In the ‘olden days’ of game development a publisher was a necessary part of the deal. No publisher, no business.
But, with the development of self publishing platforms many developers took the opportunity to sell their games directly to the consumers and cut out the perceived middle man.
But with nearly 3500 games released on Steam in 2015 and 500 games per day launched on iOS in 2014, it’s hard for the average developer to get any visibility. Rovio’s success with Angry Birds often overlooks the 51 games they created before they hit on the idea as well as the €1million invested by the founder’s father into the company to keep it going.
Here we look at how and why About Fun chose to work with Chillingo and the impact it had on their success as well as talk to Chillingo about their view on the future of publishing and what they are looking for from developers.
Petr (About Fun), why did you choose to work with a publisher for your project and what did it change for you? Why Chillingo?
There are many reasons behind our decision to go and publish our game(s) with Chillingo. Let me get back to history of our company and our first game to make our motivations clearer.
Our first game, LETZ Match, ever created by our studio was self-published. It was a game that got amazing reviews, e.g. from Kotaku "Match-Three Puzzles and Word Games Collide in One Phenomenal iOS Title”, but as many other games it got lost in the AppStore.
We were newbies from Prague, we didn’t know about featuring, how to reach Apple, connect with press, how to promote our game and had very little knowledge about monetisation and user acquisition.
The truth is that back in 2011, the market was quite new and evolving really fast, but yes - lessons learned. This experience taught us that we need to get more knowledge and ideally learn form the best.
That’s why we reached out to publishers with our next games, some in early and some in later stages of development. At that time we already knew, that Chillingo was our best option - mainly based on their reputation and games they have released in the past.
We were lucky and our game Mega Dead Pixel was accepted by Matt himself. The rang of services was enormous - ranging from montetisation and design advice to promotion. We learned really fast that we made the best choice possible.
Now with WarFriends, it’s been over 2 years since our cooperation started and unlike Mega Dead Pixel, this time we came to Chillingo with a very early prototype. Since we already knew each other and our partnership was previously really good, I believe that not only potential qualities, but mutual trust helped Chillingo accept the game in such early stage.
Since then, we got a full service, dedicated production team and all the knowledge, best practices and other super helpful resources from Chillingo and EA. Working on such an ambitious and unique game could be very exhausting and even though not everything is always rainbows and butterflies, I truly appreciate opportunity to cooperate with such amazing partner.
Matt (Chillingo), what can you tell about it? What does a Publisher like Chillingo can bring to developers still wondering if they should use a Publisher for their project?
What's exciting about the market today is that there is a genuine opportunity to get a game in front of billions of consumers. Never has this opportunity existed before, and to maximise your chances you not only need a fantastic game but also a great marketing plan.
Too many great games get lost in the ocean of the app store and breaking out is a challenge. Luckily a publisher like EA Chillingo has a long history of working with developers and over the years we’ve evolved our service to amplify the chances of success.
First we work in partnership with the developer to produce the game and develop a live service strategy after launch. This process is never ending and often takes a lot longer than anyone expects. WarFriends has been in production for over 2 years and in that time evolved from a single player experience into a true live service game structured around events and meaningful social play.
Player testing, market research, competitor analysis and our experience are all methods we use to help inform developers on how to produce an improved game. Every developer looking to work with a publisher has to understand that this is a partnership with no party dictating the release schedule – it’s a true case of working together to get the game right before agreeing when it should go to market.
Once the game is ready to launch then we take over all forms of QA, deployment and distribution. Our marketing team creates a soft launch publishing strategy identifying mechanics to drive the necessary installs so that our producers and the developer can use analytics to balance and improve KPIs. This soft launch period is a very important window as it provides valuable insight into real player behaviour (which you can NEVER predict!), which will help to inform you on what updates are needed before you go global.
Going Global is an understatement, a publisher should advise you on all the different options, but what is critical is that you present a uniformed message to the market. If you go to market with different publishing strategies in different regions it can often result in player confusion. EA Chillingo is a true global publisher and works with many different partners around the world in order to synchronize key messaging and live service updates.
Our marketing team evolve their tactics as the game launches, the first point of call is to get editorial placement and while we can never guarantee this - we can greatly improve the chances of it happening. After launch, the service we offer includes social campaigns, community management, customer service as well as UA.
UA is a science and too often capital is wasted at an alarming rate.
Our team works closely with all the key players in this area identifying channels where we can acquire users for a healthy ROI. We turn up (and down) UA campaigns as we see KPIs come in – often you’ll find a pocket that performs extremely well and it’s then a case of optimizing spend to reflect this trend.
All of the above is on a 360 cycle, with each update, live event and in game feature change our entire team from production to marketing evolve the publishing strategy for the game. It truly is a partnership between developer and publisher that creates success.
Matt (Chillingo), many people talk about the indiepocalypse what can you tell us about this? Is the time of self-publishing really over as it’s becoming very difficult to be spotted in the ocean of games coming out every week?
Often there is a confusion between distribution and publishing, in fact it’s the former that many games fall into with developers submitting to the App Store, hoping for placement but with no real future plan for the title – this I would classify as distribution. Publishing is an art form, first you select your distribution channel and then you wrap a publishing plan around it.
What’s critical here is that developers need to define why they are making the game, is it a hobby or is it to generate a meaningful business? This will inform them better on what game to create and what business model to use.
The “indiepocalypse” will only become true if the market is flooded with games where expectations are not being met. If everyone thinks they can make a physics based puzzler, submit it to the app store and then watch the sales roll in then I’m afraid they’ll be massively disappointed. On the contrary, if developers make games and set realistic expectations then it’s more likely they’ll stick around to make further games and provide a live service.
Players want new games, they want new experiences and it’s about providing them with the game they want – making your game their hobby is what you should focus on. Identify your target market and deliver a gameplay experience that’s not only innovative but it’s something that drives player motivation to share their experience and become completely absorbed in.
Matt, Chillingo has been very active in working with Independent developers over the years. Can you tell us a bit more on what you’re looking for today? Why would a project particularly catch your attention and would be a good fit for Chillingo?
First and foremost we're looking for games that make us smile - fun should be at the core. We then look for innovation, in today's market you need a USP to stand out ad more often than not this is feature related (not content).
Live service games are critical for us so with every game we review we identify what live service the game has/could have and how the developer plans to evolve it. We pay particular attention to how it stands out against the competitors, the social mechanics in the game and also the plans for the elder game (often this is over looked!).
Always ask yourself, what makes player want to return to this game day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? BTW - it won't be new levels...if you have an answer to this, then you have our attention!
Petr, you’ve worked with Chillingo on a few projects already. What’s next for you guys? Can you tell about upcoming projects and if you plan on working with Publishing Partners or if you’ll self-publish for these?
Unfortunately, we can’t really comment on this :).
Apart from WarFriends, we are also finishing our second game, Tiny Miners. It should be released very soon in September. This time, we are trying our luck with self-publishing, but the truth is, the game was rejected by Chillingo :). But no hard feelings, they had their reasons and to be honest, it motivates us even more. This game is some kind of a benchmark, that can show us what we have learned since our first project 5 years ago and what we are capable of doing on our own. Regarding other projects - we always have prototypes in our drawer, but WarFriends is such a huge game for us, we’ve been focused on it rather than bigger plans for upcoming projects.
We are now finishing and polishing both games and look forward to providing players with excellent live service – with a lot of new content and features for coming months and years.
Moreover, we would love to stay working with EA Chillingo and collaborate with them on future projects and expand our team to over 20 people.
Publisher? You'll meet tons of developers looking for publishers for their games.
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