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  1. Publishing 101 | Publishing 102 | Publishing 103 This is David Logan, CEO of Akupara Games, and I’m back with the final part of my game publishing trilogy! For those of you who have stumbled across this series for the first time, let me direct you to the original article that aims to guide you to making the decision to self-publish or partner with another studio to publish your game. After that, you can learn how to find the best game publisher for you in the follow-up article. Take your time; I’ll be here for you when you’re ready! All caught up? Great! By now, you’ve decided that a publisher route is exactly the way you want to go, found some great potential publisher fits, and know what you might want to talk to them about once you’ve got your foot in the door. Now what? Well, it’s time for you to craft your pitch and materials, get noticed, and actually get your foot in the door! The Basics These are the primary materials that you will want to prepare as you begin reaching out to publishers. It may seem like a lot, but you really want to be prepared and confident in your own idea and to leave the best impression possible. With the following materials, you are telling the publishers that you are a serious studio, and have already poured a ton of time, sweat, and thought into your game. Trailer A good trailer will pique the interest of publishers before anything else Be clear about what the game is all about – concept, plot, genre, gameplay, etc The most effective way for your pitch to be dismissed is if there are too many unanswered questions about basic things after watching your trailer Your game’s content should be clear to the viewer A trailer is a really powerful asset because it provides a good peek at how all the aspects of the world you’re creating come together – audio, art, design, etc. This will be one of the few opportunities for them to see your game come to life during your pitch, as most other material will be text and still images Be careful that you aren’t hiding something vital through the trailer; in which case, a publisher may just prefer concept art and a prototype Make sure that your trailer does your creation justice and accurately represents what you want to showcase at that moment Let your trailer shine and show what makes it unique What will make people talk about your game? How are they going to talk about it after watching it? Check out “How To Make an Indie Game Trailer | Game Maker’s Toolkit” on YouTube Subnautica was developed and self-published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. The focus of their trailer is creating a cinematic experience, like something you’d see before the latest superhero movie. It tells a clear story, starting with an immediate hook, transitioning to the studio’s logo, gameplay footage, voice-over detailing the player experience that feels congruent with the game’s theme, and then ramping up in intensity until it hits a chilling button to finish out the trailer. It even sprinkles in pull quotes from Youtube influencers rather than traditional media outlets. Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight has a more simplified trailer whose primary focus is gameplay. By showcasing the game’s mechanics and aesthetics, it allows the viewer insight to a game that has multiple areas, enemies, bosses, skills, and much more. A trap that this trailer did not fall into was overlaying music over each scene; rather, it kept the scenes intact with sound effects as music accompanied these scenes. Without those sound effects, your game doesn’t feel as alive or realized – it just feels flat. It’s important to note that this trailer also features on-screen text to fill in the gaps of viewer’s knowledge. A two-minute trailer is never going to be enough to show everyone the fine details, so don’t be afraid to drop in with some text to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Demo/Build Having something working and playable will help tremendously in your pitch Ensure your demo plays well, has been playtested, and free of major bugs/glitches that prevent the demo from being fully experienced If your game involves puzzles or sections where the player has to input information, make sure that people outside of your circle of development are able to also progress with ease Including a document with your demo that outlines how to play the game and controls will be greatly appreciated Demos show how ideas have turned into something realized It should provide a player both excitement for and expectations of what’s to come Of course, it’s not out of the realm for a demo to not be completely representative of the final product in visual assets or complex mechanics Use your demo as an opportunity to focus on the uniqueness and difficulties of the game, i.e. proof of concept Prioritize fun gameplay over graphics Use your demo as a chance to show off excellent writing skills if dialogue is a big part of your game It’s understood that the build of your game will not have finalized assets, so don’t be afraid of having placeholders Be sure it’s easy to tell if something is a placeholder It can mislead or misrepresent your design if a placeholder looks like it belongs, but does not look great Know whether you want to work towards a Vertical Slice of your game versus an Alpha or Beta A Vertical Slice gives the best impression of what the final product will be in a short bite-sized piece It is like a single slice of a dressed up cake with all the layers, frosting, decorations, and candles Mechanic-based or multiplayer games may be better presented as vertical slices, so publishers can see the final quality of the product An Alpha isn’t as polished of an experience, but shows the entire game from start to finish This is the entire cake, baked and frosted, but it doesn’t have all the sprinkles and decorations on it Story-based games or games with a strong single-player may be better presented as alphas, so the publisher can see the full intended experience A Beta is a more polished Alpha build, that has everything the final game would, except may need final tweaks in design and bug-fixing This is the best of both worlds – high fidelity and polish, and nearly final content Betas take the most time though, so although they present best, they also would have cost the most to get here Above all, make sure your demo is fun to play Leave the people playing your demo grasping for more by the end of it Focus on the fun and stray away from anything that might be frustrating and keeping people from finishing your demo Indie developer EggNut made