For a funded gaming startup that is about to launch a social-mobile game, would you suggest to self-publish or go for a publishing deal?

We are angel-backed gaming company, and our first title is about to be launched soon. We've iterated the game for several months and we are about to achieve very good numbers regarding retention, virality and monetization. We estimate that in order to have an impact with this game, meaning create enough value (big enough revenues to self-sustain or big enough userbase to get the next round of investment), we need to reach our users fast, but we don't have the budget needed to achieve this alone (People say that we need at least $100K to get somewhere in the stores). So we have started approaching and negotiating with game publishers. Any thoughts? Do you think that even in our situation there is a way to successfully self-publish the game, or would you advice to establish a partnership with a publisher? Thanks,


I would suggest you self-publish. Let me break down the mobile game landscape for you in a single statement:

*You can only grow a game if your LTV (Lifetime Value) is greater then your CPI (Cost Per Install).*

I assure you, that once you have that formula successful, finding money to support continued growth of your game at extremely favorable terms to yourself is not going to be a problem.

If you don't have success with the above formula, then it doesn't matter if you have a publisher, your game's not going to be able to grow and make money with them either.

There are only 2 conditions which you should consider a game publisher:

1) You need money to complete the game. (ie, no way will the game exist unless you get the money.)

2) For specific geo locations, such as China where there are people who can properly localize and market the game.

That's it. I believe there is no grey area here and I've had experience on both sides of the table, including being the first 3rd party publisher signed by Zynga. The latest game I built is currently in the top 100 grossing chart (Cookie Jam) and it's there because we have successfully cracked the formula above.

Its quite simple, but really difficult to achieve.

Good luck!


Answered 9 years ago

You appear to have already made the decision to continue to self fund and self publish - if you have the funding to support this great ! Unless a publishing partner prospect is prepared to commit serious funding to product marketing continue to back your own iterative efforts that are already driving retention, virality and monetisation. Drip feed your own marketing support whilst making blue chip publisher prospects aware that you are open to offers of support - if they are serious !

Answered 9 years ago

To put it in a simple way I listed some options from best to less attractive:

1. Best: self publish with your own budget.
2. Partner with another self publishing developer
3. Self publish using mostly PR and Word of Mouth tactics
4. Use a tier 1 Publisher (DeNA, Gree etc)

Why I listed it in this order:

Self publishing with your own budget allows you to control all the ARM model elements (Acquisition, Retention, Monetization) and optimize the game metrics to the exact target audience. It will give you the expertise in house to publish games which is critical to success int he long run and with other games. It does come with a cost of money and a learning fee unless you bring in someone already experienced. But long term it's the right way to go.

Your second best option is to partner with a good developer who already knows to self-publish games, run campaigns and optimize them. They could also partner with you on the marketing costs in exchange of some revenue (after they cover the marketing expense). This means they'll do a good job and will give you the opportunity to learn how to self publish. Of course, who you do the deal with is critical.

If you don't have a big enough marketing budget and no one experienced to hire, you can try to run a word of mouth campaign. This means means you'll need to find a unique feature in your game to make a big story out it and then push it to the media. This can be unique game story, unique visuals, unique gameplay - anything people could relate to and talk/write about. Monument Valley is but one example. It's still a lot of work, though, don't make a mistake.

Last option is going to a publisher. Only do it if you have absolutely no marketing budget, no marketing expertise and if the game fails it won't kill the studio. Because chances are, it won't score big. And I'm talking about the big, serious, tier 1 publishers.

The good publishers will be able to guide you a bit on improving your game and will give you the right KPI goals to aspire to. Most publishers still don't have a clue about how to do it right and will just confuse you, the good ones at least *knows* what they're talking about.

And still, publishers will only care about your game if it'll be an instant hit. It if will, they'll put the budget, the right account manager and push the game seriously. That's the optimal scenario.

In most cases, your game will achieve moderate to good KPIs but not one of an instant hit and this will happen: they won't spend money on publishing it, and will drive traffic to it from their other games. They won't be able to tell you who these players are, so you won't even be able to optimize to the target audience. They will provide you access to their stats system that will give you a lot of vanity metrics but won't allow you to control the A part of the ARM model, rendering the whole funnel useless.

Bottom line: Do your best to self publish, or partner with a good self publishing developer and learn. And good luck! :)

Answered 9 years ago

There are a number of outside-the-box marketing tactics you can try that cost far less than that $100k. If you opt to self-publish, it might be interesting for you to mix in a few small experiments alongside the tried-and-true paths to past successes. Consider it diversifying your marketing strategy portfolio.

If you'd like a couple of suggestions, call me.

