Step 20: Getting your Game in Front of a Publisher: Preparing for a Convention

After deciding which convention you’d like to go to, then it’s time to prepare.  The first step is to book tickets, flight and hotel.  While this might seem obvious, if you wait too long then the convention might sell out or the nearest hotels might not have rooms.  You don’t want to have to take a cab or bus to get to the convention every day.  Believe me – even heading up to your room that’s in the same building as the convention is a lot of work!

Once the tickets are booked then it’s time to research which publishers will be attending.  You probably have already done this (as that was Step 17!) and was probably one of the reasons why you chose the convention you did.  If you have more than one prototype that you’re bringing with you, then it’s a good idea to come up with a battle plan.  Which publishers should you show your games to first?

Don’t waste time pitching your games to publishers that don’t publish the kind of games you’ve made (unless you have heard that they’re looking to expand into different markets).  For example – you wouldn’t pitch a party game to a company that only makes RPG (role playing games).

Next step is to email each of the publishers.  The goal of this email is to set up a specific time during the convention for which you’d like to pitch your products to them.  This email should consist of the following:

1)     First sentence: State your goal in the first sentence.  Don’t start an email by praising the publisher or talking about how awesome you are.  Instead, start off with something like:

I am a game designer who will also be attending the _____ convention and I am inquiring about setting up a meeting at the convention so that I can showcase a few designs that would be perfect for your company.

2)     Next you should explain why your game would be perfect for their company.  This is where your research comes in handy.  If they said on their website what they are looking for, then mention how your game(s) fulfill those needs.  Don’t get into specifics about your games, but be a bit more general.  Something like:

I understand that you are looking for games that are quick to learn and have a lot of social interaction and I have a couple games that meet those requirements that I’d like to show you.

3)     The next paragraph should be about your game(s).  This is where your 30 second elevator pitch comes in handy.  Write out a 1-2 sentence description of your game – and keep in mind the requirements of each publisher.  You might have to tailor this part to each publisher since each publisher is looking for different things.  If your game has something that a publisher is looking for – just make sure it’s highlighted here.

4)     Finish up the email by reinforcing the purpose – setting up a meeting at convention.  Ask for a specific date and time that would work best for you.  If you have other arrangements or meetings (or seminars that you don’t want to miss) then you should list times that you are not available – because no one wants to be part of a huge back-and-forth email chain.

You should send this email out around 2-3 weeks before a convention.  If you don’t hear back in one week, then follow up with either a phone call or another email.  Obviously everyone is always busy, so remember to keep the tone of your email friendly!

If these steps are followed then you should be in a great position once the convention starts!  Next up: What to do at a Convention!

-Jay Cormier

As Jay is usually the one that is going to the convention as our “point man”, I do a lot of the intel in advance of the convention to try to plan out Jay’s trip and ensure that he is in the right place at the right time more often than not.

Here are just a few things that you may wish to take a look at pre-conference:

1) Go through any of the seminars / speeches that are given to earmark the ones we feel are worth-our-while, Not only are some of the subject vital if you wish to make a game that publishers will want to publish more than others (e.g. specific consideration on components, electronics in boardgaming, translation issues, etc.), but some are given by the “superstars” of the biz – i.e. people you want to know that you know about them and what they believe in – if you get my meaning. Going up to Max Osterhaus of Out of the Box (of Apples to Apples fame) cold may be difficult. But if you have just listened to him talk about “Manufacturing Costs in the US”, you may be able to speak on a common subject – you’ve got an in.

2) Virtually “scout out” the venue if possible. A lot of conventions will provide floor plan online detailing which booths are where. This can help you make the most efficient use of your time and space. You can plan a route that takes you quickly from publisher to publisher. You can stack your prototypes in the order of your appointments so that you are ready quickly.

3) Check the schedule of events to know when and where to present your games in a favourable light. For example, if you have a dexterity game, there is a special time for that genre of games to be played at BGG.con. You will generate more interest in players that love that kind of game in that specific room and most of the publisher reps for that kind of game will be there if they are available.

