The Point of Publishers

Activision, EA, SEGA, Ubisoft, Take Two, Square Enix, Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft, Capcom and Konami – just a handful of video game publishers but the list goes on. But what exactly do publishers mean to you and what impressions do they give?

The recent situation between former Infinity Ward founders and Activision has shown that even developers of a game that has earned in excess of a billion dollars don’t always work in harmony with their publishers.

The events at Activision and Infinity Ward are obviously not the type of thing that happens every day and the situation is complicated further seeing as Activision own IW; but it does give an insight into just how powerful these publishers are…or think they are.

But without them, games simply wouldn’t get made. Funding, marketing and delivering the finished product all rest with the publisher in most cases; but do they provide gamers with the best deal?

EA have recently embarked on what they call the “Ten Dollar Project” whereby games such as Mass Effect 2 and Bad Company 2 now feature DLC networks which cost owners of second-hand copies even more money.

EA and Activision are also two publishers which have openly decided to cut back on original titles, favouring their well-established brands. Guitar Hero after Guitar Hero, Call of Duty after Call of Duty, FIFA after FIFA, Need For Speed after Need For Speed.

It’s all business at the end of the day and in recent months the industry has been hit hard by a struggling world economy. These franchises serve to keep companies going through rough patches but I get the impression that it’s doing the industry more harm than good.

The majority of gamers want fresh, exciting games and there’s no reason why these can’t come in the form of sequels/prequels but gamers also want new ideas and new ways to play. Can developers meet this demand without publishers?
Digital downloads are easier to get to market without the need for a publisher especially with companies and services like Play Replay and Tiger. Schemes like these do put more risk on the developers however, as they will need to fund their own projects from the outset; although with new companies like Indie Fund this may become easier than before. Advice on business and funding as well as creation is also available from services such as Indievision.

Is this recent boom in support for independent developers a result of large publishers having too much of a strangle hold over every aspect or are publishers portrayed unfairly?
Either way, the boom in original and acclaimed titles over PSN and XBLA has proven that there is a market for original games. The price may be a fraction of a fully-boxed game (in both development and sell price) but it has shown that it can be done without major publishers getting involved.

So, to finish off this thought, I will ask the original question again: What exactly do publishers mean to you and what impressions do they give?

Personally I think certain publishers give off an air of arrogance and self importance and that they are only interested in the money. I realise they are a business but it should be a business built around the love of gaming, not a business built around the love of money that gaming provides. Releasing the same game just with a different name year after year only serves to alienate them from their consumers and, ultimately, gamers will become disinterested in future projects they may have to offer. I also think that they need to start treating the gaming community with a lot more respect and the sooner they realise that we are an intelligent bunch (for the most part) the better.