No matter what route is chosen, it's fair to say that neither company will get rich from these cabinets. Obviously, they're hoping they can make a profit, but they're not expecting to sell tens of thousands of them.
The same can't be said of Nex Machina itself. After the somewhat inexplicable failure of Alienation, Housemarque needs a hit.
Nex Machina is the company's first self-published game. Over the past two decades it's partnered with companies like Take-Two, Activision, Ubisoft and Sony to release its games. The benefits of working with a publisher are pretty simple: developers get money up front to help cover costs, and support for marketing and logistics. In exchange for these perks, however, they need to give up a percentage of the game's revenues.
Of course, no one aside from publishers and developers knows exactly what that cut is -- and it changes from game to game -- but it's obviously not insignificant. Often the initial split is more heavily skewed toward the publisher as it seeks a return on its initial investment. After the publisher recoups the up-front payment, terms can be more favorable for developers. Essentially, working with a publisher is lower-risk, lower-reward.
Housemarque has worked almost exclusively with Sony over the past five years. While no one at the company would speak ill of that partnership -- indeed, it's working with Sony right now on Matterfall -- it hasn't always been smooth. Resogun may be installed on millions of PlayStation 4s, but a majority of those downloads were "free" to gamers as part of PlayStation Plus. Housemarque wouldn't discuss any figures, but from off-the-record talks with other developers, it's likely that revenues per PS Plus download are better counted in cents than dollars.
PS Plus is fantastic for a game's "tail," bringing in additional revenues when sales are drying up, just like Humble Bundle's pay-what-you-want model, Xbox's Games with Gold program or Steam sales. For a game's launch, though, it essentially puts a hard cap on profits: Your game will be successful, but you're unlikely to make millions.
Haveri put it to me that if Resogun hadn't been on PS Plus, I wouldn't have even visited Finland to discuss Nex Machina. "You might have bought it, yeah, but the popularity of Resogun wouldn't be nearly to the level it was. It would've been one of those off-brand, niche games." That's perhaps true, and it's impossible to call Resogun anything but a success. But this partnership with Sony clearly didn't work for Alienation. It was buried between huge AAA games, and, although no one would say as much, that has to have been Sony's decision.
Its core strategy is to make the best game it can.
Self-publishing is, in some ways, liberating. Housemarque has more creative control over the game, when it's released and how it's marketed. But it's also perilous. The company has chosen to focus on technology and gameplay over marketing. Its core strategy is to make the best game it can, and hope that enough press, streamers and fans pick it up and enjoy it to help make it a hit.
Of course, there will be other efforts. It's partnered with a video team to produce a "making of" documentary in the vein of Indie Game: The Movie. It's signed a deal with Sony to make the game a PlayStation 4 exclusive, which assumedly comes with a financial reward, and the chance to showcase the game to a captive audience at PlayStation Experience. Nonetheless, the press team for Nex Machina is essentially a guy with a desk, and its marketing budget is pretty much paying that guy's wage. I've seen how one person can help make a game a success, but I've also seen that same person fail to persuade gamers to care about another.