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It behooves us to remember the role of the publisher in a beta. The publisher is the one who pays the bills for the marketing of the game. The publisher is the one that says to the developer ‘Look, we will make sure people know about your game, and in return, you will give us a percentage of the profits.’ For any fellow movie buffs, you can look at the publisher like Paulie from Goodfellas. The sole purpose that a publisher has is to generate exposure for the game which translates into sales. Sometimes, depending on the deal agreed upon by both parties, the publisher will pay for the manufacturing and distribution as well. However, all of that stuff costs money. So in order to recoup the investment, the dev team needs to deliver a well-made game that sells a lot of copies. The studio will only make a profit if it sells enough copies to pay back the publisher.
For an example, we can look at EA Games.
If a studio makes a game and EA decides to publish it, that studio is now in debt to the publisher until the publisher gets its money back and takes its cut. The thing is, the studio owes the publisher money regardless of how the game is received. ‘The game didn’t sell well? Screw you, pay me. There was a problem in manufacturing? Screw you, pay me. The game needs more time in development to address bugs? Screw you, pay me.’
It is because of this mindset that sometimes games are delivered to the consumer without the bug-free quality that we, the consumer, expects out of the product. In the case of EA, this is what happened to the Battlefield 4 launch. The game was not ready. However, EA had already told its shareholders that they would be seeing the profits of the game very soon. This caused DICE to have to release the game on schedule, instead of delaying, because EA is the big, all-powerful publisher demanding that the product is delivered on-time. A game delivered on-time means more money.
Can a studio make a game without a publisher?
Sure! In the digital world of today, the only thing that holds back studios is the money required to effectively market the game and pay for distribution. This is why so many independent studios are looking to crowd funding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. If a studio can get the game at least partially funded by donations from folks like us, then the dev team will have a much better chance at delivering a spectacular game to the masses.
One of the benefits of this indie model is that it gives developers a chance to make it in the ever-growing gaming sphere without being tied down to a corporate publisher. This model also lets them involve us in the development of the game, from concept through release. We are then given the opportunity to participate in actual beta testing, where our opinions actually matter. We become an invaluable resource to the dev team, and the dev team becomes a partner to us. It brings gamers together in ways that are not possible with a publisher.
These reasons are why we should support indie games and their studios.
I hope that these articles have helped you understand a little bit more about the history and development of games, and the betas we sign up for all the time. With this understanding, I hope that you will hold both the publishers and the developers to a higher standard when it comes to the games you play. As for me, I going to go play some more Hearthstone.