Why publishers matter on the App Store

It’s a jungle out there

Why publishers matter on the App Store
This is a guest column written by Paul Farley, managing director of UK mobile games company Tag Games.

Launched a little over a year ago, the App Store has proclaimed a new era for independent game development.

For the first time since the 16-bit consoles, small teams and talented individuals can design, write and launch a game directly onto a viable commercial market.

Pre-App Store, such activity was only a reality for the larger companies, fresh-faced start-ups loaded with external funding, and the odd mixture of student teams and passionate idealists.

For most other companies, financing, developing and marketing a successful game was nigh on impossible without a publisher. The App Store changed all that. Or did it?

Two billion downloads later and it seems an increasing number of developers are moving back to working with publishers.

Why is this? Has the bubble burst? Let's take a look at a few factors that should be at the forefront of any developer's mind when considering whether to go it alone or partner with a publisher.

Show me the money!

Game development is expensive and risky. It takes a great deal of time to create and craft a simple game to a high standard. Often you're writing new code or innovative game mechanics for the first time and there's no guarantee of success. And all the while the clock is ticking and as they say, time is money.

Unless you are developing a game as a hobby, your team's time has to be paid for. If you're a small company, you'll probably only have one team so any delays cannot be offset against other projects.

In this scenario, it's little wonder most developers look to publishers to fund development and are content knowing that the royalties on offer means little chance of further income beyond their initial advance. It's a 'safety first' mentality that really isn't surprising given the current economic climate.

The final 10 percent

The final 10 percent is your last push in development as your game is polished and prepared for launch. You'd be surprised how many good games become great at this late stage as well as how many promising games fail to nail it down. A good publisher can offer vital insight, guidance and resources when it comes to crunch time.

Not only does this extend to development input but also to external resources such as providing localisation, quality assurance and handling submission details. In short, a publisher can allow a developer to focus on what they do best - making the game - while handling the myriad of other tasks needed to support a successful release.

Making the most of marketing

The simple fact is most game developers are really bad at marketing. In an image-led industry where the design of your icon can reduce your sales potential, it's amazing how many poorly named and badly presented games there are on the App Store.

Through bitter experience, a large number of developers have found that creating a great game is only half the battle. If you aren't prepared to spend the same amount of time promoting your game as making it, you are preparing to fail.

Most developers who recognise this fact also know they lack the skills and experience to market their game effectively. There is a reason the likes of Freeverse, ngmoco and Chillingo are successful iPhone publishers. Sure they have some good games but they also know how to wow the audience and create buzz long before a game hits the App Store.

The bottomline is if you don't have a marketing plan, you're going to fail unless you're really lucky.

Tag for action

As these points prove, a publisher can add huge value even within the App Store economy, for the ambitious developer with innovative titles as well as those still finding their feet. There are potential compromises but if you aren't prepared to take the risk, you can't expect to share the majority of the reward.

At Tag Games, we take a pragmatic approach based upon the needs of each individual project.

On one hand we've had great success on the App Store with self-publishing games such as Car Jack Streets, and now we're using this skill and experience to publish thirdparty content ourselves.

On the other hand, it's likely we will partner with a larger publisher for our upcoming title Astro Ranch. This is to ensure the game - which is our most ambitious so far - reaches its full potential both on App Store and on other platforms.

For independent studios then, the games industry is becoming an incestuous mess of publishing, self publishing, developing, hosting, partnering and profiting.

What's important however is now the choice is ours. It's good to be in control.

To find out more about Tag Games, check out its website and Twitterfeed.

You can contact Tag Games about its publishing services via biz.dev
[at] tag-games [dot] com.

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