In the modern computer game industry, publishers are typically large corporations who
manufacture and distribute games written by a developer. The model is similar to a
book publisher who prints and distributes books written by an author. Of course, a
modern game developer is not a single person but a group of programmers, artists,
musicians, producers and administrators. In that sense, a game publisher might be
more akin to a record publisher or even a movie studio. In addition to manufacturing
and distribution, the publisher often handles the legal, marketing, testing, financial and
documentation responsibilities associated with producing a game. Depending on the
relationship between the developer and the publisher, publishers may also have direct
input on the content and creation of the game.
Large publishers distribute games created by third-party developers (freelancers), but
often have in-house studios as well. For example, Electronic Arts
owns several development studios: Westwood, Maxis, Tiburon and Origin just to name a
few. Each of these studios creates games under the Electronic Arts label (individual
studios are usually given credit as well). There are also smaller
publishers/developers like Monolith Games or Bethesda Softworks who dont own multiple studios,
but will still publish games from third-parties under their label.
During the Golden Age of Computer Gaming (1979 - 1992) nearly all publishers were of the
smaller variety, but then again, most games were written by only one or two people.
Sometimes programmers were employees of a publishing company, but more often they were
freelancers looking to sell a game (or game idea) to an already established
publisher. Again using Electronic Arts as an example,
M.U.L.E. was part of EA's first shipment of games, and it was written by a freelance team called Ozark Softscape. In
fact, Electronic Arts was founded as a pure publisher and has only become a developer
through subsequent hiring and acquisition of entire studios. A contrasting example
is MicroProse, which was founded by two developers.
Their initial goal was to simply distribute their own games. However, they built a
huge third-party publishing business based on their personal success.
In today's industry, it is nearly impossible to be a successful self-publisher. The
cost of manufacturing and advertising, and the competition for retail-shelf space means
that only large companies can afford to do business in today's market. During the
Golden Age, there were many small self-publishers who could compete in the relatively tiny
gaming market. In the earliest days, it was possible for a successful publisher to
consist of one person with access to a post office and a crate of zip-loc bags. In
the later part of the Golden Age, it was possible (though very difficult) to successfully
self-publish through shareware distribution. There is one thing that hasn't changed
since the Golden Age: publishers are responsible for finding, cultivating and facilitating
the talent that is the lifeblood of the gaming industry. It takes a great publisher
to consistently publish hit after hit.
Electronic Arts is the lone Golden Age publisher who still functions
as a self-run company today. Some of the other greats like MicroProse,
Sierra and SSI are still around, but they
have been bought and sold many times over and are now part of larger companies.
Alas, some of the greatest like Epyx, Infocom,
and Atari no longer exist, or they exist in name only. These
pages are devoted to the greatest publishing pioneers of the Golden Age. In order to
be included here, a publisher must have at least six games nominated for GOTCHAs and must have at least one GOTCHA
If you know of any Golden Age publishers that deserve to be on this list, please write us
at GOTCHA. Make sure to include the
games that qualify them for this honor.