So, let's start by diving into the publishing business itself.
In the stone age of gamedev (like 7-8y ago) developers were more interested in publishers. Finding new partners was like a supermarket trip within devs’ events, conferences, communities, and checking one own mailbox.
In the modern era, all of those sources became drops in the ocean: sad, muddy, unscalable drops. Instead, publishers began proactively scouting for developers by monitoring the ocean of all recently released games and contacting their owners, offering free tests or else.
As time goes by, the ocean goes dry and here we've arrived at the point where hunting new partners started to feel difficult. It's not like the market ran out of new games, it just consolidated. Means within all studios, capable of creating perspective games, there are less and less "indie" ones: not yet acquired, affiliated, leashed, or locked to anyone yet.
So publishers can't rely on finding new-and-ready-to-earn games within already existing anymore. Occasionally it still might happen and in my previous company we have found half of the top partners just by monitoring new releases; still, as far as I know, there were no such cases since 2020, despite impressive growth of revenue and games portfolio.
So, you get the issue, now let's speculate about solutions:
- Improving promising-looking games released somewhere in the past but haven’t earned any profits yet (or stopped earning). Sounds good, but no, it almost never works out (see pic).
In addition, there is a huge bias around what's promising: thousands of studios spending tons of time and effort on games should be buried long ago — and publishers shouldn't get sucked into a necromancy cult.
- Focus on games currently developing rather than already released: means establishing contacts with promising studios and agreeing upon testing their next release that would give you a slight advantage compared to those who will reveal the game afterward.
- Co-development, aka codev: when publishers participate in the earliest stages of game creation along with developers, often providing an initial idea or approach to find the one.
It's a good move but everybody doing that already and it doesn't change the game.
That's the correct answer. And the only way to receive an advantage is by adding your value on zero grounds thus increasing the chances of mutual success.
Codev models have different variations and the main questions are: does the publisher fund development (fully/partly/none)? what values publisher contribute? what control it have? what sort of game is developing?
That's how most common models answer this questions:
- Complex games, full/part funding, full control, providing whole game design (sometimes code, art, IP rights): yeah, it can be so close to outsourcing, sometimes it is one. That's how it works with big guys in midcore or classic casual segments.
- Simple games, part/none funding, advisory role, providing ideas, approaches or none. That's how it works in hypercasual.
And it's hard to meet something in between — but it was exactly what we've decided to do.
We couldn't afford to burn six digits on single production — as some majors do. It's a bit like the movie business where Carolco was forced to sell distribution rights meanwhile, giant Disney dictates cinemas to lower their share and so able to earn more from same scale success as well as suffer less from the same fail. The point is: same business models can't be applied to players of different sizes.
It's so fucking obvious when it said, right? But if so, why do I know so many publishers launched in the last several years that either blindly copy majors and burn tonnes of M&A and co-finance cash while the market was clearly overheated 3-4y ago? I won't point a finger, but it's a mystery.
Also, we didn't wanna stuck in Hypercasual: putting aside that it's practically bubble-like exploitation of market growth and growth already slowed back in 21… It's also a very specific low-margin business model that requires immediate scaling and expensive infrastructure: automated testing, UA and admon.
We targeted for best from both:
- maximizing N of attempts like hypercasual pubs do
- maximizing P of each attempt to succeed like majors do