GDC Europe: What Publishers Want

At GDC Europe this week, a panel of game industry veterans gathered to answer a pair of seemingly simple questions: What do publishers want and how can developers get what they want out of them?
At GDC Europe this week, a panel of game industry veterans gathered to answer a pair of seemingly simple questions: What do publishers want and how can developers get what they want out of them? Founder and managing partner of Digital Development Management Jeff Hilbert led off, saying the panel would "be about tactics and strategy [and making] a great game. If you make a great game, the publishers will guide you to the platform they want." Stating that it was a race to the top, Hilbert observed that there was an increasing demand for mobile and Facebook games, a fact that was affirmed by Capcom's Christian Svensson, and Microsoft Game Studios' Chris Charla. Paradoxically, Hilbert also cautioned against development for the sake of a trend. "What is the hottest thing right now? Android, Android, Android. [Was it the same] three months ago? No." Vanguard Games' Martin de Ronde spoke about the importance of self-reflection and how he personally focuses on making games that could theoretically work on every conceivable platform. "If you have a cool idea, there's a ton of people who will want to give you money," Charla added. Nonetheless, the panel also warned that "big console ideas" needed to be supplemented by a studio capable of following the idea through to the end, and that it was important to demonstrate that you've done your homework and can implement the idea. "If you're an established team, we might reply [your e-mails immediately]. If you haven't shipped anything, we'd probably want to see a demo; we want to you to show that you're serious," Charla said. The panelists touched upon how important it was to be bold and actively work on contacting publishers. Charla noted that developers should not be daunted by big organizations like Microsoft and Capcom. "If you meet someone at a show, just tell them them to forward your e-mail and they probably will. Ultimately, get one person's email and tell them what you want. I've gotten some e-mails that had thirteen or fourteen forwards on them; it'd eventually get to the right person." Additionally, the panel also addressed the reasons behind why publishers insist on taking ownership of intellectual property. "I think the key thing here is, if it's something successful, we want to stay with it," Charla said. "The simplest way of accomplishing that is to own the it." While many developers often see this publisher ownership as a negative thing, Svensson noted that publishers are not only uniquely positioned to maximize the potential of an intellectual property, but that it's in the developer's best interests to ignore cross-media marketing. "You're not in the business of making movies, plushies, and [other things like that], but they are." Again, the panel emphasized on the importance of communication, meaning open and honest interaction with the publishers. Regardless of whether you're requesting money or discussing the publisher's policy on ownership, they stated that it was the developer's job to speak to the publishers and not make too many assumptions. Towards the end, the panel suggested that it was "very, very important" that developers take the time to hire a games industry lawyer familiar with the nuances of publisher contacts. "It's the best money you'll ever spend." Hilbert said.

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