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In defense of Publishers everywhere
April 25th 2002, 08:33 CEST by Kinetech

In an earlier thread, chris espoused:
I suppose I could say "well, then, publishers need to give developers more than 18 months to make a game"


Hmmm... why is it always the Evil Publisher(tm) that's to blame when released product isn't perfect enough or pushes the genre far enough? As a Product Manager at a mid-sized publisher, I need to pipe up here and open up a thread on this topic. I'm eager to speak out with our side of the story, and I'm curious to hear what 'crappers -- vocal hardcore gamers all -- will have to say to that.

Milestones are determined by publisher and developer working together. It doesn't make sense for me to push a product out the door months before it's ready. When we're going over the initial timelines, I trust the developer to be able to determine how long their project will take. If they say 12 months, great. If they say 18 months, or 24 months, well that's ok too; I'll plan accordingly. The reason why most games have an 18 month development cycle is because it seems to me that titles don't get shopped around until they're 18 months away from completion. That's when it seems the devs happen to be running out of money...

Look, we all know there have been instances of a product being rushed out the door (Pool of Radiance, anyone?), but who's really to blame here? I'm not privvy to the situation with PoR, for example, but let's realize that the publisher needs to plan a great deal of marketing activities to hit around a product launch, moreso with a AAA title. In the case of PoR, UBISoft had a commitment for a marketing plan put into action months before the agreed upon launch date -- print ads, in-store marketing and more. If Stormfront dropped the ball and delivered a sub-par product, what alternative was available to UBISoft? Remember, Gold Master Candidates are usually delivered less than 3 weeks before ship date, not leaving much time for testing and subsequent bug-fixing. If they delayed the game at that point, the fanbase would have rioted, the retailers would have freaked out, and all pre-launch marketing efforts would have been for naught.

Devs and Pubs are, first and foremost, business concerns. We happen to make games and we love games, but if we don't make money, we can't feed our families. When developers are looking for a project to work on, they have to wear a business hat and think about the economic viability of their project. If it won't sell, they won't be around to make another game, so they need to build a game they know will sell. Historically, consumers haven't been too eager to snatch up games that have been too far "out there" in terms of story line or gameplay, so retailers are hesitant to stock them. I would maintain that its the gamer who dictates the general flavor of games on the shelves at your local EB.

My point is that it's not often the publisher's fault if a) a game is released in buggy format and b) if most games are sequels and "clones" of successful titles. We can only publish from the pool of talent available, and there's not many developers willing to push the envelope that far. Which isn't to say the developers aren't talented... just unable to deliver to their own milestones much of the time.
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#1 by jafd
2002-04-25 08:35:40
It sounds real rough. Maybe all the publishers should just hang up their hats and get real jobs?

This is no time for a slow PC!
#2 by Bailey
2002-04-25 08:52:51
As we all know, the developer has a 51% say in all matters regarding their game. This is why they are all rich and drive ferrarris and never quit the game industry in disgust to go over and work on boring business applications that slowly eat one's soul.

The perfect person is pleasantly mediocre.
#3 by Ashiran
2002-04-25 09:06:22
I'm a bit confused here. We all know that most developers don't have that much cash to go around. And after looking at some stats of publisher profits most of them also aren't doing very well. So where does all the profit go? All in the pockets of the shops that actually sell the games to the crowd? Or are most publishers just running an inefficient buisness?

Perhaps adoptation of the Derek Smart Way™ may prove a solution.

Civilized barcode, quick id.
#4 by The_Joker
2002-04-25 11:25:49
http://www.jackinworld.com
17 minutes ago, I had an orgasm.

Joker, Ph.D. Procedural Assholian Behaviour, Pedophilosopher
- All your ass are belong to my wang Jafd. Prepare to are penetration.
#5 by "Sgt.Seb"
2002-04-25 11:25:55
What I don't understand is if so many games dont make a profit (which is what I seem to hear all the time), how do so many publishers and development teams manage to survive and grow?   I read totally conflicting information all the time about how only a tiny percentage of games make money but I see billions of games coming out all the time, more and more it seems.  And they seem to be getting better.  In the last 2 months, JK2, Dungeon Siege, Freedom Force, all solid triple AAA games.  

Can someone clear that up for me?  Am I right in thinking gaming is very profitable or is it a misconception :)
#6 by Bailey
2002-04-25 11:40:07
So these games were solid, triple AAA titles? That's nine A's! A new record!

