UPDATE from more playing:
After you get your first hit game that lets you leave the garage, hire two employees. Pay 80k to perform the search, as this will let you see 3 candidates. Don't hire anyone who is level 1, their raw stats are way too low, even after they gain experiance.
Research medium games.
Your very first (at least) medium game should be done with a publisher. Look for publishing contracts that have a high required rating and a high royalty % (the two normally go hand in hand). Also make sure it is not forcing you to make a bad combo.
Once you get your first publisher deal, make the best game you can. If you can get a 9.0 + with your first medium game (Not hard if you have a good topic and set your sliders right) it will sell MILLIONS of copies thanks to the publisher's help. Even if you are only getting 12% of that... you'll find you make several million from that game; more than you would make self-publishing a medium game at that point (with very few fans).
You'll also find yourself with a lot more fans... a LOT more, like 60k-70k. One or two more publisher games will push you past the 100k fan mark, at which point it becomes more profitable to self-publish medium games.
It may seem like a waste to make a 9.75 hit for a publisher when they keep most of the profits, but better to have the whole world see that 9.75 hit than to have the game remain a hidden gem; nearly flawless but still unheard of.