excellent use of the Steam store by providing a free demo of their film-noir inspired adventure game. The demo provides a great example of what a Vertical Slice looks like. By offering a free demo, users were able to experience what feels like full and realized game and the opportunity to provide their feedback to further improve it. By being on Steam it helps generate Steam Wishlists, which are vital to getting sales on the game’s launch. It also has an excellent button on the ending to really get you hooked. Check it out on Steam! Pitch Deck The pitch deck allows you to show potential publishers what your game can become While the trailer and build shows where the game is, utilize the pitch deck to show how you foresee the full experience working, such as highlighting a variety of enemies, bosses, or late game mechanics After you gather your assets and put them all together, there are two main questions that need to be answered with your pitch deck: Is this game worth making? Think about what makes it different/fun/unique/something people will want to buy Can this team make the game? Point out any obvious technical risks or challenges that you honestly foresee upfront and prove that you have the people/resources/knowledge to address them As an encouragement and reassurance that your team can make the game, include your track record of success and mention previously released games Be sure to include the core loop, mechanics, and the player experience If pitching to publishers, prioritize your game mechanics over your game’s monetization model, no matter how good you foresee the monetization When it comes to art, it’s quality over quantity Focus on one or two top-quality pieces of that really represent your game, rather than a lot of mediocre art Take some time to sell yourselves as a company and as individuals Keep this to 1 or 2 slides though, as your actual pitch is the most important part With a limited amount of real estate to sell your team and members, show proof of why you are the best team to make the game so it focuses less on general skills and leans on why your team is the best fit in comparison to anyone else Though your game may not be the right fit for the publisher(s) you approach, they may remember you and contact you for other projects/purposes Overall, don’t forget about the power of the classic elevator pitch Know how to quickly and succinctly describe your game for others to understand and digest it It’s completely okay to say it’s a cross between two well-known games or a mix of genres; people will understand this easily Plasticity is a short experience that was brought to us by students of the USC Games Program. Check it out for free on Steam, currently with about 20-40 minutes of content and multiple endings! Taking a look at the pitch deck they submitted, let’s point out some really good points when it comes to preparing a deck for your game. Calling attention to this slide for its use of in-game assets, as it keeps the viewer grounded in the idea of the game they’re looking at. Additionally, it’s great material to help separate the game from other titles in the genre. It is telling how the game is being innovative. Continuing the world building within the pitch, this is telling how the game is original and unique. As mentioned above, the pitch deck is the developer’s opportunity to show where the game can go past what is present in the trailer and build. By being transparent, you are building rapport with your potential publisher and they will be able to make a more informed decision on how to approach your game. Show how serious you are in your intentions with an educated and informed production timeline. Depending on how/when you expect to be getting paid during development, this will be very helpful to a publisher in proposing a budget. Having a project budget is mandatory for a publisher to know the scope of what’s needed in terms of funding. Include each team members’ monthly cost, facility costs (if any), hardware, software, and stuff such as marketing expenses. What You Need from Them When in the talks with a publisher, be transparent on your expectations and needs from them, such as: How much financing you need Whether you need porting assistance What forms of marketing support you need Anything else from my Publishing 101 article Before you submit your pitch, have estimates of: Budget to make your game Be transparent and explain why and how funding will be used Your timeline Be prepared to show the task breakdown per month for each person What additional talent you need to complete your game As a publisher knows what they are able and willing to provide, it is important for your time and theirs that you are open and honest about your needs early on Advice for a Great Pitch General Avoid bandwagoning to a current craze/gimmick – unless your game really calls for it or the publisher is looking for it Don’t pitch a game for an IP without already having the licensing deal, hoping the publisher could help you secure that deal for you The exception here is if the publisher owns the rights to the IP, and you’re making a pitch at hopes of getting approval from them Make sure your business plan is realistic Don’t be afraid to dream big, but also be prepared to admit to the challenges you will face and how you plan to address them Tailor your pitches to the publisher you are approaching Be mindful of your time and theirs and show them something they want to look at Don’t show a mobile-only publisher your console-only game, or don’t show your horror game to a publisher that typically is known for lighter and friendlier genres Think about your pitch from a mutually beneficial perspective Be upfront about what you need from the publisher, but also outline what it is that you are providing for them as well Be passionate about your game, your company, and your brand In-Person Be professional Dress well Be prepared for many different situations when it comes to pitching your game Prepare physical materials in the event there are some tech issues Think about potential questions and how to answer them Have a fact/breakdown sheets that can be passed around for latecomers Come with your own devices, in case of incompatibility, or prepare for all types Choose the right team and people Not everyone can hype up the room and push your game in the right direction, so figure out who on your team is the best for this Be enthusiastic, honest, sell your hook, know your audience, and know your direction Don’t waste time by starting only once all your technical setup is ready Have team members prepare the tech, while others are socializing