As indie should I work with Publisher?

Lot of my indie friends ask me if they need publisher to make success and what’s the pros and cons working with them. I have experience in both developing a game with a publisher, making a game for publisher and being publisher for developer.

In this post I will try to give you guys tips about this topic. It will be first post in Indie Development Tips category.

This post will focus on indie developers. I won’t be writing about big development studios that are working together with publisher on new big IP game. This is bit different piece of cake. ShooterTutorial is a development tutorial indie blog so let’s focus on indie!

Let’s assume that you are working on mobile/pc game and you have a playable demo. At this stage you should think if you should go with publisher. Don’t try to contact publishers without playable demo.

WHY PUBLISHERS CAN BE HELPFUL:

  • They can promote your game.
    PR drive revenue and if you don’t have PR base you should think about working with publisher. Mostly publishers have they own PR departments and they are working with agencies to spread the word. Another thing is setting up forums and social sites for your product.
  • They can take care of legal side of the product.
    Most indie developers that I know don’t care about legal stuff. They just want to create game. Publishers will help you with registering everything and check all licenses to be sure that no one will go to court if game will be success. Basically even AAA studios are struggling with legal. I know indie examples as well. So you should be careful.
  • They have direct contact with Stores – Steam, Sony, Microsoft, Apple and others.
    So they will be able to show your game build to people who can feature your game (if it will be awesome of course!) and this greatly drive revenue.
  • They have lot’s of contact in areas which you might don’t have.
    For example West market. They will be able expand the market and make more revenue. (again if the game is great!)
  • They won’t think only about target platform.
    If your game have potential on different platform that you are working on. For example Consoles – Publisher might help you with porting the game down.
  • They have experience.
    That’s one of the most important part. They can give you feedback about your game and they know exactly what kind of things are working currently on market and which things people love. So your game could ship with better quality for users and might monetize lot better.
  • They might give you IP.
    Publishers might license you popular IP to boost PR.
  • They might give you budget.
    It really depends on the game and budget that you are asking for but yes if you have really great game with big potential publisher might pay you for development.
  • They have more people than you.
    Which means they can help with asset development or backend. If your game is lacking graphics they can help out.
  • They can share market data with you.
    Basically Publishers have analytic data which is really helpful during development.
  • They might ship your game as box.
    Your game might be shipped not only in digital but as well as box version. For me it’s something great because I could have physical version of my game;)
  • They might help you with hardware.
    Most of the publishers have great contact with hardware manufactures – Nvidia, AMD, Intel
  • They might give you engine license.
    This depends but there are publishers with their own technology which could be shared with you.
  • They will be responsible for taxes.
    Because they are selling the game. It’s lot of work when shipping game globally.

RISKS WORKING WITH PUBLISHER:

  • People mistakes / skill / lack of time.
    Working with publisher depends on what kind of manager is working on the other side. There is a risk that you will end up with producer that doesn’t have the skill or time to help you. If so all of helpful things can just… explode. 
  • Supporting the game after release.
    This is sad but I was in that position as developer. After game was released publisher just stop investing their time for the game.
  • They might want your IP.
    There is a chance that publisher will want to have your IP (mostly on consoles games) because of legal cases. Then they will be responsible for all of the legal issues that will come to court and they will pay penalties. This depends of the game but couple of years ago this was normal thing. Now with digital publishing it have changed because everyone can publish game. If you aren’t thinking about legal things you can end up in jail or paying lot of money. Your success could be your failure. Keep that in mind. 
  • They won’t pay you.
    It’s small risk but I’ve heard of publishers that are changing reports and paying less than they should.
  • They could want to have the rights for publishing next title.
    Or first rights.
  • SKDs that won’t work.
    They might require their SKD implementation to the game which could not work and you will spend months to resolve the issue.
  • Publisher might steal your idea.
    This haven’t happened to me but I’ve heard that some Publishers are willing to steal great ideas and create them by themselves.

WHAT I WOULD NEED TO GIVE:

  • (this might be pros as well) you would need to prepare lot of documents: revenue breakdown, strategy, how you would like to target the market (e.g. who will play the game), risks, legal information’s, timeline before shipment and year after, lot’s of demos and marketing materials. Indie developers mostly doesn’t think about this stuff when in development. In my opinion they should because it will open their eyes on topics that are critical when shipping a game,
  • They want revenue share.
    Mostly rev share depends on how much publisher need to invest. Typically it’s 30% of the net revenue.
  • There might be deadlines.
    Again this depends (if they are just publishing the game or investing) but there could be scenario in which you will have deadlines and penalties if deadline won’t be accomplished.

