Game Design, Industry Forecasts

Why Game Publishing is Broken and How We Can Fix It – Together!

I recently gave a session at Casual Connect Singapore about game publishing. If you missed it, you can see it here.

Game publishing used to be about putting CDs on shelves

In the first part of my session I’m describing the history of game publishers and why they were such an important component in past times. When consumers used to buy games in retail stores the importance of being able to put a CD on the shelf was very high. The shelf space was limited and whoever got in there was immediately successful. Game publishers were essential.

The role of publisher changed to an aggregate of tools and knowledge

When we come to look at game publishing in the digital age, we can see that the game publisher’s ability to put mobile games on the shelves of the app stores is very limited and in fact the top free charts are dominated by self-published and indie studios. The role of digital publishers is still important but it changed to be something else:
  • Provide game development and game management tools
  • Aggregate know-how and best practices
  • Benchmark games and make better decision based on historic performance
  • Learn audiences and target game distribution

Are publishers really bigger than indies?

Most of the value that publishers can bring to the table is derived from their size. Developing great tools require a lot of engineering efforts and most indie studios don’t have enough engineers to invest in this. Publishers can aggregate know-how and benchmark games since they have visibility to many games and finally analyzing audiences works only at scale. If we compare publishers to studios, they are usually much bigger. They have thousands of engineers compared to 1-10 people in indie studios and they see more games and more users. However, if we count indie game developers in aggregate, there are:
  • Over 1 million engineers
  • hundreds of thousands of game apps
  • Visibility to over 1 billion users

Shared publishing is shared economy applied to game publishing

There is a global trend of shared economy. The concept is simple, when individuals share resources and join together they can achieve great things and free themselves from dependency in centralized corporations. AirBnb did this by realizing there are more rooms people are willing to share in their houses than there are in hotels. Kickstarter proved that crowds can be a valid source of funding and open source showed us what great tools can be built when engineering efforts are shared.
Shared publishing means that game publishing can also be shared. I believe that it’s time for indie developers to join forces and create better games. It’s time for studios to create a standard for sharing data and it’s time to drive insights from a data pool that includes all of their data together. It’s time for shared publishing.
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