What publishers want from developers

What publishers want from developers
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

March 21st 2013 at 12:08PM

A close examination of how publishers look at the industry landscape and your games

What do publishers want and expect from developers? We break down the specific requirements expected by publishers, and how you can successfully submit, fund and release your game.

The information below is taken from Game Connection's new publisher survey, which asked 140 publishers from around the world, including the likes of Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Tencent and Zynga about the state of the industry and what they are looking for from developers.

Platforms in demand

70 per cent of publishers said they were releasing games on iOS, with Android and iPad rounding up the top three at 65 per cent.

Only 30 per cent of publishers were releasing games on Xbox 360 and PS3, with seven other platforms including browser and PC proving more popular than console.

Nintendo’s newly launched console the Wii U also appears to be struggling to garner publisher interest, ranked 24th out of 32 in the list of preferred platforms, with just 15 per cent of respondents stating they were releasing a game for the system. Surprisingly, more publishers are still looking at Wii development than Wii U.

Preferred business models

Of 49 respondents, 45 per cent of console game publishers stated they preferred game development to be funded on a more traditional scheme of development based an advance on royalties.

20 per cent of those meanwhile said they wanted developers to self-fund their titles, with revenue then shared with the publisher after release. Just ten per cent provided a flat fee for work for hire.

Publishers for PC, mobile, tablet meanwhile all chose developer self-funding and a subsequent revenue share as their business model of choice, with 40 per cent of PC publishers and 36 per cent of mobile/tablet publishers agreeing.

Browser game publishers on social networks however slightly preferred a business model of co-production and co-funding of game development and then revenue sharing, although 43 per cent of browser game publishers in general preferred developer self-funding.

44 per cent of publishers for ‘emerging platforms’ – which includes Ouya, cloud gaming, Piston and Nvidia Shield - and 46 per cent of MMO publishers also preferred developer self funding, with co-funding the second most preferred option.

36 per cent of the publishers surveyed expressed an interest in original IP, with proven IP considered a slightly less important factor at 29 per cent.

In fact, across the board on console, mobile/tablet, PC, online and emerging platforms, original IP was consistently the most popular type of game publishers are seeking.

The question of whether a publisher wanted a completely finished project finished split opinion, with just 22 per cent of companies considering it the most important factor, with 37 per cent seeing it as not important at all.

More than 52 per cent of publishers also ranked work for hire as unimportant, reinforcing on the earlier findings of the preferred business models for companies.

What is expected of new and established studios

When submitting projects, new studios are largely expected to provide a playable demo, beta or release candidate (a build being evaluated for distribution). 

Concept and video work from new studios was seen as less interesting by publishers, with 59 per cent finding video uninteresting when considering a title, while 60 per cent also considered concept work as unimportant.

With established studios however, although either a playable demo, beta or release candidates were still largely preferred, half of publishers were still interested in receiving a video from developers and taking a look at concept work before deciding whether to help fund and/or release a title.

What are the most popular genres?

Despite what you may think, first-person shooters were considered by 126 respondents as just the eighth most popular choice of genre they are looking to publish, with 45 per cent of companies looking at releasing games in the space.

The top five genres wanted by around 60 per cent of publishers were action, adventure, RPG, casual and strategy titles.

Another surprise is that more publishers are interested in real-time strategy games and puzzle titles than first-person shooters, particularly when considering some of the hardships the RTS space has persevered over the last few years despite a few standout titles.

Less than 40 per cent of publishers are looking into social games, perhaps revealing that with Zynga’s struggles, the space is not as popular as it once was.

Sports titles meanwhile are only being considered by less than 30 per cent of publishers, but this is likely down to the dominance of leading players in the space including FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer and Madden – with long-standing franchises traditionally preventing new IPs from breaking into the genre.

Submitting your game – What you need to include

On average, seven out of ten publishers said they received one-to-five game submissions every week. Five per cent also stated that they received more than 20 titles to review per week.

Given the large numbers of games submitted to each publisher, 66 per cent said they spend less than 30 minutes reviewing a title.

In fact, only one out of ten publishers said they would spend more than an hour looking at each game submission.

The most preferred method of receiving titles for review by far is email, with 90 per cent of publishers desiring to take submissions via email, FTP or Dropbox.

Only 30 per cent of publisher’s were interested in visiting a developer’s office, with even less preferring a developer to visit the publishing office. Trade show game submissions were considered by 45 per cent of publishers as a good place to receive a game for review.

When looking at initial title submissions, 60 per cent of companies only put two-to-three of their staff on reviewing them. More than half of publishers also generally put business development and producers on submission reviews, while sales and finance employees are included by less than ten per cent of companies.

The most important factors when judging a game submission are game demos, and game design overviews, with well over 80 per cent of publishers considering this of paramount importance.

Studio track records were also considered important by seven out of ten publishers, with 57 per cent also interested in a technical design overview.

Considered the least important factors of a game submission were gameplay storyboards, a company prospectus such as a website and using a publisher’s custom submission document.

For obvious reasons, the most important element for playable demos was the fun factor. In fact, character art, technology used, cinematics quality and audio were only considered as must-haves by ten per cent of publishers.

Although not considered must-haves, other important areas developers should provide in playable demos include interface functionality, good artwork and whether the demo runs as intended on the target platform.

The three most important criteria around 90 per cent of publishers consider when reviewing a game submission are the monetisation model used, the potential of the IP involved for the long-term, and the potential for the virality of the game. Of less importance are the use of new technologies and an apparent low need of localisation.