«Publisher Wanted»: A Service That Connects Indie-Developers With Publishers

In the beginning of May, Sergey Kopov, Head of Publishing at HeroCraft, launched Publisher Wanted aimed at helping developers and publishers find each other. We’ve discussed with Sergey the goal of the project and its first results.

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Hi! Could you summarize what Publisher Wanted is about in a couple of words?

Hi! It’s a place for matching developers with publishers, a marketplace, to use a trendy word.

Kopov

Sergey Kopov

What’s the story behind the project?

I have spent over 11 years in the industry. During this whole time I played different roles in projects and was involved in finding partners from both sides. I used to look for a publisher while being a developer, today as a publisher I constantly look for developers.

The search is bidirectional as a rule, it’s a two-way street, so to speak.

The first way are contests, showcases at conferences and similar events, where the developers come together and show their games and the publishers are circling around.

The second way involves searching for publishers online and pitching the projects via email.

The first way is bad for being time-consuming: you need to circle the World and pay for participating in various events. It just so happens that in Russia the organizers do not charge for participation. Overseas it’s normally quite different.

The writing, if we are talking about direct mail, also takes a lot of time, since you need to source the contacts, understand how the publishers work (and with what projects), what they published before, what references can be found about them online.

And how effective is this method of working with publishers? In some opinion, it’s useless to work with publishers like this, you need to catch them and grab them by the neck and put their nose into a tablet with your game in it.

Here everything radically depends on the popularity of this particular publisher and his backlog. At HeroCraft we get around 20 requests for publication a day. I have no problem reviewing them all and paying attention to every one of them. In other publish houses the stream may be wider and the response time longer. Plus, perhaps, not all of them make a priority out of publishing, since most of the publishers are developers. Maybe, their release grid is full for three months ahead and they are not ready to take anyone at all. And sometimes they don’t accept some genres or types of games, i.e. there is some strict filtering.

Something like we don’t take match-3?

For instance. Or, on the contrary, we take something very elementary like, for example, Ketchapp does.

Whatever the situation, I consider this way rather effective, since if a company is, in fact, a publisher (and not just nominally), then all of the letters will be considered with attention and responses will follow.

But do we need publishers today? Because a publisher is a business that just pours traffic and watches how it goes, if it goes great – they just pour more traffic. Why do we need such publishers? Would not it be better to look for investments?

Let me tell you that you need a publisher at all times. The question is that do you need an outside publisher or can you play this role yourself? This entirely depends on the competencies and desires of the developer himself. If he has a vast experience in publishing games (for instance, it’s his tenth project); if he has already managed to get through the admin interfaces of stores; if he is well acquainted with all the representatives of platforms and is able to present his game to them and get featuring; if the developer is able to buy traffic effectively, can build good analytics and not just peer at the figures but make some well-thought conclusions based on it; and, most importantly, if he has enough cash to complete the game, then he does not need a publisher. A publisher is someone who is able to outsource a set of competencies that an inexperienced developer does not have.

Are there many publishers that are able to fund you today, help you get to the final line, fine-tune a balance? It just seems to me that there are very little publishers who will pat you on the back.

There are enough of those. There are publishers who work in accordance with a proven scheme. They are looking for games for that scheme originally. And, if they see that the game does not suit them, that you need to redo it entirely, it’s easier for them not to accept the project than to mess with it. There are publishers who tightly work with the game and are ready to assign a producer and marketing expert.

And are there publishers that developers are unhappy about, saying that their project was accepted and tested but they stop supporting it once something goes wrong but still keep it in their portfolio?

This is a different question.

The first is about two approaches to publishing. Either to take what you have, use your competencies related solely to marketing (if it goes – great, if not – close it down), or to apply the approach where you utilize the competencies of not only marketing but production and development.

You can tell about the publisher’s approach by the number of projects it releases. Normally, the publishers that work closely with games do not release more than three projects a month regardless the number of staff.

The question about accepting a game, seeing that it does not go and dropping it is a broader question. It is about the industry, about its complexities that even the professionals are challenged with. There is a notion that if a game does not have appalling glitches, some clear flaws and it does not succeed upon release, it means that you will not be able to fix the situation no matter how much time you try. Most likely, you failed with the right mix of product, time, current situation in the market and luck. In 90% of cases, you cannot do anything with this. And most of the time it tells us that the game did not turn out to be good. It’s useless to spend more time on it.

Right now, all the publishers that release not paid but free-to-play games are applying the scheme of releasing in a small market in a small country where they test all the product’s metrics. And if the product’s metrics are unsatisfactory, the publisher simply will not release it worldwide, since it’s obvious that success will not follow. And there are over 80% of games like that.

