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  • Publishers: How To Find Them And What To Expect

    [05.14.19]
    - Kevin Giguere
  • In August 2018, I took steps to find a publisher for my game Tech Support: Error Unknown, which would soon be picked up by Iceberg Interactive. This followed the release of my previous titles Arelite Core and Astral Traveler, which I had published on my own, resulting in disastrous sales numbers. For quite some time, I was against signing with a publisher due to the fear of what I might lose, as opposed to the consideration of what I had to gain. With this article, I hope to shed some light on my perspective of working with a publisher.

    Signing with a publisher is a step which shouldn't be taken lightly. Although it can create tremendous opportunities, it will also bring with it the burden of responsibilities. Suddenly, your game doesn't just belong to you and its success and failure will have broader repercussions. A good publisher will become a partner in your success and invest in it, but conversely will also expect results out of you which you need to be able to deliver upon. 

    So, before even reaching out to find a publisher, it's important to ask yourself the right questions and to set up realistic expectations. To that end, here are a series of steps to take and questions you might want to consider before signing up with a publisher.

    And important to note, my publisher has reviewed the text of this article, though the content and ideas remain my own and do not reflect an endorsement on their part.


    What are your goals with your game?

    As game developers, we are passionate about creating amazing experiences for players to enjoy, since we share part of ourselves through the games we develop. That being said, many of us have very different goals when it comes to game development. As such, it's important to understand that once you start working with a publisher, those goals will be shared. It's likely that your publisher will have an objective in mind, that you will need to come to terms with.

    Getting a publisher is a commercial endeavor. The process implies that you are making your game at least in part for commercial gain, meaning you'd like to recuperate costs incurred and hopefully make a profit. This is in opposition to a hobbyist project which can be more focused towards the enjoyment of creation and, arguably, does not have to be pursued with as much professionalism. It doesn't mean that art and commercialism can't coexist, but you may have a bit less control with the end result, or you might have to pay more attention to the choices you make during the development of the game.

    This might also involve changes your publisher could ask you to do. The publisher may have a different perspective from yours, and it's important to understand that you might have to make changes which you don't agree with. Sometimes those pan out, sometimes they don't, but it should be understood by everyone involved that you are on the same team, trying to accomplish the same basic goal: releasing a successful game to an audience who will enjoy it thoroughly.

    With Tech Support, my goal was to be a commercial success. Because making games is my full time career, this is how I sustain myself so it was vital for me for this to be a hit. Of course I wanted to create the best game I could as well, something unique that would stand out and provide a very different perspective. These are always difficult realities to balance and ones we must come to term, especially in a commercial context.

    What do you want

    When outreaching to publishers, it is crucial to determine what your needs and expectations are. The same way you would hire people for specific roles (concept artists to design the world, programmers for the engine), you will likely have a role for your publisher. This may include marketing efforts, artistic resources to improve your game, localization, testing, or even funds to allow you the opportunity to finish the game.

    Before reaching out, carefully assess the state of your game and your objectives. You will be entering into a contractual agreement with them, which means that if you later need to update the terms because you forgot an element or underestimated the costs, you may face penalties, including a potential reduction of royalties. Always plan for the worst case scenario concerning the development of your game. Though you may be concerned that by asking for too much, you may lose out on an opportunity, you will likely have a lot more to gain by being realistic as to your expectations and needs.

    For my game, I primarily wanted help with marketing, including outreach to media and influencers, and general audience building. I had gone through the launch experience twice by then, and could perform the actions decently (create a trailer, send out press releases, reach out to influencers), but experience taught me that it's not just about the actions, the source itself matters. I expected that having the weight of a publisher behind me would help prominent sources pick up my content, which I feel was quickly justified.

    When to get a publisher

    Remember that the publisher is likely to receive myriad of requests, so you must be able to present your game in the best possible light, including the team working on it. Having a representative vertical slice of your game will already make a big difference, and having it playable even more so. Publishers are investing into the games and teams presented, so you want them to know what they are getting into and what they can expect out of the final product.

    I started seeking out a publisher for my game very late during development, when I had reached the beta stage. By this time, most of the game's features were already available and it could be played through from start to finish. That means that publishers knew exactly what they were getting with this game, which made it easier for them to know if they were interested or not. I was a solo developer, which meant they knew who they would be dealing with, and I already had two released commercial games, which showcased my ability to deliver on my obligations.

    Making the best first impression could make the difference between them considering your project or discarding it at first glance. Keep your email presentation straight to the point and have the basic information readily available. Further details can then be found in your pitch deck. Make sure to include clear instructions on how to play your game, preferably in the game itself, as well as debug tools so they can sample everything the game has to offer rapidly.

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