Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

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Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby Aetherblade » Wed Jan 24, 2018 4:27 pm

(If you guys haven’t checked out our first post last December, please do so. It contains vital information about our development so far: http://forum.novusaeterno.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=14825)

Heya Everyone!

Today we will be delving into a complicated topic, to go Independent or go with a publisher. We feel it is important to have an open discussion about this is because it affects all of us, even those who are not interested in learning more about Hades 9, this decision also affects how we will be able to do refunds.

Caveat
I will try to be as unbiased in sharing the pros and cons of each direction, however, I want to admit here that I, personally, have a bias against publishers. That is not to say all publishers are bad, many are fantastic and thanks to them we have some unique and fantastic games (I'm looking at you Paradox). However, my own personal experiences working with a publisher on Novus decisions were made which, as a gamer, left a very bad taste in my mouth. I will discuss these in the Cons section on publishers.

I just want to state this so it is clear and all of you can formulate your opinions with as much information as possible.



Current Status
Stage 1 - Pre-alpha.
Full RTS combat, fleet design, basic research, internal capital ship and hades 9 slums RPG environments.
Ahead of schedule for completion April, (Currently looks like we will have it playable in March).

Stage 2 - Alpha.
Open world, persistence, advanced capital ship features (some customization will be in stage 1), Buffs/Debuffs, Commanders, Basic NPC fleets and Research.
Est Q3 (if we finish stage 1 early then this may move up in time as well).

Stage 3 - Beta.
Mining, trading, crafting, and more. (I am not 100% sure on the priorities for stage 3, these will change based on infiltrator feedback)
Est end of 2018.



Intro
I will present my pros and cons between publisher and indie, PLEASE keep in mind this is meant to be the foundation of a discussion. I mentioned above that all of us are invested heavily in the success of Hades 9.

The pros and cons will be semi ranked in order of importance, it's not a perfect scale, but if it's at the top of the list I generally think it's more important if it's at the bottom it does not really much much effect but still worth nothing.

Because we didn't feel like it would fit into the pro's and con's lists below, we would like to point out that any refunds would be slower to come forth if we go with a publisher. As we keep less money for ourselves, there will be less to pay them out of.

Independent

Pros (technically they are ordered by importance, but honestly all of these are equally important)

  1. Full creative control.
  2. Freedom to do something different.
    Publishers like games with comparables on the market. Hades 9 does not have any and there are many unique things we would like to do, such as Commanders, and these are not the kinds of features publishers support as they see them as a needless risk.
  3. Community input in development.
    With our new development pipeline and Unity it is much easier to implement changes based on feedback into the game. We would love to be designing the game with you guys every step of the way.
  4. Earlier launch date as well as public alpha/beta
    Based on our experience, we are currently developing at almost twice the speed (if not faster) than we were when we were working for a publisher. The main two causes for this are that we do not have to work on milestone deadlines for things that do not directly benefit the game and that we work much more streamlined, due to less overhead.
  5. Continued development
    Because we are not paying a publisher 70%, we are able to continue making content even if we have a much smaller user base.
  6. Full community interaction, NO NDA.
    As everyone has seen since our NDA was lifted, we do really love communicating with you guys. Unfortunately, with a publisher, there is a good chance many elements of the development would go back under NDA. Going indie means that we can show off new features earlier, live stream development, and so forth.
  7. Flexible deadlines
    If a feature needs more time to polish make the game more fun we can adjust our time and focus on the feature more.

Cons
  1. Unstable funding
    There is no guaranteed amount of money raised per month.This can lead to incredibly stressful situations where we are unable to pay our rent.
  2. Slower content growth
    We won't be able to hire 30 3D artists to pump out 60 capital ships at once, we will need to do it when we have enough money left over at the end of each month to invest in art assets.
  3. Technical support
    We are a very small team of engineers so we won't have a lot of extra time for technical support, ideally, we would get some volunteers who could help us out with this.
  4. Much earlier initial playable content (the popularly hated “early access”)
    Some people really don't like the idea of seeing a game until it is 100% finished, our goal is for each one our 3 stages of development to be fun and polished for what it is, however it will not be the full game until the end of the year.
  5. No money for marketing
    Personally I do not think this is as big of an issue as long as the game is fun. The best marketing nowadays are gamers streaming or recording themselves enjoying games, and when it is paid and staged gamers know it.
  6. Localization
    Adding localization for additional languages will be much slower.

