Many games have languished from not finding a game publisher, or from affiliation with the wrong one—it’s impossible to imagine how many indie games never made it because of a lack of funding, and we might still be playing Silent Hills today were it not for Konami’s cancellation. While there are increasing numbers of avenues for game developers looking to release their work independently, a publisher has the resources and expertise to market your game to a wider group.
But game publishing isn’t just a binary of indie and AAA. There are multiple types of publishers for developers to choose from, with each option offering something unique and important to prospective clients. Which level of publishing is right for you and your game?
Self-Publishing Gives Developers Creative Control With Much Responsibility
When most people think of indie games, they tend to think of self-published titles or very small teams working together, sometimes with crowdfunding, to publish games independently. All are valid methods of releasing indie games, but not all developers have the experience necessary to develop and release a successful game, and may need to look elsewhere for support.
Pros of Self-Publishing
Total independence means funding, developing, testing, marketing, and releasing entirely on your own—a hefty feat for a new developer, particularly if you don’t have any prior experience in those fields. Though it might be complicated, self-publishing ensures you have creative control throughout the process. You can take as much time as you need to create the game you want rather than worrying about meeting marketing deadlines or seeking the widest audience possible; self-published indie work is often personal, uniquely creative, and different from mainstream games in art style or storytelling. It’s your own story, told how you want it.
Cons of Self-Publishing
The downside of going it alone can also mean that your game gets lost in the thousands of indie games cropping up around the world if you don’t have the time to devote to promoting it. Funding can also be a problem, particularly if you’re working on an ambitious project. You want to get paid, your team (if you have one) probably wants to get paid, but you may have limited funds.
For that, there are sponsorships, grants, and other programs like Indie Fund or Indie Wolverine, both of which help with specific elements of releasing games. There are also programs like Failbetter Games’ Fundbetter, which helps narrative games find a market and audience in exchange for a return on their investment.
Organizations and grants like this help you with certain aspects of game development, such as quality assurance or marketing, but their role is primarily that of support. Finding artists, designers, and other important resources are often still on you as a developer—while that freedom can be great for creativity and control, you may be looking for a little more hands-on help from your publisher.
Boutique Publishers Support Your Creative Endeavor
Though most people tend to think of games as coming from two sources, either indie or AAA, there is in fact a spectrum of choices for publishers. Boutique publishers, such as Maximum Games, are those who have experience and reach in the gaming industry, but fall somewhere between the presence of independent studios and AAA publishers.
What a boutique publisher comes down to is support. As an independent developer, you shape your game’s direction with the support of experts. You get all the benefits of independence with the larger reach and expertise of established marketing, making release a smoother process for everybody involved.
A boutique publisher offers everything funding programs do in one complete package. Boutique publishers have established expertise in game development and marketing. That experience in development, promotion, quality assurance, and all other aspects of game design is invaluable for those looking to increase their audience and ensure a smooth, successful release.
Boutique publishers are selective with the games they choose to represent, giving them the ability to promote select games with all of their attention. Personal investment in a game’s success goes a long way.
That uniqueness is part of a good publisher/developer relationship. With a boutique publisher, you maintain ownership over your creative direction. The reason they’re able to publish such a wide array of games (ranging from VR adventures to strategy games) is that these developers maintain creative control. A boutique publisher’s purpose is to make development happen through funding and guidance, not control, helping provide you with the resources you need and ensuring your game finds an audience through the publisher’s expertise in marketing and promotion.
While a boutique publisher has more reach that the average indie team going it alone, they rarely have the budget or reach of a AAA studio. That’s not to say that a boutique-published game can’t make it big, only that the projects that they take on are often a little more niche and may not appeal as widely. It’s a matter of knowing your market, and selectively focusing your efforts there.
AAA Publishers Reach Far, But May Require Sacrifices
Boutique publishers are an excellent choice for games in many scales and budgets. They can reach large audiences on PC and console, but when you have a big idea that requires a budget to match, AAA may be what you’re looking for.
AAA publishers are those with the biggest budgets, the shiniest new technology, and the most prevalent brand recognition. These are names like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision—most gamers can rattle off a few popular titles on publisher name alone with companies this big.
With publishers like that behind you, you have all the resources and expertise you could possibly want. Marketing, top-of-the-line graphic technology, and huge teams of artists, sound designers, and any other professional you can think of are all part of the package—the problem is finding your way in.
In finding a AAA game publisher, competition is stiff and risks are few and far between. While we occasionally get a fresh new IP from an established developer, it’s more frequent that we see something like Assassin’s Creed, once a risky endeavour, become the new standard. Rather than seeing multiple new titles, we see sequels and reboots, and even those new IPs start to blur together in terms of mechanics and visuals as photorealism, open-world settings, and shooter elements dominate the market. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing—especially if, for example, your game is an open-world, photorealistic shooter—it does mean that your creative vision may be shafted in favor of mass-market appeal.
While the huge budget available to AAA studios is excellent, it also means that games have to recoup the cost it takes to make them. That means games have to sell. AAA games must appeal to the largest amount of people who will want to buy it, even if that means sacrificing some of what makes it unique. Depending on the game, a boutique publisher or even self-publishing might be preferable for retaining creative control rather than compromising for a wider audiences.
Finding a Game Publisher Means Considering Sacrifices Versus Reward
Game development is a tricky business. It’s not just about making the game, but about all the things that go along with it—marketing, art, public relations, and quality testing, to begin with. Depending on your experience, you may be able to handle much of that yourself. But for what you don’t know or can’t do, extra funding or support can come in handy—how much you need is ultimately up to you.
When finding a game publisher, weigh what you need against what you’re willing to sacrifice. If all you want is marketing support, you may not need to look far—but if you want creative freedom and an experienced team to back you up, a boutique publisher may be a better option. Don’t just rush into seeking AAA support if that’s not actually what your game needs. There are plenty of paths to success in game development, so be sure you take the time to find the one that’s most appropriate for your project.
Maximum Games is a boutique publisher offering an exciting variety of video game titles. For more of our insights on the video game industry, subscribe to our newsletter here.