So, you’re a game designer, well established or not – it doesn’t really matter. What people don’t know is that you have always dreamt of going independent, to start your own publishing house and be an active part of the hobby industry. You also have one really good game. You know that because your friends and family – who you’ve been testing the game with for years – have already confirmed this. They love your game. You also have what is takes, the capital and connections, to get a head start in an industry with almost no entry barrier. The big question is should you or should you not start off by publishing your own game?
There’s really no simple answer, but there are a few aspects you should definitely consider.
Is your game really that good? We’ve already established that you think it is. What you probably do not know is that games which play well are not necessarily the same as games which sell well. When you go ahead and submit your own design to an already established publishing house (which does not have to be a giant of this industry) you get the most honest feedback possible, because those people have to turn your game into a marketable product. They will consider what the best theme of the game is, they will analyze each game component and see if the game could be manufactured for a reasonable price and they will identify the niche of the market into which your design will fit. Perhaps most important of all, a publisher can be the ultimate judge of the added value your game will bring to them and, deciding if publishing your design can bring them revenue. This is the kind of feedback which you will miss if you decide to go independent.
Another important factor to consider is the emotional one. As a designer – and this is true especially with first time designers – you are attached to your creation. This is not wrong, it is only human to feel that way. But you should realize that you will always be biased, you will most likely overestimate the value your product brings and you will have a hard time receiving criticism.
There’s also the lack of experience. I should be the one to know everything about this. When we established NSKN Games back in 2011, our team had experience in various fields from various industries, some with much higher stakes that game publishing. This did not compensate the fact that we were just passionate gamers and some of the decisions we made were questionable to say the least.
Once you’ve moved past game designer and you’ve established yourself as a publisher, you can no longer afford to get attached to your “baby”. Emotional detachment will allow you to make the best business decisions in front of you, which may not be the same as the best decisions for the future of your design.
Last but not least, a medium or big publisher will also have channels of distribution which they will use to push your game to the final customer. A great product is only great if people think so and accessibility is one of the keys to turning a design into a successful product.
Now, the discouraging part is over. There are also a few important benefits of publishing your own game.
Unlike a big publisher with tens of new titles in print every year, you will have all the time in the world to dedicate to your single product. The more effort you put into developing and marketing your game, the better it will get (usually).
You will also care more and put more effort into every aspect of your game’s life cycle. Caring about you design is a two way street. It is easy to get carried away and think that you game has supernatural powers. But we’ve already covered this aspect. If you do it right, you may end up doing a better job for your game that a development team from a big firm, but with their attention split among 10 or 20 products.
And let’s not forget about Kickstarter. For the past several years, designers turning publishers have the best possible tool to make their dream come true: crowd-funding. Given enough time, effort and research, anyone can get a head start. But Kickstarter is not straightforward. It is a very competitive environment, where hundreds (or maybe thousands?) of creators show their designs to the world, trying to get funding. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to make a good project and you have to be open about every single aspect of your business, to spend long night answering all questions and you will be in the spotlight in front of an amazing crowd which will not hesitate to “grill” you about every little detail. On the bright side, big publishing houses are not using Kickstarter because it is simply too much trouble with too much to lose, so a big chunk of your competition is simply not running this race. A highly successful project can put you on the map, both financially (but this is usually not the case) and in term of reputation. It’s the latter you should aim for and it’s not impossible to get.
So, should you or shouldn’t you publish your own game design?
That’s in the end up to you. Us folks at NSKN Games have done it and people who know us for a long time know that we’ve had our share of difficult times. I personally started by publishing my own game design and I can tell you that I’ve made all the mistakes there were to be made. But we’re still standing and even growing. And there are many more in our position. If you have a tough skin and acumen for business, you could at least try. If you’re a talented game designer who does not want to do the dirty work, there are enough people like us who are looking for great ideas and making them a reality.