--
Publisher

Pros
  1. Stable funding
    Once the deal is signed the developer can focus 100% on development and design and not on fundraising.
  2. Polished Launch
    More polished product and more direct content on launch day.
  3. Knowledge and experience
    Publishers usually have a number of Ex designers with years of experience developing games and it is there job to share that information with us and help make sure we are making the best decisions possible.
  4. Added Personnel
    The publishers have a pool of experienced developers they have worked with in the past that they can throw around between projects.
  5. More localization on release
    This is going to be a fairly large issue which will require a lot of investment, and while independent we can and would localize, the localization would progress over time after release.
  6. Larger marketing budget
    Altho marketing is critical publishers spend A LOT of money on Banner ads and cinematic trailers. However, even with a small marketing budget, marketing is very important.
  7. Community Support
    This can be a huge help as managing big communities is not easy, however, some publishers may be good at community relations and have the resources to be effective at it.

Cons
  1. No community interaction in development. -NDA probably
    We have experienced this before, we were under publisher NDA for almost 2 years; developing a game for the gamers we were not allowed to talk to. For us, this was honestly a horrible experience and we devs have a LOT more in common with you than we do with publishers. If there is a boss we have to work for we would rather have it be gamers.
  2. Design for Profit not fun (loss of creative control)
    In my experience with our publisher we worked with during Novus, and other publisher presentations I had, every discussion ended up with “how does feature make us more money” which is totally understandable. Publishers are a business with a huge overhead they need to pay and developers adding endless profiteering features is not uncommon. However, this also leads to many smaller elements which really make the game richer and more immersive getting cut or warped into a heavily monetized system. To use our Commanders as an example, I pitched it to our previous publishers and at first they said no it does not directly relate to sales. Then they thought about selling premium commanders with unique skills and where pushed the idea hard. The commander system is meant to be a narrative story that evolves between the player and their commanders. This relationship is instantly sullied the moment players are buying unique overpowered commanders from the cash shop for advantages in combat.
  3. Monetization / F2p
    I have not spoken with a single publisher who was big enough or interested in publishing an MMO who did not demand it was Free to Play (F2P). This may have changed in recent months, and not likely for the benefit of consumers. The unfortunate reality is Day 1 DLC, overpowered loot boxes, and other pay to win features makes more money in the short term. As long as that makes more money in the short term then publishers will want it, their first priority is making sure they get their invested money back.
  4. Post launch funding
    Once the game is done a publisher’s objective changes to extract as much money of the game before it dies, often extending a game’s life is less important as extracting more profit in the short term. This means post-launch expansions, patches, continual development can be at risk. With the above case of a rocky launch week as an example it is unlikely the publisher is willing to continue funding development. Should the developer only receive 30% of the game’s profit it is not easy for the developer to continue funding further development with only 30% and a rocky launch.
  5. Harsh deadlines / stressful working environment
    Sometimes publishers can lead to more polished launch products; however, it can be a double-edged sword with the publisher forcing developers to launch earlier than the game is ready. Publisher typically have a specific amount of money they are willing to invest in a project, the moment this budget is close to that max amount they often start cutting features and forcing an earlier launch.
  6. Staff Control
    It is not uncommon for publishers to fire lead designers or cut entire teams because of early failures. We have seen recently games recover fantastically well from launch failures such as Warframe and R6: Siege; however, not all developers are so lucky. For developers rocky launch months, even for the big names, can result in massive layoffs and permanent restructuring of the design team, leading to a very different focus for the franchize or just sacrificing it on the spot.

Image


Hell is real
And you count it as safe harbour.

This vast alien station is the last bastion of humanity, a stinking cesspool of mankind. It is a nightmarish realm of the damned, a port to pirates, a den to thieves. Can you trust the Admiral who berths beside you?




If you have any constructive ideas, opinions, or thoughts about going self-published or using publishers, let us know below in the comment section, twitter, or facebook!

Thanks for reading today’s blog, we hope to have you with us again next time.
- Nick, Matt, Dan, and Luuk.




You can follow us here:
Website (under construction): http://www.hades9.com/
Discord: Coming soon!
Reddit: Coming soon!
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Hades9Game/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Hades9Game
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj6w867uhSKjwr3H3M55wBA?
Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/hades9game
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby BoydofZINJ » Wed Jan 24, 2018 5:44 pm

I think the majority of us would 'want' that you stay away from publishers. We don't want loot boxes for everything and micro transactions for non cosmetic items. Publishers, even the nice ones, tend to bleed your money dry and only has one main concern... how to get as much $$$ money $$$ as possible.

