with a sticky lawyer who's articulated it like that before. What I've not heard is somebody saying, I want to work with these types of people with [00:16:00] these types of clients, companies, whatever, and I'm going to reverse engineer it and build my education and my practice so that I'm able to work with those people. It's a different targeting mechanism than I've heard before. 

Zachary: [00:16:14] Well, that's -- it's worked for me. And it helps if you're doing marketing or you're doing any kind of client outreach or anything like that, it helps you to really focus yourself and you're writing for a specific audience.

[00:16:25] You're thinking about what questions they ask, what things they need, and you can go right after that, rather than guessing. I mean, you can go where they are. I go where game developers are writing things on the internet and asking questions and you can see: there's my next blog posts. There's my next podcast topic. This is what people are asking about. 

John: [00:16:43] How did you shape your legal education to the ultimate objective, which was video game law? What did you do? Beyond those core classes we just talked about in law school, what did you do to get yourself prepared?

Zachary: [00:16:59] Because it's kind of a niche industry, you can't take a video game law class at most law schools. There are some that have it. If anyone wants to hire a teacher, maybe I'll be available. But, I mean, you can't take a class in that, so you sort of have to pick it apart and you have to find out. You know, I'd take an IP survey class, a class on trademarks because I know that's going to be important. You take a privacy law class, you figure out those types of law that you need to learn about. But honestly, I'll be honest, I enjoyed law school, but most of what I do on a day-to-day basis is not the stuff I learned in law school.

John: [00:17:30] I look at your background and you had internships, but they were business of law internships. They had nothing to do with the courtroom. Tell us about those. 

Zachary: [00:17:40] When I was in law school, because they didn't have a ton of classes that were specific to what I wanted to do, I tried to take internships that would give me that real world experience. And because I knew that I wanted to start a firm right out of school, I wanted to get as much hands-on work, working with contracts, or dealing with trademarks as I could. I worked for a solo entertainment lawyer who allowed me to work on a lot of different types of projects, which was super interesting and helpful.

[00:18:06] And he's been a mentor for me since I became a lawyer. He's always been helpful to me. And it's great to have mentors when you go out as a solo. 

[00:18:15] I worked for crowdfunding startup, entertainment companies, as an intern at Lion's Gate, the film company, and various other places. You get to actually touch real things, like actual contracts. You get to see like movie star contracts and it's like, okay, so that's what this looks like. And that's how this works. There's nothing game-related, but a lot of the concepts are the same from entertainment type law practice. 

John: [00:18:42] What types of clients do you advise? Maybe you could go a little bit deeper into the players. Don't name names if you don't want to, but just where they fit in the industry and in your practice. 

Zachary: [00:18:53] For the most part, a lot of my clients — since the beginning of my practice this has been true — have been small teams that are just starting up. They're doing their first game or maybe their second game. They've had a little success. And now they're faced with,this is a real now, this is a real business. We're making money. We need to figure out how to do all this. You know, they never had anything in writing. They never formed an LLC. I don't know if they've got a contract from a potential publisher who wants to give them millions of dollars and it's 30 pages long and they have no idea what to do with it.

[00:19:26] The bulk of my business is working with these new studios and getting them started up and giving them advice on the terms of their agreement and what are some smart decisions? Where are places where we can push back to make things more fair and getting everything on paper so that if there's a bad breakup later on or something like that, that we have the contracts to fall back on.

[00:19:47] That's a good portion of my work, another portion is established companies, whether they're video game publishers or board game publishers that have a bunch of hits. They're doing a lot of work. They're the ones publishing. So, they're hiring designers and developers to make games for them. And then they're putting them out there. That's sort of like the backbone of my practice because they're the ones that have regular work every month. You know, there's always a new project going on or, or something going on with the existing projects. So that's always great to have.

[00:20:17] And then there's sort of the, like the random stuff. There's things like websites and software, music copyrights and things like that. A lot of them are tangential to the games industry, or just doing the same kind of work, but for different types of industries. But I would say 90% of it is where it's either a new game startup or it's an existing sort of successful game company. 

