A signed contract is just a piece of paper. What’s behind a signed contract is a relationship. If the relationship goes sour, the contract won’t save you. The purpose of a contract is to clearly define everyone’s roles and commitments. But it’s the relationship, not the paper, that ultimately enforces those commitments. When I understood this, I focused more on relationships and worried less about what was on paper, and my business deals went much more smoothly. Once you start falling back on the paper, the deal is already in trouble. Creative (and lucrative) business deals almost always stray from the paper contracts that represent them. One of my attorneys, who had worked on dozens of game development deals, told me that no deal he worked on ever followed the contract exactly; most weren’t even close. And these were big money deals in many cases. Business relationships are similar to other personal relationships — they twist and turn all over the place.
Written contracts are still necessary, especially when dealing with larger corporations where people come and go, but they’re secondary to relationships. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that the contract is the deal. The contract is only the deal’s shadow. The real deal is the relationship. Keep your business relationships in good order, and you won’t have to worry so much about what’s on paper.