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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

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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