Debbie Bestwick explains why going it alone might be more damaging to your game than you think

Is self-publishing right for all Indies?

At the recent Steam Dev Days conference, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell effectively said that Steam Greenlight is going away. The back-end tools that Steam has been working on for the past 12 months are almost complete, meaning developers can create their own store pages, set pricing and manage their titles’ lifecycles on the platform with the minimum of fuss.

This will effectively open up the route to market for one and all and I’ll be very interested to see how many titles will flood onto the platform in 2014. Steam’s growth has certainly been impressive with 2013 seeing 636 titles being released – a year-on-year increase of 66 per cent.

So, with everyone having been given the keys to the kingdom, what does this mean for indies? Well, I suggest you pack your waterproofs, because it’s not going to be plain sailing for everyone – things are going to get rough. Sure, Steam’s userbase will continue to grow but with an unchecked deluge of releases, how are you going to make sure your game gets noticed?

Multi-platform, triple-A titles will undoubtedly rise to the top, buoyed by their substantial marketing budgets. It’s the smaller, independent titles that might just struggle to get noticed and that’s a shame as these games are more often than not the ones that deliver the innovation and experiences that gamers insatiably desire. The route to market on all platforms is becoming far less restrictive, leaving indies with options.

Traditionalists may prefer the old model of signing up with a publisher and letting them handle all the sales, marketing and distribution side of things. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; but it does involve letting go of a larger slice of your revenue and do you really retain your independent identity, or even your own IP?

Maybe the answer is a spot of DIY? After all, you’ve been handed all these new online tools so how hard can it be? A few lines of text, a couple of screenshots, a nice piece of key art – just click ‘publish’, sit back and watch your game climb the charts – or sink without a trace.

In reality self-publishing takes time, lots and lots of it. It’s no wonder that publishers employ entire departments focused solely on sales and marketing: they’re full-time jobs. Have you really got the time to juggle running your business, developing a game and publishing it, not to mention giving each discipline the focus and attention it really needs? Looks like you could end up caught between a rock and a hard place, right?

What I believe independent developers need is choice and freedom. After all, we don’t live in a ‘one size fits all’ world. For me, the answer lies with indies forging ties with like-minded partners that are already operating in the brave new digital world. Such collaborations should allow indies to operate with full flexibility.

Publishing as a service

Publishing duties should be viewed as a menu of services from which indies can choose which ones they already have the necessary skills to carry out for themselves and which they need to plug into their games business.

It’s all about the complete lifecycle management of a title from its initial announcement right the way through launch and then months and years after. A well chosen partner should be able to offer advice on best practices for platforms, help with discoverability, development and production resources, art, code, audio, QA, localisation, customer support resources, PR, marketing, sales and, in some cases, financial support.

Team17 recently announced its return to third-party publishing with a deal done for the game Light. Just a Pixel is a small independent developer based in Brighton, consisting of two ex-EA employees. In addition to maximising the success of each title, our focus is to help and share our knowledge with indies to understand the gaming revolution that is happening.

Innovation on all levels is fundamental to survival for all and people need to broaden their skill sets in order to compete today. I firmly believe that no one needs a publisher anymore. We need a partner or partners that deliver the parts we aren’t skilled to handle. We should expect an unprecedented level of trust and transparency – it’s beneficial for all concerned. We should expect the percentage splits to reflect this and most of all we should retain IP and be in control of our games.

Debbie Bestwick is one of the founding members of Team17. She pioneered the company’s leap into digital publishing, and was promoted to CEO in 2009. Find her on Twitter: @djbteamsters

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