However, having a publisher is nice - it will allow you to finish the game and probably have a higher budget to do so as well. My gut tells me that publisher is the safer route that most of us dont want. SO there you have it... i am mostly against Publishers but feel that publishers WILL HELP more than hurt.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby Nick » Wed Jan 24, 2018 6:23 pm

I am reposting this responce from the kickstarter update, comment made by "Mark"

Thanks for the thoughtful breakdown of both sides! My own personal opinion is as follows. It's based on the idea that the choice really comes down to this comparison (if you disagree with the comparison, then probably isn't worth reading the rest!):

Money + Exposure (publisher) or Flexibility + Creativity (Indie)

Money really isn't really comparable... You could go kickstarter or open funding again which might bring in more money. I would wait until the game was really deep into development - post-alpha, open-beta stage. I said it before, I'd throw more money at it! But It's really not a comparison with a publisher that flips the bill and is stable. Publisher is a clear win, but you're making a deal with the devil so-to-speak. The real question the team should ask is this: is it even possible to make the game on indie money? If you can make it work, somehow, then I'd say publisher is dead right here. If you can't - even if you extend the dev time a bit more and work another job, then a publisher might be an option.

Exposure I see going both ways. If you have a really good product, people will help you with exposure during the dev and especially playable stages before release. Especially today with social media, I don't think you need a publisher to reach lots of people. A few hundred dollars of advertising (back to money again...) and you'll snowball exposure for a good, beautiful project. Publisher is the winner, but I think this is can be overcome with some smart low-budget marketing. And, don't forget, you can get away with selling 70% less copies because you're not giving 70% profile to the publisher. ;)

Flexibility is an indie-only skill I think. Publishers too often push their own ideas and can make your game into a cash cow rather than an enjoyable game. If you get a great idea, you can act on it. If something isn't working out, you don't like it, or the community doesn't like it, nix it. Don't work on that feature anymore. This can really counter-balance the money side too. You already had a lot of backer perks in NA, but I imagine you could still come up with more - things you already planned to do or small things that make people feel like they have a finger print on the game, yet isn't hard to do (like adding names to credits, naming NPCs, planets, etc you need to do that anyway). Basically, if you can tolerate someone from on high telling you that the feature you hate needs to be in the game because it's 'going to make money' and the feature you love is nixed because "focus groups have said they don't like it", then a publisher wins this battle. If you cannot stand that power over you, then Indie all the way!

Creativity is where Indie really shines IMHO. You get to make the game of your dreams, not what the publisher wants. Like you said, they're risk adverse. Thinking outside the box can make your game very successful or a complete failure (marketing works best if it's successful, do that). Just from an outside perspective, the team really sounds like it believes in the game. If you wake every day thinking your ideas are going to be a reality, you're going to enjoy it and put your soul into it. Rather than waking every day wondering if the game you're making is really the game you want to make. That's a moral nuke for a small team. So unless you can find a publisher that is hands-off (lol) you're looking at a complete Indie win here. But not only an Indie win, this could very well be the success and failure of your team's moral - and the game's success.

A word about staff... if you get a publisher, you don't choose the staff anyway. You might get outnumbered by people with opposing views. You might get the dream team. Or you might just get stuck pushing a boulder up a hill. From what I've seen of your game screenshots, you certainly don't need any more skill. Perhaps it takes longer to make the game with less employees. At least the game is made the way you want. As time goes on, you might find more people willing to chip in too!

So my conclusion, so far, is this: If you can make it financially without a publisher, go Indie. That's really the only winner-take-all answer. However, if you're going to really struggle financially and you see no way of escaping that, then I would recommend developing it as long as you can (hopefully until a playable stage with some additional exposure) and test the waters with getting more base financial support. If you have no faith that you can last until the game is playable, or you think the pool of fan-money is empty, then you should seek a publisher. Beyond money, I really don't see any distinct advantages of Publisher that Indie can't overcome. It might take longer, but you'll have that game of your dreams to show for it.

Just my 2-cents! Take it with a grain of salt... or a bucket.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby SolarDragon » Wed Jan 24, 2018 8:11 pm

If you can't find a publisher willing to do a GW2 style pay once to play game (maybe with cosmetic MT's or something), I don't think you should go with a publisher. The amount of content that you guys have already produced, while not to your original plans and schedules, is still significant enough to show to communities for crowdfunding, and personally I'd much rather see the game produced with the business model you envisioned than yet another pay-to-win title to be forgotten. The only F2P title that I personally like as a model is Warframe, which is unfortunately not applicable here.
If Star Citizen can make as much money as they have on empty dreams (and nostalgia), I think you guys can convince gamers to fund you independently. Even if not, independent backing can often allow you to make deals with a publisher that keep more creative control rather than turning it into their game.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby Nick » Wed Jan 24, 2018 8:49 pm

SolarDragon wrote:If you can't find a publisher willing to do a GW2 style pay once to play game (maybe with cosmetic MT's or something), I don't think you should go with a publisher. The amount of content that you guys have already produced, while not to your original plans and schedules, is still significant enough to show to communities for crowdfunding, and personally I'd much rather see the game produced with the business model you envisioned than yet another pay-to-win title to be forgotten. The only F2P title that I personally like as a model is Warframe, which is unfortunately not applicable here.
If Star Citizen can make as much money as they have on empty dreams (and nostalgia), I think you guys can convince gamers to fund you independently. Even if not, independent backing can often allow you to make deals with a publisher that keep more creative control rather than turning it into their game.