Register to win an endless, massive hosing of spam from which there can be no escape!
#7 by devttys0
2002-04-25 12:07:53
http://www.planetcrap.com/
Perhaps they were triple-XXX.

That would explain it.
#8 by garin
2002-04-25 12:08:01
garin@unitzero.cjb.net
Fuckin' A.
#9 by "Homeworld"
2002-04-25 13:41:28
A's are the new Nazis!
#10 by "flamethrower"
2002-04-25 14:05:19
Developers are the New Nazis, Publishers are the New Jews, Gamers are the New Co-operating European Populaces, Lackluster Sales are the New DeathCamps, adn Kinetech is the New Schindler.

That clears that up then.
#11 by Matt Perkins
2002-04-25 14:09:09
wizardque@yahoo.com http://whatwouldmattdo.com/
I think the numbers we see by from publishers must be fudged or at the very least, mis leading...  Everyone knows about the Paramount Pictures case where they claimed they made no money on Coming to America, but they actually made a mess of it...  I think it's something along those lines.

Though I could be completely wrong.

And if I am, I echo the question asked, how does any publisher make money?

Change of business notice: New, pimping game love, from yours truly.  Want to advertise your game on PC, but want to hear the pansies complain about 'pimping'?  Just ask wzrd, your new neighborhood pimp...rates cheap, integrity not intact, no game to stupid!
#12 by Bailey
2002-04-25 14:30:03
Lots of handjobs.

Register to win an endless, massive hosing of spam from which there can be no escape!
#13 by LPMiller
2002-04-25 14:59:57
lpmiller@gotapex.com http://www.gotapex.com
Let's all share in the goodness. Hand jobs for everybody!

Will warez for food.
#14 by Bailey
2002-04-25 15:26:31
Form a single line please; lotion to your left, kneepads to your right.

Register to win an endless, massive hosing of spam from which there can be no escape!
#15 by Martin
2002-04-25 15:36:03
http://www.mocol.nu
I thought Joker had this covered already...

-- Martin
Business as usual.
#16 by Bailey
2002-04-25 15:39:12
That pony needs a new trick.

"About five years ago, a group of us discovered by accident that pears can have ZING!" And ever since that fateful day, none of us have slept easy. I am become Fizzy, Carbonater of Watermelons.
#17 by Kinetech
2002-04-25 15:56:01
Publishers generally make money by throwing enough shit against the wall and hoping something sticks. A AAA title can make a tidy profit... a B title that cost a lot will likely lose money. Hopefully, through astute product evalution and an ability to pick out the desireable titles over the losers, a Publisher can be profitable.

This is actually a pretty complex business, folks. The game biz is similar to the movie biz and the book biz in many ways. Especially the handjobs.


Game Publishing -- A Primer  by Kinetech.

See the nice Developer.

He has an Idea!

See the Developer talk to the Publisher.

Talk, talk, talk.

Talk, Developer, talk!

See the Publisher and the Developer sign a Contract.

Can you say Contract?

The Contract says the Publisher has to pay the Developer when the Developer hits his Milestones.

Milestones are very important.

See the Publisher pay the Developer an Advance Against Future Royalties.

The Developer is making a game for the Publisher.

If this game sells, the Publisher will make back his Advance, and the Developer will start to earn Royalties.

Sell, game, sell!

See the buggy game.

This game didn't sell.

See the sad Publisher.

He lost money on this deal.

People are also mad at the Publisher.

Don't cry, Publisher.

See the fun game!

It's a Sequal to another fun game.

Can you say Sequal?

Everyone loves the fun game.

See the Publisher smile.

See the Publisher's shareholders smile.

See the Developer smile.

See the Developer drive a Red Ferrari.

And a Silver Mercedes.

Everyone wins.

Win, win, win.

The End.

Me fail English? Thats unpossible!
#17 by Creole Ned
2002-04-25 15:56:01
Who keeps voting yes? Knock it off!

I thought crates are the new space nazis bearmonkeys. - Funkdrunk
#18 by Creole Ned
2002-04-25 15:58:56
No offense, Kinetech. :)

I thought crates are the new space nazis bearmonkeys. - Funkdrunk
#19 by Matthew Gallant
2002-04-25 16:02:30
http://www.truemeaningoflife.com
My point is that it's not often the publisher's fault if a) a game is released in buggy format and b) if most games are sequels and "clones" of successful titles.