But does not that tell us about the unprofessionalism of the publisher, its producers, who took the game that does not go? Or you are talking about the unpredictability of the result even for an experienced producer?

Our industry is such that you cannot predict the success with 90% accuracy. No one can do that unless we are talking about a verified scheme with a sequel to a very popular game. If we had people like this, everyone would know them and follow them. But it’s not the case. The competition is intense. It’s hard to stand out and it’s hard to say what the audience might like. What experiment will gain success, and which won’t. In this issue, an experienced producer will be right in more cases than an inexperienced developer.

In this situation on the market, how Publisher Wanted can help?

The idea is to make the search process super efficient. We have just talked about searching for a publisher through participating in conferences and about direct mail. And this is the third way that allows doing it faster and with minimal costs for both the developer and the publisher.

The idea is that a developer will just need to place a game into our catalog and all the publishers subscribed to the service will get a letter that we send out daily with a list of all newly added games. And the most important thing is that all these games and descriptions match a certain pattern that a publisher is comfortable with in terms of viewing the game titles.

One of the reasons for the publishers not to answer letters lies behind the fact that these letters are not formatted properly: it’s clear right there that there could be no dialog with this particular developer.

There are certain basic rules, such as that even the first letter should contain a gameplay. And you should at all costs avoid writing: “Check this out, I created a cool game, download this exe file of 300 Mb, you gonna love it”.

Publishers refuse 90% of games right when they see the gameplay. That leads to the desire to assess projects as fast as possible. An experienced producer will not spend time on a build before seeing the gameplay video.

Coming back to the question: a description must include a video, promo, overview, available platforms.

Why not screenshots?

Because a video reflects a game in a much better way. Screenshots are much less informative.

What other functionality does the service have?

The developers can use the publishers catalog. Everything is very simple here – you open a needed section, get contacts and write directly to those who appeal to you. Just like in any similar service, the biggest role is played by the references. We also have this functionality. The references begin to appear. I encourage all the developers to share their experience!

The studio can also get feedback from experts in a form of comments under their games. If a game does not interest anyone, the developers will at least understand why and use this experience when building the next project. This functionality is the least demanded right now since the publishers are simply lazy to do that but I hope it will change with the increased service popularity.

What’s your interest? Do you want to monetize it?

There is no direct benefit from it. The idea grew from the demand. I thought that it would not require much labor, shared this idea with my colleagues and most of them considered it prudent and supported it. So, I decided to make my own small contribution to the development of the industry. And the life always teaches us that any activity of such kind always brings benefits one way or another – you meet with new people, projects, get new ideas, etc.

Why did you launch it straight in English?

In fact, I did not even consider alternatives. I don’t see any domesticated feelings about our industry. When a developer is looking for a publisher, he is not limiting himself with only local offerings. Publishers are behaving in a similar way. Here we can mention the main advantage of the service – it works regardless the geography. It is important because only a few developers can afford to visit a lot of conferences around the Globe.

What did you do it on and how long it took?

Two days for the basic functionality and another two days for initial content (thanks to the May holidays). I used WordPress since I love this CMS for its simplicity, free-of-charge, and functionality. I did not even have to write code and applied ready-to-use plugins. I used Azure for hosting (Microsoft gives out 3 years for free). And I used SendGrid for mailing.

Do you have any successful cases?

The project was launched on May 4th, i.e. slightly more than two months ago. Over this time I added 51 games to the catalog (about 0.7 games a day). I have to mention that we receive around 8 applications per day, most of which is filtered since I don’t want to have titles that will be interesting to no one. We have on average 1000 visitors a week.

I see that the featured games find their publishers. For instance, recently Creative Mobile announced Trigger Time, which was recently published with us. But I did not ask how they met. More importantly that the people who visit Publisher Wanted click on contact information of publishers and developers. We have around 30% CTR. So, they start to communicate directly, which is the most important thing. I was recently contacted by a very prominent publisher with an offer on my game posted on the service.

I am not yet satisfied by the numbers. Not that many people yet know about the service, and I am trying to increase awareness to the maximum extent within my free time. I also would like to thank my colleagues from Creative Mobile, Game Insight, and Zeptolab.

Last question: How do you see the service within the upcoming year or two?

The ideal picture of the World is when most of the developers and publishers know about the service. Then the potential of Publisher Wanted will be fully explored. The developers will be getting explicit feedback on their games and in a case of failure – know where to ‘dig’ further. The necessity in showcases will lower. There will be many references about each publisher and you will be able to make a decision based on this. All of it should make the market healthier, more transparent, and the developers will become more aware, i.e. there will be more successful projects!

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