Publishers: who needs them?

Publishers: who needs them?

By Andy Payne

May 9th 2014 at 2:40PM

Publisher 3.0: In his new regular column, Mastertronic CEO and AppyNation founding partner Andy Payne describes

No one does.

A quick look at a generic online dictionary definition and it says something like ‘a company or person that prepares and issues books, journals, or music for sale’. Okay, that dictionary must be a bit old, but add games in to it and you get the picture. All games developers are preparing their titles for sale after all, aren’t they?

Games developers just don’t need publishers. In a global digital world of connected markets, there are fewer and fewer gatekeepers and that is a really good thing. And even if there are gatekeepers, these gatekeepers are far more accessible than they ever used to be. Access to these markets is 24/7 and it has never been easier – indeed, there are so many places people can get games it’s never been easier to release a title worldwide on one day.

And that’s it, really. Anyone can make their game ready for sale. Literally anyone.

But some games developers may chooseto work with a publisher not because they need to, but because they want to. In my view they should view this as a partnership and the things a publisher provides should be seen as a service. For me, this is publishing 3.0.

For the record, I see publishing 2.0 as self-publishing, and 1.0 was the old style stuff that saw most developers ‘sell’ their IP and get few roll on royalties. 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 can and will co-exist in the world. There is no ‘one and only way’. I am sure 4.0 will be along soon enough.

The relationship between the makers and the sellers – that is ultimately how I see it – should be open, transparent and above all trusting. There should be no dark arts, no special sauce, no bullshit. It is about collaboration and co-operation and the relationship should grow over time. Both teams should learn from one another and build together. Indeed this approach should flow into the players and we are seeing this happen and it will only get stronger and more important.

There should be no dark arts, no special sauce, no bullshit. It is about collaboration and co-operation and the relationship should grow over time.

The relationship should also be mutually beneficial. It should not be based on a financial set of considerations and terms. After all, this is not Renaissance -style patronage, this is squad-based working.

The Intellectual Property of the game should always be owned by the game’s creator in our view, unless there is a very, very good reason why it is not. Maybe the game is based on a popular licence, maybe someone wanted to buy the IP for an amount that simply was too hard to refuse. Our first principle in the new world of games publishing is that IP should stay the property of those who created it. 

Operationally, everything needs to be lean and mean nowadays and no overhead should be justified unless it earns value and respect. A trusted network of special forces style helpers is to be treasured, but it is not beyond the realistic reach of any games developer. Speak to other devs and take soundings. Reputation, style and tone of voice are all essential markers when deciding who to work with. Take your time and do your homework. Beware of flashy pitch decks and wild claims of guaranteed success.

In the digital world, it is more about what we are all prepared to risk together, rather than what we can expect by way of sales forecasts. The days of a publisher‘s sales team reaching out to their retail buyers and asking for a number to plug into a spreadsheet for day one launch are no longer that relevant. Your games need audiences, fans, engagement and above all, they need to be talked about. One thing that will never change is that the any maker of anything must go where the customers are in order to sell them something. In a digital world that principle stands taller than ever.

At Mastertronic we have our roots in a service culture. If we are not looking out for our partners’ best interests, loving their games and shouting loud about them and their creations, we are not doing our job properly.  Our motto has always been 1 + 1 > 2 and that philosophy is buried deep inside our DNA. We won’t always get it right, but with an open mind and an ‘always ready, always on’ approach, we have and will continue to help create some great games successes.  

Remember, games devs, you don’t need a publisher – just choose one if you want to.