Pimping ain't easy, poor widdle pubwisher.

As long as game publishers give their developers crappy royalty rates, they'll have an adversarial relationship and the dev will try to keep the publisher's nose out of their business as much as possible.

As long as game publishers keep hiring people who can't properly engage, earn the respect of, and drive developers, the developers will work by their own schedule and make the game their way.

As long as game publishers act more like game distributors and don't take a role in the development of games, they'll have to take what the developer comes up with.

and finally,

As long as game publishers are the ones who greenlight the design, pay for the development, and put their name on the box, they're the ones who have to answer for how a game turns out.

Kinetech, your buck-passing attitude is pretty pathetic. A publisher is in a leadership position. It's your job to help your subordinates, the developer, to work at peak level and keep them happy. You have to know them and their jobs well enough to figure out what they're doing and take an active role.

I would maintain that it's the gamer who dictates the general flavor of games on the shelves at your local EB.


Whine. Yeah, people were clamoring for a game like The Sims. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I was in EB in the 90s and heard, "GODDAMN, CLETUS, I WANT ME SOME VIRTUA DOLLHOUSE"...

No wonder Japan kicks our ass.

We can only publish from the pool of talent available.


Maybe if you did something to draw more talent into the pool? Or not throw talent out of the pool after the game ships? Nah, that would be like, stewardship or cultivation or some other word that involves you doing something besides squeezing money out of your tight ass while blindfolded.

Marketing is a crutch for mediocrity and a handicap to excellence.
#20 by Matthew Gallant
2002-04-25 16:03:58
http://www.truemeaningoflife.com
Publishers generally make money by throwing enough shit against the wall and hoping something sticks.


Go to Vegas. Get out of the games industry.

Marketing is a crutch for mediocrity and a handicap to excellence.
#21 by Bailey
2002-04-25 16:05:26
Game Publishing -- A Primer

I'm waiting for the illustrated version.

"About five years ago, a group of us discovered by accident that pears can have ZING!" And ever since that fateful day, none of us have slept easy. I am become Fizzy, Carbonater of Watermelons.
#22 by Martin
2002-04-25 16:07:23
http://www.mocol.nu
What "Next page?" After 20 comments? Blah!

-- Martin
Business as usual.
#23 by "Sgt.Seb"
2002-04-25 16:09:36
LOL at #17 hehehe!

Still not sure on how developers can turn a profit though, especially when they are churning out mediocre average selling games .  Hmmm any books on this kind of thing?
#24 by "Sgt.Seb"
2002-04-25 16:10:34
Oh and I hate to bring it up again but im finally getting the hang of the light saber in JK2, its great! :)
#25 by Kinetech
2002-04-25 16:17:10
None taken, Creole Ned.

Bite me.  ;-)

B.

Me fail English? Thats unpossible!
#26 by Warren Marshall
2002-04-25 16:22:21
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
Sgt.Seb
Still not sure on how developers can turn a profit though, especially when they are churning out mediocre average selling games .  Hmmm any books on this kind of thing?

Answer : they aren't.  That's the point.

WoT?
#27 by Morn
2002-04-25 16:30:51
morn@planetcrap.com http://hmans.net
It's not my fault!

BTW, if I offer Quake 3 or Wolfenstein links to Amazon/EB/C&B/etc on this page, I'm violating German laws. So, fuck the CrapStore. Fuck everything.

Hendrik "Morn" Mans • morn@planetcrap.com • admin/coder/lover/kraut
#28 by Petri Jarvilehto
2002-04-25 16:31:15
petri@remedy.fi http://www.remedy.fi
IIRC according to IDSA, The top 10% of the games earn 70% of the profits and the top 5% of the games earns over 50% of the profits.

=> if you don't make it into the top ten, you won't be showing profit you'll be just fighting for survival.

From the original topic:

In the case of PoR, UBISoft had a commitment for a marketing plan put into action months before the agreed upon launch date -- print ads, in-store marketing and more. If Stormfront dropped the ball and delivered a sub-par product, what alternative was available to UBISoft? Remember, Gold Master Candidates are usually delivered less than 3 weeks before ship date, not leaving much time for testing and subsequent bug-fixing. If they delayed the game at that point, the fanbase would have rioted, the retailers would have freaked out, and all pre-launch marketing efforts would have been for naught.


