In the second part of his series (originally published for MCV), Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley says that when it comes to self-publishing, when you launch is key. Also, Jason says, the best way to minimise surprises is to be ready for them.
Adapting your business to the self-publishing model requires a number of practical changes.
You need someone who can handle PR, manage an internal marketing team or someone that can hire in and manage freelancers.
Finding someone externally to make assets like trailers can be costly so, if you can’t afford dedicated teams, think about hiring individual artists and video editors who can help with communications.
This all needs to be done a long way in advance, as planning and creating the content needed for sales, marketing and media channels takes a great deal of time.
Timing is Everything
As a developer-publisher you have to make the call on when to launch.
This means considering when you realistically expect to complete project milestones, checking resources like MCV’s release schedule and making sure you’re not going to market jammed in between two franchise behemoths. As an indie publisher, you’ll want as much clear space around your release as possible.
With massive games these days initial release dates can slip, and feature sets can often change or be dropped. It’s therefore best to keep your ear to the ground for insider news. It’s also worth looking at the track record of those making a potential competitor. Some dev teams hit dates, others don’t. With Zombie Army Trilogy, we had one eye on The Order: 1886 and Batman Arkham Knight. The Order turned out to not have multiplayer and Arkham Knight got pushed back to June, which worked out well for us.
Knowing the genres of games you will be competing against is important; with Zombie Army Trilogy we wanted to avoid other major shooters, but Forza Horizon and Just Dance were less of a concern.
Being an indie publisher you have to accept that there will be, in many cases, an enormous disparity in the scale of resources at your disposal.
Rebellion is now relatively large, yet we are aware we’re still competing with titles that cost at least ten times as much to make and have more than 20 times our marketing budget. So you need to have talented people who can spot an opportunity and make it count.
We have to be very targeted in our more traditional marketing activity, using social media intelligently and choosing only a handful of important voices and trusted media partners with whom we have a longstanding professional relationship. For us, TV spots are out of the question, but short, effective bursts of video pre-roll ads on Twitch and YouTube aren’t. Focus your resources where you can, and where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Be sure to review the data afterwards to find out what worked.
Minimise the Surprises
If you are making your first foray into publishing then my top piece of advice would be to communicate honestly and as far in advance as possible with your partners. Problems can and will emerge, and you will need other people’s help to address them.
As a publisher you are more dependent, compared to a developer, on a wider array of other businesses to do your job – whether they are retailers, manufacturers, design agencies, merchandising support, legal counsels, journalists, or banks.
Companies like Sony and Microsoft are huge, with complex structures and in spite of large budgets in places, a lot of restrictions. It is vital to cultivate relationships here - you will need friends in high places, and the best way to win new friends is to be honest and ask for help when you need it. The biggest corporations are run by busy people and behaving like an aggressive so-and-so won’t win you any favours.
When plotting your project timelines, be sure to overestimate how long everything will take and give yourself an extra week here and there – the extra time will be used up in ways you didn’t expect.
Ultimately, things will happen, but by minimising the surprise as much as possible, you give your partners the time they need to help you address the challenges.
Look out for more from Jason's series on self-publishing on MCV and here on the Rebellion blog. And be sure to follow Jason on Twitter: @RebellionJason