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September 16, 2019
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Publishing 102 - How to Find the Best Game Publisher for You

by David Logan on 02/11/19 11:49:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

New year, new advice! My name is David Logan, CEO of Akupara Games, and I’d like to start the year with some more insider details on game publishing. Last year, I wrote the first entry for a series of articles to help guide developers throughout the decisions surrounding publishers and the release of their games. If you haven’t read that yet, I highly recommend you do so before continuing on.

You’ve decided “Yeah, a publisher is a great fit for our project,” but now you’re interested in how exactly you decide which publisher is best for you. In this article, I will be detailing the tactics you should use while you are on the search for the best publisher. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, crack open a notebook, and throw down with some homework.

Research

First and foremost, you need to know your options and who you can consider as a publisher. Each publisher is a snowflake, most beautiful, and each different in their own ways. Let’s discuss how to go about finding the right one.

Talk to Developers

  • The most helpful tactic is to talk to other developers who have worked with publishers

    • Ask about their experiences and try to get the most candid and honest feedback about working with the very publishers you may be considering

    • Discuss the actual people involved in producing the games as mileage will vary with different producers from the same publisher

  • Ask for recommendations

    • It helps for other developers to understand where you are coming from and what you need/want for your project

Read Online

Meeting Publishers

  • Consider taking some time to go to conventions and networking events to meet publishers in person. It’s a great way to get face-to-face time with lots of publishers at once, and find those who are actively seeking new projects

    • Great for not just meeting publishers, but other developers, investors, and press

  • Going to live events can be expensive, but worthwhile if you maximize your time there. Book as many meetings as you can beforehand, so you have a full schedule. Don’t expect just to meet lots of connections on the spot

  • This strategy allows you to talk about your game and showcase it to others to get some feedback for that extra polish you’ll want when you finally approach a publisher

  • Resources to check out:

Game Performance

  • While shopping for a publisher, look at the performance of the games worked on by your candidates

    • Scores aren’t necessarily indicative of the publisher’s efforts or contribution to the project, so you’ll want to see the marketing efforts put into promotion

      • Take into account the times the game was marketed to you - if you were the correct demographic

      • Note any unique or interesting promotional tactics that may have been utilized

      • Consider the buzz and hype generated by the game as a sign of the marketing efforts from the publisher; big points for press coverage on popular gaming sites

      • Extra points for getting the game featured articles and interviews

      • Consider if the game was featured in digital storefronts

  • Look into what services the publisher provided post-launch

    • Are they still providing additional content for the titles?

    • Are problems and bugs stated in reviews being addressed?

    • Will the publisher be supportive in live-ops and be involved with community management?

      • Generally, most successful publishers will fall into this category because the game will fail if they don’t support live-ops and post-launch content

Post-launch of the popular title, Stardew Valley, former publisher Chucklefish was responsible for implementing the multiplayer update to the game while the developer focused on creating for the game’s first major content update.

Preparing Questions

By now, you’ve talked to all your friends and connections. You’ve done hours of research on the Internet about your options. Maybe you’ve narrowed down a list of publishers you’d like to talk to and you have your spreadsheet of notes ready. You want to be prepared, so you brush up on what services you might want from a publisher. It’s time to reach out to these publishers and chat. However, before you do that, have some questions in your mind to ask during these conversations. Listed below are some questions you may want to ask:

Communication

  • What time zone are you in?

  • What channels of contact do you use?

  • How often can I expect to be in contact with you during the campaign?

Release/Sales/Revenue

  • How long will you support our title post-launch?

  • What are your relationships like with distributors such as Steam/Xbox/Switch/Apple?

  • Who handles post launch merchandise DMCAs, trademarks, and copyright?

Conventions

  • Which conventions do you go to?

  • Do you cover the cost of the travel, hotel, booth, and swag for conventions?

  • Who is will be showcasing at conventions - the publisher, developer, or both?

Translation & Porting

  • Do you support multi-platform releases?

  • Who handles porting to other platforms?

  • Which languages will you support for our title?