and getting a read of the room Break out any literature you may have prepared, in the event setup is taking longer than expected Leave time for questions and clarification Don’t get annoyed or worried when asked questions Questions are a means of getting clarity based on your pitch, and different people are going to have different questions Be sure to exchange business cards if you haven’t previously done so Email Keep your pitch short, clear, and interesting Toss in a cool visual GIF that is low in size High-quality image that represents your game works well, too Include an easily accessible link to a compelling YouTube trailer Preferably using bullet points, cleanly lay out the details of your game Brief and graspable description of your game’s plot and gameplay Target platforms and audience The needs of your project Include a link to where someone can access a playable build of your game Make sure your format is actually email friendly It’s easy for your formatting to get a little awry when you copy/paste from somewhere else or after dropping in any images/GIFs Extra points for you if you can even make it mobile friendly for those who may be reading your email pitch on their phones Paper Cut Mansion of indie developer Space Lizard Studio put together their pitch in a great looking email (even on mobile!) with good readability and succinct bullets. Everything is quick and to the point. Hyperlinks helped to highlight and draw the eye to the important things they want their reader to see; plus, it makes attaching assets like videos and builds really clean. With just a glance, a publisher already knows key points about the game – core concept, platforms, and needs. Check out ongoing development of the game on Facebook! The Right Fit The first step and a crucial key to a successful pitch, and hopefully a signing, is ensuring that you are pitching to the right audience. This means really understanding your brand and what it is exactly you’re trying to sell. This also entails you doing research and shopping around for publishers who are likely to be interested in you and your game. If you’re lucky, you can be like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor and be approached without even pitching. The secret to this is having main publisher targets and stay in the shadows – appear at events that they will be at, appeal to their target signings, and be ready to showcase your game to them when they are ready and looking. In most cases, however, you might not be as lucky. This just means perfecting your materials to the best of your capabilities and trusting in your team and game. An “anti-adventure” game, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor had the experience of actually never being pitched to anyone, according to developer Sundae Month. Instead, indie publisher tinyBuild approached Sundae Month to partner up after seeing an article on Killscreen (linked above). “We had a call with them where we talked about what the game was, and if I recall correctly, we showed them a build. It was something close to a horizontal slice though, with most of the environment at a moderately finished state. With Diaries that’s kind of the key selling point.” What Akupara Looks For As Akupara Games is a game publisher, we are always on the lookout for games to partner with. We believe in and support the indie developer – being uninhibited by many external factors, they are free to create truly unique and meaningful works. As a team, we choose to work on projects that we are passionate about, due to a combination of the project itself and the development studio’s drive. We actively look out for and approach projects that we see or hear about across different events and avenues. Cold pitches are welcome, as we are always interested to hear about those hidden gems. Listed below are some things we consider while we are evaluating bids for projects to work on. Premium titles PC and console focused No AR and VR Game design that has not been explored before New playing mechanics New genre or unique hybrid Teams that are easy to work with Communication Work ethic Reliability Fun to be around and interact with Passionate teams Willing to match our team in effort in preparing for release If interested in pitching to Akupara Games, you can email us at team [at] akuparagames [dot] com with a pitch deck, build, and trailer! Conclusion By now, you should have a good idea of what materials you will want to prepare before you start reaching out to those potential publishers. Perhaps you’ve already prepared these materials, and if so, hopefully, there were some insightful points that you can use to improve your materials to make them even better. Thank you for reading our short game publishing series. We really hope it proved to be useful in your growth in the indie gaming spacing. We love to share our experiences and knowledge! If you have any questions after reading this, feeling something is missing, or have another topic you want us to cover, let us know on social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord. --- Akupara Games is an indie game studio based in Los Angeles, California. Composed of veterans of the game industry, Akupara Games focuses their energy and resources as an "indie for indies" studio by providing premier support to other indie studios through development, publishing, porting, and advising. Their mission statement ensures that each project receives a unique experience and personalized support. Website | Discord Note: This article was originally posted on the Akupara Games website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
  2. Publishing 101 | Publishing 102 | Publishing 103 New year, new advice! My name is David Logan, CEO of Akupara Games, and I’d like to start the year with some more insider details on game publishing. Last year, I wrote the first entry for a series of articles to help guide developers throughout the decisions surrounding publishers and the release of their games. If you haven’t read that yet, I highly recommend you do so before continuing on. You’ve decided “Yeah, a publisher is a great fit for our project,” but now you’re interested in how exactly you decide which publisher is best for you. In this article, I will be detailing the tactics you should use while you are on the search for the best publisher. