Publisher of the Year 2012: Runner-up

By Owen Faraday 04 Dec 2012 0
Awards Fortnight continues.

Making your money talk. The future of publishing - perhaps.

The shortlist for the publisher of the year award is a snapshot of the mobile games industry at a crossroads. None of the purveyors of big-budget AAA games from the worlds of console and PC gaming are represented. EA, 2K, Ubisoft and their ilk have not acquitted themselves with any conviction on phones and tablets, choosing to dump half-baked tie-ins onto the App Stores that leverage the names of their big franchises with all the sophistication of a McDonald's Happy Meal toy.

For now, smaller devs and publishers rule the world of iOS and Android gaming. The most exciting games of 2012 have all come the little guys: one-man shops like Luca Redwood's EightyEight Games, niche specialists like Slitherine/Matrix, and outfits outside of the publishing mainstream like Playdek and The Coding Monkeys. Even if the big publishers were taking iOS & Android seriously, they'd have to bring their best stuff to compete with the likes of these.

Like the aforementioned, the runner-up for our Publisher of the Year award lies off the beaten path of traditional games publishing - but a lot further still.

The 2012 Publisher of the Year runner-up is you.

Before we get into it: nice work, and congratulations. You've definitely made your share of mistakes, but nobody can deny that you've changed the landscape - maybe forever.

Which one of you kickstarted Elite Dangerous? I want to have a word. Ah, there you are. (photo by James Cridland)

This year was the year of Kickstarter and Indiegogo - the year that crowdfunding, for better or worse, took the world by storm. Ambitious devs have leveraged the tremendous popularity of the crowdfunding idea to shove the traditional publishing model aside, and replace it with you - the fans.

When this new publishing dynamic works, great things happen. The motley crew of industry vets at The Shenandoah Studio took a bold, modern new wargame design to you, and you published it. Two guys in Shanghai had a crazy idea for a roguelike in space, and asked for $10,000 to make it happen (you gave them $200,000, Daddy Warbucks), and a smash hit was born. This is crowdfunding at its best - fans are willing to roll the dice on weird, fringe ideas that risk-averse big publishers wouldn't touch.

But the system isn't perfect, and (no offense) you aren't either. You've shown that you're often easily swayed by big names and vague promises, giving money to industry giants that probably don't need it. At its worst, Kickstarter is an ATM for the famous and the nostalgia-gilt.

And while you've clearly made publishers sit up and notice - you haven't quite replaced them yet. Publishers fund the development of games, of course, but they also crack whips to keep developers on pace. We're still waiting for Star Command, once promised for the autumn of 2011. But don't take that particular criticism too hard - traditional publishers aren't exactly great at that either.

So the rules of the game have changed - a little. Kickstarter has created something genuinely disruptive, but there's enough grumbling about it that I can't help but wonder if it's not ripe for disruption itself. When I talked to XCOM producer Jake Solomon for that piece in Eurogamer a couple of weeks ago, he wondered when the other Kickstarter shoe was going to drop.

"All of these Kickstarters that are being co-developed with fans - what happens when the fans demand the wrong thing?" Solomon isn't sure that you actually want what you think you want. "Sometimes the ones that really love [a game genre] are the ones that end up killing it. Hardcore fans want more complexity, more detail, but more complexity can be a trap. It's like drugs. The biggest fans need the hard shit to get off."

So are you gaming's savior, or its demise? Or just a bump in the road, waiting to be smoothed out as things settle back to the status quo ante? Maybe we'll know this time next year.

For all the games and developers recognized in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2012 Awards, visit the awards index page.
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