John: [00:20:37] So those startups, are you becoming an ongoing resource? I would think the intention is, let me help you get this business off the ground, and I will be here for you as it grows, as it evolves. Maybe even as you exit. Yeah. Is that happening?

Zachary: [00:20:52] The unfortunate reality is that there are so many games out there, it's kind of hard to be successful. So, if they're successful, they are definitely coming back for more. I'm happy to help them with all their future games and future legal issues. But for a lot of them, I mean, the first game they create just really doesn't pan out.

[00:21:10] Unfortunately. It's a tough industry. I can help them close the company too, if things go not so well.

John: [00:21:17] There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of video game lawyers. Yeah. What would you estimate the field is in the United States? 

Zachary: [00:21:25] There's probably a dozen or less people that actually hold themselves out as a video game lawyer and target this industry specifically as a solo or as a small firm. There are a lot of big firms where they'll have video game people. I don't know that they have an entire video game section of their firm, but they will have some people who specialize in video games. And there's a lot of in-house lawyers that work for game companies with the revenue to sustain having an in-house general counsel. But there just aren't that many that practice specifically video game law, which I find odd because it's an industry that is as big, if not bigger than the film industry. So yeah, I find it wild that there aren't more people who are specifically targeting video games.

John: [00:22:09] With the increasing presence of augmented reality (Pokemon Go for example), virtual reality (which, you know, Oculus and all these other platforms) and artificial intelligence, are you seeing those elements in your work and what areas of law do those invoke when you have to address the issues surrounding them?

Zachary: [00:22:30] I definitely have clients who are doing virtual reality and some augmented reality work in products. Artificial intelligence, maybe not so much. But definitely on the AR and VR side of things. And honestly, a lot of it is the same. You're going to have things like, we need to make sure that there's enough disclaimers and things like that. That they're not going to hurt themselves when they're out there searching for Pokemon or whatever, or they're not trespassing. You have additional privacy issues because you're actually taking video of people's faces and things like that and in places where they live. It's like you're augmenting the existing laws. Because it's a new technology, there could be a lot of patent related issues and things like that. 

John: [00:23:14] I'm curious. Have you read Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline? 

Zachary: [00:23:18] I have, yes. 

John: [00:23:19] So, for people who haven't, in Ready Player One, people live and work and play and compete in the Oasis, which is a virtual society. And now we have major brands and even a large law firm buying property in the metaverse for our advertisers to visit and interact. Is gaming in the metaverse - is it on the horizon for you? 

Zachary: [00:23:42] Similar to what we were talking about before, it's kind of an extension on the already existing legal concepts and things that I deal with. So, I think when people are looking for a lawyer to work on those kinds of things, they're looking at the same places in there. And they're still finding someone like me. I have people who are doing NFT-based games and blockchain and cryptocurrency stuff. And somehow, they still find me because the game angle trumps the crypto angle or something like that. Same with all the metaverse stuff. 

John: [00:24:09]  So back from digital, you also represent board game creators and industry players too. It ain't chutes and ladders anymore.

Zachary: [00:24:19] Oh no. 

John: [00:24:19] You know, it's Catan and it's Pandemic, ironically, given this day and age. it's Ticket to Ride and Seven Wonders and Sagrada and Exploding Kittens. How does your practice surrounding analog gaming differ from digital gaming and your digitally oriented clients?

Zachary: [00:24:39] Yeah, I would say maybe 80% of it is very similar. It's the same kind of things. You know, you're creating a game, you need to have a company, you need to own everything that's in your game. You need to publish it. And you have contracts with the users and things like that. Often, they will have a digital version of the game, so that even more directly interacts with the digital games. However, there's new stuff, because you have physical products you're manufacturing. So, you need to understand how the manufacturing process works and what needs to go into a manufacturing contract. I review warehousing and fulfillment agreements for games that are getting shipped all over the world. 

