In light of the recent controversy surrounding Sony (and, by extension, Helldivers 2), could you please explain the publisher-developer relationship that many, many people seem to misunderstand?

Despite the common myth that publishers are evil vampires who exist to make things work, publishers really do serve a legitimate purpose that makes them valuable. What publishers do is provide logistical support to the development studio. Beyond the obvious of providing funding to build the game, publishers also generally handle things like:

  • Providing QA support
  • Providing technical support/code/back end for console development
  • Providing tool support
  • Providing network/back end support
  • Handling game marketing
  • Handling the business negotiations
  • Handling physical media and delivery

All of these things both cost a lot of money to establish and require specialized staffing to handle. Most game studios don't want to do these things because it means the studio leadership has to step away from overseeing the game development and focus on setting up all of those logistical elements. As always, there are negotiations made in the contract between a publisher and a developer - the publisher agrees to do all these things and provide X moneys to the developer over this period of time, and the developer promises to deliver a game based on this schedule with these requirements.

One key thing to remember is that your partners in public is never a good idea from a business perspective. Even if the relationship was strained behind closed doors, being anything but supportive of your partners in public will be remembered - not just by the partner who may choose not to work with you again, but also by other prospective future partners who will want to avoid getting burned in a similar fashion. The temporary internet points from players for being "on their side" just isn't worth it, especially because players are fickle and will turn on you in an instant, but potential business partners have elephant memories.

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