4) Make a list of priorities before you book your ticket. What are you goals for the conference? What games do you want to get in front of a publisher? Which publisher, specifically? Make a list and check it twice because, as they say “Christmas only comes once a year” and unless you own your own Learjet, you may only get to one convention a year. So make your one trip count!

Remember: Luck is nothing more than hard work coinciding with opportunity.

Jay and I work hard (as can be attested to by my wife and my accountant) on creating games. But without getting them in front of a publisher, all that hard work will amount to nothing. Pre-planning the convention can make all the difference because you will have an efficient plan to execute.

-Sen-Foong Lim

Advertisements

Updates on other games

Two updates for you today.  The first is about the contest I won with a friend of mine, Don, from Toy Vault’s PiecePack competition.  We submitted the rules to a game we designed using a specific set of components that we called Cream of the Crop.  The top 5 games were chosen to be included when the game was released – and our game was chosen as one of the five!  We hadn’t heard from them all year – but today I got a response back from an email I sent that said that it had been back-burnered for awhile but is still in plans to hit the stores this coming year!  They are targeting a second quarter release.  Yay!

The second update is that Gamewright has been reviewing the rules to our Jam Slam game (previously called Jungle Jam) and he expressed interest in playing a prototype of it after reading the rules.  Now he did say he’s on the fence because he feels like Gamewright has a bunch of quick reaction games – in fact, when we pitched it we mentioned that this could be in the Slamwich family line – kind of like a spin off.  But he wants to see a prototype to play it – so that’s always good news!

We have had recent thoughts about changing the theme of Jam Slam to a witches cauldron – and we might do it and send both in, just in case he would prefer that it was NOT similar to Slamwich.

So some great holiday news for us!  Huzzah!
-Jay Cormier

Most Anticipated Games of 2011?

Boardgamegeek.com is having a ‘competition’ to see which games are the 20 most anticipated games for 2011.  Anyone can vote for the nominations up until Jan 5th.  Then the top 50 nominations will be put to another vote to determine the top 20!

If you’d like to vote for Train of Thought or Belfort – both of which have been nominated already, then please visit these pages and click on the ‘thumbs up’ icon under the picture.  I’m not sure if you have to register with boardgamegeek in order to vote though – but please do! 🙂

Train of Thought – listed at #27.

Belfort – listed at #59.

Step 19: Conventions – Choosing the Right One

Sen and I have had most, if not all of our success from attending board game conventions.  Here are the steps on how we approach a convention, which we’ll detail in the next few posts:

Step 20) Preparing for the convention

Step 21) Packing!

Step 22) Now you’re at the convention

Step 23) Approaching the publisher

Step 24) Showcasing your game to a publisher

Step 25) Playing your game with a publisher

Step 26) Getting feedback from a publisher

Step 27) Leaving the game with a publisher

Choosing which convention to attend: To most people reading this it probably comes as no surprise that there are indeed a lot of board game conventions in the world.  If your main purpose for going to a convention is to pitch your games to publishers, then the thing you have to identify first is the purpose of each convention.

Essen is the biggest board game convention in the world and its main purpose is to highlight the newest board games to the public.  The focus at Essen is to experience a lot of new games – and buy a lot of new games!

BGG.con is getting very large and its main purpose is to get together with old and new friends and play a lot of games – many of which are hot from Essen.  This is a gamers’ convention.  There are other activities and fun to be had – but all of them are focused around playing games.

GAMA is meant for retailers and the publishers show up and demonstrate their products to all the retailers in hopes that retailers will carry more of their games.  There’s not as much game playing at this one as there is at any other convention.

New York Toy Fair is a huge event but is focused more on toys, though board gaming is growing at this show.  The purpose of this event is for publishers to show off their new toys in an effort to get them to the stores – kind of like GAMA – but for toys.

Regional conventions happen all over the place and will be smaller than all these and could vary in size and scope and purpose.  Mostly these regional conventions are meant for gamers to get together and play games – and possibly sample some new games from some publishers.

