Mobile Mavens

The Mobile Gaming Mavens on whether mobile publishers still pack punch

The state of independence

The Mobile Gaming Mavens on whether mobile publishers still pack punch

The Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

This week, with ongoing changes to distribution models and markets high on the agenda, we asked:

Is the publisher's role as a font of market knowledge, marketing clout and its roster of established media contacts easily replicable by new developers? Is there room for a new breed of publisher or indeed for the older publishers to adapt and retool?

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

Developers have a lot of power those days - if they want and if they can handle it on their own! They have the development capacities. They own the IP. They can go straight to the consumers for selling and perhaps also getting funded for their project by the crowd. Great days for developers and companies like HandyGames. Cheers on that.

Paul Farley CEO / Founder Firestoke Games

Since founding Tag Games in 2006 Paul has built the studio from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected and successful mobile and handheld developers in Europe.

He began a long, and some might say, distinguished, games industry career at legendary developer DMA Design, playing a key role in the development of the GTA series

Based on all the companies I’ve worked with in 18 years in the industry, some of them console but many mobile, my rough estimate is that only around 20 percent of professional studios break even. Factor in the hobbyists and students - their time has a cost too - and that figure is going to plummet.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

In many cases those people doing well currently have had years of experience and a have a lot of mistakes behind them.

Also few developers are truly harnessing the potential of all the platforms out there and co-ordinating cross platform hits with anything like the kind of regularity that used to happen on console or home computer platforms before this. While this is OK for the successful few it is not a healthy position for the entire industry; it seems we are in a state of transition.

James Scalpello Sales Director App Studio

A highly experienced Mobile/Digital content executive with an excellent track record and over 17 years progressive experience working across entertainment software specifically for the console, mobile and digital app/content space.

Primarily working within digital/mobile content publishing with extensive International mobile / digital publishing experience covering marketing, sales, new product development, licensing and P&L ownership.

A skilled astute business professional with an excellent understanding of what it takes to develop, create and monetise content within a modern mobile/digital business and a key asset for any company wishing to create, develop and exploit digital content across mass marketing consumer platforms such as Apple, Android, web and consoles.

Having spent many many years in marketing for essentially large publishers both on the console and mobile side, I do still see their relevance in today's market. Essentially they can add scale and marketing insight not necessarily available to smaller developers. They can open doors to the platform and brand owners, offer marketing bucks, weightier marketing campaigns and even brand and coop partnerships.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Anyone who does not want to acknowledge that in the long term EA, Gameloft andUbisoft et all are clever enough to dominate more and more over the coming years are clearly burying their heads in the sand. These companies are older than the console market, they are built on constantly adapting their business models to succeed and right now they are only just starting to show their teeth in the digital markets.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

When I hear about the arguments of the 1992 publishers it seems like people want a company that will throw money at a team that doesn’t have it all together and yet allow them to keep the lion’s share of the profits and 100 percent ownership if the IP as well as stay out of the creative process. That just doesn’t seem like a great business plan and probably explains why those types of publishers don't exist right now.

I would probably go with a publisher if I wanted to create a larger scale game like an RPG. Something where I wanted to leverage the risk of the larger up-front development costs, needed a larger QA effort than our team can feasibly handle and wanted to go with a premium price. I’m just not that sure if its needed for a 99c app.

Adam Telfer Consultant MobileFreeToPlay

Adam has been in the mobile game industry since 2007, creating games independently. He's since grown into a full 50+ person studio manager.

Recently he's taken a position at Wooga in Berlin to sharpen his design skills and work with the world's best to create amazing, well-crafted products onto the mobile marketplace.

The best publisher for this mobile-digital era is something like the model offered by Chillingo, Z2Live, W3i, etc. Firstly, they come in with a lot of experience about what works and what doesn't on the App Store.

Secondly, they maintain and implement a suite of tools for effective marketing and updates - analytics especially. They can then provide detailed analysis for the developer on what areas the game is losing users, and brainstorm on how to retain engaged users.

Finally, and most importantly, they have brands on the App Store and a massive userbase that they can "command" at will. This gives the game a huge advantage and a big leg up on the App Store. This is the Apple-sanctioned way to 'buy' status.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Chillingo is pretty successful in this space, but it is also very skilled at recruiting awesome apps into its stable of games. So is its success due to their distribution network and marketing? Or is it due to picking a game that resonates well with its audience and just providing some initial kindling to get things going?

Matt 'Mills' Miller Co-Founder / CEO Ustwo games

Mills co-founded ustwo, a digital products and services studio back in 2004.

In 2013, after successfully launching Whale Trail, he set up ustwo games to focus on creating beautiful gaming experiences. Recent titles include Blip Blupand the forthcoming Monument Valley.

I'd question the power of any publisher in today’s world that doesn't have the power of their own connected mobile games network - having connections to PR, apple and a marketing spend doesn't cut it, it's quite simply not enough power. You need to be able to press a button and inform relevant app owners about your amazing new title - it's crucial.

