Super Rare Games is a London-based publishing company, known for the physical releases of Nintendo Switch games like Human: Fall Flat, ABZU, and Snake Pass.
We invited Ryan Brown and Tom King from Super Rare Games to answer the most popular questions indie developers ask about publishing.
If you’ve ever wondered how publishing a game works, what kind of help you can expect from a publisher, and how your creative rights will be protected, buckle up!
What are your roles at Super Rare Games?
TK: I work on the Super Rare Original titles, which means I essentially manage all the devs and the timelines, making sure everything gets hit and handled with QA. Previously I worked at Supermassive Games, working as a game designer and then an assistant producer on cinematics.
RB: I head our marketing department here, which means everything from community and social media, to influencer outreach, press releases, game promotion, and some more boring bits! I came from a video game journalism background. Aside from me and Tom we also have the founder of Curve Digital here working with us, some people who have worked in marketing before, a shipping team, and we’ve got a QA team.
What are ‘Super Rare Originals’?
RB: Super Rare Originals is a publishing label for the games we fully fund and release digitally across all consoles and platforms. However, we publish physical releases of games, too.
We’re all about physical games and preservation.
Grapple Dog, one of Super Rare Originals, made with GameMaker
What kinds of games Super Rare Games are looking for to publish?
RB: It’s not really about the genre, art style or even scope, necessarily. We look at the game as a whole, so if it’s a platformer, what makes it special, what makes it unique? Is it its art style? Does it pop out on social media? Because that’s how we usually find games.
Obviously, we have people pitch to us and we pitch to them, but we often just see things on Twitter and whatnot, and that’s how conversations start.
We want the Super Rare Originals library to be very varied, but more important than that, we love all of our games. There’s not a single game that we work on where, behind the scenes, off camera, one of us is going, “Oh, god, not feeling that one.”
We’re all very passionate about all the games we’ve signed.
What are the differences between developing and publishing games?
TK: Development was a lot more hands-on, and I could get quite creatively invested in the projects, whereas from the publishing perspective, you can still do that, but you’re working on the developer’s vision as opposed to being part of that creative vision.
It’s still the same type of task, but I almost take a one-step removed approach to it, so I’m not handling the day-to-day organisation of the projects.
Super Rare Games Team
What exactly is the role of a video game publisher?
TK: We do a lot of the production handling but none of the actual on-site development. We also handle the QA, and any localisation.
RB: From our perspective, we offer a bespoke service. As part of our process, we’ll pitch to developers what we can offer them.
Most developers are interested in getting help from production assistants. It can be funding, marketing, talking to platform holders, like Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox. Whatever a developer is in need of, we have the capabilities to help.
How can a developer attract a publisher’s attention?
RB: We find a lot of games through GIFs and hashtags on Twitter. I highly recommend everyone shows a game off on those core #ScreenshotSaturday and #gamedev hashtags
Publishers are watching, I promise you.
If you’re going to pitch directly, having a pitch deck is very helpful. It doesn’t have to be this big daunting effort.
We just want to see your game, in whatever stage it’s at. That can be as simple as concept art, or it can be gameplay demos.
Be sure to post your game on the #ScreenshotSaturday tag on GameMaker's twitter!
What are some common mistakes developers make while working with a publisher?
RB: I’ve seen one or two pitches, where the game has received prior funding, where a “business investor” had some control of the game in some way, and that makes it very difficult for us to see where we’d fit in.
Before any developer accepts any offer for funding or any kind of publishing agreement, they should be very, very clear exactly what that entails.
We always recommend hiring a lawyer, even when we’re pitching to developers for games that we’re interested in.
That might seem daunting for up-and-coming developers, but there are lawyers out there focusing specifically on video game publishing contracts, and will be able to tell you whether it’s a publisher or whether it’s funding, whether it’ll be a good fit for you, and the risks that you should be aware of.
TK: Make sure the publisher actually likes the game, and they’re not sitting around in suits throwing numbers around. Publishers like that are just looking at the size of the bill they can charge you.
With all our titles, we care deeply about them and want them to succeed as much as the devs do, because creatively they’re amazing. It’s really important that everyone on the team feels that way before signing onto a project, both from the publisher and the developer’s perspective.
What about things like crowdfunding? Is that an obstacle for publishing?
RB: It’s not! The risk with crowdfunding is that a failure to fund a game may not necessarily look good to some publishers.
You may want to consider whether you want to pitch to publishers before you start a crowdfunding campaign.
However, we don’t necessarily take that into consideration. We just look at a project for what it is.
Super Rare Games hard at work
Is there a risk a publisher might steal a developer’s idea for a game?
RB: That’s not going to happen.
Frankly, to the majority of indie publishers, image is everything. We’d never do that, and hopefully the people that have worked with us know that I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Even from a pure business perspective, that would be a terrible, terrible idea for any indie publisher.
No-one would ever work with us again. No-one would ever pitch to us again. I wouldn’t say it’s a commonplace issue in publishing, to be honest.
