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5 Things Indie Devs Need to Do When Picking a Publisher

One-man indie developer shares his tips for choosing a publisher to partner with based on his own experience joining the Natsume Indie Program

Henry Fernandez

April 9, 2020

6 Min Read

Growing up in Venezuela, I did not think video games could be a viable career. Video game companies were not common in my country, so it wasn’t something I ever thought was an option for me.  Through higher education and studying abroad in Japan, I was able to see that it truly was possible. Even though my home country lacked a video game industry presence, I realized I could pursue my dreams, so that is what I set out to do.

I became a one-man dev team called Fiery Squirrel, working on every aspect of my games while studying game design in Japan. But I have to admit as I continued to further my education and work on my games, I started to think about the next step---getting my game to the players; to market. How am I going to do that?  

Living in Tokyo, I had access to some of the best local events and conventions like BitSummit, Tokyo Game Show and Tokyo Sandbox. I was lucky to have the opportunity to show my upcoming game, Cosmic Defenders, at these events because I was able to receive feedback and meet people from the industry. I was not specifically looking for a publisher, I just wanted to show my game to the community, but the upside is that I also met potential partners.

When I met Taka Maekawa of Natsume at one of the shows, he liked what I had to show and together we discussed how we could make it into a great game. But, before deciding to officially partner, I needed to make sure I was making the best decision for me and my game.

Having the backing of a respected publisher can make a huge impact on your title’s reach and improve the quality of your game. As an indie developer, one of the most important things you will do is find a partner you can trust, who will work with you to bring your game to market, so it is important to really take the time to pick the right one.

Who you associate yourself with, what kind of deal is fair for each of you, what fellow partners’ experiences have been, the publisher’s involvement from A-Z,  and your gut instincts are all essential factors in making the most important decision you will make for your game.

5 Smart Things To Do Before You Sign on The Dotted Line

  1. Research the publisher.

Do your research! You will want to work with a publisher that is respected and aligns with your vision. The experience and reputation of a publisher is important because it will be associated with you and your game. Check out what other games the publisher has released and read reviews to see how they’ve been received by the community and media. Evaluate game performance, graphics, audience, storyline and compare with your own mission. Do these games share qualities with yours?

  1. Get the lowdown from someone who knows firsthand.

Reach out to other developers that have worked with the publisher to ask what their experience was like. This is one reason you should take advantage of networking opportunities. If there is a local meet up, go! Be an active member in the community and support fellow devs; in doing so, you will develop professional relationships and lifelong friendships. Attend annual conventions that are relevant to your game; you’ll not only have fun checking out the latest games, but you’ll have the chance to meet many likeminded people from the industry who may have experience to share. You’ll meet with people from around the world, so be sure to exchange contact information and keep in touch. Prioritize local events if possible; for me, Tokyo Sandbox, Bitsummit, and Tokyo Game Show were all helpful for playtesting, meeting people, and giving the game some exposure but were also conveniently local. Of course, if meet ups or events are limited, take to Google; with social media, you can join industry groups and easily find opinions regardless of your location.

  1. Make sure your partner can actually bring something to the table.

As an indie dev, you may not be able to fulfill every role with ease. You have to trust in your publisher to be able to hand things off so you can focus on the core of the game. Publishers can help with QA, providing feedback, marketing, and localization. For example, it is tough for me to do QA as a one-man team. Natsume has more experience in that phase of development and can assist me. Know your strengths and weaknesses so you can determine if the partner will be helpful. Do not partner with a company simply because you have heard the name or because you think they will be able to pay you more.  Be on the lookout for a publisher that wants to work with you but doesn’t seem to be offering any real support because they may end up just slapping it up there for sale with no real help, which isn’t good for anyone. Make sure they are offering you something that will strengthen your game overall.

  1. Have a clear agreement.

Ask clearly what kind of agreement you will have. You need to know what they’re promising to deliver and what you’re expected to do. Partners will vary in what they’re willing to offer, just as your own needs will vary. You may need to be willing to negotiate. Determine your needs and how your partner may meet them and make sure that you are able to meet your partner’s expectations and deadlines. A partnership should be mutually beneficial so do not agree to a contract that is one-sided!

  1. Trust your instincts!

This may seem obvious, but don’t work with someone you don’t trust or like; even if they’re the most famous publisher in the world. More than business, human relationships are important. When learning about partnership programs, pay attention to the people you’d be working with. Who is your direct contact/go-to person? Do you communicate well? Do you share the same business and creative values? Are they committed and involved to the project or is this just an assignment for them? Like any job, not liking or distrusting someone you are trying to work with, will affect the overall project and your own well-being. If it feels wrong, trust your instincts!

As an indie developer, your game is your baby and it can be a struggle to finally get it to market. After working so hard, you might be tempted to say yes to the first publisher who shows interest, but there’s no need to be hasty. Take a moment to step back and truly make sure this is the right partner for you. It is better to find the best fit than to rush into a bad partnership deal. I feel like my decision to join the Natsume Indie program was the right one for me. I took the time to make sure it was a good fit and hopefully the start of a beautiful relationship!

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