Well the truth of this answer is that you don’t. All platforms offer easy to use self-service release options for developers that allow you to release your game into the same stores as major publishers.
Q: So why would you sign a publishing deal?
A: Simple, scale.
A publisher specializes in Marketing and Selling games and everything that goes along with it. A publisher can bring to bear their experience and practice of these disciplines on your game and if done correctly, double if not triple the sales. But before we start getting into what that means let’s look at the types of publishing arrangements your likely to come across.
The first is where a publisher is publishing its own intellectual property. This is commonly the business of the big AAA games publishers whereupon their primary role is the management of the intellectual property from its inception through to delivery to the end user. They may own the studio or the may not, but the studio is commissioned to develop the game over an agreed period of time, to a specific budget and then the game is released in the planned window on whichever platform, sometimes all. The publishing company also develops and manages a host of derivative assets that may include all sorts of things from comics to a TV Series. This is classical publishing.
If you’re more a game developer in the independent sphere it’s most likely the publishing deal that you will sign is more akin to a distribution deal. It’s called a publishing deal but where its major difference lies is that the intellectual property (the game developed by the developer) rests with the developer and stays with the developer. The Publisher has no real long-term stake in the IP other than a first option on the next iteration. The publisher’s role in this type of agreement is to provide the developers game a pre agreed level of marketing support and deliver it in front of more potential users than would of happened should the developer had gone for a solo release.
Of course, nothing is set in stone and any agreement may be any combination of the above, be more straight-forward or more complex depending on the wishes of two parties but that’s generally the two types of publishing you will find.
So why do you need a publisher?. Well publishers usually will have a pipeline of games. Those games will be spaced throughout the year to ensure that each game acquires the sufficient attention of the marketing and sales staff to deliver the company publishing efficiency. This is the key here. Marketing and sales are discipline the same a law or game development is. The more you do it the better you become at it.
At a publisher, the programmatic team will spend all day and every day honing the targeting of a particular set of consumers and deliver lists of user types, their likes and dislikes and potential retargeting value. On the sales side the sales team will have built years of relationships with platform holders and large digital stores that allows for conversations about positioning products in catalogues and sales to happen on a regular basis.
Although sales and marketing activities are the most obvious activities, at a publisher you will also find that they have access to a whole host of practiced suppliers. They will no doubt have access to a more practiced QA team, more likely one that works for them on a regular basis. They will also have access to a suite of technical services providers that can deliver services such as localizations for both in game and store pages as well as likely a host of porting partners that they have some history with. They will also have pre-existing relationships with a selection of PR companies and hopefully a rather large database of consumers that already enjoy their range of published games.
All these incredibly important things will, or at least should, add extra sales to your game should you decide to cooperate with a publisher. If you are lucky enough to find a publisher that is as good at publishing games as you are at making them then the result should be a clear 2X or 4X sales verses trying to do it yourself.
So if you looking for a publisher then I encourage you to check out a list of 42 games publishers compiled by Wlad Marhulets of UNFOLD Games. This list should be your first steps in finding the right publisher to accelerate the growth of your game.