Pitch me a game!

So, you’re a game designer, or you want to be a game designer. You also believe that you have an idea that will break and re-purpose the whole hobby industry, because why else would you start designing board games? You have a working prototype, your friends have all told you that your game is groundbreaking and fun and one-of-a-kind and you’ve decided to take the big step and make it happen. There are two options: publish it yourself and get filthy rich or pitch it to a publishing house and hope they’ll also see what your friends have seen: groundbreaking and fun…

Now, if you decide to go into publishing, I would have some advice for you, but that’t beyond the purpose of this ranting. Most game designers want to stay on the creative side of the business, because, let’s face it, publishing is more administrative work and sale and marketing and for many that sounds a lot less fun than designing (and they might be right). So, you’ve got your jewel and you want to find the right publisher, or, at least, a publisher, any publisher. How to proceed?

One option is to simply write some emails, try to get in touch with the major players in our industry and hope that one of them would simply see your game’s potential and offer you a contract. It’s rather unlikely. There is another option…

Step 1: Test your game with several groups of people who are NOT your friends. Look for unbiased, experienced gamers who are willing to give you honest, brutal feedback. Include some blind testing, to make sure that your rules are easy to understand and follow. If your game is not as good as you thought, go back to the drawing board. If your game is as good as you had hoped for, move to step 2.

Step 2: Identify a few (less than 5) publishers which are suitable for your game. What does this mean? Look for publishing houses which have similar games in their portfolio, but also look at their size. Choose a few big ones and a few emerging ones, the latter might give you more attention. Look for their online game submission form and read carefully their guidelines, and make sure that your game is suitable. Then proceed to submission. Make sure that you provide as many details as possible: clear rules, a catchy title, a pitch line and some sales point. Do not bother with a lot of art – use placeholders which are easy to read and understand, make your prototype graphic design as clean and straightforward as possible.

Step 3: Request a meeting: you’re the one believing the most in your game, so use your enthusiasm in a face-to-face game pitch. Around major conventions, contact the publishers who have already gotten your game submission and ask for a meeting. In the worst case scenario they will not answer or tell you that they’re not interested (in this case you won’t waste any energy and hope) and in the best case scenario, well… you get your meeting.

Step 4: Prepare to make an impression. You must be ready to pitch your game in 10 minutes or less. Focus on the innovation, on what make your game great, and forget about all those boring details (which are as important as life to you, but people tend not to care about). Be ready to answer any questions and to accept some blunt, sometimes even impolite criticism (no, we don’t do that, but we’ve witnessed it first hand). Defend your game without getting defensive and try to be as convincing as it gets.

Step 5: After you get a “yes” your job as a designer is not done. Push for a contract, read it, get it signed and then you can relax… for a little while only. Your job is not done just yet. You have to stay in touch with the publisher, make sure that they really get the game and offer your help in the game development stage. You could also contribute with some feedback to the art, help improve the rules. Most small and medium sized publishers love a proactive game designer.

Of course it’s not always as easy as these 5 steps, so here are a few tips and tricks to get ahead in the line:

  • Find yourself a famous co-designer, one with some reputation and a few published games. You will share royalties, but you will see a lot more open doors. Use the co-designer’s name to get your meetings.
  • Try to get some unplanned meetings at game fairs. Especially at late hours, you might get lucky and find the right person staring at an empty wall – they could be tired, but what’s better than a great game pitch to get one back on track? 😉
  • Practice your pitch in front of an audience before going to the actual meeting, it will help you with your stress levels.
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