Advantages of Third Party Publication?

Discussion in 'Public Game Developers Forum' started by Mindfield, Feb 17, 2009.

  1. #1 Mindfield, Feb 17, 2009
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2009
    Okay, I'm really curious about this.

    On every other mobile platform, there are dozens if not hundreds of different sites to get software for your mobile. Seeking a well-established publisher who already has links and ties to lots of sites makes sense. Developers don't have to worry about advertising, distribution, handling payments, and all sorts of other details that can be a pain in the but to handle. With a good publisher developers automatically get exposure and wide distribution, plus have all payments handled for them in exchange for a cut of the profits. It's a sensible business arrangement and it works.

    So now we get to the App Store. The concept is ingenious. A single, central marketplace that every iPhone user has access to both at home and on the go. One payment system. Equal billing for indies and big guns alike. Granted, there are some flaws endemic to the system with regard to app ratings, but by and large the concept is solid and, ratings aside, it works.

    So I feel compelled to ask, what's the incentive for an indie to seek a publisher for the iPhone? The majority of the reasons developers sought publishers in the first place are obviated by the App Store business model:

    - There's no need to have some capable of wide distribution because there's only one place to distribute to.

    - There's no need to handle payments from multiple disparate sites because payments all come from Apple in regular intervals.

    - The effect of a big name publisher's brand name is diminished on the App Store because the point of building a high profile brand name is to build enough muscle for effective advertising and the ability to gain more prominent billing on sites that sell the software. Advertising is certainly a concern with iPhone apps, but you can't buy prominent space on the App Store to promote your app.

    From what I can tell, the only real advantages to go through a publisher is advertising, and perhaps not having to create and maintain a website for your company. Brand loyalty may play into it somewhere, but I can't really see it being quite such an important thing on the App Store. With the App Store playing field being relatively level (in principle) everybody gets a certain amount of exposure. Some who game the system may get more, but that's the nature of the App Store and is irrespective of the developer or the reputation of their brand.

    So is that it, really? Is advertising, space on a website that they don't have to design or maintain, and possibly brand recognition enough for a developer to seek out a third party publisher? I mean, it's not like it's particularly hard to get accepted as a developer -- nor is it expensive -- and if you've got the development chops, why wouldn't you want to go make a name for yourself on your own? Besides building your own brand, you would also get to keep all of your profits, less expenses, which seems to me anyway to be a more favourable proposition.

    Any developers who've published through a third party want to chime in? This has been bugging me for a while now, and the developers I talk to on a fairly regular basis (all self-published) don't really see the attraction either.
  2. Rocketman919

    Rocketman919 Well-Known Member

    Aug 8, 2008
    all about the name brand. Im going to use Secret Exit in my example. They released their first game, SPiN, To great review but low sales. This game is great but im pretty sure never even entered the top 100. Their next highly anticipated game, Zen Bound, is being published by Chillingo. At first i thought it was an odd move, but then i thought about it. Only the small amount of people who bought Spin know who Secret Exit is, but everybody knows Chillingo, from any one of their games. Known name =more recognition. Its sad, but thats the way it is.
  3. #3 Mindfield, Feb 17, 2009
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2009
    It seems kind of short sighted though, doesn't it? You don't build a brand overnight. It takes time and effort and more than one release to get yourself known and recognized. So it seems to me it would make a lot more sense to take a long view of iPhone development and build a brand rather than sacrifice that for the potential for a quick cash infusion at the expense of some of that cash and in large part your own reputation.

    I mean, that's just me I suppose, but do we even have any hard numbers to show that games published through Chillingo sell any better than comparable, possibly even better games sold independently? I know it's hard to measure without getting into an apples-and-oranges debate, but a big part of me wonders if brand recognition plays as big a role on the App Store as it does in other markets. We're talking vastly different business models here and a far more level playing field, and while I recognize Chillingo and the game's they've developed and published, and also recognize that Chillingo tend to publish only high quality games, I don't actively seek them out. I see the vast majority of new things that turn up on the App Store (occupational hazard), and I check out what looks interesting to me irrespective -- and sometimes even completely ignorant -- of the developer/publisher.

    Again, maybe that's just the way I shop/browse, and doing what I do hardly makes me representative of the majority, but I just can't quite wrap my head around it.

