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I'm an independent game developer considering working with a publisher. This question is very informative however I have more questions. Please give feedback on the following issues... I think this can be helpful to many indie devs in the same situation.

  • Source code: is it common for developers to give the publisher the source code?

  • Code quality: does this matter when working with a publisher any more so than when just working on your own (or in a small team)? Just wondering if developers working for the publisher might scoff at the code quality and perhaps influence the relationship between developer and publisher.

  • Unique game concepts: are publishers generally biased towards new/novel game concepts?
  • Intellectual property: if I send a playable demo to a publisher what's to stop them from just reproducing the new/novel game mechanic? I think the answer is basically nothing... but I'm wondering if this is a realistic concern.
  • Revenue sharing: how does it work? what's a common ratio? 70/30? 30/70?

  • Flaky publishers: how common is it for a publisher to "string along" developers for a while then just drop them? Can this be reconciled with a contract of some kind?

And any other issues you've encountered or heard of.

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Source code: Usually you don't give away the source code unless you have e.g. a porting contract with the publisher.

Code quality: Most publishers do QA. And if you're aiming for a console you have to go through first-party QA, too. But in the end your code should also be good if you self-publish your games.

Unique game concepts: Publishers are rather biased towards established concepts because they try to reduce their risk. Just look at the viable self-published indie scene on Steam, iPhone and XBLIG and compare it to a shelf of AAA productions. Notice the difference?

Revenue sharing: That depends on the deal. If you want a development deal with upfront payments and an IP by the publisher you might have to settle at 30/70 (30% for you, 70% for the publisher) after the first party took its share (e.g. 30% with Apple). If you do a "normal" development deal you most likely end up somewhere between 50/50 and 70/30. If you strike a marketing deal the publisher's share might go down to 15%.

Flaky publishers: It is not uncommon and there've been a lot of cases. It's best if you try to find out as much as possible about your publisher before you sign a deal. That's no reason to shy away from working with publishers, but you best be careful.

Other issues: Be sure to have a lawyer read your contract!

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That pretty much matches our experience. A few differences in our case: Code Quality: irrelevant to the publisher as long as the game works. IP: see "ideas are dime a dozen". Source: depends on the agreement, for distribution they usually don't, for co-development they usually do, depends on who owns the IP when the game is done. Flaky publishers: never happened to us in 9 years, but I've heard stories, as everyone else :) –  ggambett Feb 16 '11 at 10:57

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