Tag Games' Paul Farley: Publishing is dead, long live publishing!

5 things to ask before pairing up with a publisher

Tag Games' Paul Farley: Publishing is dead, long live publishing!
| TAG Games news

Paul Farley is MD of Tag Games, a Dundee-based developer behind the likes of Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time on iOS and Funpark Friends for iOS and Android.

On 10 July 2008 the App Store launched. Over the next few months, it turned the whole mobile games ecosystem upside-down.

And, in this new world order, the role of mobile game publishers became unclear.

Whereas the app marketplaces of the carrier networks were once closed to all but a small number of global publishing partners, now everyone with a Mac and an Apple developer account could instantly launch games to a growing worldwide audience.

So it's no surprise that many developers decided to go it alone.

Studios were no longer at the mercy of a publisher's subjective opinion, or under the control of their creative accounting processes, and the attraction of 70 percent revenue share, a single device format and reliable monthly royalty payments made the choice to self-publish an easy one.

Why is it, then, that Tag Games – one of the early proponents of self-publishing – has decided to partner with a publisher to relaunch our social mobile title Funpark Friends?

A big ask

One of the main reasons is that we have recognised that it is a growing challenge for smaller studios to cover all the bases.

To successfully run a mobile social game requires a large development team, many months of refinement post-launch, a scalable and reliable server side solution, a metrics platform with human data analysis, customer service and more.

And these are just the production elements. Once marketing is included, the skills, experience and budget required to make an impact rise considerably.

Furthermore, along with the greater scale of today's mobile games there has been a significant shift in the attitude of many publishers in regard to developers.

Publishers seem to have finally realised that they no longer call all the shots, and developers simply don't need them. So their only choice is to make their proposition more attractive.
Hopefully, this means that the 'us and them' antagonism of the past is behind us, and both parties can accept that our objectives are mutually aligned.

It's better to work in partnership than in conflict, after all.

Ask yourself this

At Tag we have invested heavily in our supporting technology and data analysis solution over the past two years, but we readily admit that we have neither the budget, nor skillset, to spend six figure sums marketing our games – for the moment at least!

Therefore partnering makes a great deal of sense. Large publishers have some major advantages over independent self-publishers in regard to marketing.

In our case partnering is just another natural step towards even greater self-sufficiency; however many developers may rightly take the view that they want to focus on product and leave marketing to others.

If you are considering whether to self-publish or partner on your next game, here are five questions you might like to ask before making that decision:

Do you have the resources to complete the game to the standards required?

Publishers certainly don't have any better record than independents when it comes to identifying which games will be successful and which will not, however they do have a wide range of resources which could help you make a better game.

It's not all about cash, although that may be a factor. Publishers can bring extensive quality assurance, experienced game design, focus testing, technology and metrics, localisation, data analysis and much more to the table.

Do you have a strong appetite for risk?

Working with a partner can reduce your risks. In theory, a good game that's well marketed has a better chance than a good game with poor marketing. The mobile games market can be brutal, so ask yourself can your studio survive a total commercial failure?

If not, then you're better to address that potential before launch than trying to mop up once it's too late. This applies many times over if you are using a new business model for the first time, or the game is particularly niche or innovative.

Do you have in-house marketing expertise and experience?

The answer for many studios will be no, but despite this they will soldier valiantly on into the abyss.

Be honest. If you haven't got the first clue how to market your game you might be best served partnering with someone who does while you hire some marketing talent.

How big is your marketing budget?

There is no hard or fast rule in terms of what you will need. If you want to use CPI methods to 'guarantee' your game goes top 20 you'll be spending six figure sums. If you have a sizeable budget for launch, do you have enough for the months following?

Despite the game monetising well you could still find yourself in a short term cash flow crisis. Certainly you should plan to reinvest 25-50 percent of your net revenues back into customer acquisition if you want to maintain chart position.

Publishers get this. Developers tend to panic when they aren't investing in something tangible like product; on the flip side publishers aren't scared to spend huge sums on customer acquisition.

Do you have any cross promotion capability?

If not, you're already at a huge disadvantage. Publishers have a portfolio of content, some of which might be very popular.

Their cost of acquisition is going to be smaller than yours because they are going to be cross promoting your game in their other titles.

Take it slow

If you do decide to find a publishing partner for your next game I strongly suggest you undertake detailed due diligence. Download a copy of their latest accounts, speak to other developers that have worked with them and, if possible, try and get face to face with them.

Like any potential relationship you want to find the best possible match for your studio, and your game, so don't rush the process.