The level of control a publisher has over a particular independent game depends on how much funding the publisher is being asked to provide and how complete the game is when it is pitched to the publisher. Some developers may have been able to secure independent funding for a game's development and just need a publisher for marketing and distribution. An example of this kind of game is Bastion, which had been largely completed by Supergiant when it was picked up for publication by WB Games. Other games, like Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas, are created with the funding and support of a publisher from the beginning.
Game industry news often revolves around issues between developers and publishers. The lengthy legal battle between publisher Activision and major (former) employees of developer Infinity Ward was full of drama about contracts and power struggles. The recent rise of Kickstarter as a funding mechanism for gaming projects by industry veterans is because publishers haven't wanted to take a chance on certain kinds of games or gaming projects.
The sometimes-difficult relationship between developers and publishers can result in many common gamer complaints. Angry that a game has been released before it was ready? Sometimes the publisher has given a development team an unreasonable release deadline. Wondering why a game developer hasn't put out a much-needed patch for a game? It could be because the publisher has control over patch releases and is holding up that patch in QA, or worse, has decided not to release any more patches for a particular game.
On the other hand, game publishers can become easy scapegoats for angry gamers. The controversy around Mass Effect 3's original ending is an example of this, as many gamers blamed the publisher, EA, for what they saw as an inadequate ending to the game. There's actually no evidence that EA had anything to do with the process of creating ME3's ending, and many of BioWare's developers have repeatedly stated that EA doesn't step into their development process in that way.
In other cases, publishers may feel the need to step into game development when a developer's own project management skills are lacking. As games like Duke Nukem Forever demonstrate, there's a real danger of a game languishing in "Development Hell" for years if developers aren't good at reining in their ambitions and setting strong deadlines. Gamers often see publishers as evil money-grubbers who ruin the hobby, but somebody has to keep an eye on the bank accounts and make sure games are released within a reasonable time frame. There may be some major issues with the way certain publishers operate, but there are also plenty of success stories in which game developers and publishers have worked together well.
I hope you've enjoyed this week's discussion of game development and publishing. Next week we'll take a look at how games created in other countries are brought over to North America, and after that, we'll return to the regular format of The Weekly Dish.
Date: July 20, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*