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, crack open a notebook, and throw down with some homework. Research First and foremost, you need to know your options and who you can consider as a publisher. Each publisher is a snowflake, most beautiful, and each different in their own ways. Let’s discuss how to go about finding the right one. Talk to Developers The most helpful tactic is to talk to other developers who have worked with publishers Ask about their experiences and try to get the most candid and honest feedback about working with the very publishers you may be considering Discuss the actual people involved in producing the games as mileage will vary with different producers from the same publisher Ask for recommendations It helps for other developers to understand where you are coming from and what you need/want for your project Read Online A useful and easy tactic if you can’t get in contact with fellow developers Find testimonials of clients who have worked with the publishers to make a better educated decision Set time aside to search for any available information and read the websites of potential publishers Resources to find Publishers: SteamSpy Free and Paid services available Steam only AppAnnie Paid service Mobile only Indie-Friendly Publishers by Eugene Kisterev PC & Console focused Indie-Friendly Publishers by gambrinous Video Game Publishers by Wikipedia Mobile Game Publishers by Hady ElHady Mobile only Mobile Game Publishers by Ane Fallarme Mobile only Meeting Publishers Consider taking some time to go to conventions and networking events to meet publishers in person. It’s a great way to get face-to-face time with lots of publishers at once, and find those who are actively seeking new projects Great for not just meeting publishers, but other developers, investors, and press Going to live events can be expensive, but worthwhile if you maximize your time there. Book as many meetings as you can beforehand, so you have a full schedule. Don’t expect just to meet lots of connections on the spot This strategy allows you to talk about your game and showcase it to others to get some feedback for that extra polish you’ll want when you finally approach a publisher Resources to check out: Video Game Business and Marketing Microconference April 15, 2019 Online video call matchmaking services Without you needing to travel, they take the same idea of meeting lots of new connections at conferences and bring them to you digitally MeetToMatch – The San Francisco Edition 2019 March 20-22, 2019 Meet those in the industry located in San Francisco GDC March 18-22, 2019 Game Connection March 18-22, 2019 Can schedule meetings to sign deals Game Performance While shopping for a publisher, look at the performance of the games worked on by your candidates Scores aren’t necessarily indicative of the publisher’s efforts or contribution to the project, so you’ll want to see the marketing efforts put into promotion Take into account the times the game was marketed to you – if you were the correct demographic Note any unique or interesting promotional tactics that may have been utilized Consider the buzz and hype generated by the game as a sign of the marketing efforts from the publisher; big points for press coverage on popular gaming sites Extra points for getting the game featured articles and interviews Consider if the game was featured in digital storefronts Look into what services the publisher provided post-launch Are they still providing additional content for the titles? Are problems and bugs stated in reviews being addressed? Will the publisher be supportive in live-ops and be involved with community management? Generally, most successful publishers will fall into this category because the game will fail if they don’t support live-ops and post-launch content Post-launch of the popular title Stardew Valley, former publisher Chucklefish was responsible for implementing the multiplayer update to the game while the developer focused on creating for the game’s first major content update. Preparing Questions By now, you’ve talked to all your friends and connections. You’ve done hours of research on the Internet about your options. Maybe you’ve narrowed down a list of publishers you’d like to talk to and you have your spreadsheet of notes ready. You want to be prepared, so you brush up on what services you might want from a publisher. It’s time to reach out to these publishers and chat. However, before you do that, have some questions in your mind to ask during these conversations. Listed below are some questions you may want to ask: Communication What time zone are you in? What channels of contact do you use? How often can I expect to be in contact with you during the campaign? Release/Sales/Revenue How long will you support our title post-launch? What are your relationships like with distributors such as Steam/Xbox/Switch/Apple? Who handles post launch merchandise DMCAs, trademarks, and copyright? Conventions Which conventions do you go to? Do you cover the cost of the travel, hotel, booth, and swag for conventions? Who will be showcasing at conventions – the publisher, developer, or both? Translation & Porting Do you support multi-platform releases? Who handles porting to other platforms? Which languages will you support for our title? Specialties While looking around for that publisher just-for-you, pay attention to the specialties of the publishers; not every publisher will be the right fit for you. It will be most conducive and helpful to your working relationship if the publisher is well-equipped to publish to your needs. Here are some things you’ll want to consider: Platforms Keep this question in mind as you search around – is your game designed for a desktop, console, or a mobile release? Maybe all three? I don’t recommend bringing your mobile-only game to a publisher who has no experience in helping to release a mobile game Vice versa, a publisher that has exclusively released mobile games may not be able to help you release your game on every current console Glu Mobile is a platform-focused publisher for mobile gaming. They have an extensive library of mobile-only games based on existing IPs and games partnered with celebrities/influencers. Monetization Models With big differences and theories behind the different monetization models, you need to pick a publisher that knows how to release a game based on the monetization model of your game Audiences won’t be happy if a title is released that deviates from the publisher’s typical model. Imagine trying to sell an up-front cost premium game with a publisher, when they’ve conditioned their audience with only free-to-play titles A publisher who has only released premium games may have minimal knowledge on how to bring users to and market a title that has in-app purchases, or a subscription based model Though not an indie game, Nintendo’s Super Mario Run provides a wonderful