#GDC 2013: Is Rage of Bahamut leading the charge for game publishing 2.0?
Cygames 'would be nowhere' without DeNA
"Do you think Cygames are sitting there thinking now, after all the success they've had, 'oh, we should have self published? Rage of Bahamut would be nowhere without us."
That was the slightly tongue-in-cheek boast of DeNA's Barry Dorf at the start of a lively panel at GDC 2013.
The original idea behind the debate was to analyse the role of the 'new wave' of publishers hitting the mobile scene, and whether they still have a place in the industry.
Naturally, opinion was divided.
According to Dorf, the role of the publisher has indeed evolved in recent years - "we're not a traditional publisher," he added, instead referring to the Japanese giant as a "partner" - but the benefits it can deliver for developers has not.
Partners, not publishers
"Some developers want funds, some want expertise and knowledge, some want access to Asia, some want help getting users...it changes from developer to developer," offered Dorf.
"If you just want users and nothing else, however, look elsewhere. We want to partner with you across the board – we've made all the mistakes you can make, so we know what works and what doesn't."
Cygames' Rage of Bahamut, he added, was an example of when DeNA's expertise had paid off in spectacular fashion.
"We can take a game and improve it from a monetisation standpoint and take it to the top of the charts."
But once that chart success has faded, will the publisher still be interested in the developer, or is it a relationship destined to end in divorce?Nasty split
According to Wade Tinney of Large Animal Games, the objectives and motivations that drive a developer are very different to those that drive a publisher, and that can create a huge split between the two long term.
"No-one is going to have the same passion for a game as someone who has poured their heart and soul into it, and I think that's what developers worry about," said Tinney.
"They think publishers will drop them for the next big thing. In fact, the only way to truly align everyone's interests is for the publisher to invest in the developer's game from the beginning."
Another problem cited was that, even developers who enjoy huge amounts of success with a publisher can be left high and dry when the folks they're connected with move on to other jobs.
Clash of clans
"The question of who owns the user is a big question for a lot of developers – they want to be the masters of their own destiny," said Tadhg Kelly of Jawfish Games.
"Developers need to have their own fans, marketing story and identity if you like within the mobile space. It's more important now than ever."
An example of a developer that has managed to pull this off, Kelly suggested, is PopCap. The firm may now be tied to EA, but consumers "understand what PopCap is" because it had managed to make a name for itself with strong IP long before EA came along.
As a result, consumers see Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies as PopCap games, even now. They're not seen as EA titles, and that's why PopCap survives.
Maybe, then, publishers shouldn't invest in specific titles or franchises. They should just invest in people, and let them follow their own path and take ownership of their own IP.
That, essentially, is how GREE pitches its approach.
"Our focus is investing in the actual team," said GREE's Jim Ying.
"The game you're be working with us on almost doesn't matter. We're more interested in the people.
"What we do is a lot like getting married. We see it as one plus one equals two, right? It's not about dropping in here and there, but actually sharing tools, analytics, and marketing SDKs that all our first party studios use."
But is this really a new approach? Is talk of a new approach from publishers actually just a load of hot air?
"No offence to the publishing guys here, I'm sure you're all great people to work with," replied Kelly, "but what I'm hearing today doesn't really sound any different to tall the stuff I've heard before.
"The reason why divorces tend to happen is that publishers tend to have long term strategies that don't fit with what the developer needs, so the developer tends to get bought or destroyed along the way."