Self-Publishing vs Publisher: An Indie Games Developer’s Guide

It’s one thing to have a perfectly polished app, it’s another for it to get the exposure and recognition it deserves. Indie app developers need to give serious thought to how they are going to market their app. Relying on people to find you in the sheer mass of apps on the App Store is somewhat akin to asking them to look for a needle in a haystack. As a result, choosing to self-publish or to go with a publisher can be a pivotal decision in the overall success of your game.

Choose your publisher wisely, look at their back catalogue and the success of their titles. Does your game fit with their portfolio and, most importantly, do you want your app to be associated with that brand? A great publisher will already have a massive list of industry contacts, including key press and reviewers. They will also have an established relationship with Apple, which could help in attaining the holy grail of an Apple feature.

Don’t be too precious about your app: a publisher knows the industry standards so they will assess the quality of your game and will give you honest feedback. At the end of the day they want to market a great product and will help you get to that stage, so be prepared to listen to their advice. A publisher usually requires a commission, though if you pick the right partnership the overall sales can be far greater than you would have ever achieved on your own.

If you decide to go it alone and self-publish you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and immerse yourself in digital marketing. There is a lot of useful literature out there aimed at helping you. The ‘Winning iPhone Strategies’ report by Kisky Netmedia is a great place to start. Talk to other developers, go to conferences, network your socks off and get as many tips from your peers as possible. Try to get a contact at Apple and show them your app, if they really like it they may be able to recommend it as a ‘staff favourite’ on the App Store.

Think about your target audience and how you can reach them. You may want to set up and maintain a Twitter feed, Facebook group, YouTube channel, and a microsite for the app. Build up your own contact list of target press and reviewers, then make sure you actually write press releases and send out promo codes. You could also integrate a social networking platform into your game such as Crystal, Open Feint, Scoreloop or Agon. These allow you to add in social features that increase product visibility via friend recommendations. These will help with the discovery of your product long after it drops out of the top 100 in the App Store.

At the end of the day it is up to you to decide whether to self-publish or use a publisher, but either way don’t sit on your laurels and expect it to sell itself. Generate a buzz and make sure you listen to the critics, as they will help you identify what needs to be fixed in the updates.


Rebecca Jones
05/03/2010

This article was written for a feature on the Vision+Media website called ‘Build it and it will sell’ aimed at the independent games developer.

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