example of how a monetization strategy can alienate or confuse your market that is accustomed to freemium models or premium games at a lower price point. Genres & Niches Similar to thinking about the platform needs of your game, consider the history and experience of publishers and if they align with your genre and niche needs Publishers will have developed an audience with their users, so it’s helpful if your game aligns with the rest of their catalogue Not all publishers will have the knowledge, resources, or tools to market all types of games E.g. A publisher with a large library of fighting games may not necessarily know how to bring out the best of your horror or first-person shooter game Nightdive Studios has built up a reputation for themselves for bringing back lost games that are no longer available by acquiring the rights to re-release, remaster, and update them for modern platforms. Their audiences can expect to see older games like those of the System Shock series of the 1990’s, which have greatly influenced the horror and first-person shooter genre. Other Games Released Being able to look at their catalog of other games, you will have a good sign of what their successes are like Their other games will individually have their own following of players, so this is something that can used to your advantage Similar to genre, publishers should have dedicated efforts to creating a community among their player base that will allow for a good starting point in releasing a new title A great contribution to Overcooked’s exposure was at E3 2016 when publisher Team17 placed the game’s booth next to their most anticipated title of the convention – Yooka-Laylee. Everyone came to see the game everyone knew about, but were easily pulled in to see the game no one knew about. Single vs. Multiplayer As with many of the previous points, does the publisher you’d like to work with have the experience to release your game if it’s multiplayer, especially online multiplayer? Multiplayer games require maintaining and engaging with a community of players more frequently and consistently Single player games may have bug fixes and occasional DLC added, but multiplayer games will require live-ops support, long after launch Stream-ability Some publishers care about whether a game is consumable for streaming With the increasing presence of online influencers, the success of games are often affected by streaming influencers Does the publisher advise on integration with streaming, and make an effort to have their developers create plugins or extensions that work with Twitch or Mixer? In the release of tinyBuild’s game, Punch Club, this publisher capitalized on Twitch and its chat function to give users a task: beat the game before it can be released. Coupled with a concurrent stream to race to the end, Punch Club secured featuring on Twitch. Development – Their Involvement You know best about your game and the team behind it; it’s vital for you to be aware and upfront about what you can and can’t successfully handle on your own in development. If you must outsource development needs to a publisher, you will definitely need to look into publishers who are able to offer you those skills whether through their own team or hiring the right people for you. Publisher is Hands-On with Development This is a great option if you are a small team full of talent, but you may be missing some key elements If this is your first foray into the industry, you may want to consider a publisher who can assist with advising and shaping your game A strong publisher will have a toolbox of knowledge, resources, and contacts to ensure the success of your product A hands-on publisher may work very closely with you along the way in how they see it necessary, offering suggestions or changes Perhaps you are set on the programming of the game, but only have placeholder art assets, and need a visual facelift From art, to programming, to sound, to almost anything in development, the right publisher will be able to fill in the gaps in your team In our own case, Akupara Games was responsible for the programming overhaul, addressing existing bugs, porting to mobile devices, and recomposing and recording all of the audio for Keep in Mind: Remastered. Publisher is Hands-Off with Development For a developer that feels comfortable with where their game is at, but just needs the support of a publisher to take the game to market, this is just as practical The publisher will still provide standard support and marketing efforts to get your game’s name out there This allows for the developer to maintain the most creative integrity This is great for those who are very sure of their creation and would not want external influence Approach Not every publisher works the same way. Just like how not every developer needs the same things from a publisher. Consider what methods a publisher may use in your campaign to help inform your decision. Custom Campaigns One-of-a-kind campaign that is unique and tailored to what makes your game stand out You can expect efforts to pay back in dividends as publishers may offer up some out-of-the-box ideas that will have people talking about your game The downside is these often take chances, which may not always pan out Standard Campaigns Looking through a publisher’s portfolio of titles and their associated campaigns, you may feel that nothing seems like it deviated from one another However, this may be a useful indication of what you can exactly expect with your campaign You’ll be hard-pressed to find a developer who goes out of their way to seek out a publisher who will only do a standard campaign. However, as the developer, this is something you will need to weigh the importance of. Long-Term Relationship This section is really case-by-case for you developers out there. You will need to ask yourself if you’re looking for a publisher that is strictly business, or one which you can see developing a good long-term relationship in the future that may extend outside of just business and work. Do you want your publisher to see you as just a client, or do you want something that goes the extra mile? Perhaps if you’re lucky, you will find that special publisher that you will keep coming back to, project after project. Let’s talk about how to build a strong relationship. Publisher Raw Fury has built up a working partnership and relationship with the developer Noio since 2015 to release three games in the Kingdom series together. People Start off by finding a publisher who has a team of people that you get along with During initial conversations, examine what it feels like when you talk with