[00:25:16] You have crowdfunding issues pretty popular in the board game industry. I mean, a lot of them are using crowdfunding to sort of get the money up front so they can pay the manufacturer to make all these physical products. Because the way it used to be, you'd have to have a bunch of money. You make a thousand copies of your game, and you hope that you can sell them. Well, now you put it up on Kickstarter and you get hundreds of people buying it and pre-ordering it. Now you get the money, you can manufacture the games, ship it to them, but you use the profit to make even more games and now you can keep selling it if it's popular. You have marketing people, you have YouTubers and influencers playing these games and reviewing them. You have to understand the rules of endorsing products and what disclosures need to be made and all that it means. So that, again, it touches on a lot of the same types of laws, because video games did the same kind of stuff.

[00:26:05] Yeah. But it's in a different context, right? And again, like we were talking about before, you know, the client and what they need, and you build back from there. And so, I had to understand what these distribution and manufacturing agreements look like when I'd never seen them before, but you look at enough of them and you get the idea of what needs to be in them.

John: [00:26:25] You mentioned crowdfunding. Is that almost specific to board games or do you see that on the video game side too?

Zachary: [00:26:33] It's less so on the video game side, but I mean, crowdfunding is big. Board games are a big one just because of that initial funding that you need to actually manufacture the products.

John: [00:26:43] That's how my kids got Exploding Kittens, from Kickstarter. 

Zachary: [00:26:48] It was a huge one. 

John: [00:26:48] And now you get it in Target. interesting how it evolved. 

[00:26:52] Let's switch gears a little bit now, and I want to talk about the business of your law practice. You passed the bar, and you opened your firm the same day. What did day one look like as a lawyer for you? Was it, “Oh my God, what do I do? What am I doing?” Or did you have people lined up or teed up or knew about you and you were ready to go? 

Zachary: [00:27:12] Yeah, there was one client on day one who had asked me to do some trademark analysis, which was good because I had taken trademarks in law school. I had done trademark work during internships. So, I had a good background there and I could do the research. Then after that it was probably like Day 90 when I had my second client. So, it took a while, it was really slow ramping up. 

[00:27:34] A lot of lawyers do paid advertising. I didn't do anything like that. It was all content marketing. It was all blog posts and posting on game business websites and things like that. So, it was kind of slow. I had a bunch of duds that would call me and then they didn't have any money, they weren't ready to move forward. And then finally I started to get them semi-regularly, which is good. 

John: [00:27:53] So, let's delve into what you just mentioned, content marketing. What was your strategy? How did you go about defining these outlets? These groups? And what else did you do to get your name out there and known and build that client roster?

Zachary: [00:28:09] So, there's three, I would say there's three pillars to this probably. First is your own website and having a bunch of articles on your website that basically are answering the questions that clients are asking. You want a client to search for a question on Google and then your site comes up and you have the answer. You have the answer to the extent that you make it clear that they shouldn't do this on their own. They should hire a lawyer to handle it for you. You want to demonstrate value and authority and that's what your website is doing. You have a ton of content on there just saying, “Look, this is a topic that you care about, game developer, and here's all the stuff I know about. Here's why you need a trademark. And here's various questions that you're asking and I have the answers to them.” 

[00:28:50] Number two is finding sites where, again, remember my client is a game developer, right? I want to, I want them to see me. So where better to go than sites where they're already going? We had some game business websites. And so, you reach out to them or some of them have like a blogging feature, and you write posts and you put them on there. They're already going to these websites, so you kind of have a built-in audience and hopefully they see your posts. They read that you know what you're talking about. Maybe you're commenting on a news story or something like that. And then they click your link, and they go back and hopefully they hire you. 

[00:29:24] The other one is doing podcasts and personal appearances. So, what I would do is go to game conventions, walk around the floor, and talk with people about their business. And a lot of times, rather than pitching them as a lawyer, I pitched them as a podcaster. I'd give them my business card and say, “Hey, I'd love to get you on my podcast. We can talk about your game and all of that because I have a podcast where it's games, business and legal, but mostly just business.” So, I get people on there and I interview them about their game. We talk about some legal issues they might have, and fairly often, they would then come back to me and hire me as a lawyer because we were talking about their business.  And again, I'm demonstrating value, I'm demonstrating authority and they know that I know what I'm talking about.

[00:30:05] So they come back and hire you. And the bigger the client you get, the better the clients they are. Because they're going to keep coming back with the new stuff. The running theme between all three of those is, you know, you find where your client is, and you get in front of them.

