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Our guide to mobile game and app publishers

Why do game developers need publishers?

There are many reasons game developers choose to partner with a publisher - including funding, market knowledge, technology, processes, game expertise, distribution, optimization, QA, and localization. If you’re a game developer debating whether to self-publish or partner with a publisher, see if any of these points apply to your situation before making your decision. 

Market knowledge, game expertise, and processes

The main reason game developers partner with mobile game publishers is because they want to see their game reach the top of the charts - and scaling profitably requires in-depth expertise and knowledge of the gaming market. Fortunately, having been in the industry for quite some time, and with many successful launches under their belt, publishers generally have a lot of knowledge to share. 

By partnering with another gaming company that is highly familiar with the gaming industry, understands current market trends, understands benchmarks and how to analyze data, and has the right processes to improve a game’s marketability and engagement, game developers get all the tools they need to get their game to the top of the charts. 

It’s important to mention that working with a publisher is a partnership - a good publisher will want to teach indie developers what they know about growing successful games so that the developer can learn for the future, and they can continue scaling great games together in the long-term. After all, the partnership doesn’t end after the launch - publishers will continue to improve KPIs like engagement, monetization, and retention to ensure the game is a long-term success. 

Best-in-class technology

Usually, publishers have access to best-in-class game growth technologies, which their developer partners can enjoy as well. This includes technologies for generating and testing creatives, A/B testing new game features and ad monetization, user acquisition automation and optimizers, etc. 

What’s more, mobile game publishers also have access to an immense amount of data and benchmarks, which they use to see how each game stacks up to others in their portfolio - analyzing how and where it can be improved. 

User acquisition and monetization

Scaling a game is quite a challenge, and scaling a game profitably and at scale is even more of a challenge - it requires running marketing campaigns on several user acquisition channels (each one needs different creatives and cost optimization), maximizing revenue per users by implementing the right ad strategy, optimizing monetization performance once the game has scaled, calculating the right margins for each campaign per country and channel, and breaking down revenue and cost. 

But game growth doesn’t just require in-depth knowledge and expertise - it requires investment in time too, often time that indie game developers prefer to spend developing and improving game design. By partnering with a mobile game publisher, indie developers don’t just get access to years of experience growing games, but they also get the strength of an entire growth team behind them, including monetization managers and user acquisition managers who are dedicated solely to scaling their game's growth. 

Publishers can answer questions like, “what markets and ad sources should we soft launch with?,” “which ad units should we implement and where to maximize revenue,” “what features should we show in our playable ad to maximize installs?”, and “how do we make a game trailer?”. The more sophisticated in UA and monetization a game publisher is, the more a game will scale, and the more profit it’ll generate. 

Capital and risk management

It takes significant capital and cash flow as well adept risk management skills to scale a game profitably. In fact, sometimes it takes up to 30 days to recoup any investments, and ROI is only visible a month after spending. Ultimately, putting up this kind of funding from the get-go isn’t a luxury all game developers have, and making a sound financial plan that doesn’t put the game business in danger isn’t in just everyone’s skill set - which is why turning to publishers to cover costs and act as a financial adviser, especially in the beginning, is a common move. 

Access to foreign markets

In addition to providing funding for distribution and the knowhow for a successful launch, mobile game publishers are important for unlocking access to difficult foreign markets like China or Japan, where a local partner is necessary for success. Often, publishers have a local gaming partner or contacts in foreign markets that can help with localization, distribution, and optimization. It’s generally quite hard to break into a foreign market without a partner on the inside guiding you. 

What to consider when choosing an indie mobile game publisher

There are dozens of mobile game publishers out there, so do your homework to find the one that’s right for you. Remember, that publishers are partners - the vibe they give off and your personality fit is just as crucial as what they deliver on paper. Here’s a checklist we’ve compiled of what to consider when choosing an indie mobile game publisher: 

  • Years of experience
  • Number of successful launches under their belt
  • Trendline of successful launches per month
  • Knowhow of marketing, monetization, game design, and creative optimization
  • Types of games in their portfolio
  • Trust and transparency
  • Vibe and personality fit
  • The freedom to retain autonomy
  • Communication (how often will you be in contact with each other?)
  • Global partners for localization
  • QA support

The mobile game publishing contract

The last step before partnering up with a publisher is hashing out the terms and conditions of the mobile game publishing contract. Be sure you walk into negotiations knowing exactly what you want out of the partnership. Think with your team how you’d approach the following: 

  • Revenue sharing
  • Payment schedule
  • Defined timeframes of milestones
  • IP ownership 
  • Responsibilities (game design, QA, playtesting, marketing coding, SDK implementation)
  • Transparency (data, revenue)
  • Number of games
  • Number of years
  • Termination
  • Exclusivity

Trends for mobile game publishers in 2020

2020 is off to a great start for mobile game publishers. Let’s take a look at some trends we see rising this year. 

Vertical consolidation

In 2020, we’re seeing increased vertical consolidation within the industry. It’s likely this trend will continue, with the gaming industry becoming increasingly competitive. This means that game growth companies will begin opening owned and operated games, and visa versa - in order to better help game developers succeed in this market. For example, with ironSource launching Supersonic Studios, developers working with the studio will be able to access ironSource’s game growth platform and network supply pool, as well as benefit from years of experience and expertise in user acquisition and monetization. Conversely, there have been a handful of game publishers that are building growth technologies in-house to support their developers and provide them with best-in-class technologies. 

Increased transparency

In the beginning of mobile game publishing, publishers would often take complete control over the game - from marketing to development. However, increased transparency and joint autonomy is becoming all the more common in the industry, as publishers begin to understand that the key to success is not short-term wins but rather long-term partnerships. It’s long been important for game developers to maintain control over their creations, and publishing contracts are starting to reflect that. 

Considering working with a mobile game publisher? Check out Supersonic Studios here to learn more.

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