Game Development Reference
Working with Publishers
In the early days of computer programming, developers single-handedly copied their
game code onto floppy disks and shrink-wrapped it to sell it in local software and hard-
ware stores. Those days are long gone, and with the increasing complexity of games,
publishers have taken on the task of distributing and marketing games. This model has
been the default for the past 20 years or so, but with the advent of the indie game scene
in recent years, mostly driven by new technologies such as downloadable games, the
Xbox Live Indie Games channel, and Apple's App Store, more and more game deve-
lopers are turning to self-publishing again. So, why would you want to work with a
publisher these days?
The first reason is technical support and testing. Publishers want to make sure that
every game they release does not reflect badly on their reputations, so one of their
goals is to release games with as few bugs as possible and with polished game play. If
you're not used to this process, which includes the scrutiny of a quality assurance team,
you'll be in for a surprise, and it may not always be a pleasant one—such as the game's
release being held back due to yet another obscure and hard to-find bug. So, that's a
bad thing? To the contrary, it forces you to work with an attention to detail that's all too
often neglected and dismissed by hobbyist developers. And in the end, you'll be rewar-
ded with a better game. In most cases, this also translates to more favorable reviews by
press and players alike and thus more sales.
Working with an established publisher also reflects positively on you, simply because
of the respected games already released by said publisher. I don't mean that in an ego-
trip kind of way. You're not special because you're working with big-name publisher
X—but you sure will learn a lot, and that's going to make you stand out from the
crowd. It also improves your street cred and the chances of landing a better job or con-
tract sometime down the road.
The experiences working with a publisher don't just involve game programming and
the things you'll pick up from technical support and the quality assurance process.
You'll also sign a contract and get a glimpse at all the legalese and paperwork involved
(it's really not that bad).
Signing a standard contract with a publisher is more like opening a bank account.
Everything is ready-made, and you just have to fill in a few blanks. Expect the publish-
er to take anywhere between 30 to 70 percent of the revenue. It depends a lot on what