Publishing 101 — Should You Partner with a Game Publisher?

What do Publishers Get?

  • We recommend going with Gross Income whenever possible.
  • Net Income allows publishers to pay themselves back first for whatever expenses they deem necessary
  • For instance a publisher may try to deduct expenses like marketing, or localization costs, before paying out the developer
  • Gross Income will be the split payment after the distributor’s share (Valve, Nintendo, etc.), but won’t include other miscellaneous expenses incurred
  • The more effort and cost required from the publisher, the larger of a percentage they’ll ask for.
  • Especially in the case of lending money, publishers will usually have a higher rev-share percentage they receive pre-recoupment, and then drop down to a more standard rate after that.
  • The rev-share amount may be different per each platform, for instance if a publisher handles all the porting costs and management for Nintendo Switch — they may receive a larger percentage on that platform.
  • Occasionally publishers will ask for things such as IP ownership.
  • Our opinion is to never sell IP, unless it is an insanely fantastic deal (lots of $$$).
  • A publisher may also ask for right of first refusal for future platforms
  • Think carefully if you want to commit to terms like these, and whether they would have a long-term positive or negative impact for your project.

Distribution

  • ESRB (America)
  • PEGI (Europe)
  • CERO (Japan)
  • USK (Germany)
  • Publishers have pre-existing relationships with platforms and account managers to get your game opportunities easier
  • This will help your game stand out from the pack
  • Oftentimes distributors want juicy details to share — such as a release date announcement, or the first showing of a trailer.
  • Guacamelee! 2 recently partnered with PlayStation’s YouTube channel, for their release date announcement
  • Ask potential publishers how they have worked with distributors to feature their games and what potential opportunities they would push for your game
  • Logitech featured The Metronomicon when introducing their new G560 lightsync PC gaming speakers.
  • Limited Run Games partnered with Thumper to make physical Switch and PlayStation 4 versions of the game, as well as limited T-Shirts.

Development

  • They will be able to identify traits and features of your game that could be pushed further, to increase sales and exposure, such as adding daily missions or overall achievements to increase replayability and player retention.
  • This can allow developers to fully focus on creating the game, instead of having to work other jobs to support themselves part-time.
  • Searching for financing may limit the publishers interested in taking your game on, or may make certain terms in the contract harder to get, however finding financing can make your game development smoother and faster.
  • This allows you as the developer to focus on developing the overall game, instead of splitting focus with porting.
  • For Desert Child Akupara Games is current working with the developer, Oscar Brittain, and while he focuses on the Steam version, we are porting it to Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
  • There are examples of the former working though, for example Terraria launched successfully on PC, and then was picked up by publisher 505 Games who brought it to consoles.
  • For example, publishers can provide extensive mobile testing across dozens of devices to find the minimum specs and platforms to release the game on.
  • Events can be a key way to discover bugs and issues. When you attend events, work with your publisher to monitor and track player interactions so that you can record where they get stuck.
  • Sometimes publishers will even dedicate resources from their internal team to assist with your game.
  • Akupara Games used our composers for an original soundtrack, and programmer to help recreate Keep in Mind in Unity (originally Game Maker Studio), for the release of Keep in Mind: Remastered.
  • For example, in certain regions of the world, like in China, talk of death is taboo.
  • This could also mean changing up key landmarks, flags, or references to make more sense and become more accessible.
  • In Stardew Valley not only did they localize the languages, but the artwork as well such as portraits, and the UI HUD.
  • Publishers will have localization expertise to make your game translatable and fun for all languages and cultures

Marketing

  • This includes reaching out to journalists, bloggers, and other game-related press outlets about your title.
  • Publishers will have established networks of contacts who they’ve worked with over the years, making these outreach efforts more efficient and effective.
  • The ideal goal with press outreach is to get interviews, reviews, and articles on your game; a publisher’s connections will make outreach easier and more successful.
  • Media Buying can be done with any level of budget and digital ads often have immediate measures of success whether you are looking to build awareness of your game or increase downloads or sales.
  • This is a major driver for sales, where a few large influencers can sway a product from “unknown” status to trending title.
  • For example, One Hand Clapping is a game that was created by USC students which was then picked up by YouTubers PewDiePie, Markiplier, and JackSepticEye that received millions of views and have translated to over 75,000 downloads on itch.io
  • Similar to media, publishers will have established relationships with influencers.
  • Some publishers create exclusive influencer programs, where influencers can get special perks from that publisher.
  • Akupara Games has recently started our influencer program — which allows us to thank these influencers with early access to our games, and opportunities for in-game avatars or voice overs.
  • Publishers often have video editors who can create top-notch trailers, or they can advise your team to create these materials. They know what makes a successful trailer and can guide steps like storyboarding and editing.
  • There are articles based on the top game trailers that come out every year such as Gaming Trend’s Best Game Trailers of E3 2018.
  • Akupara Games loves making buzzworthy trailers using everything from gameplay footage, to animation, and even live actors like in the trailer for The Metronomicon.

Community

  • Often this means promptly answering questions and providing regular updates about the game.
  • A publisher is able to leverage their existing communities and introduce them to your title, which will further grow your audience.
  • The more engagement there is about your game, the more visible it is to others outside of your community as well.
  • Facebook prefers users to stay on their platforms and users tend to enjoy video and photo over text content. This is where big announcements should be made.
  • Instagram is a large hub for photos and great to show off concept art, development, and screenshots.
  • Twitter is where updates big and small should be made. It is also the best platform to directly engage with users on.
  • Often the major takeaways of conventions are receiving player feedback, bringing press by to see the game in person, and building your mailing list.
  • A good publisher will book you a solid press schedule, and set up ways to grow your mailing list — with easy signups and giveaways which will incentivize attendees.
  • Events can be expensive if representing a single title, but often publishers will have pre-existing space that they will use to showcase your title
  • A publisher can also take care of the booth set up, getting the swag manufactured, and arrange for the development team’s accommodations including flight, hotel, badges, and meals.
  • Presentation is everything, and your publisher should try to find ways to best showcase your title, to be attractive to attendees walking by.
  • Recently we showcased Desert Child on a custom-built arcade machine at E3. This allowed us with a relatively small budget to still create a unique presentation which stood out.
  • The Walking Dead at E3 had zombie actors that effectively spooked a lot of people walking by, which was great for the awareness of the booth as well as social media buzz of people taking pictures and videos with the zombies.

When a Publisher Isn’t the Right Fit

  • A large and engaged audience — which may come from conventions, past games you’ve developed, or even came naturally from social posts you make. You want to make sure you have a following already to make sure your game is as visible as possible.
  • Social posts you create get get picked up, shared, and talked about frequently.
  • Established press and influencer connections, or large press and influencers that approach you on their own to write about your game. You will want to be able to reach out and follow up frequently. It is also a good idea to meet in person when possible to keep a strong relationship.
  • Marketing
  • Porting
  • Localization
  • QA

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