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In the app store world, what's the point of publishers?

Our Indie Mavens consider independence
In the app store world, what's the point of publishers?
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The relationship between indie game developers and publishers has been a point of discussion for many years.

On one side, there have been horror stories of publishers running away with money, not delivering services, and leaving a small game developer to go broke. 

When this doesn't happen, you'll usually find that a publisher becomes somewhat of a saving grace for a small team or solo developer. They handle the business and marketing while the creators can do what they do best, free of those other worries.

But, given the ease of self-publishing on most app stores, we had to wonder what worth mobile game developers might see in having a publisher. They're hardly vital, and opinions of publishers tend to vary from individual to individual.

So, to get some answers, we asked our Indie Mavens what they thought of publishers with the following question:

"Given that you are small teams or solo developers are you likely to consider using a publisher when releasing a mobile game?

Additionally, what can a publisher offer you that makes it worth the investment?"

Jon Ingold

Jon Ingold

Creative Director at Inkle Studios

Our first app was put out by a publisher - a book publisher, Profile Books - and it was generally quite a positive experience, both in terms of getting some funding and getting some exposure. The App Store is an easy place to make no impact at all, and each release is nerve-wracking because of it.

But increasingly, we're moving away from working with publishers, as we build our own reputation. We worked with Profile on 80 Days, but not as publisher - we published ourselves - and that was the right decision.

*<em>80 Days'</em> success was helped by publishing expertise
*80 Days' success was helped by publishing expertise

In the end, the goal is to become a publisher in one's own right, and it's just a question of creating enough of a presence, both in the media and with Apple.

Everything else that publishers offer you can hire in. Well, so long as you can *afford* to make your game in the first place, I suppose.

Richard Perrin

Richard Perrin

Owner at Locked Door Puzzle

“Most of the traditional roles of a publisher are something you can pull off yourself.”
Richard Perrin

I could understand using a publisher if you need some funding or if they're going to guarantee some marketing exposure you can't get yourself.

Personally though I've found most of the traditional roles of a publisher are something you can pull off yourself even as a one man team.

I've taken a game to completion, toured it around consumer shows, got it localised, ported it to multiple platforms, supported it and got it in the hands of reviewers.

The barriers that publishers used to get you through don't seem so scary these days.

Ahmed Samea

Ahmed Samea

CEO / Founder at Amidos Games

I did that one time when I was in need for a money. But they were not only the publisher, they were also the producers, so they controlled lots of aspects which I had to compromise and accept.

“I will work with publishers again if it will get my game more exposure.”
Ahmed Samea

After that, I didn't go to any publishers. Not because I didn't like the experience, but because I want to get the experience of doing everything by my own hand. I think I will work with publishers again if it will get my game more exposure and they handle emailing stuff to press, and making my game reach more people than I could reach.

Besides, it may help me find a good mindset for working on my game, and it could also help when testing the game. Because, sometimes, working too long on a game makes me unsure if it is good enough, or what is missing in it.

Also, if a publisher considers giving me a decent portion of the revenue, and not just buying the IP, or giving me funds when I am in need of it, I will consider them.

Simon Smith

Simon Smith

CEO / Owner at thumbfood

I'll absolutely consider working with a publisher to get a game to market.

“A decent publisher is much more than just a 'bank loan'.”
Simon Smith

A decent publisher is much more than just a 'bank loan' - they can offer help and organisation with localisation, testing, marketing, sales, OEM deals, certification, and more.

These are the sort of things that an indie developer can find very onerous and time consuming. It's arguable that outsourcing out all these non-development tasks to a publisher allows you to concentrate your efforts on just making a great game.

Christian West

Christian West

Developer at Christian West

Rightly or wrongly, I assumed working with a mobile publisher would be a bad deal for me. I was pretty excited about taking on the challenge of launching Motorsport Manager myself. I'd spent close to a decade dreaming of total control so I wasn't ready to give that up before I'd even experienced it.

It was risky. It was also great fun. I've learned a lot and I'm really glad I took on the challenge. If developers make sound business decisions in the early stages of development then they'll find core aspects of what a publisher can give them much easier to produce themselves. You need to be very aware of the market, of business models, and of what you and your team can actually achieve.

Press coverage is not a problem. Make something of quality that offers a genuinely new experience and press will get super excited about it. Marketing is a little more tricky but if you know and define your target audience in detail from day one it'll help throughout the whole project and make marketing much easier around launch.

“Now the game has been a success I'm far happier to work with a publisher.”
Christian West

QA and localisation were a big problem for me. They are expensive. A publisher can definitely help here if you have a complex game. I just about got away without proper testing but I missed having a dedicated QA team and it caused me a world of stress. Friends and other devs playing your game just can't match a professional QA service.

As a first project I'm glad I didn't go with a publisher. Discussing giving away money and income when you have none is super scary. Now the game has been a success I'm far happier to work with a publisher. I know what they can help me with and I know the value of what they are doing.