Mark Kern, a veteran of Blizzard Entertainment and founder of Red 5 Studios, has questioned the utility of publishers to modern game developers.
In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz about the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills, Kern observes that the industry's larger companies - particularly major publishers - tended to be for the legislation, while the dissenting voices generally came from smaller, independent companies and consumers.
While both bills were ostensibly about the battle against piracy and the protection of IP, Kern believes that many of the company's supporting them were principally motivated by the need to control distribution.
"It's all about restricting and condensing the distribution channels to just a few official ones," Kern says of publishers' support for SOPA and PIPA.
Small studios are tired of being reliant on publishers - for distribution, for finance, for everything else. It doesn't have to be that way any more
"What you're seeing is a reaction to try and preserve the old business model, and so you've got big companies lining up on one side and a lot of small studios lining up on the other. Small studios are tired of being reliant on publishers - for distribution, for finance, for everything else. It doesn't have to be that way any more."
Companies like Red 5, Riot Games, Mojang and myriad others have established successful models that accept distribution as both ubiquitous and free - "this whole area of competition [the publishers] cannot control."
"I'll go ahead and say something controversial: I don't think publishers are meaningful any more for the developer. There's so many other ways to get out there, and you're going to have to find different ways to compete, but they can be just as valid."
Kern believes that publishers are "financially motivated" to reassert their control over distribution through legislation like SOPA and PIPA, but success stories like Riot Games raise important questions about their continuing relevance.
"[For] studios like Riot, they're free-to-play, they're online, they publish themselves. They're doing fantastically well, and they can do it with a game that costs a lot less than what the studios have to pay."
"When you sell a boxed game, it's like, 'Who can stuff more millions in marketing and in content into a $60, one-time purchase.'"
To read the full interview with Kern, in which he discusses the lingering threat of SOPA and PIPA and the formation of his lobby group The League For Gamers, click here.