Yeah, and now that they did release the game they managed to sell what, less than 100k copies, kill the existing fans of PoR and practically run the whole franchise into the ground (and obviously all the money that was invested into marketing the game was wasted as well). The only sensible option for Ubisoft would've been to bite the bullet and keep the developer working on the game until it's bug free.
#29 by MCorleone
2002-04-25 17:09:28
Did Bailey call Joker a Ponyboy?

Build a man a fire and you'll keep him warm for the rest of the night.  Light a man on fire and you'll keep him warm for the rest of his life.
#30 by Warren Marshall
2002-04-25 17:13:00
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
Petri

But going that way pretty much condemns the game as well.  By the time the game comes out, the public has forgotten about it.  There's no money left for marketing, so the game just sort of appears silently on shelves.  Sure, PoR die hards are happier because the game is bug free (as far as can be expected at least), but the game won't sell for shit UNLESS it's a monster hit that can get by on buzz alone.

The TRULY sensible option would have been working out a realistic development schedule and having the publisher/developer involved in clear/honest discussions about the state of the game.  Then real timelines could have been worked out and PoR wouldn't have been released in the state that it was.

And yes, in my world, the streets are paved with candy ...

WoT?
#31 by Bailey
2002-04-25 17:16:47
BTW, if I offer Quake 3 or Wolfenstein links to Amazon/EB/C&B/etc on this page, I'm violating German laws. So, fuck the CrapStore. Fuck everything.

Especially the goofy German laws!

"About five years ago, a group of us discovered by accident that pears can have ZING!" And ever since that fateful day, none of us have slept easy. I am become Fizzy, Carbonater of Watermelons.
#32 by "Sgt.Seb"
2002-04-25 17:19:54
#26

I cant believe I'm posting at 3.18am in the morning...argh.  Anyway, the simple reasoning of basic spply and demand states if a good is not profitable (in this case computer games) then, suppliers will leave the market until equilibrium is reached (in an ideal market anyway).  In the often construed case, the game industry doesn't seem to think it fits in with this theory for some reason - it claims to be non-profitable yet is growing ridiculously fast and is most certainly a sunrise industry.  

GO figure

me sleep now!
#33 by "Evi|ivE"
2002-04-25 17:19:55
I agree with Petri on the PoR deal...  Why release such a crappy, incomplete game?  It seems the money would be better invested by actually finishing the thing.  I know I won't be waiting for another PoR game.  

Oh, and don't put "3rd Edition" on the box when the game barely coveres the 2nd edition rule set.
#34 by "Evi|ivE"
2002-04-25 17:20:59
But see Warren, the problem is that only the die hard PoR fans bought the game anyway.  So why not finish it for them?
#35 by MCorleone
2002-04-25 17:21:23
Bailey, from the site linked in your sig, I would have chosen:

Contrary to popular British press, bananas do NOT explode when carbonated! They simple do not carbonate well due to their lower water content.


for your sig.

Build a man a fire and you'll keep him warm for the rest of the night.  Light a man on fire and you'll keep him warm for the rest of his life.
#36 by Bailey
2002-04-25 17:30:59
No one likes a backseat sig'er, MCorleone.

"About five years ago, a group of us discovered by accident that pears can have ZING!" And ever since that fateful day, none of us have slept easy. I am become Fizzy, Carbonater of Watermelons.
#37 by Kinetech
2002-04-25 17:34:13
AARRRRRGH.

I just spent 20 minutes crafting a carefully worded and considered reply to Matthew, and then either PC or my net connection went to shit.

I'll have to get back to you on that, but trust me, I have a response!

Warren, I'm with you on this one, brother. The whole PoR thing was NOT managed well, methinks.

Me fail English? Thats unpossible!
#38 by Warren Marshall
2002-04-25 17:46:59
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
Evilive
But see Warren, the problem is that only the die hard PoR fans bought the game anyway.  So why not finish it for them?

Maybe they'd already thrown so much money at the thing, they just wanted it out of their faces?  It's bad business to keep throwing money into a sink hole.

WoT?
#39 by Petri Jarvilehto
2002-04-25 17:52:12
petri@remedy.fi http://www.remedy.fi
#30 by Warren Marshall

The TRULY sensible option would have been working out a realistic development schedule and having the publisher/developer involved in clear/honest discussions about the state of the game.  Then real timelines could have been worked out and PoR wouldn't have been released in the state that it was.


