How to contact publishers

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by thomasmahler, Jun 22, 2010.

  1. JarkkoL

    JarkkoL New Member

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    Remember that people here are indies and are supposed to hate publishers so you tend to get some strongly biased opinions regarding publishers here ;) What kind of deal you can break with a publisher depends on various things, like how good your vertical slice is, what's the experience of your team (have you shipped games together before? which projects have you worked as individuals?), do you have other funding, etc. If you got no leverage and no negotiation skills, of course publishers will reap everything they possibly can if you are lucky to get any deal at all.

    While you got experience in working on bigger titles, it's no quarantee that you can ship a game together and publishers know this. You really have to show tangible results of your team working TOGETHER and that the team can ship the game in those new conditions. The past experience of team members is definately a leverage, but you need much more than that to break a deal with a publisher. So, what have you got done for the game so far?
     
  2. Vino

    Vino New Member

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    I might point out that those Lionhead people did Rag Doll Kung Fu before they did LBP, that probably gave them some leverage with Sony. Starting out with something smaller is always a good idea.
     
  3. Michael Flad

    Indie Author

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    Seriously thats a strong statement.

    If 300k is all you need and ... say you're at least a team of 3-4 this means only ~75k for each, if you write a decent businessplan you may even be able to get a loan from a bank, maybe 50-100k to even reduce the risk to 50k for each. Maybe there's even a chance for additional startup funding wherever you're located. Try to win some prices in IGF competitions, Turborilla contest ...

    IMO this is an easy decision - a kind of small investment, your team will be in control, own the IP and can rake in the money after it's release.
     
  4. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    1) I'm sure none of these multitudes of people were aware of the business side of things. Here's a fortune cookie - it's not always the publishers at fault. In fact it's usually the developers based on hearsay that I have. Also, I'm sure there's been situations that got ugly, but how many can you actually count out loud? I've been involved in about 20 publishing deals right here. I think the average of one media storm per six months is a pretty good record.

    2) See above. I can't comment on either situation directly, but I will say that it's trendy to knock publishers and hold developers in some sort of fanboy esteem, and I pay no heed to the biased reporting of these events. None at all.

    Almost all developers do some, most or all of the below. We don't, but we don't have to. I've been a party to this in the past, as I'm sure most of you all have.

    1) Quote for 50 guys and only put 40 on
    2) Of those 40, only 10 are journeymen and the rest are n00bz, whilst they were all described as "industry veterans" in the pitch
    3) The art pipeline is always woefully mismanaged and under-manned
    4) Everybody plays quake for 2 hours a day at the start of the project
    5) Too much feature creep and not enough accurate GDD
    6) Piss poor scheduling and risk assessment/aversion
    7) Put the wrong people in charge of the wrong things
    8) Blame everyone else

    I would guess that amost every project that went down the shitter is due to the developer not doing what they promised. It's absolutely not in the publishers interest to pull the plug if things go the way they were agreed to go.

    You say that like you just won something. The point doesn't stand because you made it twice. I've been involved in a great many publishing deals with all the big names and never once did anything shite happen from their side.

    If you want to be indie and make no money, then avoiding publishers is absolutely the right thing to do. If you are good at marketing, PR, securing investment, organising QA and the myriad other things, then you might even make a basic salary.

    Or you could deal with publishers and make a large amount of money that will set you up for life. Yep, hard choice. Publishers: utterly pointless.

    EDIT: Oh, here's another whilst I'm on a roll. You want to keep the IP? Why? Without a publisher it's worth £7.50. When you hit the jackpot and the franchise is worth millions, it's because the publisher got it to sell millions. Argue over the next IP - your first one's worth jack shit to anyone.
     
    #24 Applewood, Jun 22, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2010
  5. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Oh dear, there goes your benefit of the doubt. You are a n00b (at self-publishing at least), he is an established agent and broker for publishing deals. Get over your own opinion and listen to one that's developed over many years of actually doing this shit. Especially after you asked for it.
     
  6. MFS

    MFS New Member

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    From personal experience, there is a lot of truth in this thread (Applewood, Dan.) From personal experience, there can be exceptions to the truth, although not many :)

    Working with a publisher is a perfectly valid business option and in many cases, makes the most sense. The vilification of publishers is pretty immature IMHO. Making games is a business. Businesses make decisions in their best interests. If those decisions don't align with your best interests...then you look elsewhere. In general, if you are bringing something worthwhile to the table you can [should] negotiate towards mutually beneficial terms. If you don't bring anything to the table worthwhile, you get what you get (or you get nothing and go somewhere else.)

    As far as getting publisher interest, you really need one thing: contacts. With experience in the industry you should either have the contacts you need or know the people with the contacts you need. Getting your demo/product/pitch in front of someone you know or have been introduced to greatly increases your ability to work out a deal versus cold calling/submitting, which typically has a follow through rate of close to 0.

