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How do you justify all the indie games on Steam then, loads of them have one or two man dev teams and pretty much zero marketing bar the front page of Steam for the first week they're put on there (which is a thing that Steam seems to do with every new game that's released).

Those are the ones you see though, there are loads of games that don't make it, and really those people have to really market their games too to get buzz, either by catering to an audience that isn't catered to by big blockbuster games (4X games, turn based strategy, etc) or by just selling it themselves (how many podcasts did Jonathon Blow end up on in the week after Braid launched? He was jetting all over the US doing press).

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On digital platforms, packaging and distribution are much less important. Even the impact of marketing and PR is watered down.

MK covered this quite well but a publisher really does provide a lot of support behind the scenes. Localisation for example can come up to half a million alone, that's without taking into account the work to organise it all. Marketing and PR is not watered down just because it's distributed online, you still need to get your game onto magazines, get a buzz going etc. Yeah some exceptional games will get attention on their own merits but by definition they are exceptional. The publisher (in a successful relationship) really does provide invaluable support. I know of several big projects which absolutely would not exist had it not been for publisher support, and more importantly neither would the studios due to running out of funds with an unfinished product. Not only that but the support after the game goes on sale is big too.

You can have a developer which grows in size to be able to do all these things and essentially support themselves, but then we're just talking about another big company so you're back at square one. The point is that even with digital distribution it's not realistic to expect the sort of games we're seeing today. Yeah you'll have quirky gems popping up or just a good, simple idea done well (my most played game at the moment is Angry Birds on the iPhone, which is really simple, cost 59p and really entertains me) but you won't get a FIFA2010 without publisher support, you won't get your Mass Effect trilogies, you won't get a lot of stuff which simply needs the sort of support a publisher needs.

If you're saying that publishers will succeed in a truly open market by offering better terms than other venture capitalists and maintain or improve their current profitability when the odds aren't massively stacked in their favour, good luck to them. I think they'll need it.

I really am. Venture capitalists can't compare to the support a publisher can give. They'll be fine for certain games, and they're certainly a viable option for some, but as a replacement for the support and resources a publisher provides? They don't even come close, they're a completely different type of avenue.

Of course they're embracing it right now - they see pound signs in short-term gains.

Long term too, or do you think the plans are only short term? Whether it pays off or not is another thing, but there is investment for long term return.

How do you justify all the indie games on Steam then, loads of them have one or two man dev teams and pretty much zero marketing bar the front page of Steam for the first week they're put on there (which is a thing that Steam seems to do with every new game that's released).

Right, and how many consistently top charts and have the same sort of lasting success and ones supported by publishers? I'm not saying it's impossible to make an absolutely excellent game and self publish, I'm saying it's not possible to do it as consistently as the current publisher model allows. I mean, just look at the utter rubbish out there doing well because of publisher support. You're also seeing, as has been pointed out, the ones that make it. What about the great games that were missed because of the lack of support, or worse the ones which were never finished?

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I still think they're doomed and, in the long-run, we'll see the traditional publisher disappear.

Publishers will move towards being solely big developers as they move to inhouse-only development, the hugely expensive hit-driven 'AAA' title cycle will increasingly be broken and be less profitable, and we'll see increasing numbers of medium-to-small developers that grow much more organically in a way that simply hasn't been possible up until now.

I see publishers as primarily doing two things that no-one else really does: distribution and supply-chain issues, and investment (providing money to developers and taking on risk).

Digital downloads will solve the distribution issue almost completely - small-to-medium developers are already able to get on Steam and the App Store, and XBLA and Wiiware is already within the realms of possibility. This shift has only started happening within this generation and is far from over. Getting on online stores is only going to become easier, not more difficult. With reduced risk and the ability to successfully sell small and niche titles, there will be increased opportunity, developers will rely less on publishers, which makes it harder for them to dictate terms.

And yes, there are the other things that the publishers take onboard, such as support, QA, marketing, and localisation.

But I regard these as very much secondary, since these aren't things that only a publisher can do. QA and support are by far the simplest, can trivially be moved inhouse by even small developers, and it's pretty obvious how the Internet has made these so much more managable compared to a decade ago. Marketing still matters, but is somewhat less important when publishers have less influence on retail and you have equal prominence on online stores, and marketing smaller titles has got easier, cheaper, and more efficient. Localisation is still an issue, but can be outsourced, and for smaller developers will be little more than paying someone and then replacing one set of strings with another.

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Developers already have inhouse QA and similar resources, just nowhere near the facilities that a publisher can offer (some do of course). The more you move in-house though then the more you're limited by your relatively small resources, unless you outsource (extremely expensive compared to in-house) or you increase your staff and to cover all the areas previously covered by the publisher (unworkable for many devs and leaves them extremely vulnerable if they can't keep revenue coming in).

Publishers also comission games on actively seek to have new titles developed so removing them will remove these projects from the scene. Sure some of these are children's licensed games which gamers may think lack artistic credibility but they pay the bills for the developer and give small devs that next paycheck to fund the other big project.