Specialties  

While looking around for that publisher just-for-you, pay attention to the specialties of the publishers; not every publisher will be the right fit for you. It will be most conducive and helpful to your working relationship if the publisher is well-equipped to publish to your needs. Here are some things you’ll want to consider:

Platforms

  • Keep this question in mind as you search around - is your game designed for a desktop, console, or a mobile release? Maybe all three?

    • I don’t recommend bringing your mobile-only game to a publisher who has no experience in helping to release a mobile game

    • Vice versa, a publisher that has exclusively released mobile games may not be able to help you release your game on every current console

Glu Mobile is a platform-focused publisher for mobile gaming. They have an extensive library of mobile-only games based on existing IPs and games partnered with celebrities/influencers.

Monetization Models

  • With big differences and theories behind the different monetization models, you need to pick a publisher that knows how to release a game based on the monetization model of your game

  • Audiences won’t be happy if a title is released that deviates from the publisher’s typical model. Imagine trying to sell an up-front cost premium game with a publisher, when they’ve conditioned their audience with only free-to-play titles

  • A publisher who has only released premium games may have minimal knowledge on  how to bring users to and market a title that has in-app purchases, or a subscription based model

Though not an indie game, Nintendo’s Super Mario Run provides a wonderful example of how a monetization strategy can alienate or confuse your market that is accustomed to freemium models or premium games at a lower price point.

Genres & Niches

  • Similar to thinking about the platform needs of your game, consider the history and experience of publishers and if they align with your genre and niche needs

    • Publishers will have developed an audience with their users, so it’s helpful if your game aligns with the rest of their catalogue

    • Not all publishers will have the knowledge, resources, or tools to market all types of games

      • E.g. A publisher with a large library of fighting games may not necessarily know how to bring out the best of your horror or first-person shooter game

Nightdive Studios has built up a reputation for themselves for bringing back lost games that are no longer available by acquiring the rights to re-release, remaster, and update them for modern platforms. Their audiences can expect to see older games like those of the System Shock series of the 1990’s, which have greatly influenced the horror and first-person shooter genre.

Other Games Released

  • Being able to look at their catalog of other games, you will have a good sign of what their successes are like

  • Their other games will individually have their own following of players, so this is something that can used to your advantage

    • Similar to genre, publishers should have dedicated efforts to creating a community among their player base that will allow for a good starting point in releasing a new title

A great contribution to Overcooked’s exposure was at E3 2016 when publisher Team17 placed the game’s booth next to their most anticipated title of the convention - Yooka-Laylee. Everyone came to see the game everyone knew about, but were easily pulled in to see the game no one knew about.

Single vs. Multiplayer

  • As with many of the previous points, does the publisher you’d like to work with have the experience to release your game if it’s multiplayer, especially online multiplayer? Multiplayer games require maintaining and engaging with a community of players more frequently and consistently

  • Single player games may have bug fixes and occasional DLC added, but multiplayer games will require live-ops support, long after launch

Stream-ability

  • Some publishers care about whether a game is consumable for streaming

    • With the increasing presence of online influencers, the success of games are often affected by streaming influencers

    • Does the publisher advise on integration with streaming, and make an effort to have their developers create plugins or extensions that work with Twitch or Mixer?

In the release of tinyBuild’s game, Punch Club, this publisher capitalized on Twitch and its chat function to give users a task: beat the game before it can be released. Coupled with a concurrent stream to race to the end, Punch Club secured featuring on Twitch.

Development - Their Involvement

You know best about your game and the team behind it; it’s vital for you to be aware and upfront about what you can and can’t successfully handle on your own in development. If you must outsource development needs to a publisher, you will definitely need to look into publishers who are able to offer you those skills whether through their own team or hiring the right people for you.