    If for whatever reason you don't have the contacts and can't get them, then you need to put yourself in a position to acquire them. Make some calls and get yourself some face-to-face meetings at upcoming conferences. I think you'll find this far easier to do then garnering interest from random phone calls/emails.
     
    #26 MFS, Jun 22, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2010
  7. Vino

    Vino New Member

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    Okay, I'm willing to admit I might be looking at this the wrong way. Really I'm regurgitating what, like I said, a half-dozen people told me, so really you're arguing against them, not against me, as I don't have any of the real experience. But, those people work at Valve and Epic so I took their word for it. It could be that their words were specifically tailored towards my situation rather than being a general thing. Not to say that plenty of developers don't have good relationships with publishers, obviously they do or else we wouldn't have so many video games.

    Regarding my point though, I don't think I understand your argument against it. My current plans for my project don't involve a publisher (in the beginning stages anyway,) because I'd rather fund it myself and have the revenue and profit for myself. I'm just getting my foot in the door, so I don't see how I can really offer much to a publisher anyway. Would you suggest a different approach? If you can do it without a publisher, how is that not better?

    PS: I'm really not trying to be difficult, I just want to learn :)
     
  8. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Because all you've done so far is the easy bit. You claim to be a verteran dev, so you should know that.

    It makes perfect sense. The point you're missing that there are 90 other submissions coming in with similar figures, and a lot of them will be from firms that already exist with a proven track record. All you really have at the moment is a desire.

    Which begs the obvious question. Why don't you arrange your own funding to prevent being raped. If you have a small teams of guys who can put in some security, you'll get that money from a bank or VC even in todays climate. Assuming your business plan is rock solid of course, which in games development it can never be.

    Why not?

    According to whom? It might be want you'd want it to be, but I can assure you that publishers these days want absolutely no risk whatsoever. And why would they.

    It does. Give them what looks like a sound investment and they'll probably invest in it. Just don't attach any scope to "It might be this" and "we could do that". Show it to them. If you don't I will, and I'll take the money you were after.

    Custom picking special cases isn't going to win you any arguments. I can't answer your question as I don't know, but I'm betting it wasn't something that happens every day.

    They don't take all the money. They take most of it. Which is still a lot less than the amount they pay to you, which is 100% of what you need. Lets see, you do a game which could be done WFH costing a million quid. They spend 30 million on it. You expect half the money back? Good luck with that.

    And yet you expect a publisher to value this highly? If you only need a small amount of money and are prepared to give up the whole thing to get it, this really only proves that you don't actually have faith in your game and aren't prepared to risk your own money on it. But risking a publishers money is somehow just fine.

    Not really making sense, no. For starters you seem to think that publishers are about funding, but they're actually about selling games. I think you'll be happier finding a VC or angel investor to get your game finished, then go to a publisher once its done - you'll find a whole different story, I'm sure.
     
    #28 Applewood, Jun 22, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2010
  9. JarkkoL

    JarkkoL New Member

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    Because it's better to have a slice of a big cake than have tiny cake or no cake all yourself? It's just funny how some people have fixation to the percentage of the total revenue, than the total revenue :) Anyway, depends on the situation what the best choice is of course.
     
  10. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I think its more the case that the bigger the developer the more they can fuck up tbh. And the more noise they think they can make. Or it maybe the publisher fucked em, it does happen, sadly.There's always crap deals about, it's just that they're not the norm like netters like to infer. As I said somewhere above, the occasional media shit-storm is small potatoes next to the amount of publishing deals done in the world *per day*.

    Well, this is an indie forum. :) It depends what you want to do with it really. My advice will always be to finished it completely yourself, then try to get a publisher to fund putting it on platforms that make real money. Putting it out yourself is down to how much money you need to live on, but you won't get rich without being very fortunate.

    No worries. I usually only ever open my mouth on here when I'm speaking from direct experience, so I always kind of expect people to listen. Which might be too much hubris, as I know my bedside manner could use some work, but hell, life's too short. When I offer advice, I've done my bit - if people chose to ignore it, then I won't lose any sleep. :)
     
  11. Vino

    Vino New Member

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    Good, that's what I was planning on doing. Now I can sleep well at night too. Not that I sleep much at night anyway.

    And yeah, one of the guys I had talked to had just been out of a crap deal with a small casual games publisher, and another one was in that Six Days to Fallujah project that got canned because the Japanese publishers didn't like some negative publicity or something, I don't know the whole story.
     
  12. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    It's probably much better to self-publish. Much, much better if you believe in the product and will back it with your own money.

