Adventures in Essen, Part 3: Pitching to a Publisher


Going to Essen as a game designer can be very beneficial if you plan properly and have a modicum of sales or personal skills. In this post I’ll walk you through how I pitched to all the publishers I met with while in Essen. To catch up to where we are in the series, here are the previous posts:

Adventures in Essen, Part 1: The Fair

Adventures in Essen, Part 2: Attending as a Designer

Because we’ve been published already, I started each conversation by bringing out a copy of Train of Thought and Belfort. I did this for a couple reasons.

  1. To let the publisher know that I’m a published designer of two great looking games and,
  2. To let them know that we’re looking for international partners. If the publisher was a European publisher and showed some interest in either one, then I’d quickly review the game and then gauge their interest levels. The more interest they show then the more details I provide, going so far as to open the box and give them an example of game play.

Sales Sheet for our game, Akrotiri

Once we were finished talking about International rights (which Sen and I do not have, but I was there to gauge interest and connect them with our publisher for negotiating), I’d bring out my folder full of Sales Sheets. Prior to the meeting I’d review the emails with the publisher to see if they expressed interest in specific games of ours or not, and if they did then I’d only show them the Sales Sheets for those games. If I didn’t have any guidance from previous emails as to which games they prefer to see, then I’d start with the games that I felt fit that publisher the most.

I’d bring out the Sales Sheet and face it towards them and give them the 30-second elevator pitch, just like in Step 16. Based on how interested they were, I’d continue by explaining how the game plays while pointing to each picture on the Sales Sheet. I’d ask them if they’d like to see a sample round played out and if so, I’d grab the baggie with the prototype and quickly set up enough components to play a round. Depending on the game I would explain a certain percentage of the rules since not all rules would be needed to play a round or two. Basically I’d follow what we detailed in Step 25. Whenever it made sense I’d point out key strategy aspects but I always let the publisher make up their own mind as to how to play.

A small room where I just finished pitching Swashbucklers to a publisher (the publisher left for a moment so I snapped this image with my iPad!)

During a pitch session the time for humility is at the end of the session if the publisher has feedback, but at the beginning and during your pitch, throw humility out. I mean, don’t be an egotistical ass, but this is the time that you really have to highlight what’s unique and special about your game. As we play I’d point out how unique a movement mechanic was or how clever or novel a specific aspect of the game was. I’d say things like, “What I like most about this game is that everyone is playing at all times” or “The hook to this game is that you’re giving many tiny clues which, by themselves mean little, but when put together they make more sense.” You have to remember that this publisher is possibly spending their entire time at Essen seeing new designs every 30 minutes from different designers. How are you going to stand out and be remembered?

After playing a round or two I am usually pretty forward and like to ask their opinion about the game from what little they know of it. This is key if you have many games you’d like to present. Each of the meetings I had were specific slots of time – usually 30 minutes (though one was an hour), so I wouldn’t want to ‘waste’ my entire time on pitching just the one game. When the publisher gives you feedback, remember to follow what we reviewed in Step 26. Now IS the time for humility. Don’t be defensive and just accept whatever they say. There’s no argument that you can provide that would convince the publisher that their opinion should be different.

Whatever their opinion is, start packing up the prototype if it’s out, while the publisher is contemplating or sharing their thoughts. Keep eye contact with the publisher and don’t appear rushed, but I knew I had a few more games I had to get out and I was just trying to be as efficient as possible. None of the publishers seemed to mind this at all.

At the end of the session I’d always review the key take-aways. I’d summarize which games they were interested in and then, as detailed in Step 27, I’d ask them if it was ok to come back with the prototype at the end of the Fair, and all the publishers were cool with that. I’d shake their hand and thank them for their time and ensure I got a business card and be on my way.

It’s key during these pitches to really try and be yourself. You can’t be super salesman-y the entire time as that comes across as cheesy and forced. Show them that you’re a good person and that you’d be fun and professional to work with if they chose your game to be published. I never found it necessary to comment or flatter them with praise about any of their existing games as I felt like that would come across as pandering and fake. I think they appreciated that I was good humoured but also got right down to business.

I need to underline the importance of Sales Sheets again. I’ve talked about them in previous posts for sure, but I actually asked a few publishers their thoughts about Sales Sheets and every one of them said it was a great idea. One specifically liked that it helped him remember which game was which since they had pictures, while another preferred them during the pitch sessions as it was quicker to explain games instead of hauling out tons of bits and pieces. In the future I think we’ll be tweaking our Sales Sheets a bit to make them even a better aid when explaining how the game is played.

Up Next: A review of the publishers I pitched

– Jay Cormier

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One thought on “Adventures in Essen, Part 3: Pitching to a Publisher

  1. Pingback: Sell, Sell, Sell! | Oakleaf Games

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