each other Consider if you would feel comfortable candidly bringing up any concerns you may have Personality Traits Do your personality traits complement one another? Think about your communication styles Finding a publisher is like dating. Both parties must be willing to communicate and work together to raise the baby that is the game Offer a problem you may have and see if you agree with their response Financing At last, we’ve arrived at one of the final things you’ll need to consider while you’re talking to your potential publishers. Money. This can be the game changer or even deal breaker. What is the role that money will be playing in the production of your game? Do you need it? If so, where is it coming from? Here are some things to think about in terms of financing in talks with a publisher. Provision Will the publisher offer financing? Financing can alleviate a lot of developer concerns, and help developers devote more full-time work to the game If you feel a publisher is a good fit and they don’t provide financing, but you still require it, consider other routes outside of a publisher for financing If they won’t be providing any financing, it is a fair question to ask them for any advice on how to acquire what you need In fact, while a publisher may not provide financing, they may be able to provide the resources and services you need to acquire them Should You Accept? Consider the downside of accepting financing A publisher requires a larger revenue, often with a recoup up front If you need a little more information on this topic, definitely take the time to check out my first article in the series, where it outlines and expands on financing. Conclusion We’ve covered the jumping off points for thinking about your game from a business standpoint, so now it’s time for you to start working towards finding the best publisher for you. Hopefully after this you’ll be able to identify a list of publishers who could fit your needs! In our final article in our game publishing series, we’ll talk about actually pitching your game to publishers in – “What Publishers Look for in Games”. If you have any questions after reading this, or feel something is missing, let us know on social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord. --- Akupara Games is an indie game studio based in Los Angeles, California. Composed of veterans of the game industry, Akupara Games focuses their energy and resources as an "indie for indies" studio by providing premier support to other indie studios through development, publishing, porting, and advising. Their mission statement ensures that each project receives a unique experience and personalized support. Website | Discord Note: This article was originally posted on the Akupara Games website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
  3. Publishing 101 | Publishing 102 | Publishing 103 Hi! David Logan here, CEO of Akupara Games! We get a lot of questions about the game publishing process and I decided I wanted to write a series of articles to help guide developers throughout decisions surrounding the release of their game. Before we get too nitty-gritty, let’s start with the biggest decision every developer has to make: should you partner with a game publisher? Akupara Games is a video game publisher, so it is no secret that we believe publishers can bring value to a lot of games, however that doesn’t always mean that a publisher is right for you. I’d like to outline some of the perks publishers can offer, to try to encourage you to consider them as an option for your team and title. In this article, I will be going over the services and benefits a publisher provides – such as distribution, development support, marketing, and community building. While publishers may offer some of these services, many will not provide all of them. Each publisher will specialize in various areas, so as you read, consider which are most important to you, and let that guide you if you choose to seek out a publisher. What do Publishers Get? Publishers are a business too, and have various ways of recouping their costs and making money. In exchange for their assistance, publishers will often receive a revenue share of your game on each platform they work with. Gross Income vs. Net Income Revenue share agreements will specify between sharing Gross Income or Net Income. We recommend going with Gross Income whenever possible. Net Income allows publishers to pay themselves back first for whatever expenses they deem necessary For instance a publisher may try to deduct expenses like marketing, or localization costs, before paying out the developer Gross Income will be the split payment after the distributor’s share (Valve, Nintendo, etc.), but won’t include other miscellaneous expenses incurred Share Percentages The more effort and cost required from the publisher, the larger of a percentage they’ll ask for. Especially in the case of lending money, publishers will usually have a higher rev-share percentage they receive pre-recoupment, and then drop down to a more standard rate after that. The rev-share amount may be different per each platform, for instance, if a publisher handles all the porting costs and management for Nintendo Switch – they may receive a larger percentage on that platform. Other Elements Occasionally publishers will ask for things such as IP ownership. Our opinion is to never sell IP, unless it is an insanely fantastic deal (lots of $$$). A publisher may also ask for right of first refusal for future platforms Think carefully if you want to commit to terms like these, and whether they would have a long-term positive or negative impact for your project. Distribution Getting your game to various platforms is a lot of work with all of the various rules and procedures for each. Mobile platforms tend to be the most straight-forward, but consoles in particular involve a fairly lengthy process. A publisher can handle the entire process from getting approvals, uploading the products, writing the store copy, creating the proper graphics and videos, to actually getting the product approved. Ratings You will often need a rating for the various regions around the world you’re releasing. The publisher can handle the management and cost for these regions, which include: ESRB (America) PEGI (Europe) CERO (Japan) USK (Germany) Partner Relationships – Distributors Another part of the process is leveraging opportunities to get your game featured at events, blogs written, social posts about your game, or having your trailer posted to a distributor’s YouTube channel. Publishers have pre-existing relationships with platforms and account managers to get your game opportunities easier This will help your game stand out from the pack Oftentimes distributors want juicy details to share – such as a release date announcement, or the first showing of a trailer. Guacamelee! 