Publishers are really starting to become irrelevant in the gaming industry. With new sources of financing becoming ever more popular like Kickstarter and Patreon, publishers are really missing out on some of the games that people are most excited for.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve seen a number of games that have received a ton of funding from the community through Kickstarters because publishers were too worried about taking a risk to support a creative project, instead going for the easy money with annual releases and brand name titles. Thankfully, with services like Patreon and Kickstarter around, we get to see most of these creative visions come to fruition, and while they’re raking in millions of dollars for doing something gamers have wanted, I can almost guarantee you publishers are scratching their heads about why they didn’t take that risk.

The most recent example is Yooka-Laylee. For years, publishers have pretty much denied gamers a revival of the 3D Platformer. In comes Yooka-Laylee, which raised over 1 million dollars within its first day of launching a Kickstarter. With 40 days to go, the game is now sitting at over 2.2 million dollars. No doubt, just about everyone in the industry has seen how successful this Kickstarter is and will inevitably try to replicate its success.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is another example of this. Multiple publishers turned the game away because they didn’t think gamers wanted a realistic medieval RPG and would rather have yet another fantasy based RPG game. Yet again, the Kickstarter for Kingdom Come was among the fastest to reach 1 million dollars on Kickstarter and the hype surrounding the game is super high up there.

Another way things seem to happen now, is a game is taken to Kickstarter like Into the Stars, is successful, and then when a publisher sees less of a risk, decides to take it on their roster as Iceberg Interactive have with Into the Stars.

Sure, these games may have only raised a couple million dollars upfront which probably doesn’t impress big name companies with huge multimillion dollar budgets, but if smaller developers are crafting these creative and influential games on such a small budget, publishers should take notes. These are games that would earn publishers respect from fans, for doing something different, even if the final product isn’t the super stellar experience everyone was hoping for. Ubisoft’s Child of Light and Valiant Hearts games are a great example of this theory in action.

It’s pretty funny to see gamers prove to publishers time and time again that they’re missing out on potentially big sells because of their reluctance to take risk. That’s okay though, because as I said, Kickstarter and Patreon have opened up new avenues for developers to self fund their games and make sure they have complete control over their creative vision, which is usually a good thing for consumers.

Nick Calandra
OnlySP founder and former site owner.

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10 Comments

  1. Then you have the other side of the coin in something like Atlus publishing Dungeon Travelers 2 in NA; which has been described as softcore porn with what look to be VERY young girls. I get that Atlus is in the business of making money, & much to my chagrin, these titles make more than they cost, but to me it tarnishes their reputation. (I do wonder how much influence Sega had on this decision.) It’s the same thing with anime lately. There are so few new series that don’t have up the skirt shots or some damn juvenile sexual innuendo going on that I rarely watch anything anymore.

    I’ll continue to vote with my wallet. At least many of the currently successful kickstarters give me reason to be optimistic!

    1. I’m not a follower of anime, like at all, but as far as I’m aware, the days of shows like Full Metal Alchemist and the such are pretty much over. I don’t think I could tell you about an anime show that doesn’t look overly sexualized? Maybe to cater to Western audiences? I honestly have no idea haha.

    2. Atlus is a publisher I really respect. It is because of them that the Souls franchise enjoys its success on the US (thanks to their decision of porting Demons’ Souls to the US when Ban-co thought it was a waste of time and money), as well as the fact they’ve given us Dragon’s Crown. Hell, Bloodborne may not have been if it wasn’t for Atlus paving the way with DS and making publishers more confident in From Software’s potential.

  2. Because publishers are getting told by the media that all they need to do is have female protagonists. Innovation used to mean radical new gameplay systems, and making players feel that sense of wonder again (with ever more games allowing custom characters); now, innovation seems to mean slapping female genitals on the main character.

    Welcome to 2015.

    1. That’s pretty short sighted if you’re going to blame it on the media, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with female protagonists either…it has everything to do with money, and big publishers continue to make games that rack in more and more money every year. Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield…all house hold names, all bring in millions of dollars in revenue.

      1. In all seriousness I totally agree with you. I was just venting my grievances there with a touch of hyperbolic sophistry :p

        It probably comes down to a combination of risk-aversion and the culture in games publishers right now. The major publishers are all publicly traded and care a great deal about their stock price. In times of economic boom, investors take risks, whereas in times of stagnation they do not. As a result, they feel quite content at present to let companies release tried and tested IPs which won’t break records, but will keep the money flowing.

        As for publisher culture, look at all the references to “valuable IPs”. They see anything attached to an IP as intrinsically more valuable than anything fresh for the very reason that it has an IP attached to it. They may have a point, however; we’re the ones who loyally go and buy sequels rather than fresh games. Can we really blame publishers for giving us what we want, demonstrated by what we buy?

        1. Agreed, I’m not saying it’s not smart for publishers to pick up these titles, but on the other hand, these games should also be proving to publishers that there’s a market for modern 3D platformers, or open world medieval experiences that don’t feature fantasy elements. This would lead to more competition, more options and ultimately better games rather than sequel after sequel of essentially the same game with a different story or premise.

          1. It might also be worth chucking aside the idea of “story or premise.” Single player games live or die based on gameplay systems more than on presenting a traditional narrative. Bloodborne proves this, as there is virtually no story and it has been the best game (for me personally) of this generation. It is its own IP, but it follows the gameplay traditions of the Souls games while still changing this up enough to make it fresh. The Assassin’s Creed series doesn’t need to be set aside by Ubisoft, but it could take more risks in terms of gameplay elements since it is an established series and fans will come back to it. If Ubisoft could make the blunder that was Unity and people will still buy Creed games, then adding new types of quests and gameplay isn’t too much of a stretch (such as a Nemesis system like Mordor, a property acquisition system that unlocks abilities for the character related to the property, speech options that open based upon subduing versus killing quarry, etc.)

          2. I agree somewhat. If stories are done well, as Telltale does, then great. However all too often, they’re sub-par. If you’re not going to put 110% effort into constructing a great story, then the focus should be on gameplay. Assassin’s Creed Unity is a classic example of a modern “AAA” game which includes an immensely mediocre story, with a bland ending.

            IPs don’t all need to be the same either. Larian studios surprised people with Divinity: Dragon Commander, creating a game which, while not as great as it could have been, was incredibly fresh.

            Meanwhile, we have Ubisoft pumping out Assassin’s Creed game after Assassin’s Creed game without changing anything. This works fine with GTA, where every three years, the engine gets overhauled, and there are many new gameplay additions (alongside enjoyable stories), but Assassin’s Creed in particular is just boring players. Why not allow us choice and consequence (perhaps we have to choose between assassins and templars)? Why not allow us to play a custom assassin rising through the brotherhood? Or why not make the next rendition a strategy game first and foremost, treating management as the core of the game, and not just a side mission? The IP is fine, as long as they’re prepared to cover new ground with it, but as it stands, they’re not.

            Publishers aren’t taking risks, and so the job of moving the industry forward is being left to indie devs who don’t have the money with which to polish and expand their games as well as AAA studios.

            I hope this changes. Maybe the indie studios of today will become the AAA studios of tomorrow, as those of today see their bottom lines stagnate, trickling lower each year.

          3. A number of excellent points. I believe the bubble will burst when the big companies such as EA don’t have as much capital — due to the likelihood of generic games pulling in less and less revenue and the mobile market dipping — to buy the indie developers who have 1-2 successes. This inability to be a monopoly over the competition will breed better AAA games when the indie developers start to become studios of their own. These studios will eventually become like EA, but in the interim, there might be a few halcyon days of creative game development in the big titles.

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