I guess I'm going to be biased on this but given the work we do as a publisher at my company then the thought if a lot of our projects actually ever seeing the light of day without the massive amounts of assistance we provide doesn't seem likely, and DD is simply increasing the number of revenue channels and territories we can get into. We still own ip, we still comission work, we create publicity for all our catalogue which covers a lit of different devs who would otherwise not be able to.

Obviously the model will change to adapt through time, that's self evident. To the extent of publishers being a removed from the equation though? I just don't see your solution to take everything in-house at the dev as being workable, not for most games.

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QA and support are by far the simplest, can trivially be moved inhouse by even small developers...

This just isn't true. I'm working for a medium-size developer, and we can only afford a very small proportion of our QA to be in-house. Around 10% of the QA staff working on the title I'm on are actually employed by my company. The rest are provided offsite by the publisher. Unless you're talking about very small games, QA is almost always (in my experience) the largest department to work on a game. The game needs thousands of man-hours of QA, so you can either employ loads of people (I'm talking 50 people doing QA on the game I'm working on at the moment, and I've worked on games where there have been far more than that) and get the game out in a reasonable time period while spending loads on salaries (which is unaffordable for most small or mid-size developers), or you employ 5 people and spend five or six years on QA.

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Erm, on the PC Steam has pretty much stricken a fatal blow at traditional physical retailers already, and the success of quite a few indie titles on there already displays an example of how successful certain games can now be without a publisher.

Publishers aren't going away, but the old system where a publisher was pretty much essential for any title is changing pretty rapidly.

In terms of the kind of games EA or other top 20 publishers make, nothing's going to change on that front, even with a fully digital system, imo. Just look at how hard it is for an indie without publisher support to get themselves onto XBLA these days, sure, you can put yourself in the indie bit, but if you want to get on the proper 'big boys' marketplace, Microsoft don't make it easy for you (No idea how much better or worse Sony are) and if you believe that consoles will still be dominant in the digital download future, what's the odds of Microsoft or Sony making their systems like Steam and allowing a very open market place for games to compete in?

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If you buy it 2nd hand then you're not an EA customer anyway, so they haven't lost anything

You're a customer buying a legitimate copy of a game, so of course you're "an EA customer".

I've read the rest of this thread since I lasted posted and pretty much everyone is ignoring the fact that there is a subsidiary value in the second hand games market i.e. publishers DO make money from second hand sales and trade ins.

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I've read the rest of this thread since I lasted posted and pretty much everyone is ignoring the fact that there is a subsidiary value in the second hand games market i.e. publishers DO make money from second hand sales and trade ins.

How much do they make then? Roughly, of course.

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You're a customer buying a legitimate copy of a game, so of course you're "an EA customer".

I've read the rest of this thread since I lasted posted and pretty much everyone is ignoring the fact that there is a subsidiary value in the second hand games market i.e. publishers DO make money from second hand sales and trade ins.

I suppose what you mean by that is that the 2nd hand market allows the current buyers of brand new software to buy the amounts they do as they're essentially factoring in a certain resale value for their games when they buy brand new and if the 2nd hand market becomes nerfed, then it means those buyers will buy less games as they won't have as much disposable cash to put towards new purchases, correct? or do you mean publishers benefit in a more direct way?

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Yeah to an extent games can be sold at that price as some of the value is in the sell on value. For instance people buy cars knowing they can sell it on at a later date and recoup some money.

But this EA thing doesn't really bother me, they've decided to do it and its up to us to use our spending power to tell them if it was a good idea or not. We'll see!

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This just isn't true. I'm working for a medium-size developer, and we can only afford a very small proportion of our QA to be in-house. Around 10% of the QA staff working on the title I'm on are actually employed by my company. The rest are provided offsite by the publisher. Unless you're talking about very small games, QA is almost always (in my experience) the largest department to work on a game. The game needs thousands of man-hours of QA, so you can either employ loads of people (I'm talking 50 people doing QA on the game I'm working on at the moment, and I've worked on games where there have been far more than that) and get the game out in a reasonable time period while spending loads on salaries (which is unaffordable for most small or mid-size developers), or you employ 5 people and spend five or six years on QA.

Yeah absolutely, and that's just one area in which the move will be anything but trivial. I was typing on my phone earlier so I couldn't get into detail (and reading my post back it's a bit of a disaster in areas) but people shouldn't underestimate the support a publisher provides in certain areas. QA is a good example as it's an example of manpower and equipment which would otherwise be extremely expensive for the developer to be burdened with yet is necessary for many big games out there to make their release schedules. The days of the programmer playtesting their game as they work are over and have been for a long time (in the case of big games).

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I suppose what you mean by that is that the 2nd hand market allows the current buyers of brand new software to buy the amounts they do as they're essentially factoring in a certain resale value for their games when they buy brand new and if the 2nd hand market becomes nerfed, then it means those buyers will buy less games as they won't have as much disposable cash to put towards new purchases, correct? or do you mean publishers benefit in a more direct way?

I think regardless of someones disposable income it really boils down to each individuals perceived value of how much a game is worth but otherwise, yeah, you've got it.

If second hand sales of physical media were not possible, then sales of brand new software would drop as a result.

Pretty much like the car industry too then!

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Where the fuck is this myth that GAME is making a loss coming from?