Answered 9 years ago

Every technique has its own drawbacks and benefits. Self-publish or a publishing deal is no different.
The Benefits of Self-Publishing: First and foremost, it is important to consider why so many developers choose to self-publish their games. However, whatever revenue you do get can be spent to get more users, or if you have an instant hit, to help fund your next game project. You can do whatever you want with it, market it however you want, and not deal with a lot of external direction that you might not be all too fond of. This limitless creativity and freedom mean you’re the boss, and you get to experiment with crazy ideas that established game publishers wouldn’t risk investing in. There is no mandatory announcement of a release date to publish in all possible media. Although it seems complicated, self-publishing ensures you have complete control of your own game development process. You can take your time, create your game however you want, and forgo the worrying about meeting marketing deadlines or seeking the widest audience possible. It’s flexible and rewarding, and most always reflective of the developer’s unique perspective on the world.

The Drawbacks of Self-Publishing: Self-publishing means you’re in charge of marketing your own game. It means all the expenses associated with funding, developing, testing, marketing, and releasing the game are entirely up to you. That is a hefty feat for a new developer, especially if you do not already have experience in these areas. The good news is there are lots of cheap solutions you can explore, which is great for all the developers out there working on ambitious projects. For instance, there are sponsorships and grants, or programs like Indie Fund or Indie Wolverine, both of which help with specific development elements. These organizations and grants help with certain aspects of development, like quality assurance and marketing. Meanwhile, those that opt for traditional publishing do not have this issue as much. They can easily tap into publisher connections to find qualified developers. Also, self-publishing means even with the support of grants or sponsorships, you’re very much free, meaning there will be a glaring spotlight on your lack of business knowledge and unreasonable expectations. Game development is only one piece of the puzzle. Game development does not equal your game project. It’s a business, which means there are rules to follow, procedures you’ll be accountable for, and knowledge that you’ll be better off learning sooner than later, like learning how to use metric tools and how to find your target audience. Even without a designated “boss,” someone needs to act as one to streamline the development process, determine priorities, and assign tasks. Developers are creative types with big dreams and generally small budgets. With little to no business experience, this can lead to a major loss of potential profit, as well as shattered dreams. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the thousands of indie games cropping up around the world. Consider partnering up with companies that offer a variety of tools to make all the analysis, marketing, and distributing easier.

The Benefits of Traditional Publishing: On the other hand, going with a publisher means you can rely on their experienced marketing team to handle all that work for you. With their expertise also comes their big pool of users across their network. One of the biggest benefits a traditional publisher provides is the ability to handle all your marketing tools, such as website and social media accounts. And in turn, you get more time to spend on your game development. Publishers do not publish just any game, otherwise they would go under. When they choose a game, it is because they see a market for it, they see the potential, and they know they can gain something from it. They want to help you, the developer, without sacrificing themselves in the process. Anything they suggest will come from a place of business incentive. And if you put your best possible effort into it, you still can’t make everything else, like marketing, work in your favour without the experience. A traditional publisher knows how to do the things you can’t, and they have the connections and experience from doing these things on a daily basis.

The Drawbacks of Traditional Publishing: Of course, bigger revenue potential comes with a bigger share to be taken by your publisher. The exact amount varies among publishers and depends on different factors. Working with publishers also means you need to be open to sharing ownership of the game, as well as deal with contracts and commit to milestones. Also, remember that going with a traditional publisher usually means a loss of freedom. They will only invest if there is potential for return, but once they invest, they are looking to put you through the motions of running a business. Because let us face it, development is a business. The minute there is a sponsor or publisher, you must take their opinions into consideration.
Put simply, it is the combination of everything you, the developer, would normally do, plus all the things publishers do on a routine basis. Services like App Annie and Chartboost will help answer these questions, as well as Facebook’s insights and targeting, or Xsolla Publisher Account. If you want to get users to download and play it, you’ll need to put in hard work. Creating a blog with regular updates will also help, as players love feeling like they can directly communicate with the creators behind their favorite games.

Getting users in your game is just the beginning. Keeping them long enough so you can convert them into loyal and paying users is where the real battle happens. As with user acquisition, find a good combination that leads to higher engagement. Having a good system for them to give feedback is also crucial in keeping them loyal, since players love to feel like they’re being heard and catered to.

Earning revenue is ultimately what everything boils down to, even if it’s not your primary motive. To become successful, understanding revenue is a must. Besides the usual updates, promotions and ads, you can earn revenue by investing plenty of time and effort into understanding your players. Dive into the data and know how your players behave, so you can use it to your advantage.

Some things to make a note of are which items they purchase the most, which are being ignored, and at which point in the game do they spend the most money. These questions are important to help you improve your game’s flow and find out how to transition your users into loyal, paying players. Note that there is no single solution that works 100% of the time. Combining all the above would increase your chances of getting players into your game.

Appsflyer is a really good tool to help you identify which campaign gives you the most users and where they are coming from.

Besides if you do have any questions give me a call:

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