[Frank Cartwright, SVP of Product and Platform Development for GamersFirst, discusses what is absolutely essential in a developer / publisher relationship for an MMO.]
Who you choose to publish your massively multi-player online game is more important than who you choose to marry. Seriously.
No matter how awesome, how compelling, how unique your game is -- if your publisher fails, you fail. Here you will learn what to DEMAND from potential game publishers and as a result be the proud owner of a successful online game.
Your publisher is the lifeblood of your game. A publisher must ignite and engage your community, market your game, and acquire and service your players, so it's vital that they have experience and success doing these things in your key target markets.
A publisher who has experience publishing first-person shooters (FPS) is probably not the best fit for your casual, FarmVille-type game -- unless they can really prove to you they can make the transition.
Test your publisher to get the proof you need. Ask questions -- lots of them. Put your potential publisher in the hot seat and get them to show off their knowledge of player demographics and describe in detail the differences in player habits. Ask them to describe the difference between the habits of a casual gamer versus a FPS player.
Keep digging and find out how many male players they have been ages 16-24. What about female players? How many of their players play more than one of their games? How about two? How many paying players do they have? What's the average revenue per paying user? Experienced publishers eat, sleep and breathe this kind of data, so if your publisher stumbles, it's probably not a match made in heaven.
It's critical that you speak to your potential publisher's current developers. If they don't want you talking to them, run as fast as you can, as this is likely a sign of poor developer relations. A great publisher will encourage you to speak to their other developer partners and will have a clear understanding of how valuable this open line of communication is.
Also, get a feel for the amount of attention the publisher gives current developer partners. Are there daily meetings? Weekly? Monthly? A good publisher will set these expectations and ensure each developer has adequate time and attention. Ask them what to expect so you won't be surprised down the road.
Most experienced publishers realize that localization is much more than just translating text from one language to another. Translation, however, is still a key component. How many times have you come across a web page that had an obviously bad translation and laughed about how silly and unprofessional it appeared?
You don't want players to think this about your translated in-game content or game website. Demand that that your publisher provide samples of localized content and get them to commit to professional localization services.
Beyond translations, localization, more importantly, consists of local market expertise.
Does your publisher know local regulations and have government contacts? Although this is not as important in North America, in many countries this knowledge is vital to the success of your game. For example, the German government in particular is sensitive to video game violence. Imagine spending millions of dollars developing a game that you licensed for Germany only to have it banned for being too violent.
Turkey, for example, has strict limitations on the amount of content that internet users can download per month. Users who download beyond their monthly cap are charged a premium and as a result, gamers in Turkey are deterred from downloading large game clients.
Suddenly, your free-to-play game is costing the user money before they begin to play. If you approach your publisher with a 10GB client for the Turkish market, your publisher should know that a client of that size simply won't allow your game to get on as many computers as possible.
Finally, demand that your publisher accept local payment methods and take payments in the local currency. Don't let a publisher convince you that PayPal is sufficient. It's not.
Once again, quiz your publisher. Are they able to tell you the currency breakdown in Turkey, Brazil, and Germany? Are they able to tell you the top payment methods for each region? Do they know what method each region prefers? Do they know the pros and cons of each of them? Demand that they do.