So, I would like to share a few tips on how to evaluate a game Publisher, that I learn from my personal experience regarding my encounters with them.
Now, before we start please note that this is just my personal opinion so feel free to disagree with me.
I will try to keep it all simple and to the point.
In the last 2 years, I got contacted by a decent amount of indie game publishers interested in my “Chromosome Evil” project, please also consider that before this I worked with the indie publishers but also I did self-publish so I have a bit of experience from both perspectives.
OK let’s begin
Before you decide to contact them or if they contacted you first before you reply it is a good practice to scan them first:
1. Check what titles they released
– look for the majority of the game types they published, for example, in my case I am making a strategy game and one of the publishers who contacted me got the majority of games Platformers. That is a big minus for me. One of the main bonuses a publisher must bring to the table is the community behind him and if his community is not your target audience then this is a minus.
– look for the rating of the games published. This is mostly if you care about your brand, on the long-term you don’t want to be associated with someone who got a bad reputation in the industry or someone who makes bad estimations in investments.
– look for the sales, yes check the published game review amounts and use external soft(there are plenty of formulas on google) to make rough estimations then decide if they are within your goal target. Here it’s a bit tricky, for example, some publishers may have just 1 hit game, and the rest have bad sales, this can involve luck not skill on the publisher side so be careful and take your time to scan.
2. Check their social media presence, this is a “must” scan in order to evaluate their community power better
– Their Discord community
– Youtube channel engagement per video/subscribers
– Twitter page: engagement per tweets
So if you are satisfied with the first 2 scans then you can move on to the next steps.
Priorities during negotiations.
Before you even start chatting with them you must always be prepared and have a realistic goal in mind, I find this a good practice so it helps me stay more focused and not get greedy because greed can make you ignore some legal bindings that I will present later and that can have long-term effects.
3. Minimum Guarantee
I usually always ask for an MG(minimum guarantee upfront) this is the BEST(and probably only) guarantee to see how much confidence the publisher has in his own marketing skills and evaluation of your project(to be honest many times I did not need the MG but I still ask especially because of this). Now some of you might need full-length funding, for that, I do not have experience but if you do please share with me. In order for me to be happy, the MG amount must be similar or better than what I consider I can do for myself with self-publish within the first year.
4. Additional questions, it is best to ask this up front because if you reach the contract stage you will need to pay a lawyer to translate all this so you can spare a lot of time and resources by knowing critical points from start.
– MG is almost always recoupable but it is good to ask if it’s all recoupable upfront from sales or gradually.
– Some publishers also offer to make trailers, additional soundtracks, localization, and so on so always ask if these services are also recoupable or not and if yes, ask if you can commission for those funds your own people. I learned that many publishers got huge amounts invested in these that I can make with less than half and in the same quality so always try to minimize costs and be aware of legal bindings.
– Ask for deadlines(in case the project is not finished)
– Ask for a case study (this is very important if you want to estimate Publisher skills in regards to marketing, for example, this is a case study I did for a promo round on Facebook: https://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=71871.0 )
– Ask him for sale estimation(Raw Fury, for example, got a nice sale estimation file that you can downlod and see sale estimations if you use their services https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kx2oljt3k4c4qcl/AAC1SeKWMvS32qoX1d3G3in8a/Money?dl=0&subfolder_nav_tracking=1 )
– Ask him for a wishlist estimation that he can bring to your game before the release if you use his services (this can also help you make some estimations and check if their sale estimation match their wishlist estimation)
– Ask for referrals from other developers they worked with. More exactly ask them to provide a letter that can suspend their NDA with that dev for the purpose of referrals, this is because most Publisher binds developers with NDA`s so they might not be very responsive if you do not ask for this.
5. Negociations priorities
– Minimum Guarantee
– always ask about IP, I find it fair for a publisher to get the IP if they fund the entire development process but if they just want the finished cake then I don’t think it is worth it. I personally always reject offers that want to take IP no matter the MG amount. This can have many long-term effects that include rights to the sequel, DLC, console ports, and others that would require an entire topic just for this.
– Try to negotiate DLC`s and always try to keep them as free as possible from additional legal bindings, on the long term believe me you want control over DLC`s especially if your game will be a hit..
– If marketing investments are recoupable always ask for the fixed amount stipulated in the contract or they can add extra costs for example they can commission one of their own employees to make marketing at x10 the standard price so always make sure the funds for marketing are fixed and the marketing plan is solid.
– make sure you have a fixed amount of time stipulated in the contract that you must provide updates and maintenance, in the worst-case scenario that the game fails I assure you that you don’t want to make maintenance for free for many years to come
– make sure you are not bound for some sci-fi, dark star,fap fap modifications on publisher request
– make sure ALL extra costs are clearly stipulated especially if they include recouple amounts or any extra work on your side.
– The revenue share amount( this is up to you and what makes you happy, but for me, if the MG is solid and all legal bindings are acceptable I can go for max 50-50 max)
– Ask how long will they hold your game, some publishers hold the game 5 years, some 10 years, and some forever, choose what is best for you.
– If porting is involved try to negotiate to have porting costs covered by the publisher, they will mostly only care about porting if the PC release is a hit but that may depend from publisher to publisher, for example for the console releases I use an external indie publisher, small-time but I am happy with his services, he is very transparent and flexible. I do not have the experience or time to go through all console porting coding and console marketing process so this works well for me. I totally recommend him (Restless Corp) if you are doing a small project and just want some pocket money for no extra work.
– It is good to also ask for developer access on the steam financial page, if they refuse it is an instant deal-breaker for me because that is the place where you will see the official income amount(make sure this is specified in the contract).
– ask for a co-publisher, this is not critical but if you ever consider going self-publish at some point it is good to build a brand in the time. Just don’t get your hopes up, most publishers will not accept this but it is worth asking.
– the contract must be very clear, no room for interpretation because let`s be honest if you are a small indie dev you do not have enough power to take these big corporations into court(or maybe you have I don’t know but I personally don’t)
– be clear about payment milestones, if at any point the publisher wants to pull out before paying a milestone in order for him to cut his losses if he considers that, you must also be prepared for this + also make sure if this happens you are allowed to continue your work on the IP and you have release right in this scenario
It’s late here so If I forgot something I will edit and add it later.
Hope it helps