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GDC: The Gatekeepers Of Indie Distribution

Publishers get inundated with game concepts, art, and prototypes from independent developers on an hourly basis. In this Independent Games Summit panel, employees from Sony, Microsoft, GameTap, and Manifesto talk about what it takes for indies to get dis
The gatekeepers of distribution at Sony, Microsoft, GameTap, and Manifesto gathered around on Monday morning to talk about their own individual strategies as game services as well as how games can make it on to their systems. Each company had differing methods, some subtle, such as GameTap’s various labels for branding different games, and some more extreme. (“We have the Columbine game on our site,” said Manifesto Games’s Greg Costikyan.) While thousands of developers send content to submission e-mail aliases, by the time they go through various filters, people like Microsoft’s Kim Pallister and Sony’s John Hight look closely at between 20 and 100 submissions a month. For Pallister, developer skill, self-funding, and track record are all important, but the key question is, “Is it a fit for our customers?” From this, people have been able to get a game distribution deal from “coming in with a well written document.” Manifesto Games is different from the other three present on the panel, especially since they cannot provide completion funding. While they receive considerably fewer game submissions, they also take a harder look at more of them. “We’re not here to winnow the chaff; we’re here to give the games that people want,” said Costikyan. GameTap’s Sandy Resnick emphasized gameplay above everything. “It’s easy to make great, beautiful graphics these days,” but he would rather have visuals made by his nine year old son that’s “crazy fun to play.” Again, this is in sharp contrast to Costikyan who noted he was into games that “are very much not fun to play.” He was interested in innovation in emotion, “even if that emotion is repulsion.” Marketing is one of the most important things that developers have difficulty dealing with, and the distribution services help somewhat. John Hight noted how with their latest download distribution games, such as the recently released fl0w, Sony was able to secure coverage in The Wall Street Journal and advertising on Japanese television. As much as this is improving, the panel agreed that this is still an area where online distribution lags a bit behind retail. Everyone on the panel noted frustration at developers searching for a distribution deal by asking directly for whatever might be lacking in their service. While that might sound efficient, that isn’t what these gatekeepers look for. “The main thing I want to see is passion,” said Hight. “If I told you what I want, I wouldn’t get what I need.”

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