Dealing With Publishers

MariuszH presented several questions about dealing with the publishers. First of all I must admit that the games I have been producing (or co-producing) haven’t had a retail publisher behind them so I needed to consult other people to help me with these questions.


Let’s assume, that we have just finished working on self-financed game, and now we want to get publishers (not only portals, but also retail ones). How to find and get in touch with CD/other publishers? How do we do that?

I believe best way to reach any publishers or retail distributors is to announce a press release. We’ve got plenty of offers from different companies and organisations after we made press releases. Another way is to make sure your website has direct info. A Finnish game development company Frozenbyte is selling their Shadowgrounds game in retail stores. They have an announcement page where they list release dates for different countries and announce that they are interested in hearing from publishers/distributors.

If you want to personally contact publishers then start googling & asking in forums for potential publishers. Fetch their websites and phone or email them.


Are there other ways to contact & deal with publishers?

It’s possible that publisher (or a company) has a brand (it can be any brand from toys to candy – or everything in the between) and you ask them to finance a branded game for them. When we worked on GEOM we got a contact from one major toys company: they wanted GEOM to display their graphics and they wanted to distribute GEOM through retail channels (as an addon for toys). The deal never happened – their offer was simply too low for us – but this example shows exactly what ways there are to deal with different companies.


We are a startup company, not established yet. So it’s almost impossible for us to find any company which would work with us. Though our games are not that bad. Some companies don’t even reply. So how to get noticed?

It’s a tough world out there. Small indies are hard to spot – especially if there’s no legal entity behind them. I would seriously suggest establishing a company. If you want to make it fast & easy you can start as a sole proprietorship (that’s how I’m doing it). Notice: there are legal risks (like I’m fully responsible for my company – if the company gets sued, it’s basically me who gets sued) in establishing a company. If you have a company your image will be much better than having “just” a team. It gives you a professional look and will have an impact.

If you still don’t want to start a company then you really must prove that you have finished projects earlier and make sure your achievements are noted. Best way to get noted is to make a darn good game, and make the world know about it: press releases again play important role here.


How should we make our first contact? What should we place in our proposal? Do we want publisher to sign NDA, or maybe we will be asked to sign publishers NDA?

Publishers most likely have a template for publishing proposals and for publishing contracts. If you make a press release you will most likely get proposals from different publishers requesting more info and making a preliminary proposal. Some might tell them the exact royalties they want to give. It really depends on the publisher.

On the other hand, if you are the one who is reaching for a publisher then I think there’s one important element what they expect to hear: money. They want to hear sales expectations, information about your company and they want to see your game. If possible, show rather than tell. Use screen shots, concept art and demos to present your game. If you are the one who approaches, then you must have a solid business plan behind your proposal. Here’s a small list of items what you should contain in the proposal:
– Company information (name, contact info, phone etc.)
– Proposed title and brief description
– What you are selling and for what need?
– Who is going to buy this game? And why?
– What’s the business logic – how will you sell the game? (Subscription based? One-time payment, Expansion packs and add-ons? What?)
– On what stage your game development is at the moment? (On development? Finished?)
– What’s new in this game?
– List top 4 competitors and explain why your game is better than them
– Is the game trademarked or patented? Is there legal protection?
– Any additional information (websites, resources, etc.)

If you want to keep your business proposal secret then you might want publisher to sign NDA. I’m quite sure the publishers will ask you to do the same. Just not a big deal – just sign it and continue negotiations.


What should we expect?

I wasn’t sure if this question was “whether the publisher accepts” or “in terms of money”. I’ll answer both:
– If you are determined to find a publisher for your game I’m confident that you can expect to find one. Make it your goal and it will be possible. You might hear thousand “no”s before getting the first “yes”, but that’s part of the business.
– Money: It’s true that beginner indies put their expectations very unrealistic (I did – and I know many others…) at the beginning, but – I think that with proper business planning it’s possible to wield realistic figures & goals to expect. If you have a vision – go forward to it. My friend & business partner Tim is a great example of ‘making it big’ – he simply won’t accept “no”. He says he “must get the money” and he does what it takes to get the money. Now he’s got several big companies interested in his igLoader (system that let’s downloadable games to be played in browser). Just be enough stubborn and you’ll make it. Aim high, think big.