    Oh, and for what it's worth, I don't find SPiN nearly as compelling as Zen Bound. Matter of fact, when I first read up on SPiN I wasn't really all that enthused to be perfectly honest. Zen Bound on the other hand looks utterly fantastic. Then again, I loved the Windows version.
  4. Two things.
    First, your about 80% correct and the current business model is in for a revolution.
    Second, a publisher can do more. A publisher can fund development and secure a brand license. This *can* make for a better game and one that will be more visible than others. For example, "PGA Tour Golf with Tiger Woods" is going to be more visible than GL Golf (or whatever). An indie is not going to be able to get a meeting with Tiger Woods much less negotiate and pay for a license. Assuming the quality of the games are the same, one with a more visible brand name is going to be more visible and most likely make more money. The early success of indie devs in the AppStore has overshadowed the importance of marketing (advertising and branding). I highly doubt that will be the case in 2010.

    Having a publisher hasn't always been 'bad'. Way back when a publishing deal was awesome for the developer. You had a cool idea, got some up front money, did the work and your publisher made you good money on the back end. At some point in time, the publisher decided they were taking too much risk (possibly because the devs missed deadline after deadline) and would cut back on the back end (royalties). Further down the road they all but killed the royalties and indie developers just became work for hire contractors (and/or quit).

    The AppStore is a new chapter and has great promise for the little guys. I hope it works out, but I am too old and pessimistic to get my hopes up too high. :)
  5. Frand

    Frand Well-Known Member

    The term 'indie' is thrown around so often that people don't pause to think that the term includes companies from the size of Valve down to a single guy in a basement.

    While being gung-ho and doing everything on your own is totally viable for a team of 1-2 people, the requirements for a successful business case go up with your team size.

    I guess the sales of SPiN would make a single person content who would have made a game (not SPiN) in 1-2 months. But SPiN took much, much more than that to develop, and much better sales would have been important in maintaining a team of four full-time people with some additional part-timers. Obviously our full team is still here and we've got more games lined up, but things were rather grim for a while. It was a humbling experience to learn how little web visibility affects sales, and how random the App Store audience is in picking its favourites :)

    For the garage indie, a favourable risk vs. reward is feasible to meet with guerilla marketing. You start up a thread on Touch Arcade, set up a website for your game and ride the 2-3 week sales spike from the initial launch, followed by the trickling long tail. Repeat that cycle a few times and there might be a stable living or at least good secondary income. But that isn't really self-publishing so much as self-distribution, since there is no active agenda for brand development or continuing presence in the gaming media.

    Although the garage indie can survive with the above business case, a full-time development team needs maximized returns for their efforts. This is where a publisher is helpful: they have the people, the contacts and the experience to keep promoting your game online, in print media, in trade-shows etc. for months. The expected effect from this activity is an extended period of "good" sales, and hopefully a thicker long tail as well. Perhaps you could do that on your own, but marketing eats up money and huge amounts of time. If we wanted to do that internally, we'd probably need to hire an additional person to take care of it, plus give that person a budget to operate with.

    Plus of course having a publisher bring their own "brand value" to the title helps its visibility. I would even argue that having a publisher logo in your game start-up splash screen sequence doesn't really diminish the visibility of the developer in any way. Is Jak 'n Daxter a Naughty Dog game or a Sony game, or both? Is Halo a Microsoft game or a Bungie game?

    A publisher can also add production values to your application with additional QA and localization resources.

    Now, since Zen Bound isn't out yet, I can't comment anything on how having a publisher affects the sales of a game in the long run. What I will say is that thus far our co-operation with Chillingo has been very positive and I look forward to how things develop with great interest.
  6. We're assuming the publisher always has a hand in the development though, whether it's financing, securing licensing, or whatever. In the aforementioned case of Zen Bound though, that's all Secret Exit (AFAIK). The deal with Chillingo just seems primarily to be about higher profile branding and maybe an ad push or something. Chillingo I don't think have any hand in development, design, or even setting a deadline; they're just a brand in this case.

    Which brings me back to my original question: Sales metrics being as hard as they are to come by, do we have any proof that hooking up with Chillingo (or any publisher, really) would be more lucrative than an indie release, all else being equal? I'm just not convinced.

    Also, GL Golf stunk.

    Oh, I understand completely the need for publishers outside the context of the App Store (and business models like it). In that aspect of the market you practically need publishers if you want any hope of visibility without having to hire staff to market, take payments, deal with the various sites on which your software is available, and so on.

    But the App Store is not that market. It's a completely different paradigm that obviates the majority of the issues you have to deal with in that regard. One marketplace, one paycheque on a regular basis, equal exposure (within the context of the App Store) for all apps regardless of who you are, equal opportunity to make top lists (again, devs who game the system notwithstanding -- that's become part of the game, really) and so on. It just comes down to advertising and branding, really.

