Last year, when we began working on our own games, we approached a lot publishers (and got approached by a few others). While all of them are different and look for different types of game, most of them have the same requirements in terms of the deals they offer or what they’ll give in return.
After talking with several of them, getting our games rejected by some of them and rejecting some publishers ourselves too, I was able to gather a few things that I think are mandatory when trying to get your game published:
Have a working prototype ready
The first thing any publisher will ask you is “Can you send us a prototype?”. Be ready for that, prepare an interesting version of your game that shows its amazing features. It doesn’t have to be a finished game, but at least invest in preparing the art for your the prototype. This is a good way of showing not only how good you work, but also that you are really committed to your idea.
And I am not just talking about nice graphics or high quality code. Be professional. Send well written emails to them. Do your homework and investigate about the publisher you are contacting, know them well. Everything you can do to show them you are a professional person the better.
Keep it simple
Not all publishers look for the same games. Nevertheless, in my experience, they want to get approached with simple, yet fun games. The simpler your game, the most likely you will be able to get them interested in your idea. With simple, I mean a game that doesn’t involve tens of elements, a game that is easy to understand even for people that never played a game, a game that is intuitive.
Appeal to a broad market
Similar to the point above. If your game has a friendly tone, with cute characters and simple mechanics, it is more likely to get published than a JRPG set in a bloody war with mature content. I am not saying it is impossible, but it is more likely that they won’t like to take a big risk.
Be ready to make changes
Most times you will have to make changes to your game in order to get it published. They may ask for simple changes or changes that take you weeks to do. These may range from just adding a screen with the publisher’s logo to making the game freemium and adding a store with tens of powerups. Be prepared to discuss these changes with them and know that most publishers won’t give you any money for that. The sooner you approach a publisher the better, as having to make all these changes when you were one week from releasing the game is a bad idea.
Create an interesting IP (and don’t let them own it)
It is not easy, but if you manage to create something that is successful, owning the IP of that is very important. There are a lot of know stories about this, where studios get a publisher for their game, it sells millions of copies and then, since they own the IP, release a sequel without the publisher. Owning the IP means you can do what you want with your game, the brand and its characters and this is very important if your game sells big.
Be careful with what you sign
Before signing anything, have a lawyer review the terms of the contract. These tend to be really big and some points are confusing. Just make sure you are not selling your soul. Here are some important things you should look for in the contract:
- Percentage of revenue: How much will you get of each sold copy? Each publisher will ask for different percentages but in my experience they could be between 30% to 50%.
- Payment terms: Remember they will be the first to get the money, then they’ll pay to you. Be sure it is clear when will that happen. You might not be able to survive 60 to 90 days to get paid.
- IP: Be sure you will be the owner of the IP, this is important as explained before.
- Ports/Other versions: I’ve seen several contracts where the publisher says they can get other developers to do the version of the game for other platform is you can’t or won’t do it. They will even ask you for the source code. How does that make you feel? I don’t really like that myself.
- What work they’ll do: Make sure it is specified what kind of work the publisher will do and what will they make you do. Will they handle the game’s website development? Will they hire ads in the most popular blogs/sites? Will they help with localization? Everything they don’t say they will do, you will have to. At your own expense.
These are just a few examples that you should have in mind when signing the contract. Just make sure you are aware of all these things and if you have doubts, ask your lawyer and the publisher.
If you are not sure, let it go
As simple as it sounds. If you are not sure about the terms of the contract, if something doesn’t convince you, if they are asking you to make a million changes to the concept and you can’t afford it, whatever your reasons are, if you are not sure about it, let it go. You can find other publishers or maybe you are better off without them.
Our experience with publishers
Last year, when we were about to release our first game, we approached several publishers and got approached by others as well.
Some publishers proposed us great deals, others really bad ones and other publishers just ignored us. In the end, we decided to publish the game ourselves to see how the process was and learn along the way.
The results were not what we expected at all but I don’t feel bad about it. Could we have done better with a publisher? I don’t really know. There were things that we could have done better, but that I’ll leave that for another post.
Full-time mobile software developer and entrepreneur.
I help companies increase their profit by generating ideas, advising them and developing mobile apps and games for them through my company, InfinixSoft.
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Author of Cocos2d for iPhone: Beginner’s guide.