2 recently partnered with PlayStation’s YouTube channel, for their release date announcement It is important for publishers to build fantastic relationships with distributors, so that they can more easily receive these opportunities. The best opportunity is getting featured in the storefront by a distributor, which directly brings your game extra sales. Ask potential publishers how they have worked with distributors to feature their games and what potential opportunities they would push for your game Partner Relationships – Other It’s also important that your publisher has good relationships with other partners as well, such as hardware manufacturers like Alienware who can provide sponsored machines for events, or Limited Run Games who can create physical editions of your product. Logitech featured The Metronomicon when introducing their new G560 Lightsync PC gaming speakers. Limited Run Games partnered with Thumper to make physical Switch and PlayStation 4 versions of the game, as well as limited T-Shirts. By leveraging these partnerships the publisher is able to find other opportunities to make your game money or get awareness, past just the initial digital sales. Development Regardless of where your game development is at, publishers can assist you. Keep in mind that different publishers might be looking for games in different development stages. Advising Publishers will be able to advise your team on the design of your game, from art, to audio, and everything in between. They will be able to identify traits and features of your game that could be pushed further, to increase sales and exposure, such as adding daily missions or overall achievements to increase replayability and player retention. Financing Some publishers are able to provide financing to assist with your team’s development costs. This can allow developers to fully focus on creating the game, instead of having to work other jobs to support themselves part-time. Searching for financing may limit the publishers interested in taking your game on, or may make certain terms in the contract harder to get, however finding financing can make your game development smoother and faster. Porting Publishers will have or partner with teams who can help bring your title to additional platforms. This allows you as the developer to focus on developing the overall game, instead of splitting focus with porting. For Desert Child Akupara Games is currently working with the developer, Oscar Brittain, and while he focuses on the Steam version, we are porting it to Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. Oftentimes indie games will launch first on PC, with the intention to port to consoles if they’re successful. Even though it’s a more risky upfront cost, Akupara Games actually prefers all platforms to launch at once, as having multiple launches often means less press for each subsequent release, and combining them together helps create more noise, as there are then articles for every platform. Multiple releases also mean additional costs and efforts for marketing There are examples of the former working though, for example, Terraria launched successfully on PC, and then was picked up by publisher 505 Games who brought it to consoles. QA Publishers can provide QA testing for bugs, device testing on a multitude of low and high-end devices, and assist with the requirements your title needs to pass to get through certification. For example, publishers can provide extensive mobile testing across dozens of devices to find the minimum specs and platforms to release the game on Events can be a key way to discover bugs and issues. When you attend events, work with your publisher to monitor and track player interactions so that you can record where they get stuck. Talent Publishers work with lots of indie developers, so they can assist you with finding the right talent to fill your team’s needs. Sometimes publishers will even dedicate resources from their internal team to assist with your game. Akupara Games used our composers for an original soundtrack, and programmer to help recreate Keep in Mind in Unity (originally Game Maker Studio), for the release of Keep in Mind: Remastered. Localization Localization isn’t just translating the words in a game, but can also mean tweaking details for various regions to be more culturally appropriate. For example, in certain regions of the world, like in China, talk of death is taboo. This could also mean changing up key landmarks, flags, or references to make more sense and become more accessible. In Stardew Valley not only did they localize the languages, but the artwork as well such as portraits, and the UI HUD. Publishers will have localization expertise to make your game translatable and fun for all languages and cultures Marketing Generally when developers think of needing a publisher, marketing and publicity are the first things that comes to mind. A good publisher will have a wide array of marketing and promotional tools at their disposal for bringing awareness and praise to your title. Media Outreach One of the more traditional ways to get exposure for your title is through media outreach. This includes reaching out to journalists, bloggers, and other game-related press outlets about your title. Publishers will have established networks of contacts who they’ve worked with over the years, making these outreach efforts more efficient and effective. The ideal goal with press outreach is to get interviews, reviews, and articles on your game; a publisher’s connections will make outreach easier and more successful. Media Buying Another aspect of traditional marketing is media buying and ad placement. Publishers will often have teams that can plan social media and display ads to reach key audiences. Media Buying can be done with any level of budget and digital ads often have immediate measures of success whether you are looking to build awareness of your game or increase downloads or sales. Influencer Outreach The goal is for influential Twitch streamers and YouTube content creators will talk about your game to their audiences. This is a major driver for sales, where a few large influencers can sway a product from “unknown” status to trending title. For example, One Hand Clapping is a game that was created by USC students which was then picked up by YouTubers PewDiePie, Markiplier, and JackSepticEye that received millions