Opinion: Sold Out on why the games industry is experiencing a ‘publishing renaissance’

The games industry is experiencing a publishing renaissance, as even the most ardent proponents of self-publishing have now learnt that selling a game from the equivalent of your bedroom is not a great replacement for the human touch.

The title ‘publisher’ may not yet be ‘clean’, but even pragmatists are realising that to maximise their gaming revenues they simply cannot survive without these publishing functions. Most people would struggle to name an indie author who has become famous without the use of a publicist and a publisher. Would we ever have heard of Harry Potter if JK Rowling had stated: “I can write it so I may as well publicise and publish the book myself”?

For a while, the perceived freedom of indie publishing appeared to offer a route to market for digital-savvy games producers – and the dreaded ‘P’ word of publisher became stigmatised. Now, most commercial developers realise that if you build it they don’t just automatically come.

There is, however, a new breed of publisher emerging: businesses that truly add value rather than just trying to grab a slice of the action. Team17, for example, speaks of its ‘artists and repertoire’ model and would punch you in the mouth if you labelled it as just a publisher – it wants to be a games label, offering its development skills and digital expertise to grow.

Rebellion has demonstrated that it can both fund and guide its own projects independently, and has now released its own licenses into the wild of creative co-operation.

The publishing functions that were ‘abandoned’ in the initial indie gold-rush are now essential. They help to provide consumers with assurances of quality.

Garry Williams, Sold Out

Even the digitally-focused Frontier discovered that the publicity and marketing machines around boxed sales add additional profile and coverage. Some key players indicate that a boxed release can add as much as 30 per cent to your digital sales.

Steam and other platforms did not make publishers obsolete it seems. Digital storefronts may well democratise publishing, but the more barriers Steam and other platform holders insert, the more middlemen will emerge.

Like the indie developers themselves, some will cater to specific niches, while others like Sold Out will be more mainstream. But ultimately, they will all serve a kind of curation role. Their value will lie not just in PR, marketing and finance, but also in the ability to say to platforms and consumers that we like this game and will champion it through the maze of discovery.

The publishing functions that were ‘abandoned’ in the initial indie gold-rush are now essential. They help to provide consumers with clearer assurances of quality. A new breed of publisher may be the only answer to the problems created by the very storefronts we were told were going to make publishers disappear. 

The publishers are dead, long live the publishers.

Garry Williams possesses decades of publishing experience, beginning with publishing C+VG magazine, before adding eight years of worldwide multiformat games licensing experience working for a large Japanese company. He then founded publisher Sold Out

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