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The publishing philosophy behind  MechWarrior Online 's million-user milestone
The publishing philosophy behind MechWarrior Online's million-user milestone Exclusive
July 2, 2013 | By Kris Graft

July 2, 2013 | By Kris Graft
More: Social/Online, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Being an effective game publisher in the age of digital is about being a transparent layer between the player community and the people who're making the games.

At least that's how Infinite Game Publishing approaches the business. Judging by the company's latest milestone, publishers big and small should take note.

IGP is the young Montreal-based publisher of free-to-play MechWarrior Online, an in-beta online game from developer Piranha Games. The game has accumulated 1 million registered users (i.e., people who have downloaded the client and played the game), IGP announced today.

IGP president Kelly Zmak sees hitting the 1 million mark as a "psychological" victory for his company. He's realistic about the meaning behind "registered users" -- not every single one of them are active, but that's ok for now.

"The number signifies exposure and opportunity," says Zmak. "[The number is] not necessarily reflective of where we've come from or reflective necessarily of where we're going," he says.

Nevertheless, it's still more than a solid foundation for a promising game that's yet to fully launch.

Knowing your role as a publisher

When you think "game publisher," you might think of monolithic corporate entities like Electronic Arts or Activision. Maybe because the word "publisher" is rooted in the idea of physical manufacturing and distribution of a product.

Of course, thanks to online business opportunities, that's just not how a large portion of the game business works any longer. IGP was founded in 2011, but Zmak had previously been involved with the traditional publishing (retail-centric) side of the business for years, at companies like Activision and Sierra. Far from a corporate giant, his company has a headcount of around 30.

So how did MechWarrior Online hit 1 million registered users with such modest "publishing" resources? For one, among fans of big robots with guns, the MechWarrior brand is instantly recognizable. But there's more to the game's success than brand recognition, says Zmak.

"[As a publisher], you have to focus on the developer and the game. To be blunt about it, consumers really don't care about us," says Zmak. "It's like an IT role -- when everything works like it's supposed to, nobody knows you're there.

"We're actively involved with the community, but the message is managed and largely driven by Piranha." He says IGP and Piranha's goal is to find an audience with hardcore MechWarrior fans (creative fan-centric funding initiatives helps), and use that as a basis to eventually attract a broader range of online players.

Zmak adds, "You have to have the mindset that the game is first, the developer is second, and the publishing function -- although critical to making all those things work -- is not the profile role. It might be interesting to investors, and it's highly interesting to the business community, but from the consumer standpoint, it's just not that exciting."

Understand what you know (and don't know) as a game developer

In the online and digital world, where the people who make the games can release games directly to their players if they choose, publishers need to argue their value by being adept in analytics and complicated business situations such as overseas taxation and billing of digital products and services. Depending on the game you're making, and the kind of reach you desire, you might need someone with expertise in those areas.

Zmak's advice: "If there's a developer looking to self-publish, understand what you don't know; know what you don't know, and get help in those areas. Understand what you're passionate about, and focus on those things and do them really, really well. Find partners to help you with some of the things that you may not know."

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jeff grant
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"understand what you don't know; know what you don't know, and get help in those areas"

So very true.

jay buss
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IGP being honest? What is this author smoking, or how much did IGP pay him? PGI/IGP has lied, lied, and lied again. When they sold the first founders packs, they promised everyone it would be a mech simulator, with no coolant, no 3rd person, no cash for damage. Now they are telling everyone it is an arcade shootem'up (Call of duty with robots) with coolant, with 3rd person (yay segmented community) with pay2damage. Meanwhile, IGP has gone around their forums banning anyone who posts any negative feedback. Completely segmenting their forums so every sub-topic is hyper specific, and the moment anyone mentions anything off topic the mods can just jettison the thread so nobody sees it ever again. The ONLY thing IGP/PGI has been transparent about is just how much they don't like their own community, and how much they don't care about what they said this game would be.

Tim Kofoed
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In line with the previous comment, I feel I should add my concerns as well.

I don't know who was responsible for the latest Facebook ad-campaign, but I found it rather distasteful.
At first, you are shown one image, and you are only given the link to find the game if you "like" the page.
Then you are shown one video and if you click to continue, you are asked to give them your email... That's when I stopped and un-like'd the page.

Now that I've googled it, I see they have a proper site with a lot of content and a forum... so why didn't they link to that in the facebook campaign?

My main concern is this; hitting a 1 million mark user base is great, but if you used deception and trickery to get those users there... well... honestly, I can't say it will hurt, and I can't say it will come back to haunt them, because I don't see how it really could (except for bad press)... all I truly can say, is I hope I never get that desperate for users.

Adam West - Viterbi IGP
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Hi there Tim!

Sorry to hear you were having problems getting to our Facebook page. We've never had a video that you must "Like" before being able to visit the MechWarrior Online Facebook Page, our site, or to download and play the game for free.

Please be wary of duplicate Facebook pages that offer scams and advertising offers. Our official Facebook pages is located at: