While at Gen Con my business partners from Moon Yeti Games and I had a chance to be part of the Publisher Speed Dating event run by James Mathe of Minion Games. I will refrain from making any comments about the games themselves. However, I am writing this article because I was a little shocked at how poorly people were pitching their games.
A while back I wrote an article called How To Teach Games. I’m using a similar model for this article.
You’ve got 5 minutes to pitch your game. It’s all set up, ready to go. A publisher walks up to your table. What do you do?
When teaching games I like to work top down and start very vague and get more and more detailed. A pitch doesn’t really work that way. You’ve got to figure out a way to skip over a bunch of the basics of your game and dive deep into the selling points. Here is a graphic I made that should help:
The sizes of the different portions of the pyramid represent the amount of time you should spend on that section. Let’s break it down:
This should be limited to your name and handshakes. Give a business card and sell sheet. Otherwise don’t waste time here.
Limit this to 10-20 seconds. Basically just give the background of the game concept. There’s no reason to go into a back story of why you are designing it or how it may serve humanity. Be succinct and move on.
This part is more important and is where you should spend about 1-1.5 minutes. Publishers will need to know how a game is played. They understand that if a turn in a game requires you to work through 15 different phases, then perhaps the game isn’t as streamlined as it could be. Give a good overview of the rules and how a basic turn works. You don’t need to share every rule of the game nor do you need to share the “exception” rules that are slightly different than the norm. Just share the normal, standard rules for the game. Work through the whole thing and then come back to the selling points…
Here is where you make or break the deal. This should be the bulk of the pitch. Publishers want to know what makes your game special. There are a lot of games out there. There are a lot of designers out there. There are TONS of unpublished games out there. So what makes yours special?
I refer to it as the “hook.” Tell the publishers what the hook is. The hook refers to the thing that’s different than any other game.
- Are you utilizing components in a new way?
- Are you using a new mechanic?
- Are you modifying an old mechanic in a new way?
- Is your theme so amazing?
Hopefully there is something that sets your game apart. This is where you share that. This is where you emphasize how your game is special. This is where you make your case. Figure out what makes your game great and make sure the publishers understand!
LEAVE A LASTING IMPRESSION:
Hopefully your game will leave a lasting impression. It is wise to allow 20-30 seconds at the end for questions from the publisher. Answer their questions cordially and then thank them for their time.
Congratulations! You just made the best sales pitch ever! Now what?
Publishers are different. Some may offer a contract on the spot (this is rare). If so, congratulations! Some may ask for a prototype. It’s a good idea to have an extra prototype on hand. Here’s where it gets a little sticky: what if two publishers ask for a prototype? (You should have a publisher priority list – meaning you’d rather work with pub A than pub B. Give the proto to pub A!) Sometimes publishers will love the game but will want to consider it before approaching the designer outside of the sales pitch. Often this is due to publishers needing time to discuss the prototype and the designer with their internal team.
Often the aftermath requires patience. Feel free to contact a publisher, but don’t be pushy. Publishers see a lot of games and often have a lot on their plates. Rest assured, though, knowing that you at least made a good sales pitch!
Have you had a successful sales pitch? Do you have a different method? I’d love to hear about them. Also, let me know if you have any comments about this method. Thanks for reading.
I’ve been designing games for about three years now. While that may seem a long time to some, it in no way qualifies me to pretend that I know what I’m doing. For the most part I come up with an idea and try to make the game fun. All the other stuff, like approaching publishing companies, determining if you need a patent (you don’t!), and even prototyping, I have learned secondhand by people who have gone through it. If you are a game designer I highly recommend you start following game people on Twitter and listening to what they have to say about everything!