So why is it good to know the purpose of a convention?  Well you really need to get inside the head of what a publisher is trying to accomplish.  At BGG.con the publisher is constantly trying to get their games played by people because every single person that attends BGG.con is like a walking advertisement.  If someone at BGG.con likes a game and they chat about it on BGG.com – then that is worth more than spending a bunch on magazine ads and the like.  Because publishers are so focused on getting their games played, none of the publishers have much time to talk to designers.  Not only that, but BGG.con only has about 6-10 publishers show up anyway.  On top of that, some publishers won’t even send the people that you’d want to speak to. At BGG.con, Jay Tummelson of Rip Grande didn’t come – instead he had a bunch of other people to explain games to people (and he sponsored the restaurant bus – yay!).  So if you went up to someone at the Rio Grande booth – they wouldn’t be able to help you anyway.

At Essen and the New York Toy Fair (though I haven’t been to either yet) publishers are focused on selling their game – which involves a ton of demoing.  This again means they won’t have tons of time to talk to designers.  The good news though is that there are a lot of publishers at Essen and the Toy Fair.  I’d be curious to hear from any reader out there who’s been to Essen or the Toy Fair and what it is like from a designer’s perspective – please chime in!

So that leaves GAMA.  While the objective is similar – in that publishers are trying to sell their games – the attendance is mostly retailers, so it’s a lot less crowded.  This was the first convention that I went to and it proved to be very effective.  Since it wasn’t super busy, publishers were more agreeable to listen to designers.  Almost all of the big and many of the small to medium publishers come to GAMA so you really have a great opportunity to talk to a lot of different publishers.  GAMA is also great because they offer a lot of seminars and workshops and some are even targeted to the game designer.  I’ve learned a lot from these seminars – and have passed off a lot of what I learned on this blog already!

As for regional conventions, it’s rare that a publisher will show up.  While they might sponsor a part of the event, they usually don’t send the people that you want to talk to.  Often you’ll just get a card or direction to follow what it says on their website for submissions.  That’s not bad as even getting a card is a tiny foot in the door, but I wouldn’t spend too much money in attending a regional convention if your main purpose is to get your games in front of publishers.

Each convention has its benefits, but knowing the purpose of the convention will help you determine which one you should attend.  I’ve now been to GAMA twice and BGG.con once.  I’ve had to pay for my flights and hotels for each, so it’s definitely not cheap.  As you’ll see in the upcoming posts, without attending these conventions Sen and I would not have had the success we’ve had (or at the very least it would have taken a lot longer!).

-Jay Cormier

There are also some other major game conventions and toy fairs to mention:

The Nuremburg Toy Fair – Feb 3-8 2011, Nuremburg, Germany – http://www.spielwarenmesse.de/

The Origins Game Fair – Jun 22-26 2011, Columbus, OH –http://www.originsgamefair.com/

Chicago Toy and Game Fair – November 2011, Chicago, IL –http://www.chitag.com/

Note that some are open to the public, some are industry and press only.

There are also specific boardgame design related conferences, such as Protospiel in Ann Arbor, MI.

http://www.protospiel.org/

If you check the site, you’ll see that Elfinwerks, Mayfair Games, Minion Games, North Star Games and Steve Jackson Games were present there. And you can be guaranteed they went looking for new material.

Some smaller local conventions might have product reps that can meet with you – you just have to ask. When Jay and I both lived in Hamilton, we went BayCon – run by Bayshore Hobbies, our FLGS – and there were always reps from companies like Privateer Press, Mayfair, and Chessex demoing games, selling product and showing off unreleased titles. So check out what’s in your area before you drop a few c-notes to travel to NY, Chi-town or Vegas.

You may be able to find out if a publisher’s rep is going to be at a conference by looking at their website. For example, these are the conventions where a representative from Steve Jackson Games will be present:

http://www.sjgames.com/con/

And Days of Wonder will have reps at the following events (Look in the bottom left hand box):

http://www.daysofwonder.com/en/community/

So as the old adage goes, seek, and ye shall find! But it’s always polite to have an open dialog prior to meeting…

-Sen-Foong Lim

But Wait, There’s More!

Just got confirmation from Tasty Minstrel Games that they have decided to publish our third game, But Wait, There’s More!  They also have a goal to ensure that the game is out in time for the holidays next year (lesson learned!!).  This is fantastic news!  With Train of Thought hitting in January, Belfort hitting mid-year (May?) and But Wait There’s More hitting the end of the year – we’ve now got three games coming out in one calendar year! 

