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Publishing 101 - Should You Partner with a Game Publisher?

Should you partner with a game publisher? CEO of Akupara Games, David Logan, helps to guide developers throughout a series of articles surrounding the release of their game.



Hi! David Logan here, CEO of Akupara Games! We get a lot of questions about the game publishing process and I decided I wanted to write a series of articles to help guide developers throughout decisions surrounding the release of their game. Before we get too nitty gritty, let’s start with the biggest decision every developer has to make: should you partner with a game publisher?



 

Akupara Games is a video game publisher, so it is no secret that we believe publishers can bring value to a lot of games, however that doesn’t always mean that a publisher is right for you. I’d like to outline some of the perks publishers can offer, to try to encourage you to consider them as an option for your team and title.

In this article, I will be going over the services and benefits a publisher provides - such as distribution, development support, marketing, and community building. While publishers may offer some of these services, many will not provide all of them. Each publisher will specialize in various areas, so as you read, consider which are most important to you, and let that guide you if you choose to seek out a publisher.

What do Publishers Get?

Publishers are a business too, and have various ways of recouping their costs and making money. In exchange for their assistance, publishers will often receive a revenue share of your game on each platform they work with.

Gross Income vs. Net Income

Revenue share agreements will specify between sharing Gross Income or Net Income.

  • 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

Share Percentages

  • 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.

Other Elements

  • 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

Getting your game to various platforms is a lot of work with all of the various rules and procedures for each. Mobile platforms tend to be the most straight-forward, but consoles in particular involve a fairly lengthy process. A publisher can handle the entire process from getting approvals, uploading the products, writing the store copy, creating the proper graphics and videos, to actually getting the product approved.

Ratings

You will often need a rating for the various regions around the world you’re releasing.

  • The publisher can handle the management and cost for these regions, which include:

    • ESRB (America)

    • PEGI (Europe)

    • CERO (Japan)

    • USK (Germany)

Partner Relationships - Distributors

  • Another part of the process is leveraging opportunities to get your game featured at events, blogs written, social posts about your game, or having your trailer posted to a distributor’s YouTube channel.

    • 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

  • It is important for publishers to build fantastic relationships with distributors, so that they can more easily receive these opportunities. The best opportunity is getting featured in the storefront by a distributor, which directly brings your game extra sales.

    • Ask potential publishers how they have worked with distributors to feature their games and what potential opportunities they would push for your game

 

Partner Relationships - Other

  • It's also important that your publisher has good relationships with other partners as well, such as hardware manufacturers like Alienware who can provide sponsored machines for events, or Limited Run Games who can create physical editions of your product.

    • 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.

  • By leveraging these partnerships the publisher is able to find other opportunities to make your game money or get awareness, past just the initial digital sales.

Development

Regardless of where your game development is at, publishers can assist you. Keep in mind that different publishers might be looking for games in different development stages.

Advising

  • Publishers will be able to advise your team on the design of your game, from art, to audio, and everything in between.

  • 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.

Financing

  • Some publishers are able to provide financing to assist with your team’s development costs.

  • 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.

Porting

  • Publishers will have or partner with teams who can help bring your title to additional platforms.

  • 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.

  • Oftentimes indie games will launch first on PC, with the intention to port to consoles if they’re successful. Even though it’s a more risky upfront cost, Akupara Games actually prefers all platforms to launch at once, as having multiple launches often means less press for each subsequent release, and combining them together helps create more noise, as there are then articles for every platform. Multiple releases also means additional costs and efforts for marketing

    • 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.

Image result for terraria new on xbox

QA

  • Publishers can provide QA testing for bugs, device testing on a multitude of low and high-end devices, and assist with the requirements your title needs to pass to get through certification.

    • 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.

 

Talent

  • Publishers work with lots of indie developers, so they can assist you with finding the right talent to fill your team’s needs.

  • 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.

Localization

  • Localization isn’t just translating the words in a game, but can also mean tweaking details for various regions to be more culturally appropriate.

    • 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

Generally when developers think of needing a publisher, marketing and publicity are the first things that comes to mind. A good publisher will have a wide array of marketing and promotional tools at their disposal for bringing awareness and praise to your title.

 

Media Outreach

  • One of the more traditional ways to get exposure for your title is through media outreach.

  • 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 ef

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