Originally Published on Techdirt.
The world of video game publishing is being turned upside down. Much like other entertainment industries, more and more game developers are learning that publishers offer little additional value for the costs they come bundled with. This realization is following other recent events in which game developers, who could not find a publisher interested in their game, ended up crowdfunding and raising the needed money that way. The primary crowdfunding tipping point for video games was Double Fine and its adventure game. That was followed by a number of other successes such as inXile’s Wasteland 2 project.
Now it seems that even with publisher interest, some developers are choosing to stay independent by crowdfunding their new games. Of this group is Revolution Software, which makes the popular adventure series Broken Sword. Charles Cecil told Edge that his company was approached by a publisher to strike a deal for the 5th game in the series, but Cecil had turned them down.
In an extensive interview, Cecil says the industry’s “biggest third party publisher” was interested in taking the new Broken Sword. Instead he decided to seek $400,000 in funding for his new point-and-click adventure through Kickstarter.
“The publisher approached us and asked ‘what do we need to do to publish Broken Sword?’ I was enormously flattered, but decided it was better if we self-published,” he tells us.
Cecil continues to explain that staying independent allows him and his company to control the development and schedule of the game, something lost when signing a publishing deal. He continued to explain that after a publisher takes its cut of the revenue, there is little, if anything, left for the developer.
Publishers take all the risk when they fund a project, but they also take what a developer would see as a disproportionate cut of the revenue. At Revolution we had not made royalties on a game for over a decade until digital distribution which pretty much saved us.
This is something we see regularly in just about every industry. The publisher, label or whatever used to hold all the cards and were able to pull off such deals. Very few of those deals have turned out to be all that profitable for the actual creator. Now, we continually highlight numerous cases of artists pushing back, even to the point of lawsuits. However, the most common method of pushing back is to go independent, much like Cecil here.
Taking a look at the Broken Sword Kickstarter page, it seems that this independent attitude is resonating with fans. This campaign was launched on August 23rd and as of this writing is nearly halfway to its $400,000 goal. Much like the other Kickstarters I mentioned above, this one looks as it will go well beyond that goal.
With all these independent successes happening throughout the games industries, the question must be asked, “Is there a place for publishers?” That is a question those organizations will have to ask within themselves. We have written before that in the future, those companies will have to move away from being gatekeepers and into being enablers. Those companies that refuse to adapt to that reality will find that they will have a tougher time of staying successful in the future. Until then, those enablers that make things happen, such as Kickstarter and other crowdfunding services, will continue to gain ground and enable successful careers for artists.