Room for new publishers?

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

There is definitely space for a new breed of joined up thinking, ultra connected distribution/marketing/cross promotion focussed digital publishing companies.

The role of such a company would be to work in partnership with a number of developers and from a myriad of options to decipher the best possible path for each title of each of its developers to become a successful cross-platform IP.

It is now the developer who can call the shots more and have more control over IP. Developers should grow into their new more powerful role and see publishers as partners, not the enemy.

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

Such a publisher will be doomed because every successful developer will try to bypass them - perhaps not by the first success, but by the next title.

The key elements of a video game publisher are, and were: manufacturing, marketing/advertising, market research, financing and funding. But do you need those things nowadays in the gaming world from a publisher if you are an innovative and sustainable developer?

Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

The role of publishers in the old world was marketing, funding and manufacture and distribution. Manufacture and distribution is out the window. Most pubs aren't funding new IP projects now, and marketing is all that is left - along with existing IP - in mobile.

That's a pretty big role however. If you need exposure, and can't do it yourself, don't write them off. They just aren't as central in smart phone as they were in the console or feature phone space. As soon as a dev gets a hit, they'll side step them.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

The publishing aspect is really interesting because I just had lunch with some studio directors in Chicago ranging from AAA, Indie, to just starting out. Out of the smoke one director said, 'What if we all became one publisher?'

The idea naturally felt weird at first because, even though we were there having lunch and sharing knowledge, we were really all competing for the same user on the same closed platforms while trying to make a name for ourselves so word of mouth actually worked!

The reality is other industries do it and since it takes most studios that self publish 3-4 games before they become profitable and have valid cross promotion it would increase our odds for all sorts of marketing to take affect; cross-promotion, free app days, word of mouth, publisher notoriety, price fluctuations, sales.

Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

I've set up a group called Best of British who are all iOS-centric devs in the UK. We meet once a month and are working out a bundle-like initiative. Strength in numbers. It's pretty exciting.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Games Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

Creating a direct network for cross-promotion does rely on at least some successful titles, so it's a bit chicken-and-egg as to how you get to that scale...publishers right now in apps appear to be able to directly influence very little, but indirectly influence a lot. What we need are visible, attractive alternate apps stores that will give consumers more choice and let publishers differentiate and expand their role into a specialism that developers can't do themselves.

Marketing might

Matt 'Mills' Miller Co-Founder / CEO Ustwo games

Mills co-founded ustwo, a digital products and services studio back in 2004.

In 2013, after successfully launching Whale Trail, he set up ustwo games to focus on creating beautiful gaming experiences. Recent titles include Blip Blupand the forthcoming Monument Valley.

I really think there is no excuse to not PR and market your own game. It's not hard - it just takes heart, passion and a willingness to get stuck in. Make a compelling reason for journalists to be interested in your product. Granted it takes time and it's almost a game in its own right but that’s the fun of this industry. You can roll hardcore full rollback.

[people id="11" name="Brian Baglow"]

PR and marketing isn't hard. If it was, PR and marketing people couldn't do it. You just need to be willing to speak to people, recognise content which puts your game in the best possible light and, most importantly, be enthusiastic and passionate about your game. If you can't get excited about it, then you'll never make a journalist enthusiastic about it.

It's the same with marketing. You don't need to spend thousands of pounds, book six months of adverts and design print ads any more. Google and Facebook let you allocate a really small amount of cash and track the results pretty much immediately. You can even do things which are - whisper it - creative with your advertising. Or tie it into your PR. Use quotes from those journalists you made friends with.

But it's something you need to plan up-front and be comfortable with. Keeping your development in a black box isn't making you seem mysterious and cool, it's just making you invisible and irrelevant - and only works if you've then got a massive marketing campaign planned for when you DO start talking about it.[/people]

Leo Tan Digital Communications Manager Turbine

Andrew Smith of Spilt Milk is better at this than most publicists I've met, let alone most developers. And really all he does is get out with his game a lot, have fun and make sure the people playing his game are having fun.

It is 100 percent true that if it was difficult, publicists and marketers couldn't do it, but it's also true that it eats up a fair amount of your time. Given that most of you agree that a decent proportion of the budget is required, I'd say it's important to also allocate a decent amount of your time.”

Jas Purewal Lawyer & Partner Purewal & Partners

Having a publisher means the developer doesn't have to deal quite as much with people like me (lawyers) and doesn't have to worry as much about the stuff I'm paid to worry about.

In other words, one of the advantages of having a publisher is that you can take legal problems and dump it on their shoulders. And that shouldn't be sniffed at - specially because, at the moment. most self-publishing developers just do the bare minimum (and sometimes not even that) to deal with legal matters.

A backroom operator, Dan works behind the scenes to source and proof content for; if you notice Dan's work, then something has
gone wrong. Dan's background is in writing about politics, tech and the games industry, and he's addicted to social networking and board
games. His favourite mobile games are Carcassone, Neuroshima Hex and Catan
(though he laments its lack of online multiplayer).