TK: I can’t speak for every publisher, but even if a game gets through development and for whatever reason that developer had to pull out, we’d have no interest in passing that game and the IP over to someone else.
With indie games, their developers are the creative source who makes the game what it is. The game would suffer and no-one would enjoy themselves, so there’s no point in passing games on to new developers.
What does the process of publishing a game look like?
TK: There’s a lot of meetings, and a lot happens in them.
The first step is to understand what the developer thinks will be the timeline to complete the game, and what steps are needed to make that happen. We then do a lot of back-end work to see if what they’ve provided is realistic.
Throughout development, there’s a number of deadlines for putting builds in front of us and potentially any platform holders. Obviously, it varies wildly depending on the size and scope of the game.
Towards the back-end, you get the alpha, betas, as any game does, but again, they may vary in length depending on the particular project.
Then the game comes to release, and we handle the back-end of the store page, while Ryan handles all the marketing and outreach.
Shipping a physical game is hard work...
Is there a big difference between publishing a game digitally and physically?
RB: It’s a completely different world, frankly.
Often the games have already been released digitally, and then we’re just coming to them and going, “Hey, how about a physical release?”.
Sometimes for a solo developer, that’s exciting solely on the basis of having the game in their hands, but even for a larger publisher, it’s a great opportunity to sell a guaranteed four to six thousand copies of a physical release.
We only sell games through our own website, not at retail, and we have such a dedicated community that it’s a guarantee when we sign a physical game that it’ll sell.
Developers who approach us don’t need to worry about units selling or how many have sold this day or this day.
Does the publisher’s job end after the game has been released?
RB: We support games and their developers long term.
When a game is out physically and it’s sold out, that’s it, it’s done. With our original digital titles, we have responsibilities to make sure that we can assist the developer, because we’re all about indie sustainability.
When we release a game digitally, that’s certainly not the end of the journey. We’ll be supporting that game for years.
We want developers to be able to keep making games and eat and have a house. We have post-launch plans for stuff like discounts and talking to certain platform holders.
OTXO, an upcoming Super Rare Original made with GameMaker
How long does it take to publish a game?
TK: It can be four months, for a game port, to about two years to publish a game, potentially more, depending on the size of the game.
That’s just the production level of things - with the physical versions, that depends on our production team.
How much does it cost to publish a game?
RB: The low side of things is £30,000, and then the high side is millions.
It depends on the game and its scope, and I would stress that’s not something we really worry about at the pitching stage.
Are there any costs that developers themselves have to cover?
RB: If the developer needs funding to be able to make the game, a publisher may put that up front and want to recoup the sum when the game launches, before the typical profit split.
Normally an indie publisher will look to recoup a lot of their external costs. That doesn’t include things like the staff wages - it’s usually how much money the developer actually needs to be paid to make something happen, any additional staff they have to hire, or any external marketing.
Post Void, another game made with GameMaker, which Super Rare Games brought to Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5.
What are the advantages of going through a publisher?
RB: I see a lot of advantages for indie devs, because we have a lot of experience. We know the market, we know how to do releases, and we can put up funding, if need be.
Anything a developer feels that they need but can’t do themselves, or feels that it would be best for people with experience in those areas to do, we can do.
TK: Like speaking to platform holders. It’s very difficult to get on that.
RB: Communicating with platform holders like Sony, Nintendo, Xbox is almost a job in itself. They have higher requirements and are talking to thousands of developers at all times.
While having multiple full-time jobs is normal for an indie developer, getting platform holder’s interest, keeping it, building a relationship, and being able to loop in communications with platform holders is a skill of its own.
It’s extremely helpful in terms of potential funding, marketing opportunities, and support. Having your game backed by PlayStation or Nintendo hugely validates it, and often can make it profitable instantly.
For more information about Super Rare Originals, visit their page
Do you have any advice to the developers who’re considering pitching to a publisher?
RB: I would say that if releasing a game and having some sort of commercial viability to it is something that interests you, you should pitch it. Don’t worry too much about what should be in that pitch or whether you’ve got enough to pitch with. The worst you’ll get is that someone says no to you, and maybe they’ll even give you some feedback.
There are a lot of developers who simply feel that they’re not in a position to be pitching. Maybe that’s because it’s their first game, and they might think, “Oh, I don’t know about this, I might just release it for free or I might just release it on my own, and see how it goes.”
There are so many absolutely exceptional games that are just sitting dormant on storefronts because visibility is hard. Especially if you’re releasing on your own, getting that game seen and turning it into a success is difficult.
You can look at the very few major success stories, like Stardew Valley and Minecraft, but you’re talking about a handful of games out of thousands that release every month on platforms like Itch.io and Steam.
TK: We make an effort to play everything that gets sent our way, not just because it’s there as a thing to maybe publish, but we also like playing them.
Demos and pitch decks are incredibly useful to see what the developer’s vision for the game is.
If you can have a playable version of the game, even if it just shows off a cool mechanic, pitch it.