Evaluating Publishers

If you are an indie developer who is considering a publisher, one thing you can be virtually certain on: the publisher will tell you that they have great expertise in marketing. So, how does one estimate how good a job publishers do?

A two-step process can reveal a great deal:

  1. Go to this analytics site, and enter the name of the publisher in the search bar. It will list the ranking of each upcoming game they are publishing in the top wishlists list. It will also list the follower count of each upcoming game, and the aggregate total followers of all upcoming games from that publisher. Followers are a reasonable proxy for wishlists, so the follower count of a publisher’s portfolio of upcoming games will give you an idea of their marketing success, especially when compared to other publishers. Note that if a game has been recently added, it may simply not have had time to build up many wishlists/followers.
  2. For publishers with released games, check their Steam publisher page, and examine the review count of each released game. There is a relationship between number of reviews and sales, and often games will have sold somewhere around 40x the number of reviews. Here, don’t just look for the hits–some publishers have a small amount of high-performing games among a very large amount of games that sold poorly.

However, note that an occasional underperforming game may reflect problems on the development side, and that games of different genres and budgets can perform starkly different. Examine the games that sold less, and if, say, they are an example of the publisher’s portfolio simply including some lower-sales genres or lower-budget games, that’s not a negative, provided those games performed well relative to comparable games. Ultimately, the goal is to try to determine what marketing value the publisher adds to games, and that’s going to require taking account of multiple factors.

Of course, the same steps allow comparison of two different publishers. Here, best to ensure you are comparing apples to apples–if one publisher is new and only has upcoming games, compare them to other publishers through step 1 only. Or if one publisher is genre specific to your game’s genre, and the other publisher deals in multiple genres, then primarily compare the second publisher’s performance in your specific genre.