Can we expect any upfront money?

Usually the patter is this: For retail (boxed) deals yes. For other proposals – hardly. Some (digital online) indie publishers might offer you upfront money, but as said: it’s not common.


How much [upfront money/sales] we can expect in different markets (USA / Germany / UK / Russia / Poland / etc)?

That really depends on your game. This is really hard to say. For example, in Germany there are relatively large amount of ‘real’ strategists who play all kinds of strategy games. These kinds of games would most likely get better deals. Very roughly speaking I would say the largest areas are: USA and EU. Russia is a growing market (but the price level is very low which makes it harder to make good profits from there). China and Eastern Asia are big & growing markets and all kinds of (anime) RPGs sell well there. Countries like UK, Germany or Finland are very different. UK is a big seller but you won’t see many sales in Finland.

Frozenbyte (selling their Shadowgrounds in different countries) expects to see total sales of 100 000 units (total sales from all countries). They have listed the following territories: North America, Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Benelux, Spain, UK, Italy, Russia, Australia & New Zealand and Scandinavia. Whether your game will receive 1000 or million or zero sales depends on your game and your goals. It’s impossible for me to say how much you will see. I presume you could expect seeing maybe $1 upfront (per estimated unit sold) for retail games: if the publisher estimates sales to be about 2000 per year, you might get $2000 upfront. This is only one rough example and the actual figures might be totally different.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. @MariuszH & Penguinx: Glad to hear they are helpful – but remember: use you own mind to make the judgement. Don’t accept what I say here – ask others, visit forums in case you want to have second opinion on issues. Even though these texts are from real life experience – that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be other ways to handle issues.

    @IoryaDragon: Well, I believe that self-publishing is something that comes along with being “indie”, on the other hand – I like doing marketing/making business decisions by my own. If I was more “programmer oriented” and would *only* prefer programming games I would seriously think about getting a publisher.

    I know that if you do casual/puzzle/”small” games, then head towards Indiepath Ltd. / cloverleafgames and ask if Tim could take a look at your game demo (feel free to mention me if you want). He did great job with Xmas Bonus (you know, the sales stats are here) and I’m sure if your game has potential – you can make a nice deal with him. Tim is a trustworthy guy, so go ahead and try. If you still hesitate, why don’t you check out Grey Alien Games (developers of Xmas Bonus) and ask them how did they feel about dealing with Indiepath & will they deal with them in the future.

    And btw – even if you want to self-publish, you can still make non-exclusive deals with publishers. Just try to make sure the contract has 30 or 60 day “test period” so you can cancel the deal if it doesn’t sound good. We had a quite bad experience with one portal as we ended up paying them money for selling our game (because there had been refunds… and sales were minimal or zero)! I won’t disclose their name because we only had to pay couple of dollars and I believe this is one-time case. There are lots of developers who are happy with this portal – so don’t get afraid of dealing with them. Just make sure you know where you are getting into when signing those contracts.

  2. Well after reading some post about indie publishers in some forum, i must say it you are better off without a publisher. Only publisher that you can count on them are those that u really now for sure, that your friend or someone u trust had a contract with them and everything went well. Most of the stories i heard, is some of the indie publisher, sold copies of games, and gave the developer incorrect data, about sales, incorrect like in lower sales, but they made some money. Ofcourse someone with more experience, can clear things up about good indie publishers and bad indie publishers.

  3. I find these anecdotes and instructions a great help. It’s a never ending quest for the ambitious indie developer to learn more; especially as one who juggles all the balls themselves. 2D art, 3D art, programming, business -the list is ever expanding.

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