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The Publisher vs The Game House


Most game artists, programmers, etc lack economical skills - their brains are hardwired for game development, and not for sales, business analysis, etc. This is one of the reasons why few indie game developers are very successful. Nevertheless, if you go the other route and choose a publisher, all of the sudden your creativity will be limited by the publisher's guiding lines, so your game idea will sometimes transform into something that's totally different from the original plan. In fact, most game studios start by creating their own projects, release one or two good games, enjoy success to a certain degree, are noticed and then are bought by a big publisher.


Being bought by a big publisher might sound like a great plan, but from that moment on the publisher will be your inflexible boss. Now don't get me wrong: the publisher isn't an evil entity, but a company that invests a lot of money (hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars, and most of the time several  millions of dollars) so it will try to make sure that its money is well spent, according to its vision. The publisher financing details are kept secret, but it's a well known fact that the payments are made whenever the team reaches a milestone: alpha version / beta version / etc. In fact, the team gets some money, but that money is an advance payment that will be deducted from the actual game sales. The contract specifies the number of copies expected to be sold, a number that can range from (let's say) 5,000 to 1,000,000. If this number is exceeded, the publisher will pay the game studio an additional sum of money; nevertheless, the publishers will always try to put a big number of minimum sold copies in the contract, so the studio will end up getting only the advance payment money most of the time.


Sadly, there were times when big publishing houses have withheld the hard-earned, well-deserved royalties that were supposed to be paid to the game studios; just a few months ago a giant publisher has refused to pay about 100,000,000 dollars (yes, that's one hundred million dollars!) to a studio that has finished its job, delivering a great game that has sold millions and millions of copies. This looks great on electronic paper, but happens very seldom. And if your enthusiasm didn't diminish yet, remember the fact that most game studios work on a per-project basis (and thus aren't paid by the hour), so most publishers will try to get as many things as possible from your team for the same amount of money. This partially explains why most employees in the game development industry are either constantly looking for a new job or spend countless nights at the office, working at their projects.


Call me paranoid, but from what I see the big publishers have started to steal some market share from the indies a few years ago. More and more casual games are being developed by big studios, with budgets that are 100 or 1,000 times larger than the ones that are accessible to the indie game developers. To top that, the casual games that are backed up by big publishers have impressive marketing budgets; a measure of success if given by the number of copies sold in the first month, when (on a side note) the price of the game reaches its highest ever value. I know, I know, I'm not being too positive this month, so let's end this section with a more optimistic tone: if you've got a great game idea and you implement it properly you are definitely on the road to success. Publishers are afraid to make mistakes, because they'd lose too much money; on the other hand, you can create weird projects that target untapped markets and strike gold...


What about our community game? Several things have changed since last month; first of all, it looks like we have lost quite a few members of the team, especially artists. Pavle, the lead artist, has continued to work hard, cranking up level after level and thus nearing the completion of a full game episode. You can take a look at some of our fresh screenshots from the latest level created by Pavle below.