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Behind the Scenes of Indie Game Publishing

A Publishing and Investment Director at Super.com Anna Grigoreva told us about being an indie game publisher, explained the company's selection process, and pointed out the traits that make your game especially appealing.

Choosing the Publisher

80.lv: How important is it to choose the right publisher, especially as an independent developer? How much more effective is publishing through a trusted company compared to self-publishing?

Anna Grigoreva, Publishing and Investment Director: Though publishers can be seen as just a game releasing machine, this is not 100% accurate. Publishers are not the final step in game creation, and sometimes we start at the very beginning of the game development process. Of course, sometimes the developers sign a publishing agreement right before a game’s release and publishers handle such aspects as localization, QA, and marketing. But most indie developers start looking for a publisher right from the first steps of production.

Thus, the main goal for a publisher is not just to prepare a successful release, but, more importantly, to counsel the development process, and provide financial and organizational support. The next step is to give constant feedback to the developer. It is crucial to offer ways to improve the game and make it better without changing the game's initial idea and core mechanics. This form of collaboration helps developers focus on the product – the game itself – and save time on process management.

As for effectiveness, sadly, no publisher –  even the biggest and richest ones – can guarantee that the game will become a hit. Games are, most importantly, a form of art, and many small indie developers are more interested in creating their own unique products than pleasing the market. And that’s the best part of the indie industry! Masterpieces can’t be created on an assembly line. It is essential for the publisher to believe in the game and encourage its developers, as well as find the right audience and a way of communication.

I know that many people rate a game’s success by Steam reviews or similar metrics, but the industry is much more than that. We at Super.com are very willing to support niche games that would typically receive less visibility on Steam. We strive to find the right market and audience for these titles, the right region with a local store, or the right platform.

Selection Process

80.lv: When game developers submit projects to receive your support as a publishing company, what do you pay attention to right away? What types of games are you most interested in? What genres do you prefer to promote?

Anna Grigoreva: First and foremost, we look for uniqueness. If you have a clone of a popular game, we will most certainly decline it (after providing you extensive feedback and defining your key strengths and weaknesses). We are hungry for outstanding ideas and organized developers who understand what they are creating. We usually assess games during the first stages of development, and it is a big advantage when the team knows what path lies ahead of them and what they want to see as the result. Regarding genres, we prefer action titles, such as action-adventure games, shooters, or sandboxes. But if we see a great idea and concept, we are ready to support any niche title.

Current Tendencies

80.lv: What are the current tendencies like, are there any genres that players are getting tired of, are there any kinds of games that are surprisingly on the rise? How quickly are the gamers' preferences changing and what shapes them today?

Anna Grigoreva: The players are unlikely to get tired of certain genres because the industry is constantly evolving, and we always see new angles of even the most popular genres. Sometimes these experiments become new standards for the industry. What makes the players tired and bored is sameness: constant replications of games with insignificant changes or with monetization added. We play games because we are looking for new experiences and emotions, right? So, regardless of how well the game is made, if we cannot get new challenges and emotions from the game, we won’t play it.

Let’s take a look at the latest indie hits: Phasmophobia, Loop Hero, Raji: An Ancient Epic, Valheim… these games offer something new, though their genres are quite dated. That’s the key ingredient of their outstanding results.

Of course, that does not mean that there are no fans of high-budget shooters or strategies. We see the evolution of these games as well, and one of the best examples here would be Battlefield 2042 Portal. I am truly glad that major game companies pay more and more attention to community-driven mechanics and UGC.  

Marketing Approaches

80.lv: When game developers come to Super.com for support during the publishing stage, what can they expect to get? Do you have different plans and if so, what does each one of them include?

Anna Grigoreva: It is all flexible, depending on the stage of the game’s development, the developers’ needs, and the game’s requirements. There’s no pre-made solution for everyone. For example, say we have a fully developed title ready to launch in Early Access. In that situation, we would need to focus on market and audience research, localization, quality assurance, and implement a marketing strategy. A publisher’s share, in this case, would be from 20% to 40% depending on the game. Marketing will depend on the strategy and target audience. If Early Access is planned with the goal of polishing the mechanics and launching community-driven development, then we prefer a soft launch focused on attracting the core community and will plan all major marketing activities closer to the full release. The same goes for budgets. We usually have a minimal guaranteed marketing budget for a product based on our target audience and other research. For example, a competitive game that needs a constant high online rate will have a much bigger budget than a small niche narrative adventure.