    The problem here is that "self publishing" for the people on this board seems to mean posting a download link at a few gaming sites. Whereas my idea of self-publishing is where you yourself negotiate a distribution deal with the buyer from Walmart.
     
  13. thomasmahler

    thomasmahler New Member

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    This thread has officially gone insane.

    Applewood: Was looking through your website - without trying to look down upon you or anything, but I want to ask you:

    Did you ever work on a bigger title?

    I wonder if your perspective on publishers stems from you only working on Wii or low low budget titles and not having any experience with higher budget games. I'm looking through that list and I don't see a single title that:

    a) I actually know because it's a quality game.
    b) I think would actually have an impact on the games industry.
    c) I would actually consider buying.

    Most of the games you list on your companies site are ports or small scale stuff with almost no info to what you guys have actually been developing. You're trying to give me advice on how to approach things but at the same time feature title descriptions on your companies website that consist of one liners. Seriously?

    And the way you tore apart my previous post sounded kinda bitter, needless to say it's completely unproductive, since i don't have the time to reply in that manner - Hope this doesn't rub you the wrong way, and I seriously hope you can take that little bit of criticism as well as I take yours, but since it looks like you've never worked on any title that could actually make quite a bit of money, I don't think that you're the right person to respond to a thread like this.

    Yes, you might have experience with publishers, but no, I don't think they'd seriously consider you for anything bigger than ports or very small scale projects, simply because of your lack of experience. And your opinion regarding publishers could be a result of all of that.

    I hope you're not gonna do the same thing again with this post. I'm trying to get some real world experience from people who tried something similar in the past (that have worked on bigger franchises and do have experience) that we are trying to do right now. I appreciate you wanting to help, but I think your way of storming forward is a little too... let's say enthusiastic. I'm looking for feedback, I do not want this to become an internet discussion.
     
    #33 thomasmahler, Jun 22, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2010
  14. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Asking a question like that says more about you than me. The biggest-known title I worked on was Carmageddon. (All of them). The one before that was a smash-hit called Bedlam. Back in their day these were both AAA, but I've not been part of that scene for over a decade. Deliberately.

    I think about now I should saying something like "go fuck yourself". On a more constructive note. Yes, most of my deals for Rubicon have been smaller games for smaller publishers. I suppose you're making a Mass Effect 2 atm, right? It was funding for two guys a few hours ago.

    Also, you should also not assume that I've only worked at my current company for my whole career, especially if you want to start a pissing match. If you want, I'll get my full resume out, but only if you put yours up first.

    When working at larger companies I've been involved with the likes of EA etc., and they're no different to the smaller ones. Probably a little easier to get money out of tbh.

    Well, Carmageddon won multiple awards, but nothing recent. We're not that sort of company - we make money, not headlines.
    Well, one trick pony it may be, but Carmageddon revolutionised the industry as stated in several places at the time.
    Doubt it recently, we make mainly kids games, whereas you seem to be a little too old. You might have bought defcon that we put on the DS, but the publisher fucked us by going bust. They seem to do that a lot, despite "raping" all their developers. Can't be linked to taking risks either as that's what they're for. So maybe they just get bored and fold.

    Not sure what your actual point is. But at least I actually have a company, which is more than you have, to say you're throwing around all this hate about mine.

    When you are known in the industry, you don't need to tell people how good you are. We wrote game X, what more do you need to know and I'll fill you in? Our company has existed for over 5 years now, and the website was a blank page under construction for 4.5 of them. What's there is placeholder that I fill in myself when I can be arsed. We don't really need a website because we've never gone a single week without any work in. That kinda happens when you get things right.

    I can take it as well as dish it. However, you don't seem to have dished anything. Sure you fired a few shots, but due to complete ignorance/lack of research/wrong assumptions about my background they weren't just blanks but they exploded in the barrel. The lack of due dilligence on display there is probably why you don't want to do any with a publisher either. Just stroll in and grab that million dollars.

    I tore your post apart because you asked for advice, got some advice from an industry expert in the relevant field (Dan) then threw it out because you don't like what you heard. As to not making money, I do pretty well for myself thanks, whereas you currently make bupkis and that should really be your main concern.

    I also find it amusing that you think your title will indeed make you lots of money. This is more like gd.net every time you say something new. Right now my company is a small going concern, whereas your company only exists in your mind and even if it did exist in reality, it would be no bigger than mine and have no finished product at all. It's like you want to willy waggle with me, but you haven't even got your dick out.

    That's actually pretty funny and you're seriously making yourself look stupid now. A publisher wouldn't hire my company to make a AAA scale project because there's only three bloody people working in it! We don't all *want* to make big AAA things because not all of us are star-struck. However, those 3 people can notch up 55 man years of experience between them. What is your team in for?