To say we’re excited is a huge understatement.

Step 18: Approaching a Publisher via e-mail

The most common and easily accessible option for designers to contact a publisher is through the Internet.  If you’ve narrowed down which publishers you think might be interested in your design (see previous step) then the first step is to go to the website for each of them.

On the website you might learn more about their product line, or if you’re lucky, the publisher might even have some sort of guidelines for the games that they publish.  Out of the Box, for example, has a great page on their site that details the kind of games that they produce.  What this means to us designers is that we should ensure the games we’re submitting to a publisher matches up with the kind of games they like to make!  So for Out of the Box, your game better be able to be learned in minutes, played in less than an hour and feature dynamic player interaction.

Submission Guidelines for Out of the Box Games

Each publisher should have somewhere on their website some sort of rules for how, and if, they accept submissions.  If you can’t find any link or information anywhere on submissions, then use the Contact link to send an email asking about submission guidelines.  In this instance, do not disclose anything about your game at all.

Some publishers just won’t accept unsolicited designs.  This means you cannot send them anything.  This is how the big boys like Hasbro and Mattel like to play.  For now, you should just cross them off your list.  In an upcoming post we’ll talk about when you should use an agent.

After you have researched all the publishers on your short list, it’s time to prioritize them. You need to prioritize them because you want to send your game to the publisher you think would best fit, and would be most interested in your game.  Publishers can take their time when reviewing new game ideas (as some get 100’s a week!).  So pick your number one publisher – your best shot!

The most important thing to know here is that you can only send your design to one publisher at a time.  You will not make a good name for yourself if you send your game out to many publishers and then have to contact some of them later on to tell them that another publisher will be publishing it.  These publishers can take a long time, but they might be spending a great deal of effort by having numerous groups of people playtesting your game.  If they put all this energy into it only to learn that someone else is publishing it, then you can expect not to make too many friends in the business.

Each publisher will have different rules on what the first step will be.  Some will want a description of the game while others might ask for the full rules.  I’ve never seen a publisher request the full prototype without having any knowledge of the game yet.  Some will require you to sign some sort of form to protect them from being sued in the future.  Sign it. In an upcoming post we’ll talk about non-disclosures and copyright protection.

When describing your game, be careful not to do too many comparisons to existing games: “It’s like Dominion – but with dice!” as that makes your game sound unoriginal.  Instead, review your elevator pitch that we talked about in a previous post and work that into your description.  Don’t be too hasty with this step.  Show some people what you’re thinking of writing to get their input – does it grab them and make them want to know more?

Once you’ve sent off what they have requested, then it’s time to play the waiting game.  The waiting game sucks – let’s play Hungry, Hungry Hippos.  Here’s another instance where Persistence is important – but also as important is knowing where the line between persistence and annoying is!  I’d give them 2-3 weeks before any further contact.  If you have an email, then a friendly follow up with no expectations is fine.

This is where Versatility comes in handy, because while you’re waiting to hear back from the publisher, you should be working on your other designs.  Remember that it’s not just rare to get a game published – it’s rare to get your first game you’ve ever designed published!  Sen and I designed about 10 games or so before Train of Thought and Belfort got picked up.  We still have those 10 designs and hope to tweak them and get them out there eventually – though some of them we know will never be marketable in its current state.

So that’s one way to get your game in front of a publisher.  You might have noticed that I didn’t share too many stories about what Sen and I have done in this regard – and that’s because we haven’t had any success with this method.  That’s not to say it’s impossible of course, but as you’ll see in the next post, we have a much better way to get our game in front of publishers: go to a convention.

-Jay Cormier

Think of the e-mail submission as sending your resume to a prospective employer – putting out the feelers, as it were, to see if they are at all interested in your game. In this step, you are not selling the game – but the idea of the game. And there’s a lot more “meta” to that than you’d think…

You need to tell the publisher why your game will sell – what makes it worth their while to invest time and money in? If a company only publishes one game a year, why should they publish yours?

