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Finding Out if a Publisher is Right for You


June 14, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[A veteran Ubisoft producer explains what publishers look for in developers, and also explains what developers should look for in return, and how sometimes the more experienced studios and publishers with better offers aren't the best choices.]

Every studio is unique, and the same goes for publishers. Cultures, development philosophies, and strategies are among the things that differentiate every company, and they are all driven at different levels by business, design, tech, marketing, and more.

With that in mind, how do you make a good match between a studio and a publisher? Each side has its own ideas about what it is looking for, so it shouldn't be that difficult. But building a successful collaboration isn't that easy and takes time.

It takes also a good start. Usually when things get serious -- with all background checks done and work for hire business terms outlined -- it starts with some sort of due diligence where the publisher visits the studio's office. This process is mainly what is going to be covered in this article.

What's the Point of Due Diligence?

Obviously, the development team is important, and making sure it has all the talent, skills and experience is essential. However, a background check and some interviews are not going to reveal what the team dynamic during game development will be like, as talent management and good direction is really what is going to make a difference.

This is why the studio's management is key. In fact, if the manager is good, he or she is going to build a great team. Independently of their size, this is what the best studios do. If the management is lacking, even if by chance the team members are individually good, the project is most likely to go wrong at some point.

Often a large part of the studio visit is dedicated to technology. Tech tends to be a big deal to publishers' business teams, because this is an area we do not master, and is thus seen as pretty risky. It is not necessary for us to go deep into the subject, as it is covered well already -- more importantly, my point is that it doesn't matter much.

Taking a step back, most studios today use licensed tech, and those sticking with proprietary solutions tend to be really good at them. And as we know, using a particular licensed technology or having some cutting-edge feature is not a deciding factor in the quality or success of a game. This is why for one unit of time spent discussing tech, double should be dedicated to the making of games in general.

Development solutions are also not going to affect productivity in the same order of magnitude as project management issues do (planning, shortage of resources, contingencies, etc...) Coding practices are also more likely to affect the outcome.

Is the game code going to be well-designed, flexible, and eventually well-optimized and easy to maintain? These questions make it possible to collect clues during an interview, but don't offer much of a guarantee.

More importantly, the main goal of these discussions should be around making sure that the partnership has a chance to work out. As expressed by Game Developer magazine editor in chief Brandon Sheffield, the due diligence process is not only a one way street.

For a good start in this type of collaboration, it's necessary to discuss things openly -- things like creative control, what kind of input to expect from the publisher, respective levels of expectation, problem solving, and so on. In my experience, a lot of trouble can be avoided down the road by discussing these topics early.

And not only it is a mutual evaluation process, but it also takes a full development cycle for each party to really learn about the other, and to see that everyone has delivered as promised. At this point, if you have the will, it may turn into a longterm partnership.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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