Considering Self-Publishing vs. Working with a Game Publisher

To self-publish, or not to self-publish, that is the question.

Echy Wong

October 24, 2023

There are two options for aspiring game design creators: self-publishing or working with established game publishers. Both options have their unique set of advantages and drawbacks, and the choice between them hinges on your preferences and goals. Let's explore the merits and demerits of each route to help you make an informed decision.

Merits and Demerits of Self-Publishing

Running a Business

Running a business is a key aspect of self-publishing. It's worth noting that self-publishing requires more than just game design. If you enjoy the challenges of logistics, operations, project management, marketing, and more, then self-publishing could be a fulfilling choice.

Creative Control and Freedom

One significant advantage of self-publishing is the unparalleled creative control and freedom it offers. When you're in charge, you can bring your unique ideas to life, including games that traditional publishers might not consider.

Bearing All the Risk

Self-publishing places the entirety of the risk on your shoulders. Your company, your money, and your customers are your responsibility. If you encounter setbacks – and you likely will along the way – you'll have to face the consequences.

Crowd Building and Relationships

As a self-publisher, you're responsible for building a community and establishing relationships within the gaming industry. You often start from scratch, while established publishers may have a large mailing list and connections to numerous distributors.

The Potential for More Revenue

Self-publishing can potentially yield higher revenue compared to earning royalties as a game designer. However, most of this revenue will be reinvested in the company for expenses like marketing, logistics, manufacturing, and more. In the long run, it may become sufficient to provide you with a salary.

Merits and Demerits of Working with a Publisher

Focusing on Game Design

If your heart is set on designing games and you'd rather not manage a business, working with a publisher may be your ideal choice. This route allows you to concentrate solely on game design, although it's worth noting that the process of bringing a game from concept to a fully playtested product is still a substantial amount of work.

Uncertain Response Times

When submitting your game to a publisher, you might not hear back for months. While some publishers actively accept game submissions, this uncertainty is a factor to consider.

Limited Creative Control

Working with a publisher typically involves surrendering some creative control compared to self-publishing. Although most publishers will respect your voice when it comes to themes, art, development, and more, there may still be some limitations.

Reduced Financial Responsibility

With a publisher, you won't have to worry about financial responsibilities such as art, graphic design, manufacturing, shipping, and marketing. The publisher shoulders these expenses, and you may even earn royalties on sales. However, it's important to note that royalties may not amount to a sustainable salary unless your game achieves significant success or you have multiple moderately successful titles.

In conclusion, whether you choose self-publishing or working with a game publisher depends on your preferences, your appetite for risk, and your career aspirations. Self-publishing offers creative freedom but requires you to manage the business side while working with a publisher allows you to focus solely on game design but may come with creative restrictions. Consider your goals and comfort levels before deciding which path to embark upon.