Who Needs A Game Publisher, Anyway?

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Who Needs A Game Publisher, Anyway?

Recently, while at the Casual Connect game conference, Kixeye's chief executive Will Harbin took the stage to talk about game publishing, which made sense given that he was a game publisher. Though what Harbin had to say about game publishing was something of a surprise, and remember here that Will Harbin is a game publisher. What Harbin had to say was that younger developers needed to forget about publishers and instead publish games on their own in the various app stores.

“Why have an overlord like me? What's the point?” said Harbin, who throughout the course of the conversation painted a massive target on his chest and demanded to be shown to the nearest guillotine. Okay, so maybe that last part was just a fanciful jest, but Harbin is reasonably well convinced that game developers can be their own publishers, and that's the model that Harbin himself follows, a model which has given Kixeye a lot of success. Kixeye has released some fairly big recent names, like “Battle Pirates,” “War Commander,” and “Backyard Monsters,” so Kixeye is well placed to make pronouncements like that.

Indeed, digital distribution is rapidly becoming the big way by which things like games, movies and books are brought to the public. Studios and publishers don't control shelf space, and shelves, in fact, are somewhat less important than they were previously. Sort of the point is to make great games, great movies, or great books and then let the people find them. Indeed, many of the functions of a publisher can be done by individuals these days—advertising, promotion, community development and the like all contribute to a game's success—so why have a publisher at all?

Of course, some respond here with “for the resources.” These people have a point; advertising campaigns aren't free. Getting access to major media sources for reviews and news coverage isn't easy. Industry contacts just don't fall out of the sky. But by like token, there are simple things that can be done. Small-scale advertising can be inexpensive. Some market research is available at no charge thanks to articles and blog posts like the one you're reading right now. Free, albeit risky, promotion can be had from social media venues and places like YouTube, though given that these may not work, that leaves them a bit risky to consider. Yes, under certain conditions publishers are necessary--remember what happened to "State of Decay" trying to find a publisher--but even this is starting to fall off thanks to Microsoft's recent sea change in terms of game publishing on the Xbox One.

Indeed, publishing anything is becoming a lot more open than ever before. Backed up by the Internet, and the sheer connective power it offers, there's a lot of room to get products out in front of people. Granted, promoting these products is difficult, but the payoffs can be incalculably large. Even major marketing campaigns fail, and those are run by experts in the marketing field. Some have said that marketing is more art than science, and those projections really aren't out of line.

But taking a game from dream to reality is more possible than ever before. It's not easy, make no mistake about that, but Will Harbin is no less right for it; the publisher is rapidly becoming much less relevant in the industry today, and the individual creator has never had so much opportunity to offer a product to a potentially interested market.
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