John: [00:30:19] Full disclaimer. Zach is not a client of RainBDM . We are not actively pursuing Zach as a client of RainBDM. Our purpose for having Zach on the show is purely informational. It is not to woo him over to our services. So just want to make that clear. 

[00:30:37] But in all seriousness though, the one thing that I think you've proven is, and I don't know if this is a word, but the nichier, the narrower one's law practice, the less you have to spend on pay-per-click, on advertising, on paid promotion. If you are committed to writing for your specific audience, writing for the pains that ail them, getting that information on the web, you can't help but match in searches. When I was doing some research on you, I could type in “video game lawyer” and you owned a lot of slots on page one and it's not because you paid to be there.

Zachary: [00:31:17] Now I do pay for pay-per-click ads and remarketing ads but it's way cheaper than if I was just going for any kind of generic catch all terms. I go very specific. How do you start a game studio? How do you do this? How do you publish a video game? Those kinds of things are the keywords I'm targeting. Yeah. 

John: [00:31:36] It's a secondary strategy. It's secondary to the idea that if you put out good substantive content that people read, your thought leadership prompts them to pick up a phone and call you as opposed to a couple of keywords that match your listing. So, I I'm fully on board with that. 

[00:31:54] I want to bring up your website. There are three really unique things you do, and in fact you don't do one of them, that really impressed me. 

[00:32:03] The first is you focus on your next best client incredibly well. And it's consistent with what you just said a few moments ago about being hyper-focused on the client and their needs. You club us over the head with the two by four right there in the banner: game developers. Bolded, right? Get a video game lawyer (keywords) who cares about your business and your games. Boom. There it is. 

[00:32:31] Calls to action on many law firm websites are really tricky either because they're not compelling or they're overbearing and salesy, or they're just kind of out of place. But what I really admire about your website is you not only offer the visitor a "let's get started" prompt, which you know that's not uncommon, but more importantly, it's the next two prompts where you let them self-qualify and determine the next step. “I want to] start a game company” is one option, or “I have a game company already but need some legal help.” It's not buried on page two. It's not in the footer. 

Zachary: [00:33:07] Those are the two buckets I talked about. 

John: [00:33:09] I know!

Zachary: [00:33:10] Very specific, specific types.

John: [00:33:12] But I think that that's great. Your website is not trying to be all things to all people. You've accepted what your niche is and if we go way back in this conversation to when you said I want to work with game developers, you did it. You're basically saying in the game developer world, are you starting out or are you established? Here, I've got a place for you to click and go. 

[00:33:33] And candidly what's so fun about it is your website has kind of a game feel to it. It's like, where do you want to start to play the game? Yeah. So, I'm going to credit you for all sorts of thinking here. How much time did you think about the strategy of your website while you were building it? 

Zachary: [00:33:51] Quite a bit. I did work with an SEO person. He refined the language on the banner and some other stuff. But I definitely wrote all my content, but it's thinking about the client's journey through your website. I don't think a lot of people are actually going to hit your homepage unless they're looking for you specifically. If they're looking for a video game lawyer, they may find me, but a lot of times they're coming from-- they're hitting a blog post or something like that. But I want them to, if they click the logo or whatever, go to a homepage that they go directly to the client journey that I want to take them on, right? Whether they click through and they pick one of those options or they sign up for my mailing list and get the eBooks that I have and all that stuff, I wanna lead them down, like show the social proof. Show the client testimonials, show the clients that I work with, things like that, which I think is really helpful.

John: [00:34:45] The one area that is noticeably absent from your site is your educational background. Now let me just say, Zach, you're no slouch. You're a UCLA undergrad, Pepperdine Law. And yet you've chosen not to put your educational pedigree on your website. I have thoughts about that, but I'm wondering what was your reason for leaving that out?

Zachary: [00:35:10] I haven't had it on there for six or seven years and not a single client has asked where I went to school, when I graduated. Nobody cares. They care that you're a lawyer. Even my biggest client, their interview with me was basically like, “Okay, you're a lawyer and you were recommended by this other guy, so let's go, I'll hire you.” Very little caring about the academic credentials. At least in my space. All they care about is can I do the work they want me to do? Can I help them? 