Yeah, very true. But since we live in a real world that rarely happens. I still think that releasing a game that's not finished/polished is definitely the worse option. Even though the pub may see some (very) short term returns, you end up messing your own reputation, the developers reputation and the trust of the fans. I'd imagine that the retailers will be a lot more unhappy with product returns than if the game is delayed a couple of months.
#40 by "Evi|ivE"
2002-04-25 18:20:18
Warren:  It also seems like very bad business to leave the people you made the game for with a bad taste in their mouth.  I know I won't be buying any more D&D games from them.  I'll just stick to Bioware.  They actually take the time to finish their games.
#41 by Ashiran
2002-04-25 18:20:29
#17 by Kinetech

Why did this post remind me of the novel "1984" by George Orwell?

I must be losing it. Or gaining it.

Civilized barcode, quick id.
#42 by Warren Marshall
2002-04-25 18:27:28
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
Petri
I'd imagine that the retailers will be a lot more unhappy with product returns than if the game is delayed a couple of months.

The retailers couldn't care less.  When the publisher pays for shelf space and advertising, that's non-refundable.  So whether the game is delayed or not is water off the retailers back.  When the game finally DOES come out, whatever doesn't sell, goes back to the publisher.  The retailer is never left holding the bag.

The publisher is really the one who takes the beating for late games, and they generally transfer that beating to the developer who made the game.

Evilive

Did I say it was right?  No.  But it IS reality ...  You can't throw good money after bad and expect to stay in business.

WoT?
#43 by Bailey
2002-04-25 18:30:08
You must throw worse money after bad. Or possibly chaotic neutral money.

"About five years ago, a group of us discovered by accident that pears can have ZING!" And ever since that fateful day, none of us have slept easy. I am become Fizzy, Carbonater of Watermelons.
#44 by chris
2002-04-25 18:35:49
cwb@shaithis.com http://www.cerebraldebris.com
I understand that there are plenty of developers out there who can't hit milestones. My comment, which was taken rather out of context, was delivered specifically at Raven, who are known for putting out decent, non-buggy games. But they're not exactly pushing the envelope (to overuse an overused term).

I wasn't saying "Mean old publishers make me play stupid, buggy games". I was saying that sometimes what appears to be the easiest or most logical path to profitability (ie: make a game on a short deadline that doesn't suck, but doesn't do anything that exciting, using a popular license) is not necessarily the ONLY way to make money.

There are countless examples of developers that took the time to do it right, and were greatly rewarded for doing so. It's just a shame that your founders have to be Microsoft millionaires (Valve) for this to be a plausible approach.

-chris
#45 by Warren Marshall
2002-04-25 18:40:02
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
chris
There are countless examples of developers that took the time to do it right, and were greatly rewarded for doing so. It's just a shame that your founders have to be Microsoft millionaires (Valve) for this to be a plausible approach.

It takes money (as you said).  It's that simple.  If a publisher is holding the purse strings, you're all but fucked.  You have no control.

WoT?
#46 by LesJarvis
2002-04-25 18:40:13
I'm at a loss as to why devs and pubs don't schedule the release date of a game 3-6 months after the game is *supposed* to be done.  This seems to be the way that the movies stuidos work for the most part, and it tends to alleviate concerns about mistimed marketing.  Yes, games aren't as predictable as movies when it comes to development times, but adding at least 3 months of padding should, in most cases, solve the problem.  It seems like EA has already started to do this to one degree or another, and I expect more big publishers to start following suit.
#47 by chris
2002-04-25 18:50:31
cwb@shaithis.com http://www.cerebraldebris.com
Warren -

I know. That was my point. =)

The original comment was immediately followed by something along the lines of "yeh... like that's ever gonna happen"

Because I know that publishers are not real hot on funding 3 year dev cycles. Probably because *usually* that means "shitty game", not "brilliant game".

I just wish the publishers were better able to predict which titles would fall into the latter column if given the 3-year treatment.

-chris
#48 by BobJustBob
2002-04-25 18:50:52
I voted no. That's what I get for voting.
#49 by snowcrash-22
2002-04-25 19:37:50
snowcrash22@excite.com
I am not really a very good thread hijacker, but I feel I must ask the question.

What was the deal with all the wet towels in the cripser?

And what does it mean to future publishers?
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