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Publisher vs. Distributor, can someone explain plz?

1 reply [Last post]
Joined: 03/15/2012

I'm very new to game design. I've had years of experience making up games for friends and I to play, but I have never tried to make any money off of any of my designs. Now that I'm working on a game that I would like to see on store shelves, I am starting to wonder how I should prepare it so that I can realize that dream. Which leads me to my question - what are the pros and cons of going through a publisher versus self-publishing and seeking a distributor, and how does each method work?

I would imagine that for a publisher I would create a prototype of my game, pitch it to the publisher, and they would then sign a contract with me. Publishers I suppose would buy the rights up front, and possibly pay royalties, which could cut down on my profit versus self-publishing. The publisher would then take it upon themselves to have the game printed, find a distributor, set MSRP, and put the game onto the shelves. Going through a publisher costs me the rights though, so I would not be able to release anything further with that IP without first approaching the publisher (expansions, etc).

If I self-publish, I would have to create a playable demo and approach a Distributor. If the distributor was interested, I would have to pay out of pocket (or through Kickstarter, whatever) to print the game for however many runs are required (I understand that 1, 2k run is usually enough) and the Distributor then buys these from me for an agreed price, and turns around to sell them to his clients. Initially I seem to make more money this way, but I have to subtract out the cost of the original print run, and I'll be selling the games at less than MSRP so that the distributor can make a profit himself.

So it would seem that it is better to find a publisher, since he is the one taking all of the risks by funding the initial run, setting the unit price, and doing the legwork of tracking down a distributor. I know that there are a few designers on this forum who have done quite well with pubs or distributors, as well as folks here who operate their own publishing companies. Could any of you weigh in on this topic?

GiggleboxGames's picture
Joined: 03/04/2012
Greg Costikyan Article

Below is a link to and an excerpt from an article by Greg Costikyan.

"First and foremost, don't expect to get rich. I have designed twenty-three professionally-published games; if you add up all the money I've ever earned in the field, including the salary I drew when I was a company employee, and divide by 23, you get about $5000. This is good. Most designers are lucky to earn $2000 from a typical game." -- Greg Costikyan

Large publishers have extensive marketing and distribution resources. Many small publishers are self-publishers that also coordinate production and distribution for others. You make a very good point about risk. A publisher, large or small, must be willing to assume the risk. To self-publish requires performing all of the tasks a publisher would do on your behalf.

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