of views and have translated to over 75,000 downloads on itch.io Similar to media, publishers will have established relationships with influencers. Some publishers create exclusive influencer programs, where influencers can get special perks from that publisher. Akupara Games has recently started our influencer program – which allows us to thank these influencers with early access to our games, and opportunities for in-game avatars or voice-overs. Trailers A trailer is a great way to showcase the gameplay, or tease content of your game in a short and engaging video. Publishers often have video editors who can create top-notch trailers, or they can advise your team to create these materials. They know what makes a successful trailer and can guide steps like storyboarding and editing. There are articles based on the top game trailers that come out every year such as Gaming Trend’s Best Game Trailers of E3 2018. Akupara Games loves making buzzworthy trailers using everything from gameplay footage, to animation, and even live actors like in the trailer for The Metronomicon. Community Social media and community management are important aspects of any successful game launch. A publisher can help you determine which social platforms your game studio and title should be present on and which kind of content you should be showcasing on each of the channels. Community Management A publisher can teach you how to properly engage with your community to retain users. Often this means promptly answering questions and providing regular updates about the game. A publisher is able to leverage their existing communities and introduce them to your title, which will further grow your audience. The more engagement there is about your game, the more visible it is to others outside of your community as well. Social Media Social media can be a tough medium to navigate through. It is a valuable tool for digital marketing since you can reach hundreds if not thousands of people if a post goes viral, but it also can be a platform for negative sentiment that you have to manage. Proper knowledge of what is appropriate to post on each platform, valuable and engaging content, and responding can elevate the visibility of a game. Facebook prefers users to stay on their platforms and users tend to enjoy video and photo over text content. This is where big announcements should be made. Instagram is a large hub for photos and great to show off concept art, development, and screenshots. Twitter is where updates big and small should be made. It is also the best platform to directly engage with users on. With social media, it is important to note that it should not be just about advertising your game for sales, but a big emphasis should be on building and engaging your audience and answering questions or comments to develop a better sense of community. Events Game trade shows, conventions, and events are a great way to bring awareness to your game, but you need a proper plan in place. Often the major takeaways of conventions are receiving player feedback, bringing press by to see the game in person, and building your mailing list. A good publisher will book you a solid press schedule, and set up ways to grow your mailing list – with easy signups and giveaways which will incentivize attendees. Events can be expensive if representing a single title, but often publishers will have pre-existing space that they will use to showcase your title A publisher can also take care of the booth set up, getting the swag manufactured, and arrange for the development team’s accommodations including flight, hotel, badges, and meals. Presentation is everything, and your publisher should try to find ways to best showcase your title, to be attractive to attendees walking by. Recently we showcased Desert Child on a custom-built arcade machine at E3. This allowed us with a relatively small budget to still create a unique presentation which stood out. The Walking Dead at E3 had zombie actors that effectively spooked a lot of people walking by, which was great for the awareness of the booth as well as social media buzz of people taking pictures and videos with the zombies. When a Publisher Isn’t the Right Fit Retaining full revenue, creative control, and IP ownership is a huge perk for not having a publisher. These are the most common reasons you wouldn’t want to use a publisher and would be better off yourself. Your Team has the Necessary Skills The point when you don’t need a publisher is when you’re able to accomplish what they can offer on your own. To successfully pull off self-publishing, you should be set up with the following: A large and engaged audience – which may come from conventions, past games you’ve developed, or even came naturally from social posts you make. You want to make sure you have a following already to make sure your game is as visible as possible. Social posts you create get picked up, shared, and talked about frequently. Established press and influencer connections, or large press and influencers that approach you on their own to write about your game. You will want to be able to reach out and follow up frequently. It is also a good idea to meet in person when possible to keep a strong relationship. Your Team has the Necessary Financing An alternative would be if you have the financial backing to where you could partner with teams to fill in the gaps for the services you can’t provide. Common services you can partner with for would be: Marketing Porting Localization QA Of course, if you go through the entire pitch process and do not find a publisher that is the right fit for you, that doesn’t mean your game won’t succeed. Often a game with a small release on one platform can gain momentum and become more attractive to publishers later. Stay tuned for our next article on game publishing – “How do You Find the Best Game Publisher for Yourself?” If you have any lingering questions, or feel I missed something, let us know on our social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord! --- Akupara Games is an indie game studio based in Los Angeles, California. Composed of veterans of the game industry, Akupara Games focuses their energy and resources as an "indie for indies" studio by providing premier support to other indie studios through development, publishing, porting, and advising. Their mission statement ensures that each project receives a unique experience and personalized support. Website | Discord Note: This article was originally posted on the Akupara Games website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
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