Mobile games (which include tablets) often have more than one path to success and sometimes even multiple lives. ISO is doing something new right now. We are helping our fellow Indies’ make money with their existing games.

About:A Personal Perspective on How Game Distribution Can Work for “Indies”
Author: Troy Hipolito


This article is directed towards other independent (indie) game companies such like ours. The motivation for writing this article was to explain our frustration with the game market and how we created our own solutions, in the hope that others may benefit from our experiences.  Lastly, we also wanted to provide some insights into the polarizing differences between big fortune, big companies (“BigCo”) and indie game companies (“IndieCo”).

BigCo vs. IndieCo

We all know who the BigCo are. In all likelihood, at some point or another many of us have worked for BigCo, a number of which are great companies. But most of us are IndieCo (and if you are not you want to be!). IndieCo are typically smaller game shops that range from 1 to 50 people.  Many have amazing talent and dedication to their games, clients, and partners.

That having been said, if us IndieCo are the majority of the lot, then why do we normally “get the shaft?” Good question. Perhaps this will help put matters into perspective: BigCo wield most of the power in the same way the major music record labels do (you may remember records, they looked like CD’s made out of black vinyl but were a lot larger, and played on some contraption called a “record player”).  Anyway, if you know your history then you’ll sort of understand, but for those of you who are not familiar with the music industry let me give you a little background.

Until recently, the major record labels by-and-large controlled the distribution of the vast majority of all music releases. And, naturally, they also kept the vast majority of the profits! That meant that songwriters and performing artists were often tied to a particular label and pretty much had what would be equivalent to a job.

Then came a few artists who decided to “wage war” against the big record companies and who began forming independent labels and changed everything. Along the way, they gained status, expanded their communities and connections, and were able to keep a bigger share of the profits.

Right now we have the same sort  of war. The BigCo want it all and the IndieCo don’t care who makes money, just as long they are making money.  But while some would say they are happy to be getting a piece of the pie, we say just make more pie!

Making Money in the Mobile Market

Currently there are two main ways to produce money in the mobile market. The first is to have a big publisher (BigCo) distribute your games and the other is for you (IndieCo) to distribute your games yourself.

A typical way to make money in the mobile market is through in-game micro transactions, advertisements, and/or paid downloads, although paid downloads are not that popular as the majority of the model has switched from paid apps to free-to-play.  However, I have seen some good paid downloads for the iPad in particular. But that is more of the exception than the rule.  And, of course, you know that  if your game sucks it won’t make it not matter what. Just because you made a game does not mean it is any good. Sorry – just being honest. Most games do not make the cut. So the choices below are referring to the games that I would rate “good” to “great.”

So let’s break this down and see what this really means!

Choice #1: BigCo Publishes Your Game

The Good:

  • BigCo have the cash. You need some cash to finish an awesome game. You have put in about 350K and need another 50K to finish.
  • BigCo most likely have very good connections that will help drive downloads that would be either free or a minimal cost to themselves.
  • BigCo provide rev-share of the profits.

The Bad:

  • BigCo puts stipulations on the the 50K you need, such as stipulations that go against your revenue split (revenue splits have a lot of hidden costs). As such, the money you get up front is not really even yours – it is goes directly instead for game development.
  • You have to pay back the money to BigCo before you see a dime of rev-share split cash.
  • BigCo may/will take out other hidden fees from your rev-share split.
  • Frequently, fees that are actually associated with the BigCo also comes out of your rev-share split.
  • BigCo will lock you down to one distribution channel and prevent you from taking your game somewhere else and relaunching it where and when you need to (regardless if you are currently making money or not on their channel).
  • Sometimes BigCo wants ownership over your own IP.

Choice #2: Self publishing

The Good:

  • You are your own boss.
  • You make the decisions you feel are appropriate.
  • You get a larger portion of the revenue.

The Bad:

  • You are your own boss (yes, that is on both the “good” and “bad” list).
  • You have already put your heart and soul into developing the game that cost say “X” amount and now you have to pay again to get your game out.
  • In order to drive downloads you may have to use the pay-per install model, which can be a major investment that may or may not pan out.
  • You have a lack of connections to get free or cost effective distribution.
  • You may lack the support needed to make edits for SDK integration or needed game changes for adapting to other countries.
  • You may be a bad negotiator (I just threw that in for good measure!).

A word to the wise:

Basically, BigCo can take advantage of you and lock you down and keep you from growing.  And that is  even after you took all the risk and cost of producing a game. On the self publishing route you will need some honest connections and a minimal budget to (possibly) get your game off the ground which sometimes can be a very difficult thing.  But, don’t give up hope, maybe its time to “change channels.”

Wait, what the heck is a channel, you ask?

“channel” is where you can distribute a game. It can be an app store or a partnership that puts it on numerous stores and actively promotes your game. In other words a channel is a contained avenue that allows distribution of your game. We see games that can make a million dollars a day and others that make 2K – 10K a month before a rev-share split (for a period of time per individual channel), the latter being a reasonable number for a good channel.

Other Alternatives …

There are other some very useful alternatives and even combinations of tactics that can help pull additional revenue out of your existing game. In fact, even if you go the route of “getting in bed” with BigCo it may not always turn out to be such a bad deal—if you are smart.

If you decide to “get in bed” with a BigCo, keep the following in mind:

  • If you get any money upfront try to make sure it is not a recoup and that it is not going to go against your rev-share.
  • Get a better deal than the typical 30% you and 70% them rev-share deal.
  • Find out all hidden costs. Many times a common practice of BigCo is to have other services within their own company or with a partner company that will eat away from your rev-share.
  • Make sure you have a timed engagement. Something like 6 months and you can republish as you need.
  • Keep your identity and ownership of the game.

An alternative to self-publishing or working solely with BigCo

We actually believe that everyone should make money. Not just us. And we believe that making money should be transparent and fair.  ISO Interactive has gained access to over 40 mobile titles, some being simple games, while others are higher-end, more costly games.

The point is that we have a number of “channels” to which we can distribute to—all over the world, usually costing little or no money, allowing distribution all around the world, and splitting the revenue in a more evenly manner.

Essentially, we determine if the game is good enough to put on a given channel, make the changes needed to become more successful, and split the revenue. Why can’t life be that simple?

Well, actually it can.

We build games, partnerships and continually grow our connections throughout various sectors of the world. We have a number of contracts for channels to extend the markets. The Android market is a really good place to make some revenue. In short, we take existing games, make the changes needed, and put them on these channels so everyone makes money. We make money when you and our partners make money.

Below are a few things you should know about how we work. Let us know your thoughts as we are continually adapting to the market.

ISO Interactive Advantages 

  • We are true partners and provide transparent monthly rev-share opportunities.
  • If needed we can help support the development and changes of the game per channel.
  • You remain the owner of your source and game.
  • No or little cost to you the developer.

So in the end we don’t need to be a BigCo’s or keep a good portion of the revenue. We do, however, need (and want) to make you successful, so we can be successful.


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