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Game Design

Working with a large or small publisher is exactly the same, except…

Should you pitch to a large or small publisher? That’s a great question to consider when you’re looking to get your game signed.

After having worked with a number of publishers of different sizes, as well as pitching to dozens of publishers at different events, both online and in-person, I thought it would be an appropriate time to update my thoughts on this topic. They definitely have changed to some extent and I’m already making a shift as a result.

So, let’s get into it!

I’ve been designing games for quite a while (over 8 years now). At first, it was just a fun hobby, but after dabbling in this for a couple of years, I started to get more serious about it.

I focused my attention on learning the game design process and getting as much experience with this as I could. It was only about one year ago that I started pitching games to publishers. My thought was that I wanted to have some decent games to show before I took this next step.

Since that first pitch, I’ve gotten better. Both at presenting my games and at designing them.

Making a good-looking, engaging prototype, and being able to pitch this with a lot of enthusiasm to a publisher can go a long way!

I now have 4 games published with other publishers, plus one self-published game and an expansion for this that will soon be delivered to backers.

The interesting thing is the first game I signed was with quite a large publisher, whereas my second game was signed by a smaller, local publisher. My next two were also with much smaller publishers as well.

It’s been a great experience working with each of these publishers, and there were a lot of similarities working with them, yet there were also some distinct differences as well. While it’s important to recognize that every publisher is different and will have their own unique strengths, challenges, and ways of working with designers, here are some of the advantages and nuances I have experienced.

Large publishers

One of the great things about working with a large publisher is they are firmly established. They have money, relationships, and will be able to do a large print run of your game right from the start. They have the benefits of economies of scale, a marketing department, and a network for their distribution.

This last point can be huge. A publisher that is set up for distribution in a number of regions will make larger print runs and be able to get your game out to a much wider audience. This will allow even more people to enjoy your game.

In turn, there are more opportunities to earn more royalties due to the expanded distribution, and they may be more likely to offer an advance, as they have more games on the go and better cashflow than smaller publishers.

They do all of the legwork, allowing the designer to focus on what they do best – design games. They are experts in what they do and focus on these other important tasks.

They often have a development team that will help take your game that last mile and they may not require a lot more of your help getting it there.

In short, they have the resources to make things happen and have the power of numbers behind them. They’re working with quantity and have a way better chance to get your game in front of a wider audience.

Small publishers

There are also some distinct advantages to working with a smaller publisher. First and foremost, your game will likely get out there sooner. Rather than waiting in a queue, it could be their number one priority, and they will be looking to release it sooner rather than later.

You will also likely have a closer working relationship with a small publisher. They may ask for more of your input and allow you to have more creative control. You may end up doing more work, but at the same time your finalized game could look a lot closer to your original vision.

If you’re thinking of self-publishing one day, working with a small publisher may provide you with the opportunity to learn from them and work alongside them, better preparing you for your own future launch.

A smaller publisher is also more likely to ensure you’re more involved in the process, which may allow for you to have more say in the production of the game (although this isn’t guaranteed). They may also ask you for more help, particularly with being active during the crowdfunding campaign, if they are going this route, and helping to promote your game.

Again, keep in mind that every publisher is different.

What a small publisher lacks in size and resources, they may be able to make up for in speed, learning opportunities, and relationship building.

Final thoughts

While I have greatly enjoyed my experience with both the small and large publishers I have worked with, I will be focusing more on pitching to larger, more established publishers in the future. They just have more opportunities for a larger print run and greater reach.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t continue to work with smaller publishers, especially the great relationships I have already developed, but I will likely pitch my games first to the larger publishers that are a great fit for a particular game. If nothing comes from these pitches, I will look to other small and medium-sized publishers as my next step.

What benefits do you see of working with a large publisher? What benefits are unique to a smaller publisher?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and about your own experiences.

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    Wow! You are a rock star! I knew you could do it! You’ve been a great example of how to get things done! I’m soooo proud of you and your accomplishments! Keep up the great work!

    Thanks so much, Lana! You’ve been an amazing supported for so long and I appreciate you so much!

    Congratulations. I am very happy for you. Someday I hope to go the publisher route. While I am happy to back kickstarters, I have no intention of ever running one.

    Thanks Russel! Kickstarter is definitely not for everyone. There is a big difference between pitching to a publisher and self-publishing, and you need to figure out which one is best for you. Keep working on it, and I’m sure you’ll have your game published one day.