For new developers, publishing in the video game industry can be an exhilarating and daunting task. For most the decision to publish a new release breaks down into two choices: go through an official publisher or self-publish your release. Both of these options come with their own pros and cons making it important to understand each option carefully and evaluate the needs for your new release.
The history of video game publishing
Producing a video game comes with multiple challenges between distribution and promotion of the title. Many publishers ask for additional rights while publishing a title in order to explore other commercial opportunities for the title. This can include eventual movie deals, merchandising, novelizations, and other forms of media. Meanwhile, self-publishing keeps all future commercial options with the developers at the cost of external support. While both options can impact a game launch in different ways, neither is considered “superior” to the other.
The benefits and drawbacks of working with a publisher
When creating a video game, many developers start with the intention of going through a larger publisher. Outsourcing the marketing and distribution work can often mean a faster turnaround toward profit and a larger scale of impact. Through a publisher, a video game developer enters a contract known as a publishing agreement. This allows the publisher to use the video game and its copyrights to release the video game, as well as, negotiate deals and distribute the game through official marketplaces and on varying hardware on the developer’s behalf.
Source: Akupara Games’ approach to publishing is finding games with standout and impactful narratives.
Publishers can often help increase funding for a development project and help bolster up staff with additional employees, as well. Experience, time, and resources become part of the package when signing up with an official publisher for your game. It’s common for developers to sign a publishing agreement granting additional rights including sequels, merchandising, streaming, and derivative work to the publisher.
For a good example of this agreement, check out Raw Fury’s version which has been released to the public here.
Pros of working with a publisher:
- Additional funding
- Outsourced marketing
- Distribution connections
- Expanded advertising options
Cons of working with a publisher:
- Restrictive contracts
- Less creative control
- Publisher profit cut
The benefits and drawbacks of self-publishing
In contrast, developers could choose to self-publish their titles. Rather than relying on a publisher - 100% of the promotional effort must come from the developers. This also means that 100% of the profit goes towards the company (minus platform feels of course) allowing for more money towards the next project. All of the game’s later sequels, perspectives, and other details are owned by the developers themselves allowing for more time and crazy experimentation.
Source: Playwing is an independent Game Developer and Publisher founded in 2017.
To make self-publishing even more appealing, developers have more flexible deadlines and can relax a bit in their marketing. With no mandatory announcement, release date, or publishing deadlines to work towards, the marketing process becomes focused on expanding the potential fanbase. No matter if developers want to relax their marketing objectives or focus on them, all freedom is up to the studio to do as they please.
Despite seeming complicated, there are resources available that can ease self-publishing stress. From social media aggregators to key distribution platforms, it’s more viable in the modern day than ever before to publish a game without an official publishing company.
Pros of self-publishing:
- Creative freedom
- Loose deadlines
- Full control over marketing
- Larger profit share
Cons of self-publishing:
- More time demanding
- Relies on the developer team
- Lack of connections for distribution
- Can be expensive
Which option is better for your upcoming game?
Well, the answer is that it depends. While self-publishing does offer advantages in time and profit, it trades that for experience and staffing. If an indie developer or small studio is planning for a small or light release, then self-publishing may be the way to go. However, larger games could see more success through a dedicated publishing deal. Outsourcing the work and expanding upon unexpected opportunities can be done faster with a publishing company.
When determining the right strategy for your game, it’s best to consider your team, budget, and options. Many games have seen success on both sides of the publishing spectrum, and no one direction is best for everyone. Evaluate your game’s needs, and decide if your team is ready to jump into the world of full-time game marketing or would rather outsource the work to an established publisher.