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What does a game publisher do?

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Hi there, I'm debating whether to go to a game publisher or just have a website where I sell and distribute my game online. What will a game publisher do for me that I can't do myself? Your advice will be much appreciated. Thanx.

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Some interesting links from the GameProducer blog which I really like to read:

Dealing with publishers
Why game publishers get 70% and game developers only 30% of the royalties
How much control portals and publishers want

Note that most of these articles are geared towards indy game devs, but if you're posting here you probably are one anyhow :)

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A good publisher will help you market and distribute your game; they will take care of advertising, lining up media coverage, and actually manufacturing the cool little shrink-wrapped boxes and CDs/DVDs that your game comes on. If applicable they'll handle printing manuals and such as well. Distribution (actually putting boxes into stores) is one of the single biggest advantages of a publisher, because doing distribution yourself simply is not practical. It takes huge amounts of effort and social/political clout to get a game into a retail store, and publishers can provide that for you.

A good publisher can be the difference between life and death for a game, because they have contacts all over the place, and they can get your game exposure that you never would be able to arrange yourself. For a studio just getting started on a game, publishers can also act as investors, and inject capital funding to help pay for the development process.

By contrast, a bad publisher will basically just suck dry all of your revenue and let your game rot instead of doing any serious work to promote or sell it. This is not nearly as uncommon as you might think; bad publishers vastly outnumber good ones. The real problem is that bad publishers are much easier to make contracts with.


In general most publishers will want at least a nominal amount of executive control over your game, but if you already have a solid game or a good track record you can often get virtually complete freedom. Just be prepared for a publisher to make "strong suggestions" about what to change/add/remove/etc. [smile]

A hefty royalty split is common, although the actual numbers depend a lot on how your game's development was funded. If the publisher directly invested cash, they will likely take a higher royalty percentage off the top of sales to help recoup their expenses. However, if you manage to sell a finished game to a publisher for distribution, their investment is much lower, so you can often manage to get a higher chunk of the revenues for yourself.


If you don't need development investment capital, and you aren't planning on massive sales (say, more than 5-10 units a day), you can actually handle fulfillment (packaging and mailing orders) yourself for fairly cheap. There are companies who specialize in bulk DVD cases, printing labels, and so on who you can use to make a quite professional package for very little cash, provided you can afford a bulk order. It's work, but it's not bad, and self-publishing leaves you in a relatively advantageous position from a creative and financial perspective. Publisher contracts can come back to bite you if a deal goes sour and you're stuck making crap titles for them for another 3 years.

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