Self-Publishing vs Using A Publisher: Which Is Better?

Hi everyone! Keith here, Publishing Director for Altitude. I recently gave a talk about mobile game publishing during the Mobile Games Publishing Meet-Up last June. For those who weren’t able to make it, or those who’d like a more in-depth discussion on game publishing, read on below.

To self-publish or not to self-publish?

Game publishing can be a daunting endeavor. It’s a question that gets asked a lot during my 10 years in game publishing: “Should I self-publish or go with an established publisher?” To help you answer that, let’s see the pros and cons of both.

One of the biggest pros of self-publishing is that you get 100% (less the platform fees which are more or less than 30% depending on what you use) of whatever your game earns! You can spend the revenue to get more users or, if you get an instant hit, help fund your next big game (or a yacht, up to you!). Another big plus is that you own your game 100%. You can do whatever you want with it, and not have to deal with a lot of external direction you may or may not agree with.


If you publish your game successfully, you might be asking yourself this very same question in the future.


One big challenge with self-publishing is marketing your game. Doing user acquisition and getting your game known is hard enough, but you’ll also shoulder 100% of the costs. The risk of losing money is bigger, but there are lots of cheap solutions you can explore (discussed later in this blog post).
On the other hand, going with a publisher means you can rely on their experienced marketing team to do marketing for you. With their expertise also comes their big pool of users across their network. There is a bigger potential of earning more money in the long term.

However, this bigger revenue comes with a bigger share to be taken by your publisher. The exact amount varies among publishers and depends on different factors (type of game, its value to their portfolio, its state when you signed up, etc). Make sure you check this out before signing that dotted line. Working with publishers also means you need to be open to sharing ownership of the game (including making tweaks and revisions that they want), as well as deal with contracts and commit to milestones.

Decided to self-publish? Research first!


Going into self-publishing requires you to know what you’re diving into. First, know your target market. Are you launching your game in countries where users would actually like your game? Does it fit into their gaming habits? Will they like the art style? How much does it cost to acquire users there? Services like App Annie and Chartboost will help answer these questions, as well as Facebook’s insights and targeting. Remember, research is key!

You also need to gather enough data to show that your game has what it takes to make it big. Doing soft launches and AB tests will help with this. Malaysia and Thailand (and recently, the Philippines!) are great go-to countries for checking your retention and user experience, while Australia, Canada, and Singapore are best for testing monetization.Use these tests to find out:

  • Are users responding to my ads?
  • Are they installing and playing my game?
  • Are they returning after the first day of installing the game?
  • Do I have a lot of paying users?
  • How much do they spend and what are they buying?

Choose a country that’s most similar to the country you want to launch your game in, and remember, there are totally different rules if you want to target China, Japan, and Korea. Solutions like Swrve, Flurry, and Google Analytics will help you understand the data you get from this.

User acquisition


This is user acquisition, basically.

Having a good game is not enough to get users to download and play it; it also takes skill and a bit of luck. Some ways to acquire users are: paid acquisition via ad networks and Facebook, which are easy to use and can scale with your budget; press releases, which requires fun and entertaining articles and a good network of bloggers and media to review your game; and social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google+. Creating a blog with regular updates will also help.

Note that there is no single solution that works 100% of the time. Combining all of the above would definitely increase your chances of getting players into your game. Getting the right mix is key; find what works for you and run with it. Appsflyer is a really good tool to help you identify which campaign gives you the most users and where they are coming from.


Getting users in your game is just the beginning. Keeping them long enough so you can convert them into loyal and paying users is where the real battle happens. Most games have different ways of keeping their users engaged: social features so they can keep playing with their friends: events to give them something rewarding to do outside the normal game flow; or via constant communication through messages, notifications, and social media. As with user acquisition, find a good mix of the examples above that leads to higher engagement from users. Having a good system for them to give feedback is also crucial in keeping them loyal.



Earning revenue is the last piece of the publishing puzzle that you must understand to become successful. Besides the usual item updates, promotions, and monetized ads you can do to earn revenue, you need to invest a lot of time and effort towards understanding your players. Dive deep into your data to know how your players behave:

  • Which items are being bought the most?
  • Which items are players ignoring?
  • At which point in the game do they spend money?

These questions are important to help you improve your game’s flow and find out how to transition your users into loyal, paying players.

This article is by no means a complete rundown of everything you need, but it helps you ask the right questions so you can fully understand what it takes to launch your game successfully. To summarize, here are the key points in publishing your game:

  • Do your research and know your target market!
  • Understand how user acquisition works and what you can do to get this done
  • Keep your users engaged. Know your players
  • Turn your users into loyal, paying users
  • Analyze your data religiously!
  • Integrate with the tools that would help you

And finally, when in doubt, go and get somebody to help you. There are a lot of solutions out there; you just have to know where to look. ☺

Now let’s go make awesome games!

About the author:

Keith_ProfilepicKeith Morales is Altitude’s Publishing director.

Keith has over 10+ years experience in games publishing and brand management in the online games market.

Posted in Blog.