WORKING WITH PUBLISHER TIPS:

  • Make sure they will help you with legal stuff,
  • Make sure they won’t be exclusive so you could be able to sign deal with different publisher if this will be awkward,
  • Make sure they will invest something. (PR, assets, regular feedback, focus tests etc) They will have more motivation then,
  • Ask about different platforms and how they can help you out,
  • Ask for expected revenue from the game, (btw. this is the thing that I’m doing when working with developers as publisher – I know what’s their budget and I’m making sure they will make enough money.)
  • If Publisher isn’t giving you big budget make sure you don’t have any deadlines/milestones and penalties!
  • if you want to try working with publisher sign deal on one market / territory to test out everything,

I WANT TO PUBLISH GAME BY MYSELF:

  • If you don’t have contact with stores there is small chance you will be featured. To many games come out these days,
  • If you don’t have good marketing your game won’t be seen by the players,
  •  If your game will be big success and you haven’t protect all legal things you might ended up paying a lot of compensations,
  • If you don’t have experience in developing game on platform X you don’t know which features work well there,

So if you want to ship by yourself you definitely need to think about those!

This questions can help you make the decision:

  • My team has experience with shipping game on platform X? (AppStore, Google Play, Steam, Consoles)
    YES: If your results was enough for you could go without publisher path,
    NO: If you don’t have any contact which might help you publishing the game on platform X you should search for a publisher,
  • My team has experience with creating games on platform X?
    YES: Then you don’t need publisher,
    NO: Publishers have a lot of knowledge what will fit the market. Often they have experienced development teams which can help out with pro feedback,
  • I have friends which can help me out with shipping for free.
    YES: I suggest shipping by yourself then,
    NO: If you don’t have idea how to ship the game you should speak with publisher,
  • We are 100% sure that we aren’t breaking any legal rules.
    YES: You don’t need publisher,
    NO: If your game will be success it could be failure because of legal issues. You definitely should think about working with publisher which will help you with legal stuff or find a lawyer.
  • We don’t need success. We just want to ship our first game for free!
    YES: You don’t need publisher 😉
    NO: With Publisher you could get more downloads and more people will play your game.

HOW TO SEARCH FOR PUBLISHER:

  • Make sure publisher shipped game on platform that you are interested in and the game was a success,
  • Try to find out and speak with people who were working with this publisher and ask how cooperation goes,
  • Find out which media are writing about selected publisher’s games,
  • Find out how many likes / followers they have on Facebook and Twitter,
  • Find out how often they are shipping games,
  • As always – take your time don’t make decision quickly,

So basically it’s hard decision and it’s hard to trust someone that you don’t know.


Finally: my approach for this game:

  • I’m developing the game alone and I will definitely use publisher help. I don’t want to get money but I want to be sure this tutorial will be popular. I’m spending too much time on it.
  • I will try to ship next tutorial game by myself,

This post will be regularly updated during production.

7 Replies to “As indie should I work with Publisher?”

  1. Excelent article i was really clear and helpful!
    One thing. How do you get the attention of the publisher. There is a lot of games that they watch everyday and if you write them they dont answee you.

    What is the best way to contact them
    Cheers

  2. Having worked as a professional videogame creator for the last 20 years and having founded my own development company, I can assure you that:you greatly undestimate two major risks of working with a publisher:
    1/ They won’t pay you.
    You wrote : “It’s small risk but I’ve heard of publishers that are changing reports and paying less than they should.”
    Actually this a MAJOR RISK: the vast majority of the publishers (i’d say 99% of them) will send you bogus sales reports with smaller sales figures (and it will be nearly impossible for you to get the actual numbers, even if you detect the fraud, not mentioning getting paid the right amount). Even in the case of advanced payments, either as “work for hire” or if a publisher is funding the development with advances on royalties, most publishers will not pay all the monthly due payments (especially the last one which is supposedly paid once you have sent the final submission master of the game).

    Other examples of standard publisher “breach of contract” behavior (which I have been personally confronted to) include:
    – releasing the game at a higher price point than the agreed price point (but without increasing the royalty per unit they pay you)
    – releasing a game on territories for which it did not have the publishing/distribution rights.
    – releasing a game on a platform that was not part of the publishing deal (releasing a PS2 game on the PS3 PSN for example)
    – continue to sale (and manufacture) copies of a game after the term of the publishing agreement.
    – stop manufacturing new copies of a game

    2/ Publisher might steal your idea.
    You wrote: “This haven’t happened to me but I’ve heard that some Publishers are willing to steal great ideas and create them by themselves.”
    This is another major risk. I have personally been confronted to this problem and know many people who have also, and often by the biggest companies: Sony, Ubi Soft, Capcom,… Once again, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to do anything against a publisher stealing your game concept and making a success out of it. Not 99% but a great number of publishers are very likely to do so.

  3. so if i’m creating a free game and want to find a good Publisher can you advice me with names ?
    i already tried with the only 3 Publishers located in Middle East , they want Mobile Games only with shops and in game purchases.
    i’m developing horror game to pc / console and i don’t want to F* it

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