And to answer other posts COURSE it's screwing customers, it's trying to remove a fundamental right enjoyed by customers of literally EVERY OTHER PRODUCT IN THE WORLD, and apparently it's ok because it might also screw 1 single retailer you don't like much.

Fucking hell people.

Sorry, game keep reporting YOY losses, closing stores and firing people.

Also, boo hoo

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Yeah absolutely, and that's just one area in which the move will be anything but trivial. I was typing on my phone earlier so I couldn't get into detail (and reading my post back it's a bit of a disaster in areas) but people shouldn't underestimate the support a publisher provides in certain areas. QA is a good example as it's an example of manpower and equipment which would otherwise be extremely expensive for the developer to be burdened with yet is necessary for many big games out there to make their release schedules. The days of the programmer playtesting their game as they work are over and have been for a long time (in the case of big games).

Yup. Except nowadays even the publishers are closing their (non eu localisation) QA depts.. sega Europe are the most recent! WILL SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN BUGS!!

Ah, game testing is a joke ;)

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And yes, there are the other things that the publishers take onboard, such as support, QA, marketing, and localisation.

But I regard these as very much secondary, since these aren't things that only a publisher can do. QA and support are by far the simplest, can trivially be moved inhouse by even small developers

God no. Really no. Not unless you want to do it really badly. I've not worked in games but in other software anywhere near release you need 1 QA person for every 2 developers. That's fine for a company like mine that has a release of something or other every 2 months but that's a lot of people that you're going to need 1/4 of the time when you release a product every 2 years.

, and it's pretty obvious how the Internet has made these so much more managable compared to a decade ago.

Not to me I'm afraid.

Localisation is still an issue, but can be outsourced, and for smaller developers will be little more than paying someone and then replacing one set of strings with another.

It really, really isn't. It's a huge job. Let me give a fantastically basic example.

{Hi, I'm a piece of English Text}

It takes up that much space, our designers have done a wonderful job of making where it needs to go exactly that size.

{Hallo ich bin ein Stück deutscher Text}

Oh look it's 20% longer in German. It's got to now be made to fit, without screwing everything else up, or we'll need to try and get a translation that's shorter and still makes sense. Oh, also these have to fit too, without leaving huge extra space.

{Hola soy un pedazo de Texto en Español}

{Hi Ek is 'n stukkie van die Afrikaanse teks}

{Witam jestem kawałek tekstu polskiego}

{Hej jag är en bit av svenskt text}

{你好,我是一塊中文文本}

Not to mention "What about all the stuff that's in the middle of textures".

And that, for every piece of text in the entire product. It's not remotely trivial, it's caused us more problems (we started doing Spanish last year) than anything else new we're doing and we're just dealing with a normal UI, it's going to be even harder in games.

Sorry, game keep reporting YOY losses, closing stores and firing people.

GAME made a huge profit last year. It was a little less than the year before. I believe it was their 2nd best year ever in fact.

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They expect to make more money EVERY subsequent year, which I've never understood. In-store targets are just raised every year without remotely considering that...y'know, its impossible.

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They expect to make more money EVERY subsequent year, which I've never understood. In-store targets are just raised every year without remotely considering that...y'know, its impossible.

Quite. I'm sure they were disappointed by the results (because that's how business works) but doom and gloom it isn't.

Yet.

Certainly the fall out of this will affect them (if only because of the fall in new game sales because kids can't trade in old games towards them as effectively) but it affects the legit consumer so much more.

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How do you justify all the indie games on Steam then, loads of them have one or two man dev teams and pretty much zero marketing bar the front page of Steam for the first week they're put on there (which is a thing that Steam seems to do with every new game that's released).

There aren't exactly hundreds, and most of the ones that are there have picked up some buzz before Steam have picked them up. It's still quite hard to get a game on Steam purely because of the volume of submissions they receive and the resources they have to deal with them.

Steam can make a game a hit, but it's hard for a small team to justify investing in development solely on the fairly slim chance of getting on there.

Where do you even market an app store game? I've never seen an ad for one, it's all word of mouth, regurgitated press releases etc. Steam does a good job of marketing upcoming indie titles, it's rare that something won't release without it being advertised to the player by a login popup or on the store page.

They even run marketing promotions and special deals on indie games.

The only place to market iPhone games is on the device itself. Good placement on the App Store is highly dependent on a good relationship with Apple and the budget to advertise your game in other Apps (e.g. Tap Tap Revenge). If you don't have these, you have a very very slim chance of success regardless of your game's quality. Most of the really successful iPhone games have a publisher behind them. The only major exception I can think of is Doodle Jump, which exploited characteristics of the early App Store to gain critical mass.

I somehow don't think Steam take the hit for running those promotions. I agree that they're good at giving every new release a fair amount of exposure.

...

One of the big holes in halo's argument is confusing distribution with marketing/discoverability. Getting on the App Store is meaningless unless you're in the top 100 for long enough to recoup your development costs. Spots 101-100,000 in the chart make peanuts.

The view of QA and support being 'trivial' is silly. You've basically got a long list of things you're expecting developers to do badly on a shoestring budget, all of which cut into useful development time.

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