    In any case, what has my company being too small to make AAA got to do with anything? This game you've half done with a couple of buddies before running out of pocket change? You think it's gonna be AAA after a publisher gives you a million? Really? Wow! Yeah, you don't want to mess with my small-time stuff at all, you're big league all the way. I'll get you the chairman of EA's phone number tomorrow. I'm sure my mate Les must still keep in contact with the new guard.

    Not really, you're just trying to defend your ego by attacking someone elses. You've been given rock solid advice but you didn't like it so spat the dummy and started attacking people who were going out of their way to help you, getting more and more antsy as the same message was given and same lack of wanting to hear it got more frustrated.

    I have one more piece of advice for you. In the words of the great Rolf Harris, "can you tell what it is yet?"
     
    #34 Applewood, Jun 23, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
  15. thomasmahler

    thomasmahler New Member

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    Thank you. That was very productive.

    Now that that's done, if anyone else has any further actual advice, I'm all ears :)
     
  16. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Yeah, didn't think you'd try a second round.

    Right, I'm off to bed. Good luck with asking for more advice. Someone might be along in a minute who says exactly what you want to hear and then you'll be sorted.
     
    #36 Applewood, Jun 23, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
  17. vjvj

    Indie Author

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    You were given great advice in the first page of this thread.

    Judging people by the criteria of how many AAA games they've worked on is insane. I'd expect that from a gamer, but not from someone who has worked in the industry like you. Come on. A lot of us have come from AAA backgrounds, but continue to learn from people in other markets. It doesn't really matter; a lot of the same rules of business apply.

    The main reason I am still responding here is because you are falling into the same trap a lot of us did when we first went indie, and I don't want to see anyone waste their time (none of us are getting any younger). You are acting as if "good gameplay" will just magically solve everything, and the sooner you accept that as a misnomer, the better it will be for your game and your team.

    Learn to respect the trades of marketing/sales and get help. The advice you get is going to feel annoying and stupid at first, but it WILL be the best thing you can do for your product.
     
  18. thomasmahler

    thomasmahler New Member

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    I know and I really appreciate the info. Thanks guys!

    That's true, but don't you think that there's quite a lot of bitterness going on in this thread? It could stem from publishers not giving people any chances if they don't see big name projects in their resume that made x amount of money. If you make a great living by creating fashion games or simpler kids games and you enjoy what you do, great, more power to you - but this could definitely have an impact on the advice you'd give someone regarding how publishers treated you, even if that person would target a completely different target audience.

    Absolutely. I already am in contact with some of the bigger indie developers of the last couple of years, trying to get as much feedback / advice as possible on how they managed to do it. I am genuinely excited for what we're working on and think that it could be a very, very cool product in the end that I would love to play. I don't think that good gameplay will just magically solve everything, but I do think that creating a great game and doing your homework regarding marketing and targeting it to the right channels will resolve in a success. That's what we're banking on.
     
  19. vjvj

    Indie Author

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    It may seem that way, but it's probably just the culture here. Most of us are old fogies, grumpy old men if you will, and we can get very direct when it comes to responding to perceived naive optimism (key word being "perceived"!). Treat it as experience; if you think these guys are harsh, wait until you start dealing with corp sales guys. Those guys are killers... Applewood is just preparing you for such conversations in the future :D

    Anyone who has negotiated a successful publishing deal will have good advice for you, regardless of the scope of the project. Publishers are always going to be tough on every deal, so anyone who's already crossed to the other side has already experienced that.

    Good luck, Man.
     
  20. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    That's true, but the difference with what I said is that you assumed that small time development is all I know, and then you somehow try to get away from the fact that what you are about right now is actually small time dev.

    You have no team, no offices, no funding and no finished game. If you think you are walking into a meeting and coming out with a million bucks, you're just being stupid. Seriously, they won't even return your calls at this point.

    And everyone has told you this already. Because we're all bitter?

    NO, BECAUSE SOME OF US HAVE BEEN DOING THIS STUFF AT SOME LEVEL FOR 25 YEARS AND WE MIGHT JUST KNOW MORE ABOUT IT THAN YOU DO.

    Shit, you seem pretty unimpressed with my inexperienced and untalented three-man team only getting 27 games done start to finish in five years, some of which are originals and across all platforms known to man, for a wide body of publishers and other developers. Fine. Ignore me completely. Instead listen to the exact same response you got from the other old-timer who answered you. You know, the one whose spent his whole career dealing with publishers and small developers looking for funding.

    I've made a few big edits to my previous response. Toned down some of the rhetoric and added a few more bits. Please still ignore it.

    There are a zillion members of this forum and every single one of them thinks his latest game is the shits. This statement will buy you zero credibility with a publisher. Let me restate that. Not a small amount. NIL
     

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