For more than 20 years, Sherlock Holmes and The Sinking City developer Frogwares has worked alongside publishers to see its projects reach digital stores and retail. Going forward, this will no longer be the case; Frogwares is entering the business of self-publishing. Such a transitional step is already in the works, since the studio now operates an in-house publishing team. Interestingly, this move has apparently been a longtime coming, too.
In September 2019, many of Frogwares’ games randomly vanished from digital storefronts. This occurred following the expiration of the studio’s publishing and distribution agreement with Focus Home Interactive. Essentially, Focus Home pulled the games, but wouldn’t return the titles to Frogwares. The reasoning concerned a policy stating the publisher wasn’t obligated to transfer titles to companies with which it was no longer in business. Frogwares contracts with Focus Home, however, mentioned no such policy.
Owning the rights to all of its games made Focus Home’s behavior especially difficult to manage for Frogwares. To once more place its titles on digital stores meant obtaining certification for each one again, a costly process. Fortunately, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments’ PS4 version is back where it belongs. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the same will happen for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, Frogwares CEO Wael Amr told GamesIndustry.biz.
While these issues aren’t the reason behind Frogwares’ shift to self-publishing, they reinforced the decision. In fact, such a move has been on the cards for many years. Amr noted,
We just wanted to be sure that we were ‘there’, that we had it in us to make the jump, meaning that we had enough resources to go in this direction. Now that we have a publishing team inside our studio, we feel quite excited about the opportunities self-publishing might provide.
Frogwares’ first hint that self-publishing was the best course of action came with the rise of digital distribution last decade. The ubiquity of digital games effectively cuts out the middle-men that typically occupy distribution roles. Amr explained, “you can set up our own storefronts, do your own marketing and keep your IPs, storefronts, and promote the game the way you want to, and release it in a state and time that you want.”
The CEO told GamesIndustry.biz that self-publishing risks taken by the likes of CD Projekt RED, Techland, and Bluehole represented another big hint. These success stories and others don’t foretell the extinction of publishers, however. According to Amr, it means the role of publishers will change in time. With digital media slowly overtaking physical, publishers will need to offer better incentives to developers. As a result, unlike in the past, the odds will favor development teams.