It’s easier than ever to play games, it’s easier than ever to make them and it’s increasingly just as easy to publish one. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from publishing a game on itch.io right this second and having it available with a unique landing page shareable to social media with purchasing options in less time than it’d take you to finish reading this article. Steam Greenlight may be no more, but Steam Direct continues to offer an accessible way to publish on the PC market’s biggest platform, while the mobile app stores are similarly open territory provided you can afford the license fees.
Who needs a publisher then, if you can get your game into players’ hands all by yourself? Say you’re a small, unproven team releasing your first game. Why go through all the rigamarole of convincing a publishing company that your game’s a certified hit when you could simply put it out now and find out straight away – and pocket all the income for yourself?
Of course a more accessible marketplace is also a much, much busier one. In such an environment, how your game is marketed is just as, if not more, important than the quality of the thing itself. Surely the best move is to leave the business side of releasing games to the people who have dedicated their whole careers to it, costly and difficult as it may be to build a relationship with a them.
Given the range of game creators we’ve got here in Scotland, we thought we’d ask the Game Gurus for their takes on publishing in today’s marketplace.
Here’s what the Game Gurus had to say:
SGN: It’s easier than ever to publish your own game thanks to accessible platforms like itch.io, the mobile app stores and Steam Direct. However, many independent developers still see value in signing publishing deals to get their games off the ground. Should small and/or young studios still be looking to make publishing deals, or are they better taking their future into their own hands?
Elena Höge – Founder of Yaldi Games
“I think, especially for small and young studios, there are a lot of “unknown unknowns” in the publishing world. So they don’t know what they don’t know – which can be tricky to navigate. It’s true that getting your game out there is easier, but only releasing something doesn’t make it a success. There is a lot of marketing and a lot of networking involved with a successful launch, something hard to manage if you don’t even know about it. So in the end it all depends on what the studio wants and how they define success. But I’d say that going with a publisher and using their network and marketing and analytics resources can boost the games’ success. And then, on the second or third title, once they have a brand people recognise, the studios could decide to self-publish.”
Stuart Martin – CEO and Founder, Hyper Luminal Games
“It true that from a technical perspective bringing your game to the world has never been easier, even on historically prohibitive console platforms. But that doesn’t mean publishing has become any easier. Don’t overlook the value and expertise that the right publisher can bring to the table – PR outreach, existing audiences and platform holder relationships are just a few of the benefits that first-time indies don’t have the luxury of. Finding the right partners for your title is critical to reducing risk, maximising commercial opportunities and breaking into the increasingly crowded games market.”
Marc Williamson – CEO, Tag Games
“Yes its never been easier to make content and release it to the world, but perhaps it’s never been harder to make money.
Publishers will sign something if they think it has the chance for a return on their investment and they should help you achieve a return too. Getting noticed is hard. A publisher will work on helping you stand out above the other 1000 games released that day. Publishers are not all evil. Self-publishing is hard. There is no easy answer, just make sure your company survives to make the next product and have another roll of the dice.”
Colin Anderson – Director, Denki
“Everyone needs a publisher as publishing is an essential part of launching any game commercially. The question young studios need to answer is whether they are best suited to do that publishing work themselves or whether an external marketing and sales team (aka a Publisher) can do it better. Many inexperienced studios don’t realise how much work publishing is and fall into the ‘great games sell themselves’ trap, but that’s simply not the case. If the studio already has marketing, promotion, and sales skills within their own team (which some do) then it’s probably best just to publish themselves as it’s never been easier. However, if they don’t (which is the majority) then it’s better to partner with a company that does, even if that means giving away a percentage of sales. The additional sales should more than compensate for the sharing of income with them. If you don’t believe that working with a Publisher will increase your sales income more than the amount you’re giving away to them in sales revenue then just publish yourself.
Most importantly never EVER sign a publishing deal that assigns any of the Intellectual Property rights in your game to your publishing partner, because no matter how many copies they sell there’s no way they’ve earned enough additional revenue to justify owning your team’s hard work in creating the game in the first place.”
Tom Methven – Amicable Animal (SOLAS 128)
“I can only speak for myself, of course, but I think that publishing deals still have huge value for smaller teams. The biggest issue isn’t getting your game listed in stores, but getting anyone to care that you are on there at all – and that takes a lot of effort, time, and knowledge that I certainly didn’t have when I was making SOLAS 128. I think the most important thing, however, is to figure out what parts of the process you need help with and/or don’t like doing as much, and find a publisher and offer that is a good fit. Not all publishers are created equal, and not all deals will suit you, so there is nothing wrong with declining an offer if it doesn’t provide you the support you need to make something awesome.”
Ally Low – Director, LowTek
“I think both options are viable but you need to put in a lot of effort into marketing or get lucky to get sales without a publisher. It’s great to get your games out so easily now but everyone having easy access to Steam publishing does not automatically mean sales. We have actually seen more sales on itch. Our games are focused on retro consoles, we have a Steam and itch port but have had more success in physical copies.
We used Kickstarter to fund physical runs of 2 of our games. It did well but I think that’s because it was aimed at the physical homebrew community which seems easier to break into as there’s less competition… for now. I’m not sure we would have been funded if the game was digital download only.
We are looking into publishers to take the hassle of marketing and funding off our plate so we can just focus on making the games. Another option is to figure it out ourselves and then potentially become a publisher for other developers in the community.”
There we have it. Do you agree? Do you disagree? This is just the start of the discussion. If you want to join the debate, let us know your thoughts on our Twitter feed, the Facebook group, or in the comments below.
If you work in the games sector and would like to be included in future Game Gurus columns, get in touch.
Photo by: Sarah Pflug