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Self-publishing? Evaluate these three factors before deciding

One of the main decisions in any game project is the decision on whether to publish the game by ourselves (self-publish), or use an established publisher. In this article, I try to summarize three factors to consider when making that decision.

Jukka Hilvonen

April 19, 2016

6 Min Read

This blog post was originally published on my website on April 14, 2016.

Getting attention is one critical factor of success when self-publishing Photo by Nathanco via Pixabay

One of the most fundamental decisions for a mobile game developer is the decision between publishing the game yourself or to use an established publisher.

On the occurrences which I've been witnessing, this debate can get pretty heated with strong opinions on both sides. Often times, opinions and feelings tend to take place instead of a more constructive logic-based reasoning in the debate.

This article is my humble attempt to give some thoughts about which variables mobile game developers should take into account when making a decision on whether to publish their game by themselves or use an external publisher.


The first variable which you should take into account is the most obvious one. If you need funding to complete your game, you should consider publishing funding. Sure, there are other methods of funding, such as loans and equity funding. Equity funding is also one potential method (especially, if you happen to have a rich uncle or parents) but raising equity funding from others aside from FFF (friends, fools and family) is very hard, especially if you don't have considerable game development experience in your team.

It is also good to note that in today's mobile gaming landscape, publishers are not very interested in other business models than free-to-play. So if you are developing a premium game to mobile platforms, I'm afraid that your chances of getting funding will be thin.


The second point to evaluate is whether you have any experience in marketing and/or user acquisition. As the competition is getting ever more fierce in mobile players' attention, with around 500 apps and games submitted to the App Store each day, getting attention for your game is as equally an important piece of the puzzle as the art of making games.

To elaborate upon this question a little more, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do we have a reliable plan for getting attention to our game? (Sidenote: hoping for platform featuring is not a plan)

  2. Do we know how to do App Store Optimization?

  3. Do we know how to do user acquisition in scale? Do I know the terms DSP, SSP, CTR, CVR? Do we know how to do creative optimization?

  4. Do we know how big a marketing budget we need for a soft launch? Do we know when we should transition from soft launch to global launch?

  5. Do we know what attribution analytics is? Do we know how to handle possible frauds?

  6. Do we have personal contacts with App Store or Google Play editorial teams? Have we ever pitched any of our games to Apple or Google representatives before? Do we know what they are looking for from awesome games?

  7. If we don't have any experience in UA or marketing - do we have any chances to hire a person who knows about these things? Do we know how much they cost? Do we know how to evaluate their skills in this matter?

These are just a few questions, but if you are able to stay objective when asking yourself these, you should pretty quickly find out the scope of things which are related under the term "marketing" and "user acquisition".

Marketing is a HUGE set of activities and requires a lot of skills, resources, experience and connections. If you don't have a solid plan for getting attention - and consequently - players for your game(s) then my recommendation is to use an external publisher with proven track record of getting downloads of the games they have published.

If you do have the experience and motivation to invest into marketing and user acquisition activities, then self publishing might be the best fit for you, given that you have evaluated the other factors in this article.


"The single greatest predictor of success and of sustainable competitive advantage in this business is live game operations" - Owen Mahoney, CEO Nexon

Photo via Wikipedia by U.S. Army Photo by U.S. Army via Wikipedia 

This question applies mainly to F2P games since premium games tend to be more or less standalone games.

Live operations in this context means all the activities that are required to maintain a F2P following launch, including maintaining and deploying back-end services, doing user analytics, customer service, designing and deploying in-game events and updating content of the game and improvements to the game itself. Essentially, Live Operations means the SERVICE side of game business.

And maintaining a great live operations for your F2P game is one of the most fundamental aspects which will either hold you back or guarantee success for your game.

"We're a technology company. We're not really a game company." - Gabe Leydon, Machine Zone

Do a small test; take a look of the top grossing charts in the U.S. App Store and list how many of the top 100 grossing games have a live operations requirement in some form or another? Then, count in how many of these games would you consider there to be a considerable excellence either in gameplay, art, sound, narrative or in technology. Be strict! I can count the number of such games on one hand only.

Of course the fact that there aren't that many games with truly excellent gameplay, art or sounds doesn't mean that there couldn't be. But what is more clear is the need for a great live operation which is able to offer outstanding customer service. In the end, that brings in great revenues for those game publishers and developers able to master it.

So before deciding on self-publishing your game, ask yourself whether your game needs running live ops, what kind of skills you need for your live operations and what kind of resources you need to achieve that? You can make decent revenue with small a user base and with great live ops, but you first need to know what makes a good live ops for YOUR game.

If you don't know anything about running live operations, or don't want to invest in building one, then an established publisher with a solid history in running live ops is a far better choice.


So these are three main factors, in my point of view, which you should consider before deciding on publishing your game by yourself or with an established publisher. Hopefully I've offered up some new factors or new perspective that you might not have thought of before.

Next up, I'll be expressing my viewpoints on how to best choose an external mobile game publisher for your game project. That is an important step after deciding that you want to use an external publisher.

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