This is one of the most exhilarating experiences a game designer will have – showing off your baby to a publisher.
Often the publisher will take you to an empty table so you can show your game to them privately. When speaking with publishers I always try to be two things: professional and charming. Professional comes from staying on topic, respecting their time and knowing the business (plus obvious things like attire and hygiene!). If you show them a game that has a million pieces and would cost a fortune to publish, then you had better have some reasons why you think this game would be worth it to a publisher. One thing a publisher is thinking about as you’re taking pieces out your box to show them is how much it would cost to make the game. I’m not saying that only games with minimal pieces will get published, but make sure you know who you’re pitching to and the potential costs for your game.
Charming comes from being honest, pleasant but not a sycophant! Anyone can see right through praises showered over them right before a sales pitch – even if they are true.
Depending on the game, sometimes I’ll actually play the game with them, but most of the times I just walk them through the game. For easy-to-learn-and-play games, like party games or dexterity games, I’ll explain the game just enough to start playing an actual round. This worked well for us for games like Junkyard and But Wait There’s More. In fact, for But Wait There’s More, I played a half of a round with Michael Mindes from Tasty Minstrel Games before he exclaimed that it was a game that he wanted to publish.
If it’s a more complicated game then I’ll set up enough of the game and walk them through the bigger actions that a player will do in the game. There’s an important balance you have to find when showing off your game to a publisher: How much detail to give.
What is everyone’s least favourite part of playing a new board game? That’s easy – learning the rules. It’s often tedious and mind numbingly boring. So be aware of how much detail you need to give a publisher so that they understand the concept and some key strategies on how to play.
When I showed Zev from Z-Man games our Akrotiri game, I showed him how laying the tiles worked, how resources are placed, how boats move around, how the market works and finally how the maps work to find the hidden temples. In effect I gave him a 5 minute elevator pitch – with props! I’m pretty comfortable pitching my games off the cuff because of my improv background and my sales training in my other life, but if you’re new to sales, then you’re going to want to practice your 5 minute pitch with your prototype beforehand. Fortunately for me, this was enough for Zev to express enough interest in it to take it back with him after the convention.
Next up we’ll take a look at what you should do when actually playing a full game with a publisher.
So here’s where all that background knowledge can pay off in spades. It’s important to show a prospective publisher that not only do you know the game design end of things, but the business end of things as well. This includes things like what games are hot right now, what games this publisher has put out, what separates your game from the others out there.
You can also benefit from being humble. Don’t be self-deprecating, but don’t be overly proud either.
Why does this seem to be more about you and your interpersonal skills than the game itself?
Remember, some publishers are looking not only at the design, but at the designer. Why? Because most games require a bit more development and input from the designers. The publisher wants to know that they can work with you as a designer – especially if you are unpublished. Someone with a few games under their belt has a lot more credibility when it comes to this, but still needs to mind their Ps and Qs when it comes to demo time.
You want to impress a publisher – and not a lot puts people off more than having to deal with someone who is so set on the idea that they are right that there’s no other way about it. In the 5 minutes you’ve got with the person who may publish your game, every second counts – so make them count towards the positive!
Sell your design first, but not at the expense of making an ass out of yourself!