John: [00:35:36] That's so cool. Because of what I do and what my team does, it's pretty bold. So often we've got the lawyers that want to put their first year law school book award, which has absolutely no bearing on them being hired. 

Zachary: [00:35:49] I mean, the whole "about me" page, I mean the strategy there isn't “let me talk about me.”” Yeah. It's actually supposed to be, let me talk about you and how I can help you.” They don't care about me. They really don't care, honestly. And I think most lawyers need to realize that a client does not care. You flip the about page to be about how you can help them.

John: And that is your very unique and transparent menu of productized services with flat rate pricing. I gather you still offer a traditional billing, whether that's hourly or something else. But what inspired you to take this a la cart approach, and how has it been received, and are you finding it to be a true differentiator?

Zachary: [00:36:37] Yeah, I think it really helps. It's well received or even if they haven't seen it, when we're on the call, I can point them to it and say, “Hey, I have a pricing page. Just go to my website, click pricing at the top”. I'm not hiding from it. I don't want to trick them into hiring me and then throw a big amount of money at them.

[00:36:54] A good portion of my clients are just starting their game companies and they want to know what this is going to cost, and they don't want to be surprised with a bill at the end of the month that has way more than they bargained for. That's why I have packages where you see what it's going to cost, you know what you're going to get, and that's it, right? I mean, the transparency is a good thing. And again, it builds trust. 

[00:37:16] One of the worst things is when a client doesn't want to email you with something that's actually serious because they think you're going to charge them for everything. But if it's related to this flat fee and they're asking me a question, I want them to email me. You want to prevent bigger problems later on by dealing with things up front and having them not be afraid to email me. 

John: [00:37:35] It's all part of your brand. If we start with the headline on your homepage, this is who I am. This is what I do. You either fit within this, or you don't. You're transparent with your pricing. I think it's all very consistent. 

[00:37:48] I have to ask, how long will you be in Thailand and, where else have you put a thumbtack on the map for your next visit or your next stay? 

Zachary: [00:37:56] Oh man. Well, yes, Sweden in May -- from May to June, then back to Thailand for a few more months. And then I think I'll be in America. I'll be in Pittsburgh, which is my hometown. The good thing about doing what I do is there's game conventions all over the world. It's a nice excuse to take a trip, take a trip to a new country to do some business, and meet some new clients, and, see some games. I mean, the cool thing about being a game lawyer is, even if there's not a lot of business to be gotten at these conventions, there's a lot of games to play and a lot of cool people to talk to. So, it's a good life.

John: [00:38:26] It is a good life. I will not dispute that. 

[00:38:29] Zach. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. This has really been a fascinating conversation. If people want to learn more about you, where can we point them? 

Zachary: [00:38:39] You can go to my blog at gamelawyerblog.com. We'll redirect you over to my blog. And you'll be on my site. You can shoot me an email or something like that. The blog and sending me an email is the way to go. 

John: [00:38:52] We'll be sure to get that information up on our website and in the show notes. Thank you again, be safe wherever you travel in the world, and I wish you all the luck.

Zachary: [00:39:01] Thank you very much. This was great.

John: [00:39:04] If this is the first time you tuned into Sticky Lawyers, I hope you'll subscribe and download other episodes wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit stickylawyers.com to view episode transcripts. See additional information about our guests and recommend a standout attorney who might be a future guest.

[00:39:22] And if it's not too much to ask, would you please tell your friends, your relatives, and your colleagues about Sticky Lawyers and maybe give us a rating and review on our website, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts? We would really appreciate it.

[00:39:35] Until next time. I'm John Reed and you've been listening to Sticky Lawyers.

Zachary Strebeck Profile Photo

Zachary Strebeck

Video Game Lawyer

Zachary Strebeck is a video game and board game lawyer who works with game developers and publishers worldwide. His experience includes trademark registration, copyright registration, intellectual property enforcement, company formation, employee and contractor agreements, game publishing agreements, terms of use, and GDPR-compliance.