Game publishers constitute a very complex subject of conversation. I thought and tried to write about it a lot, building a mental barrier to two very simple topics: Should you get a game publisher? And if yes, what does this really mean.
Should you get a game publisher?
Mike Bithell gave a far better answer than I ever could, here. It’s a must read. Before deciding to search for a game publisher, understand very, very clearly what do you expect out of the deal. I’d like to stress out the word deal here, because it is important. Getting your game published by someone else is a deal where you have some stakes, and the other party has some stakes, and both of you aim to maximize your own profits. Bad deals are when one partner wants to maximize his profit at the expense of the other partner. There are plenty of good deals and fair publishers out there, but I think the likeliness of finding one is in strict correlation with your skill in business and the amount of knowledge you have about the commercial part of the industry. If you know very little, you’re more likely to strike a bad deal. The most dangerous situation here is when you are in that first bit of the Dunning–Kruger graph. I wouldn’t strike a deal while in this DK zone.
What does getting a publisher really mean.
Cliff Harris wrote a top notch response to this one, here. Yup, it is another must read. He explains this from a publisher’s perspective and in “gamedev layman terms”, which very few publishers are generally capable or willing to do. The gist of it is simple: why would anyone give you money? No one has to, and especially for young, unproven teams, its a very high risk of investment. Which those very own teams are unwilling to take (otherwise why not get a loan?). So you need to really nail down your business strengths and weaknesses and find a partner that compliments you and is willing to chip in with what you lack. This is really serious and widely misunderstood.
Here are some heavily under appreciated reasons to find a publisher: localization, QA, porting. And some heavily over appreciated ones: marketing, getting game on the market, funding.
On the issue of funding, sure its nice to have someone pay your bills while developing as game. But most people call that a job, and so should you, because the publisher who gave you that money probably owns what you are doing, so you are working for them. That might be cool if it is your idea and your dream project, but nothing comes for free. You might not have so much control over the creative process. You might not have a say to the way they sell your game. You might have no involvement or idea about marketing, or how much it costed, but you still have to pay it back. You might never see any royalties, because recoup. If your game turns out a success, you might get the short end of the stick and also no say in the future of your good product. I am not trying to say these are bad things, just that they are things to consider.
If your game is Almost Done and you just need some cash to finish, really look into what you have and what options there might be to finish the job. If you’re almost there, why don’t you finish and put yourself in a far better position.
On the issue of marketing, seriously understand what the hell it means and if its worth the money. One of the most common mistakes fresh gamedevs make is to commit to high sums destined to marketing without really being able to understand and evaluate those spendings. Do you really want to pay press to write about you? Or have them write as a favor to your partner? Are you absolutely sure you need to be present at all those events? You’ll have no way to do cost control, and it happens way too often that we’d like to admit for heavily covered, widely known games to be a commercial flop.
I’ll leave you with some more reading in random order, though Mike’s and Cliff’s posts are probably the best ever written on the subject. There’s actually a lot more out there, but take everything with a grain of salt.
Kotaku’s We need better game publishers
Polygon’s Indie game publishers
Please tell me if you have better resources! You can always tweet me at @sarienn.