Here’s some more rules of thumb to follow in respect to putting an e-mail submission together.

Be DESCRIPTIVE yet SUCCINCT

Tell the publisher what your game is about in as few words as possible, hitting the key points in a clear manner. This is where you have to sell your game. You need to have a clear vision of what your game is and be able to articulate it into words. And definitely fulfill any criteria the company asks for, like including time spans, age ranges, component lists, etc.

Jay and I spend a lot of time working on our sell sheets. We will attach these to our e-mail submissions in order to make the e-mail itself more succinct. The sell sheets also have the advantage of having photographs of the components and usually an example of game play. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. For something as abstract as a non-existing boardgame, it’s always a good idea to make the concept as concrete in the mind of the publisher so they know what to expect if a prototype is requested. The sell sheets help make our games “stick”.

Be UNIQUE

Everyone and their dog will be interested if you have something new to offer the market. Z-man, for example, states this on his website, verbatim:

“We also look for original mechanics or ones that have been used before but now offer a unique twist or a unique blend with other mechanics.”

But don’t draw comparisons to existing products – no one wants to publish a game that’s “like Monopoly, but better!”, even if it is better in truth. There’s just very little market for it.

Tell the publisher why your game is different and why it will sell. If you can identify new markets for the company, that is a good thing. For example, if you see your game being popular not only with serious gamers but also in the educational field, highlight the possibilities of the game.

Be FOCUSED and do your RESEARCH

Don’t just spam every publisher out there. If your game is a card game, but Company X doesn’t publish card games, please don’t send them a submission e-mail. Because when you *do* have a game that they might be interested, they may remember you as the designer who couldn’t read. Find the companies that do what you want to do well (e.g. Amigo for card games, Kosmos for 2 player games, Gigamic for wooden abstracts, etc.) and focus all of your attention on getting your game in front of the company that you feel your game fits the best with. 

It pays to research the company you are submitting to in other ways as well. Telling the publisher that you are interested in working with them is one thing, but telling them WHY you want your game to be published by them in particular is an excellent way of showing them you know both the business and their business. Some of the “whys” may be because they have an excellent track history or they are leaders in social party games. Or because their art and component quality is always high and your game would benefit from their skills. Or because they are a local company and you want a fully-Canadian product (if you are Canadian like we are, for example!). If you can tell the publisher why your game fits perfectly into their existing product line, you will be one step ahead. You can either fill a void in their line up (e.g. Tasty Minstrel doesn’t have a dexterity game yet) or fill their niche market (e.g. Twilight Creations is a good “first stop” for horror related games).

Be PROFESSIONAL

Make your e-mail readable. Bullet lists, white space…all important stuff to consider. Use spell check and make it look professional. You need to be serious about even something as simple as an introductory e-mail if you expect the publishers to take you seriously.

This is another place where a well thought-out and artfully done sell sheet can work in your favour. It shows that you’re committed to your own product and that you’ve invested time not only in the game’s design, but in the promotion of it.

So, now that you’ve written up a finely crafted e-mail and attached your sell sheet, hit “Send” and await a reply. Be courteous and timely in your own replies. Also, be wary of hounding a publisher to reply. If you don’t hear back from them, wait a week or two before resubmitting – they may be out of the office at a convention or in the midst of inventory / end of month. Remember: they are running a businsess. And nobody likes a pest.

Jay’s lying when he said we haven’t had any success this way. If you measure success in getting our prototypes in front of publishers, then we’ve had success via e-mail contact. But it is true that we haven’t had any of our games signed based solely on e-mail submissions. Our best chances of being signed and all of our actual signings have come out of our attendance at game-related conventions.

We feel getting face time with the publishers is uber-important. To parallel hunting for a job, if sending a sell sheet and introductory e-mail is akin to handing in a resume, meeting a publisher face-to-face is like having a job interview. It’s make or break time and it happens in real-time in real-space. You need to have your game face on, your elevator pitch smoothed out, and your prototype in readily-playable condition.

So our next segment – Going to Conventions – is one you won’t want to miss if you’re serious about getting your game signed. And if you’re reading this blog, you probably are…

-Sen-Foong Lim