Closing a good publishing deal is one of the hardest parts of planning a game launch. This guide is meant to make the process a bit easier and, ideally, guide you to the next concrete steps you could take. I will use the example of a game named Sapiens to illustrate the different concepts and the steps to take from scratch. I took my own game as an example to illustrate my search: “Sapiens”, a deep simulation and management game that follows the history of (ours) Homo Sapiens society.
First of all, planning the research will make all the next steps easier. Let’s clarify more what type of publishers we will end up contacting and what information will facilitate our search. There are tens of thousands of publishers out there. VGInsights lists nearly 40,000. The difficulty here lies in finding and selecting the right ones to contact to increase the chances of positive feedback and the creation of a first discussion. The solution: refine your search criteria. Filter publishers by game genre, by rating (indie rather than AAA), by number of games published and even by revenue. You can also search for games similar to yours in order to find their publishers. Again, you have to filter the search criteria a lot: genre, theme, recent date tags, indie classification and income.
Below are the main factors you should note about interesting publishers you’ll find during the research:
- Developer name
- Published game(s) similar to yours
- Their expertise and what they can offer (funding, marketing, QA, localization and porting for cross-platforms)
For Sapiens, I filtered released games on Steam with the following criteria: Simulation, single-player, colony Sim, Resource Management and Indie publisher. I got 200 similar games. The next step is to search one by one each publisher and select the one we think that fits with our game.
Once you have a list of potential publishers that fit your criteria, it’s important to do some additional research. Look at their websites, read reviews of their games, and check out their social media accounts. This will give you a better understanding of their experience and reputation in the industry. It’s also a good idea to reach out to other indie developers who have worked with the publishers you’re considering. They can give you an idea of what it’s like to work with them and what to expect.
Contact and Pitch
Once you’ve identified potential publishers that fit your criteria, it’s time to reach out to them. The key to a successful pitch is to be clear and concise. Introduce yourself and your game, explain why it’s unique and why you think it would be a good fit for their portfolio. Be sure to include a link to a playable demo or a video of the game so they can get a better sense of what it’s like to play.
When you’re crafting your pitch, be sure to highlight the key features of your game and what makes it stand out from other games in the same genre. For example, Sapiens is a simulation game that offers players a unique experience by allowing them to manage a small band of ancient humans and build and evolve their clan and society within a realistic game world that simulates biomes, resources, needs of clan members, social interaction, economy, warfare and technologies.
It’s also important to emphasize your experience as a developer, and any achievements you’ve received for your previous work. This will help the publisher see that you are a serious and dedicated developer who is capable of delivering a high-quality game.
When you reach out to a publisher, it’s a good idea to follow up with them after a few days if you haven’t received a response. Publishers are often busy and may miss your initial message, so a friendly follow-up can remind them of your game and increase your chances of getting a response.
Choosing and Negotiating
Once you’ve received interest from a publisher, it’s important to evaluate their offer and consider all the important aspects before making a decision.
One of the most important things to consider is the terms of the deal. Be sure to understand what rights and royalties you will be giving up and what you will be getting in return. Be sure to ask questions and clarify any points that are not clear to you.
Another important aspect to consider is the level of creative control you will have over your game. Some publishers may want you to make significant changes to the game, while others will give you complete freedom to develop the game as you see fit.
It’s also important to consider the publisher’s experience and reputation in the industry. Look at the games they’ve published in the past and see if they have a good track record of bringing indie games to market. It’s also a good idea to reach out to other indie developers who have worked with the publisher and ask for their feedback.
Risks and Drawbacks
While working with a publisher can bring many benefits, there are also risks and drawbacks to consider. One of the biggest risks is that the publisher may not be able to deliver on their promises, such as providing funding or marketing support.
Another risk is that the publisher may not be able to effectively market and distribute your game, which can lead to poor sales and a lack of exposure.
It’s also important to keep in mind that by working with a publisher, you will be giving up some control over your game and may have to make changes that you don’t agree with.
Now, you may be thinking, how can I mitigate these risks? One way to do this is by thoroughly researching and carefully evaluating potential publishers before entering into a partnership. Make sure to check their track record, resources, and experience in the industry. Also, try to reach out to other indie developers who have worked with the publisher, and ask for their feedback. Another way to mitigate these risks is to have clear and transparent communication with the publisher throughout the development process. Make sure to discuss and agree on the terms of the partnership and keep an open line of communication about any concerns or issues that may arise. Additionally, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the publisher’s role in the development and launch process, and to have a plan in place in case things don’t go as expected.
Closing a good publishing deal can be a challenging process, but by doing your research, crafting a compelling pitch, and carefully evaluating potential publishers, you can increase your chances of success. When choosing and negotiating with a publisher, be sure to consider the terms of the deal, the level of creative control you will have, and the publisher’s experience and reputation. Keep in mind the risks and drawbacks of working with a publisher, but also remember that a good publisher can bring many benefits to your game launch.
To concretely move forward, it’s important to make a list of potential publishers, research and filter them, reach out to them with a compelling pitch, and evaluate their offers. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, and if one publisher doesn’t accept the project, move on to the next one. Remember to always read and understand the contract before signing it.