Publisher is Hands-On with Development

  • This is a great option if you are a small team full of talent, but you may be missing some key elements

    • If this is your first foray into the industry, you may want to consider a publisher who can assist with advising and shaping your game

      • A strong publisher will have a toolbox of knowledge, resources, and contacts to ensure the success of your product

      • A hands-on publisher may work very closely with you along the way in how they see it necessary, offering suggestions or changes

    • Perhaps you are set on the programming of the game, but only have placeholder art assets, and need a visual facelift

      • From art, to programming, to sound, to almost anything in development, the right publisher will be able to fill in the gaps in your team

In our own case, Akupara Games was responsible the programming overhaul, addressing existing bugs, porting to mobile devices, and recomposing and recording all of the audio for Keep in Mind: Remastered.

Publisher is Hands-Off with Development

  • For a developer that feels comfortable with where their game is at, but just needs the support of a publisher to take the game to market, this is just as practical

    • The publisher will still provide standard support and marketing efforts to get your game’s name out there

    • This allows for the developer to maintain the most creative integrity

      • This is great for those who are very sure of their creation and would not want external influence

Approach

Not every publisher works the same way. Just like how not every developer needs the same things from a publisher. Consider what methods a publisher may use in your campaign to help inform your decision.

Custom Campaigns

  • One-of-a-kind campaign that is unique and tailored to what makes your game stand out

    • You can expect efforts to pay back in dividends as publishers may offer up some out-of-the-box ideas that will have people talking about your game

    • The downside is these often take chances, which may not always pan out

Standard Campaigns

  • Looking through a publisher’s portfolio of titles and their associated campaigns, you may feel that nothing seems like it deviated from one another

    • However, this may be a useful indication of what you can exactly expect with your campaign

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a developer who goes out of their way to seek out a publisher who will only do a standard campaign. However, as the developer, this is something you will need to weigh the importance of.

Long-Term Relationship

This section is really case-by-case for you developers out there. You will need to ask yourself if you’re looking for a publisher that is strictly business, or one which you can see developing a good long-term relationship in the future that may extend outside of just business and work. Do you want your publisher to see you as just a client, or do you want something that goes the extra mile? Perhaps if you’re lucky, you will find that special publisher that you will keep coming back to, project after project. Let’s talk about how to build a strong relationship.

Publisher Raw Fury has built up a working partnership and relationship with the developer Noio since 2015 to release three games in the Kingdom series together.

People

  • Start off by finding a publisher who has a team of people that you get along with

    • During initial conversations, examine what it feels like when you talk with each other

    • Consider if you would feel comfortable candidly bringing up any concerns you may have

Personality Traits

  • Do your personality traits complement one another?

    • Think about your communication styles

      • Finding a publisher is like dating. Both parties must be willing to communicate and work together to raise the baby that is the game

      • Offer a problem you may have and see if you agree with their response

Financing

At last, we’ve arrived at one of the final things you’ll need to consider while you’re talking to your potential publishers. Money. This can be the game changer or even deal breaker. What is the role that money will be playing in the production of your game? Do you need it? If so, where is it coming from? Here are some things to think about in terms of financing in talks with a publisher.

Provision

  • Will the publisher offer financing?

    • Financing can alleviate a lot of developer concerns, and help developers devote more full-time work to the game

    • If you feel a publisher is a good fit and they don’t provide financing, but you still require it, consider other routes outside of a publisher for financing

      • If they won’t be providing any financing, it is a fair question to ask them for any advice on how to acquire what you need

      • In fact, while a publisher may not provide financing, they may be able to provide the resources and services you need to acquire them

Should You Accept?

  • Consider the downside of accepting financing

    • A publisher requires a larger revenue, often with a recoup up front

If you need a little more information on this topic, definitely take the time to check out my first article in the series, where it outlines and expands on financing.

Conclusion

We’ve covered the jumping off points for thinking about your game from a business standpoint, so now it’s time for you to start working towards finding the best publisher for you.

Hopefully after this you’ll be able to identify a list of publishers who could fit your needs!

In our final article in our game publishing series, we’ll talk about actually pitching your game to publishers in - “What Publishers Look for in Games”.

If you have any questions after reading this, or feel something is missing, let us know on social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord.

 


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