Getting your game published is one of the most critical steps in a game company or a development teams’ ride. Choosing the best possible partner to work with is a crucial decision. The Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #5 -conference in February offered a particular track, The Art of Publishing, to help game developers understand more about the publishing side.
Author: Ria Gynther
Do I really need a publisher?
Publishing games and getting them into the market isn’t a prerogative of publishers. There is a possibility to self-publish games on multiple platforms like Steam (PC-games), Epic Game Store (various platforms), and in multiple app-stores (mobile games). This means that you also need to do all the marketing, quality assurance (QA), localization, and publishing of the game product in addition to the game development. If you plan to publish a console game, you also need to have a good relationship with the platform holders like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. The upside to all this extra work is that you learn new skills and get to keep a bit more of the earnings than when working with a publishing partner. (Dealessandri 2020.) Publishing a game is never free. All the digital distribution services take their share from the revenue or a fixed fee. The cost of Steam publishing for excambed is 100$ + 30% share of the revenue (Xsolla 2020) and 12% when publishing a game at Epic Game Store (Epic Games 2021).
If you wish to tackle this topic deeper, you might want to check out Odile Limpach’s book “The Publishing Challenge for Independent Video Game Developers” written for independent video game developers (Limpach 2020).
Finding the right publisher
Networking and research are vital steps in finding the right publisher. All publishers are different, and you should do some background research to understand what they are looking for and how your game fits in their portfolio. Some specialize in a particular genre or a platform. Some are working only with big companies with AAA-titles, and some work exclusively with small companies. Some have the machinery to publish globally, and some work on specific areas only. When you are scouting for a publisher, you need to understand what you need from the publishing partner. Are you aiming your game to global markets, and do you need help with localization, do you need financing, etc. You also need to consider if your needs and goals match each other; mobile publishers are rarely interested in console games and vice versa. (Cavic et al. 2021.)
What are publishers expecting?
There are a few differences between mobile publishers and PC/console publishers. They have in common that both would like to see something tangible that proves there is a demand for this type of game. On the mobile side, interesting indicators are day one retention and CPI cost, says Vivian Dong (Senior Publishing Manager at JoyPac). Bobby Wertheim (Head of Content at SEGA Europe) works with console games, and from their perspective, well-done market research and promising, early access data are factors that they consider as a plus. Wertheim reminds that they also need to see the “fun” in the game, not only good-looking numbers and data. (Cavic et al. 2021.)
Publishers can provide financing to game companies, and if this is something you need, you will need a bit more than just a good idea and a stellar pitch deck. According to Christopher Wulf (Publishing Director at Those Awesome Guys) and Thomas Glenn (Business Developer at Koch Media), you will need a playable demo or vertical slice to approach publishers at that point (Cavic et al. 2021).
In general, publishers are looking for long-term partners. Chris Taylor (Eaton Smith Solicitors) mentioned that there are multiple benefits for both parties. After a good and trustworthy relationship has been formed, the future game projects are easier and faster to publish when time or money isn’t wasted looking for new partners. (Cavic et al. 2021.)
Picture 1. Different publishers have different values, focus and ways of operating. Chorus Worldwide is Indie games publisher that focuses on supporting the teams and projects they choose to work with. (Cavic et al. 2021, screenshot by Ria Gynther).
Approaching a publisher
Once you’ve scouted possible partners, it is time to approach them. Contacting publishers can happen through game submission forms on the publisher’s web page, meeting them in industry events, or through your professional network. It is always better to form some personal relationship before sending your game to evaluation. Starting point for such a relationship could be found from your own network so ask around, maybe someone you know has worked with the publisher in the past and might be able to introduce you to them or give some other advice. You should repeat the same step after you are negotiating deals. You can learn a lot by talking with others and comparing notes. It is also good to know that there are no standard deals in-game publishing business. Everything is negotiable and varied from project to project. (Cavic et al. 2021.)
Being prepared is the key to this stage. As said before, it is not enough to have a fantastic team and idea; you also need to show that your concept is viable and that it will make money. The article ”20 Reasons Why Investors Say NO” by Joakim Achrén (2020) from Elite Game Developers is a good starting point when you start preparations.
Working with a publisher
Making the publishing deal is something you need to invest both time and money in. All the aspects you’ve discussed with the publisher must also be in on the contract itself. It is also wise to invest money in lawyers at this point to ensure that you understand everything and that the deal is fair to you. Publishing games is a business, and the idea is to make money. Not all the players in that field are on the developers’ side. (Cavic et al. 2021.)
Jez Harris (Publishing Director at Chorus Worldwide) thinks that the relationship between publisher and developer should be close. At its best, the publisher is one of the team members in a game company. They bring their unique skills and connections to the use of the company. In general, the relationship between developer and publisher also depends on what type of game you are working on. AAA-games are launch-based, and they need a steady stream of updates to keep the game relevant. Indie-level PC and console game developers also focus on the launch. Still, developers usually need help with the game’s lifecycle management and understanding the meaning of updates to guarantee a steady revenue stream. Free-to-play games demand a tight relationship between publisher and developer. Developers need to know what the players want and need, which requires good communication between them. (Harris & Kanaoya 2021)
Feedback and resilience are the magic ingredients
Once you have the basics, start contacting your network and possible publishers as soon as possible. The process from initial contact to making a deal and finally publishing a game takes months, even years, depending on the project. And you might need to contact dozens of different publishers before getting to this point. Don’t be discouraged by the first or tenth “no”. Keep pushing forwards. Always try to get feedback and understand the reasons behind the decline. Maybe there is something you can change to be more sellable. And remember, there is always the possibility to self-publish a game!
Achrén, J. 2020. 20 Reasons Why Investors Say NO. Elite Game Developers. [Cited 9 March 2021]. Available at: https://elitegamedevelopers.com/20-reasons-why-investors-say-no/
Cavic, N., Dong, V., Glenn, T., Taylor, C., Wertheim, B. & Wulf, C. 2021. Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Publisher. Panel in Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #5 -conference 8.2.2021.
Dealessandri, M. 2020. A beginner’s guide to bringing a game to market. [Cited 2 March 2021]. Available at: https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-07-24-a-beginners-guide-to-bringing-a-game-to-market
Epic Games. 2021. Welcome to Epic Games. [Cited 10 March 2021]. Available at: https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/about
Harris, J. & Kanaoya, S. 2021. From Development to Publishing: Understanding Publishing Process & Trends. Session in Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #5 -conference 9.2.2021.
Limpach, O. 2020. The Publishing Challenge for Independent Video Game Developers. A practical guide. Boca Raton: CRC Press. [Cited 4 April 2021]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1201/9780367815639
Xsolla. 2020. Self-publish on Steam: The Ultimate Guide. [Cited 2 March 2021]. Available at: https://xsolla.com/blog/monetization/2206/self-publishing-on-steam-the-ultimate-guide
Reference to this article
Gynther, R. 2021. Tips for Independent Video Game Developers on Game Publishing. LAB Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: https://www.labopen.fi/en/lab-pro/tips-for-independent-video-game-developers-on-game-publishing/