    I'm trying to think of ways in which the big guys can muscle out the little guys, but I'm not really seeing any way for them to do so other than spending money on banner ads and stuff.
  7. I can certainly see some valid points here. I was mentally approaching this from the perspective of, to use your terminology, a garage developer, where overhead is minimal. In the context of a development team where there is significant overhead I can understand the need to find channels through which you can grab a bigger slice of the pie faster so people can get paid.

    Your point about Halo and Jak 'n Daxter though; when I think of them I think Naughty Dog and Bungie, and almost don't even think of the publisher. Again though that is probably a product of the way I think; I usually like to know who actually designed the game, not who published it, so that I will know to look for games from that developer in the future (assuming I liked it). I almost never consider the publisher because that doesn't help me decide if I'm going to like what they publish.

    I'm beginning to see the attraction though.
  8. Rocketman919

    Rocketman919 Well-Known Member

    Aug 8, 2008
    Yes, but you are comparing console games to the iphone industry, which are completely different. For console games, a big name doesnt really matter, it can help, but if you make a good game, then it will be noticed. On the app store though, 30 or 40 games come in every day, as opposed to the 10 a week on consoles. Also in the app store, the main name you see is that of the publisher. Bike or die was published by chillingo, but does anyone know who the developer was? I dont think so.
  9. Toyspring. But I know that because I had Bike or Die on both Palm and PocketPC, and anyone who came from those platforms (and paid any attention to the games available) will recognize them, too; it was a pretty big hit there.

    Just sayin'.
  10. Frand

    Frand Well-Known Member

    They're not completely different. iPhone has a head start, but Xbox community games and WiiWare aren't much different from the App Store when it comes to their business models.

    In any case, the struggle for visibility and mindshare is just as ferocious among the AAA titles on game consoles as it is on the App Store for smaller developers. The big console titles have a lot of development budget to recoup.

    And no, making a good game is no guarantee at all to being noticed - on any platform. Never forget Looking Glass Studios or Psychonauts :)
  11. lithiastudios

    lithiastudios Well-Known Member

    Jan 9, 2009
    As far as 3rd party publishers go.. one example I can think of is ngmoco with Rolando.. My hunch is that ngmoco provided a good layer of polish for Rolando (excellent music, graphics/style) that helped elevate the game to the level it achieved.

    If you're a really small developer it might take a really sizeable amount of time to create something as polished as Rolando. At a minimum, you're going to be paying a decent amount of $$ out of pocket for music/graphics that are Rolando caliber.

    Something like Dr. Awesome, if it didn't have the graphical style + polish that it has, it could just fall into app store oblivion as yet another Qix clone.

    It's really hard to say though, we don't know what kind of a cut these publishers are in for. If publishers weren't taking a huge cut, it could be worth the benefits of additional PR/dev/QA resources.

    Looking at the App Store featured/top 10 lists, there are plenty of individually published games/apps.. so it's clearly possible to do well on your own. It would definitely be nice to get more details on this, but I doubt people would be able to talk much about their contract with their publisher. :p
  12. Frand

    Frand Well-Known Member

    #12 Frand, Feb 17, 2009
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2009
    Yes, it is entirely possible to do well by self-publishing your application. The logic in case of a fully or nearly fully self-funded game very simple:

    If your publisher can through its actions improve the overall revenue from the game sales beyond the cut they're taking, then there's no reason not to sign a deal.

    Improving the overall revenue can be achieved through one or more of the following:
    - Improving the quality of the game (QA, production values)
    - Raising the initial sales spike with an intense short-term launch promotion
    - Raising the number of sales over the lifetime of the game through long-term promotion
    - Adding brand value

    If you've launched games into the App Store on your own before, you have some data on what to expect. Then apply wild guesstimations to determine if your business case is improved through cooperation with a publisher.

    It won't hurt if they show their sales curve data as well :)
  13. Erik32

    Erik32 Member

    Feb 9, 2009
    Which happens to be exactly what the OP was asking for - which of course can't be shared due to the NDA they made you sign before seeing it. :)
  14. However, if Frand feels like sharing some nonspecific financials once Zen Bound has been released and available for a while, perhaps we could get a better idea of whether having a publisher has helped, and to what degree if it did.

    Again though the problem is that it's the sort of thing that's almost impossible to gauge with any accuracy, because it's almost impossible to say if a game you committed to selling through a publisher on a particular platform would have done nearly as well on its own. The only semi-accurate way to measure would be to take an average of, say, Chillingo's sales curves for its stable of iPhone games and compare them to those of comparable(?) independently-published titles.

    Which, of course, is never going to happen.

    I guess we'll just have to combine the few scraps of empirical evidence we can gather with some wild-assed guesses and see what we come up with. :)

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