Game Dev: Do you need a publisher?

Developing a game and publishing it on your own? Lead Game Designer Jesse Honkanen from PHZ Game Studios explains why you should consider a publisher after all.

Nowadays it’s easy to publish a game on your own. Distribution platforms like, Steam, Play Store and App Store are abundant and more accessible than ever. There are even services like the Unity Distribution Portal (UDP) nowadays, which easily forwards your builds and marketing assets to multiple storefronts all at once.

This may raise a very valid question to a lot of game devs: Do I really need a publisher for my game?

TL;DR: it depends.

To answer this, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have the skills and the resources?

Do you have the skills and the resources to publish your game without a publisher? If you do, then maybe you actually don’t need a publisher.

But if you don’t have either the skills or the resources, then you really might need a publisher. And if you don’t even instinctively know what specific skills are being referred to, then you definitely do need a publisher.

On the flip side of the wide accessibility and ease of use, the sheer volume of new games released is nothing short of daunting. Literally hundreds if not thousands of new games are released on just the mobile platforms EVERY DAY.

Even less crowded platforms like Steam have seen the amount of games released grow significantly in recent years. Fact of the matter is that your “guaranteed” visibility from the vendor is slim to none.

What good is a great game that nobody has ever heard of, seen or played?

Have I already gained traction?

Have you already gained some tangible traction for your game, such as notable influencers covering your game, a rudimentary player base forming on your Discord server for example, regularly getting players from word of mouth or other that kind of stuff? Or are you or one of your teammates savvy with social media?

In that case then yeah, it is totally fair to question if you wanna go ahead without splitting your revenues with anyone.

This is not to say that marketing is the be all end all of modern game dev. Your choice of platform in particular is the most critical distinction. Especially on PC, indies do regularly just fine without a publisher (which is not to say you shouldn’t at least consider it).

Am I prepared to buy users?

On mobile however it practically always comes down to paid user acquisition. This is because getting even a small slice of the favorable free visibility boost from the stores seem to be behind an algorithmical success.

That is to say you need to buy a fair amount of users. Your game also needs to do good enough with them playtime, retention etc wise that the storefront throws you a bone.

Are you prepared to do that? User acquisition is a whole skillset of its own akin to performance marketing.

While you can get started with really low barrier, the cash and effort required does ramp up quickly. (Really wish game dev schools would give student projects <100€ budgets to get some real life users in their games but that’s a whole another topic…)

Yet even on mobile some solo developers make a living from the mobile games market against all odds. Maybe Apprien can help you get more out of your IAPs by finding the right price for each product on each market, letting you hit that magical LTV > UAC mark more easily.

How would I benefit from a publisher?

Marketing and contacts, besides the obvious prospect of funding the game development, are the key value propositions of a publisher.

Whether it’s advertising or getting in on some lucrative featuring slots, handling localizations or coordinating with other external services, they’ll take care of it. The good ones do anyway. PHZ Game Studios is very happy to be signed with the excellent Plug-In-Digital.