We keep it reasonable and build our budget with the goal of achieving maximum marketing effectiveness. It does not matter how big or experienced the team is; it only depends on the game and its potential.

Memorable Projects

80.lv: Speaking of Super.com's previous projects, what was the first game the company worked on? What were your most challenging/most ambitious projects?

Anna Grigoreva: We’ve had very diverse projects: Tilt Pack, a party game for Nintendo Switch; an Indian marvel action-adventure game Raji: An Ancient Epic for all platforms; Zelter, a Korean pixelated survival game that recently launched in Early Access; Broken Lines, a we-go tactical strategy; and many other titles. Each of these games is truly unique, developed for different audiences and marketing approaches. All of our games are ambitious in their own way; some of them targeted a particular platform that we, or platform holders, viewed as a significant one; some of them were aimed at a particular region, like Japan and South Korea, or Latin America. 

Every game release affects both the team's experience and the company's growth. Titles such as Raji: An Ancient Epic, which received enormous coverage by both media and content creators, show our publishing capabilities to the developers and to the gaming industry. Small games from South Korea or Brazil, on the other hand, give you more opportunities to dive into the local game industry and meet new developers.

Looking for Unforgettable Player Experiences

80.lv: When it comes to financing game studios, "Super targets game titles in the action genre that blend traditional game mechanics with a fresh, innovative twist. We cherish studios that can shape unforgettable player experiences." What is the fresh, innovative twist Super.com is looking for?

Anna Grigoreva: At Super.com we fall in love with developers who are not afraid to experiment with their games. It is futile to repeat one formulaic game after another. You need to get creative and add something new and unique. You need to add something that will draw attention and help this game stand out above thousands of other titles. We value the players’ experience first, so the game needs to give them that sensation.

The specifics are limited only by your imagination. Sometimes an unusual setting or a good narrative can create a whole universe around the player. Even just one simple mechanic can change the players’ experience completely. We like that. It is about player satisfaction.

As for the financial support, we prefer a tailor-made approach to every developer. We are very flexible and try to find the best solution for every studio with whom we work. If we become partners at a very early stage, there is not just production but pre-production support ahead of us. The developers might ask for a budget to cover the full development process. We can offer that support. This will, of course, have some financial limitations, like a prioritized return of investment after the game release, and the proceeds will be shared equally. If the game is almost ready, some big developers look for a license fee or minimum guaranteed royalty payments that would allow them to continue development or start making another game. In this case, publishers usually receive a maximum share until this minimum guarantee is reached, and then retain a smaller share. There are also cases somewhere in the middle. When developing a financial proposal, we base it on the needs of the developer, the current status of the production, and a fair distribution of income.

One thing is crucial for us though, the Intellectual Property belongs to its creators, the developers.

Future Plans

80.lv: What are Super.com's future plans? Would you consider taking a deep dive into the VR game market and how do you feel about AR/VR in general? Are there any soon-to-be-published titles from Super.com we should know about?

Anna Grigoreva: Today we have 14 game projects in our portfolio – from small indie titles to AA+ games. We do not have VR/AR/MR titles currently, although sometimes we take them into consideration. Unfortunately, there are two limitations to this type of game. The first one is consumer limitation – there are simply not enough devices. The second limitation is industrial – the quality of content by developers. We can name truly outstanding VR titles, but there are still not enough experienced studios in the industry.

Yet, we see the genre becoming more and more popular, so we are certain that VR will become more common soon. We always keep an eye on this market. AR mobile games are already very popular and show both high player engagement and production value. At this time, our portfolio is focused on PC and console titles. 

And at this moment, we are concentrating on bigger projects (AA+) and multiplying the number of investments. For the remainder of 2021, we plan to sign 3 to 5 more projects with a total investment of $14 million. We are planning several game releases for the end of 2021 and even more big announcements for 2022, so stay tuned!

Anna Grigoreva, Publishing and Investment Director at Super.com

Interview conducted by Kseniya Serebrennikova

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