I hope so, we are only a couple of months away from having fully playable combat, and at the rate we are going feature compleat beta by the end of the year, so I really hope we could figure out a way to do a successful founders program think, honestly I dont know if we could do a classic crowdfunding due to the angry minority of Kickstarter backers from Novus, I fear they could sabotage a classic crowdfunding campaign. Maybe something like what They are Billions did, fairly simple founders program from their website until they were ready for full early access on steam.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby ants90 » Thu Jan 25, 2018 12:09 pm

I think i'd much prefer the indie way of doing things, just so the game is perhaps less money orientated like it may become with a publisher, but at the end of the day if you guys cant afford to pay rent etc then i think you should make any sort of final decision that is best for the team and the game. Either way i'm just glad to see more news and progress on this game, even if it isnt what it originally was, and happy to trust that any decision you guys make is right for yourselves and the game
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby exioce » Thu Jan 25, 2018 6:35 pm

The fundamental question is, are you reasonably confident you can get the game to the point where it's on Steam, with the resources you currently have? Once on Steam, Hades 9 is discoverable by the gaming majority and the sales will tick. If the answer is Yes, stay indie. If No, go with a publisher.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby Nick » Thu Jan 25, 2018 8:20 pm

ants90 wrote:I think i'd much prefer the indie way of doing things, just so the game is perhaps less money orientated like it may become a publisher, but at the end of the day if you guys cant afford to pay rent etc then i think you should make any sort of final decision that is best for the team and the game. Either way, i'm just glad to see more news and progress on this game, even if it isn't what it originally was, and happy to trust that any decision you guys make is right for yourselves and the game


exioce wrote:The fundamental question is, are you reasonably confident you can get the game to the point where it's on Steam, with the resources you currently have? Once on Steam, Hades 9 is discoverable by the gaming majority and the sales will tick. If the answer is Yes, stay indie. If No, go with a publisher.


My current estimates are we could be on steam early access in about middle of the year with a fairly polished and fun game.

We do not have enough funds to get there alone, however, our monthly burn rate is incredibly low now, and I struggle to imagen we could not break even with some kind of founders program, the combat would be fun and playable within 2 months for infiltrators, fairly polished as well, but only combat no progression or open world yet so effectively Battlefleet Gothic: Armada but with A capital ship and more interesting activatables. Which honestly I think will be fairly fun just not ready for steam early access yet.

So there are funding options even if we dont cover our costs 100% with a founders program I could probably raise a bit of money privately if a decent portion of our costs are covered.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby DeathEnters » Thu Jan 25, 2018 9:27 pm

I would love to see this game stay indie, having played just about every kind of game on every playable system this one is the most unique and quite frankly has the most potential out of any game I've seen. One game I absolutely loved was Starpoint Gemini Warlords, it's a rpg-4x hybrid game that had pretty great combat and space visuals that are hard to find coming from a small indie team. With that they are a very open community that are heavily involved with their community and are constantly listening to feedback and making their game a year after its release even more fun. Their publisher was Iceberg Interactive but I don't know much about the publisher but it couldn't hurt to put out some feelers and see what could happen. However the game was not a mmorpg strategy game like what yall plan so i'm not sure how the publisher would view it.
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Re: Indie or Publisher, let's have a discussion!

Postby Nick » Thu Jan 25, 2018 10:31 pm

DeathEnters wrote:I would love to see this game stay indie, having played just about every kind of game on every playable system this one is the most unique and quite frankly has the most potential out of any game I've seen. One game I absolutely loved was Starpoint Gemini Warlords, it's a rpg-4x hybrid game that had pretty great combat and space visuals that are hard to find coming from a small indie team. With that they are a very open community that are heavily involved with their community and are constantly listening to feedback and making their game a year after its release even more fun. Their publisher was Iceberg Interactive but I don't know much about the publisher but it couldn't hurt to put out some feelers and see what could happen. However, the game was not a mmorpg strategy game like what yall plan so i'm not sure how the publisher would view it.


I haven't spoken to them however we would be direct competition for Gemini warlords, RPG + RTS strategy game, normally publishers try to avoid that as a good chance new players looking for a sci fi Strategy RPG will be picking between Gemini warlords or Hades 9. im not saying we are the same, Gemini focuses more on a 4x RPG where we focus on more RTS RPG (and we are an MMO) however we are close enough that their publisher would probably see us as competition, OR request we change our IP and become Gemini warloards Online or somthing.

p.s. it is an awesome game ^^
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