It's interesting to trace ideas.
In October 2008, Andrew Chen wrote about the cultural differences between games people and web people. Having been "games people" since 1991, but with a strong interest and even, in 2007, a brief stint in the web world, I found this a really interesting post. Especially this insight (emphasis mine):
Another interesting difference was the perspectives around content. For many of the games people I met, the content is everything. How good your game is perceived to dictate its ultimate success. I think this makes sense in an industry where distribution is essentially commoditized! The big publishers have many of the same relationships, and games developers in general have been outsourcing their distribution expertise out to the publishers for the past couple decades. As a result, it seems clear that the only place to compete is in the content of the game, rather than in the distribution.
This is a really interesting perspective - to me it was a very different way of looking at things. We're in the middle of a major transformation of our industry that was essentially caused by the internet and the various disruptions it has enabled. One of the questions small developers should be wrestling with right now is whether to self-publish. I know I've been thinking about this a lot in 2009. Developers building up expertise in marketing, PR, financing and other business areas that we traditionally have no experience with is going to transform the games industry (in fact it's probably happening already). I'm not saying everyone should do it, and in fact there are good counter-arguments - there is a reason why there are developers and publishers. But I think the status quo has been out of balance for a long time and that things are now moving the other way, towards self-publishing.
Adam Martin just wrote something about this topic. He links to a post by Nicholas Lovell, who is a strong proponent of self-publishing - in fact, he makes his living consulting developers about it. Nicholas puts the idea more strongly and clearly than Andrew: Developers outsource publishing to publishers.
I met Nicholas at Casual Connect in Hamburg and had a great conversation with him, and, if I recall correctly, I mentioned Andrew Chen's article. I am not writing this to claim credit or say anything about how Nicholas got the idea, I just find it fascinating to see how ideas spread and develop, whether I had a role in it or not.
If you're interested in this subject at all, I recommend subscribing to the blogs of Andrew, Adam and Nicholas.