Last August I attended GenCon for the first time. I brought a copy of my game, “Dam It!”, along in hopes of showing it to a publisher. Dam It is a light card game where players compete to complete their dam before anyone else. I’ll write more about the game in a later post. I had the chance to meet some great people at GenCon and I arranged a meeting with a certain publisher. I was fortunate to have three friends on the trip who graciously played Dam It one more time before I would have the meeting. Here’s my first lesson learned:
1. If your friends don’t love it, don’t bother.
That night when my friends played my game again they pointed out a few things that they thought would make it better. The interaction was too limited. Late-game options became fewer. And it had a sort of runaway leader problem. So I brainstormed that night and came up with a way to make the game better. But that meant that I could not approach the publisher since I would not have felt right pitching a game that I knew was incomplete. Here’s the lesson: If your friends aren’t enjoying it, and if they are recommending major changes, don’t waste a publisher’s time!
So I met with the publisher the next day and told him that the game wasn’t ready for discussion. But I got their business card and made plans to contact them when I had implemented the changes.
And that’s just what I did. I added two new cards to the game that both focused on interaction and eliminating a runaway leader. The cards worked as I had hoped. When I play-tested with my friends again they all seemed to agree that the game had improved. So I ordered a copy from The Game Crafter and got it ready to send out. I contacted the publisher to see if they would accept a submission and after an affirmative response I sent my little baby out into the world. But here’s the next lesson:
2. Don’t make emotional deadlines.
I must have been hopped up on the GenCon buzz because I had set a goal to send out a copy of my game before the end of October. Why is that bad? Because by setting that goal it had less to do with game development and more to do with my desires of getting published. This goal was an emotional goal. While I met the goal, I didn’t feel like I was sending out the best possible product, even though it was much better than it had been at GenCon. Here’s the lesson: Don’t make emotional goals that aren’t based on game development.
So it was a little bittersweet when I sent the game off. While on one hand I was happy that I felt like I was becoming a real game designer I was also a little disappointed because I knew that the threat of rejection was real.
It’s an interesting period of life when you’ve submitted a project to a company that could potentially publish it. There were days when I woke up and wondered if they were going to play it. I had received an email in early November stating that the company received the game and would be play-testing over Thanksgiving. So of course all day on Thanksgiving I was thinking my game was being played. It actually made for a long day. And then the waiting began, which leads to my next lesson learned:
3. Must… Be… Patient…
Once you submit a game to a publisher you are committing yourself to a life of patience. Think of it this way…
- Publishers receive a lot of games.
- Publishers have to play all those games (hopefully more than once).
- Publishers also actually produce real games, which might require a bit of their time.
So don’t think that once they get your game they’ll open it up, read the rules, and play it right away. If I were a publisher receiving submissions I would likely have a submission queue. So when you submit a game it would go to the end of the queue. You can also look at it this way: how often do you play games? and how often are those games someone’s unpublished prototype? I imagine publishers are in the business because they like to play games. I also imagine that playing only unpublished prototypes could get very old. That means some of their time is also spent playing good, published games. Here’s the lesson: When you submit a game, just forget about it for a while. Contact the publisher on a quarterly basis. And if you haven’t heard after a year, cordially request your game back.
And when you do hear back, try and listen to what the publisher is actually saying. That leads me to lesson #4:
4. All Feedback is Good Feedback
Publishers know what they’re talking about. Odds are if you are an unpublished designer, you probably do not know what you’re talking about. So listen to what they have to say. Of course, if what they are saying is, “We love your game and want to publish it,” then congratulations to you! But if they have rejected your game, make sure you understand why. Some reasons could include:
- Your game may not fit their company flavor (Like sending a zombie game to Haba, for example… bad idea)
- Your game may not fit their budget currently, but they may want to retain the rights to the game for a while.
- Your game may not be developed far enough. They may like the idea, but it needs work that they are not willing to put into it.
- Your game may be broken.
Those are obviously just a few of the reasons why a publisher may reject your game. Here’s the lesson: Don’t get frustrated by a rejection, learn from it! Also – They are not rejecting YOU. They are rejecting your game. Don’t take it personally.
What I learned from my rejection is that the game isn’t broken. It is too random. The feedback I received suggested that I not abandon the project, but rather to continue working on it and fixing its failings. So while my game was rejected, I actually learned a lot during the process. I now have a more well defined path forward with Dam It! And I’m better prepared for the next rejection. So to the publisher who rejected the game, Thank You!