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1 Oct 2013

Should you Self-Publish, or Partner With a Traditional Publisher?

One of the biggest decisions in the development of your game is how you will fund your game. Should you choose a publisher to fund most of your game or should you throw caution to the wind and fund the entire game yourself? It’s a huge decision, and there are apparent pros and cons to both sides of this proverbial ‘publishing’ coin. Yet, there are many more things to consider when choosing a traditional publisher or going the self-publishing route instead of the funding. In short, choosing which publishing model you are going to chase is a huge decision, and one that will affect many different aspects of the development process. Consider the following, and from there make an informed decision about which model you want to choose.


Funding of Your Game

Let’s get one of the biggest perks out of the way right now: if you can find a traditional publisher to publish your game, the development process of the game will be funded. It sounds like a great plan right? Consider this for a moment:

Most of the time, the funding you will obtain when developing your game will be used as an advance on your royalties of the game. For instance, if your game costs $60,000 to develop, the publisher will take your royalty share of sales until the budget for the development process is paid back. From there, your team will start seeing payment, yet if the full amount of your royalties are not paid back, you will not owe anything to the publisher.

It sounds like a fairly risky venture on the publisher’s part, which is why most publishers keep the development budgets low so they can make a large profit with the sales once the game is released. Thus, even if you obtain a publisher, expect the publisher to pay the minimal amount. This is obviously better than little to no funding at all, but if you need a little extra money to finish the development process and the publisher isn’t budging? You may have to change the game.


In a sense, your game is at the mercy of the traditional publisher’s checkbook. Again, while this is better than no funding, it still isn’t ideal. So what can you do?

Another option is to self-publish.

This is the slower way to develop your game, yet you will have creative freedom in developing your game as a result. Of course, if you don’t have the proper amount of funding to develop certain areas of your game this can place a damper on the entire development process, but with no traditional publisher breathing down your neck and informing you when you need to have your game published, you can develop your game as quickly or as slow as you desire.

How can you obtain funding when self-publishing your game? You have a few options:

  • Crowdfunding
    • If you can market your project in a way that ordinary people will want to fund your game, this can make the development process much easier
  • Freelancing
    • In addition to developing your game, members of your team can take on freelancing gigs that can fund your game. They all have skills, right? Put those skills to work and make some extra, necessary money.
  • Your Personal Checking Account
    • Bank loans, credit cards, bank account, savings, etc. – these suggestions are enough to make you nervous. Sometimes, if you want to fund your game, these routes for funding are necessary.

Self-publishing can be difficult, but once again, you have the freedom to create whatever type of game you want (although, if you are using your personal money, it probably should be a game people will want to play).



Submitting Your Game

With a traditional publisher by your side, the submission process becomes a heck of a lot easier. Usually, the publisher takes care of the submission process, the QA/testing, and so on. On your end, all you need to do is make certain your build is bug-free (easier said than done of course), follow the guidelines of submission to the appropriate platform, and wait while the publisher does the rest.

As for self-publishing, everything mentioned above rests on your shoulders: playtesting, testing for bugs, following the guidelines, and so on. It pays to find the right contacts for the platforms you want to publish your game onto. For example, if you want to publish your game on the Wii U, PlayStation 4, and Steam, find the appropriate contacts for each platform and ask them about submitting. They will place you in the right direction for submitting your game to them.

Also, read what other people have posted on forums, subreddits, and the like. Many developers have been in the situation that you have been in, and a lot of them probably have a few self-published games under their belt and will be willing to provide you with some advice. Seek out this advice, and the process will become easier.


Marketing Your Game

With a traditional publisher by your side, they will handle most of the marketing of your game. From pitching your game to the media to sending out press releases, creating ads, and beyond, all of this is handled by them. It sounds like a great thing until you reconsider that the traditional publisher will be the one to dictate how much coverage and advertising your game will receive. If they hold a lot of faith in your game? This shouldn’t be a problem, but if they see your game as ‘just another indie title,’ don’t expect them to pitch and plug your game more than the other games they are publishing.

Again, this can be a blessing or a curse – it solely depends on the publisher, the way they view your game from a financial standpoint, and how much money they think they can make from the game. Remember when we discussed the possibility of publishers pouring the minimum amount of funding into the development of your game? This is the case with marketing your game too, as in the end, publishers want to make money from your game. It’s a business after all and it’s understandable, but this approach to funding your game can hurt the thing they want to make money on the most: the game.

Going the self-publishing route, marketing your game becomes extremely time consuming. From advertising your game to pitching your game to the media (I extensively cover how to pitch to the media here), you will find that you will spend nearly as much time marketing your game by yourself as you spent developing your game. It’s exhausting, tiring, and you need help.

I cannot stress this enough: if you can, hire a PR professional to provide you with the PR that you need. In my interview with Aaron San Filippo last month, he discussed how he was using a PR firm to pitch to the media and essentially ‘get the word out’ about his game. Hiring a PR professional will save you an absurd amount of time, and when you have a good one by your side, they are worth every penny spent.

The beauty of hiring a PR firm? They will keep you ‘in the loop’ regarding what they are doing to promote your game. They will work with you based on how much you pay, allowing you to have enough control in the promotion of your game while not having to do the bulk of the work.

Yet, you still want to blog, tweet, conduct interviews (on shows such as ours – shameless plug), and generally talk about your game whenever you have the chance to do so. Be excited about your game, talk to people about it, and let your excitement be heard!


The Consensus

Which route is better? That’s a decision you will have to decide for yourself. Partnering with a publisher that is fair and keeps you ‘in the loop’ is a godsend, yet if you partner with a publisher that leaves a lot to be desired? It can really muck up the development of your game.

While self-publishing your game allows you complete creative freedom, you don’t have a safety net. If you run out of funding, nobody is going to be there to bail you out. Thus, while you have an enormous amount of freedom for creating the game you want, it’s also risky. There is no one, solid, universally correct answer. Make the decision that is ideal for your project, and hopefully, everything will go relatively smoothly.

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