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Starting Solo #2: Designers, Publishers, and Distributors. What is the difference?

starting solo 2

Welcome back for our second installment of Starting Solo! This issue will talk about something that is kind of confusing for most solo designers: Publishers and Distributors. While you may have an “idea” of what they do from the name, most budding game designers don’t really know what to do or where to go when it comes to actually getting their games out there.

While it may not seem like it’s something you need to worry about early in the process, it is actually vitally important to the success of your game. You can design games as much as you want, but if you want to get them out to players, you will be sitting on a pile of games. Even if you plan on self publishing and using Kickstarter, you still need to plan on what to do after that. I would hate for you to successfully  Kickstart a game and then have 1000 copies of it sitting in your living room because you didn’t plan ahead!

So, the difference between designers, publishers, distributers, and what it matters to you. As far as we are concerned, the lines are pretty clear and easy to understand.


Designers are people like you and me, we have designed a game. Normally it is up to the designer to handle all aspects of the game, including (important) playtesting! Most publishers will not even feign interest in a game that is not complete (mechanically) and somewhat polished. Normally, designers will make their game, ensure that the mechanics are sound, that they work properly and there are no game breaking flaws or gaps, and that everything “works”. From there, you have a few options: Self Publishing or Established Publishers.


If designers are the creative department, publishers are accounting. Publishers are the ones that deal with all of the lame business stuff designers normally don’t want to when it comes to actually making a game. Publishers and designers have to work closely together, but once the game is “made”, the publishers step in and take the baton. It is a publishers job to deal with manufacturers, to source and license art, to put together your graphics and aesthetics, etc. They take your idea and make it real and marketable. Publishers are generally invested in your project because they often put their own capitol on the line to make your game. This also means that they rarely pick up games that are low quality or don’t have a passionate designer. The cons of going with a publisher are that you will make a fraction of the money you would if you self publish. You also don’t have to deal with any of the logistics and headache of actually producing the game, which most designers are fine with.

Self Publishing

This is where things get interesting. Think of all of the stuff I mentioned above, add about 200 things to that list, and you have an idea of what it is like to self publish. When you self publish a game, you are the one that has to deal with finding art, dealing with the artist, figuring out your box dimensions, shipping weight, component materials, shipping arrangements across the ocean, etc. If you plan on self publishing, write down a list of everything you think you need to do. You are probably 30% of the way there. I wish I was joking 🙁 Self publishing is a great way for designers to keep full creative control over their game, but it is a looooooot of work. Ask anyone that has self published a game before, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, there will always be bumps along the way!

So, what about distributors?

Distributors are a whole different beast. If you deal with a publisher, they will likely already have a distribution chain in place and you will not have to worry about this. In some instances a designer will still have distribution control over their game, but this is not common. So, if you are going with a publisher, it is likely you will never talk to your distributor, since your role in the game is pretty much complete once you hand the game over. If you are self publishing though….. It’s a different story!

When you self publish a game you have to deal with all of the stuff listed above as far as publishing, but then you also have to deal with distribution. Now, for some people that may just be selling through Amazon and calling it a day, which is an ok method if you have some momentum behind the game. For most designers though, they will want to get into the distribution chain, and thus into local game stores everywhere!

There are several distributors out there, and if you do any research at all im sure you will find some. I have spoken with Aldo from Impressions and he is a great guy that is willing to chat. I have also spoken to the guys at Game Salute, who were also friendly and full of advice. My advice to you is to find someone and start somewhere. Even if you don’t work with a certain distributor, they may be able to point you in the right direction.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the subject and helps a designer out. I know early in the process all of this stuff was pretty foreign to me, and I have picked it up along the way. If you plan on self publishing, I cannot stress it enough that you do your research. Plan, and then plan again; When those plans fall apart, get ready to do it all over again.

It’s tough, but isn’t anything worth doing?

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