Publishing 2.0

SAN FRANCISCO — At GDC today, game publishers in the free-to-play arena had a powwow to discuss the niceties of publishing and distribution and where we’re headed next.

The panel in question was a slew of heavy-hitters, including Rob Carroll of 5th Planet Games, Barry Dorf of DeNA, Pany Haritatos of Kongregate, Tadhg Kelly of Jawfish Games, Jussi Laakkonen of Applifier, Wade Tinney of Large Animal Games, and Jim Ying of Gree.

At the outset, the panel started as a massive reverse pitch: a small group of publishers trying to convince a room full of developers to bring their IP on over. Publisher execs told devs there’s money to be had — both via funding and via acquisition — for the right games, verticals, and people.

But the game developers quickly brought up some interesting counterpoints for fellow devs to consider. They all agreed that picking a publisher is a lot like picking a spouse, but in this arena, divorces are few and truly ugly.

Here are a few choice quotes from the panelists:

Wade Tinney

On killing off “bad” games”: A dollar means something very different for a developer than a publisher. Every game a dev works on is potentially their business. So the game that’s producing $100,000 is keeping your team going, but if you have a game that’s producing $200,000, the analytical approach would cause you to start focusing on that.”

On Kickstarter: “There’s a very healthy side effect in that it forces you to crystallize the vision and tell the world about it sooner than you otherwise would have.”

Tadhg Kelly

On getting cuddly with publishers: “The developer increasing needs to build his own community while keeping the publisher at arms’ length … the publisher model ultimately gets in the way of that.”

On KPIs and attention spans: “Metrics are a side track … it’s more about the long term. In the publisher world, three or four years is forever, but in the game development world, you have to be thinking that far ahead. You have to be more considerate about your audience and your objectives for them over three to five years.”

Rob Carroll

On picking winners: “It’s easy to pitch a good game, but it’s hard to make a good game. We want to invest in people that are good at making games, not good at making decks.”

On dev/publisher breakups: “The focus falls on the developer to keep the game successful, but you’re not getting the marketing anymore. Most games have a one- to two-year life cycle, if not longer, and once you stop getting that support … That’s when it gets scary.”

On Kickstarter: “It’s very low-risk money for developers to take advantage of. But if you don’t make your Kickstarter [campaign goal], there’s a risk for what your fans will expect you to deliver.”

Pany Haritatos

On publishers’ goals: “It’s about aligning with developers and their priorities. … If you don’t share values, you’re never going to be successful in the long run. You have to actually talk to these guys [because] it’s a super-risky business.”

On contracts: “There are some publishers that are predatorial. Be careful what you’re signing; some little asterisk on the last page may say that nothing applies unless you meet certain metrics. Some publishers will exploit you.”

Jim Yang

On managing risk: “We’re looking for people who have some success with a free-to-play mobile title so there’s some track record … and an exciting concept. … No one’s first or second game is a hit, and what we bring to the table is trying to close that gap a bit and make it successful quicker.”

On sweet, sweet money: “The games you see out there making huge amounts of money, 50 percent of that goes back into user acquisition.”

On picking a publisher: “Look up the games they’ve published in the past and the performance of those titles. … Do your research. There’s no harm in talking to other developers and seeing who else is interested in your proposal.”

Barry Dorf

On working with game devs: “Some want access to Asia, some want users — every developer has its own needs and wants, and this is not traditional publishing. We are partners.”

On moving on: “Why would you want to work on a game with bad KPIs? Sometimes that’s what needs to be done: You need to pull the Band-Aid off and start working on something else.”

Image credit: Dean Takahashi/VentureBeat