The Trolley Problem (2)
What are the Issues?

Desperately Seeking Publisher

Eccentric Game Designer seeks Publisher for game project development – and maybe more… Must have good communication skills. I’m looking for a publisher who might be interested in a serious relationship, and is willing to listen as intently to me as I will listen to you. I don’t want another washed up publisher who keeps making the same old mistakes again and again… You have to be willing to take a few chances. I want a publisher that will seize upon every opportunity at their disposal, and wisely consider each course of action before making a decision. I want a publisher who is striving to understand the new audience for games, not one still trying to make them like we did in the good ol’ days. I want a publisher who sees my whimsical charms and nascent fanbase as a great PR opportunity. And I want a publisher who pays their bills on time, and doesn’t try and rip me off. 

If my dream publisher is out there, respond via LinkedIn (Chris Bateman), but sadly, I doubt if you exist.

Please, no time wasters.


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*No* time wasters?

C'mon, you gotta expect a few! You know - the ones who read all that, and despite being Chimps of the highest order, still think they fit the bill.

The ones who can't communicate will read this and then decide you need a publisher like them - they don't know (or care) that they can't communicate. We need some nice (ish) way of letting those that don't or can't or won't communicate that gentle let down ("You are a chimp of the highest order and communication is something you do to other people... Please stop talking to me!").

Anyway - good luck finding the Holy Grail of Publisherdom! :-)

Dear Mr. Bateman,

We would be delighted to work with you on all of your future projects. Being comprised predominately of a great many individuals, we cannot provide many services or large budgets, but we am super flexible and enthusiastic. We have helped other small studios, such as Maid Marion, earn a decent living and we'd love the opportunity to help you do the same.


the Internet

I second the Internet.

There are a few casual game publishers, Xgen, iWin, GameTrust, and PlayFirst that may exemplify some of the qualities you describe if you're doing something that makes sense for a casual market.

Dear Internet,

Thanks for getting in touch! You sound great, but I just don't know if you're right for me. Can you send me a picture?

I don't need large budgets (I rarely get them!), but I do need *some* regular cash flow, and I just don't know that you can trusted. My friends say that you can be a swell date, but that you never pay for anything up front - and sometimes you *promise* to pay, but then deliver nothing, even after months and months of toil. That's a little difficult, as I have bills to pay, and the people I work with need little things like food and shelter.

Maybe we're just from two different worlds, star crossed lovers who are doomed never to quite get it together...?

Yours truly,


Dear Chris,

We do understand your concerns. You seem to be passionate, intelligent, and hardworking. Those who establish long term, satisfying relationships with us tend to also possess those qualities. True, there's a certain amount of luck involved. But from what we've seen, it's easier to make your own luck when you've got a lightweight approach. And we certainly encourage a lightweight approach.

Perhaps we could introduce you to some other friends of ours? The Open Source movement is very welcoming and can provide any number of tools to help you develop your concepts quickly and inexpensively. More and more small businesses are finding that open source development really can lead to profitability, despite what the big publishers and corporations would have you believe.

We're not saying we're a sure-fire solution and we're certainly not an immediate one. With patience and time, however, we really do believe we could be successful together. We, after all, thrive on whimsical charms.

Finally, and then we'll stop badgering you, you haven't been having the best of relationships with the type of publisher you've been drawn to thus far, right? Maybe the problem isn't with the individual publishers, maybe it's with the whole system.

Wishing you the best,

the Internet

What you've got to consider Chris, is that the sales/conversion business model is not the best one, perhaps even the worst. If you're depending on getting X amount of sales a month for an online game, you're probably fucked. However, if you make something with an accesible metaphor and a transparent interface, even if its not that novel, odds are you'll get traffic to it (I'm speaking of course about browser-embedded content). Advertising, item sales, skill-gaming (i.e. legal wagering over games) and subscriptions are all different ways to monetize traffic, and they tend to get more of the population's money than sales.

It's all fine and well to recommend that Chris self-publish through the internet. But that does not address the fundamental question that he is asking. It's not like a publisher is only there to give a developer money and distribute a product. There is a lot more that we should be expecting from a publisher. A serious relationship between equal partners would be a good start.

That would be a nice thing, wouldn't it?

Dear all,

Thanks for the comments... this has been an interesting discussion.

I do tend to agree with The Internet that the whole system is broken currently, for any number of reasons, but for my particular company the internet is not an immediately viable option. I have to maintain a certain level of cash flow to keep my team employed; I have no production facilities at all, we just do design and script work with other companies.

Therefore, knowing that other companies are able to make money from the internet is no help to me - because none of these companies are my clients, and the internet-focussed companies generally don't employ companies like mine. If a company came to me that was working on an internet project, we might work with them, but realistically they would have to have capital because I can only afford a certain amount of on-spec work.

Patrick's contention that there are ways to get money out of the internet is not in dispute. All of these ways, however, depend upon being able to make the game first. The commercial cycle for this is therefore broken. Perhaps if there was a publisher who invested in internet game titles, it would be a different matter, but even if there was it would be back to the problem at the start of the discussion.

Michael knows the pain which lead me to write this piece, because Michael has tried to deal with the existing publishers... And he's right - what I am ultimately looking for is some respect. But the reason I am turning to publishers is not as a source of respect but as a source of funding. I do not have spare capital - in fact, I still owe people money for Play with Fire which we did self-fund.

The internet is a viable alternative source of income for certain games. But it is not a source of development funding, and probably cannot be. Alas, I am stuck inside the broken system for the time being. Perhaps in the future I will have capital and will be able to change the rules of the game. For now, however, I can only hope for better luck inside the broken system.

Best wishes to you all!

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