We are angel-backed gaming company, and our first title is about to be launched soon.
We've iterated the game for several months and we are about to achieve very good numbers regarding retention, virality and monetization.
We estimate that in order to have an impact with this game, meaning create enough value (big enough revenues to self-sustain or big enough userbase to get the next round of investment), we need to reach our users fast, but we don't have the budget needed to achieve this alone (People say that we need at least $100K to get somewhere in the stores). So we have started approaching and negotiating with game publishers.
Any thoughts? Do you think that even in our situation there is a way to successfully self-publish the game, or would you advice to establish a partnership with a publisher?
I would suggest you self-publish. Let me break down the mobile game landscape for you in a single statement:
*You can only grow a game if your LTV (Lifetime Value) is greater then your CPI (Cost Per Install).*
I assure you, that once you have that formula successful, finding money to support continued growth of your game at extremely favorable terms to yourself is not going to be a problem.
If you don't have success with the above formula, then it doesn't matter if you have a publisher, your game's not going to be able to grow and make money with them either.
There are only 2 conditions which you should consider a game publisher:
1) You need money to complete the game. (ie, no way will the game exist unless you get the money.)
2) For specific geo locations, such as China where there are people who can properly localize and market the game.
That's it. I believe there is no grey area here and I've had experience on both sides of the table, including being the first 3rd party publisher signed by Zynga. The latest game I built is currently in the top 100 grossing chart (Cookie Jam) and it's there because we have successfully cracked the formula above.
Its quite simple, but really difficult to achieve.
You appear to have already made the decision to continue to self fund and self publish - if you have the funding to support this great ! Unless a publishing partner prospect is prepared to commit serious funding to product marketing continue to back your own iterative efforts that are already driving retention, virality and monetisation. Drip feed your own marketing support whilst making blue chip publisher prospects aware that you are open to offers of support - if they are serious !
To put it in a simple way I listed some options from best to less attractive:
1. Best: self publish with your own budget.
2. Partner with another self publishing developer
3. Self publish using mostly PR and Word of Mouth tactics
4. Use a tier 1 Publisher (DeNA, Gree etc)
Why I listed it in this order:
Self publishing with your own budget allows you to control all the ARM model elements (Acquisition, Retention, Monetization) and optimize the game metrics to the exact target audience. It will give you the expertise in house to publish games which is critical to success int he long run and with other games. It does come with a cost of money and a learning fee unless you bring in someone already experienced. But long term it's the right way to go.
Your second best option is to partner with a good developer who already knows to self-publish games, run campaigns and optimize them. They could also partner with you on the marketing costs in exchange of some revenue (after they cover the marketing expense). This means they'll do a good job and will give you the opportunity to learn how to self publish. Of course, who you do the deal with is critical.
If you don't have a big enough marketing budget and no one experienced to hire, you can try to run a word of mouth campaign. This means means you'll need to find a unique feature in your game to make a big story out it and then push it to the media. This can be unique game story, unique visuals, unique gameplay - anything people could relate to and talk/write about. Monument Valley is but one example. It's still a lot of work, though, don't make a mistake.
Last option is going to a publisher. Only do it if you have absolutely no marketing budget, no marketing expertise and if the game fails it won't kill the studio. Because chances are, it won't score big. And I'm talking about the big, serious, tier 1 publishers.
The good publishers will be able to guide you a bit on improving your game and will give you the right KPI goals to aspire to. Most publishers still don't have a clue about how to do it right and will just confuse you, the good ones at least *knows* what they're talking about.
And still, publishers will only care about your game if it'll be an instant hit. It if will, they'll put the budget, the right account manager and push the game seriously. That's the optimal scenario.
In most cases, your game will achieve moderate to good KPIs but not one of an instant hit and this will happen: they won't spend money on publishing it, and will drive traffic to it from their other games. They won't be able to tell you who these players are, so you won't even be able to optimize to the target audience. They will provide you access to their stats system that will give you a lot of vanity metrics but won't allow you to control the A part of the ARM model, rendering the whole funnel useless.
Bottom line: Do your best to self publish, or partner with a good self publishing developer and learn. And good luck! :)
Ironhide Studios partnered with Armor Games to publish on iOS. Killed it, obviously.
Thought they had such an amazing game that they should self-publish on Android. "Great products market themselves" type of thinking.
Launch was lackluster (at best) and had almost laughable results.
Talking to comparable game studios who were in talks with them, they missed out on a few million bucks by going self-publishing.
Just my 2 cents.
One of my relatives was used to say "it's better to eat a slice of cake and share it with others than to eat a whole bucket of mud on your own" If you try to get somewhere just with your forces (and with your limits too) without asking help it's sure that you will difficult succeed.
I also think, anyway, that if you believe in the power of your ideas and you can analyze with the capability to think at with an uninvolved eye, you should and must try to push your idea to the high and really reach the top. If a game is really viral it already has the possibilities even to become a "staff pick" or a "game of the week".
For sure you need to advertise to let your product be shown but you can also find a valid marketing strategy and a strategic planning to reach your goals. Anybody who's saying you that you need €100K to get somewhere was also providing you a possible strategy to actually get there? In this case you could ask him to get a deal instead of with a publishing agency.
The question is, do you want to sell your ideas to someone else that will cannibalize you in their market or is better to eat a piece of a cake but with someone that could become a real partner in advertising and promoting also your next apps?
It's not just about money but also the creative and personal rights that you have on your ideas. There will be always time to enter in the great sea of the publishing agencies or under the control of a big gaming factory but you have just few opportunities to let you start in becoming one of them in a future!
There are a number of outside-the-box marketing tactics you can try that cost far less than that $100k. If you opt to self-publish, it might be interesting for you to mix in a few small experiments alongside the tried-and-true paths to past successes. Consider it diversifying your marketing strategy portfolio.
If you'd like a couple of suggestions, call me.