Pitching at Origins, part 2

Following up our first guest post by Patrick Lysaght, we have a more in-depth account of how he pitched his game to publishers at Origins. It’s a fascinating story that underlines the importance of preparation and a good attitude! Take it away Patrick…

“GLORY & RICHES” AT ORIGINS

            After writing my first post about the advantages Origins has for designers hoping to pitch their game designs to publishers, Jay asked me to write a more detailed report about my specific experiences with my own design.  Since no game designer in their right mind would turn down an opportunity like that, brace yourself for the short story told long.

INSPIRATION

            To set the scene, I need to give a brief description of “Glory & Riches.”  It is a 2-5 player strategy game of resource management and area control.  The players are medieval fief lords vying for their kingdom’s throne.  To succeed, they need to produce and trade resources, build buildings, train peasants into advanced units, and expand their territory.  The unique aspect of the game is a dueling set of expansion mechanics.  Players can either build their economy and purchase the loyalty of neighboring cities, or train an army for military conquest.  The game typically clocks in at about 2 hours.

I started working on the game just before Thanksgiving 2012 as a fun way to spend some time with my siblings over the holidays.  In February 2013, the game was really coming together, and I started thinking about publishing it.  Jay and Sen have an excellent discussion about self-publishing vs. licensed publishing.  Suffice it to say that my current family, career, and financial situations do not allow me to pursue the self-publication option.  Since I had not yet stumbled across Jay and Sen’s blog, I did what seemed natural at the time.  I opened up my enormous trunk of games, and started looking at the publisher names.  Next, I started looking up publisher websites.  In the process, I stumbled upon the board game designer’s forum (www.bgdf.com).  They had some great advice about how to approach a publisher via e-mail.  Taking the leap of faith, I selected a publisher, and fired off an e-mail.

GETTING SERIOUS

            I picked Rio Grande Games.  I selected them because I whole-heartedly agree with their view of gaming’s role in family and character development.  Also, they flat out make good games.  I don’t think I have played a Rio Grande Game that has disappointed me.  Anyway, I sent their contact e-mail asking for the chance to visit their headquarters to pitch my idea.  In less than 30 minutes, I received a very friendly response from their “Spare Parts Guy” saying that the company headquarters was their owner’s house, and that he would not appreciate me knocking on his door.  He did, however, give me Mr. Tummelson’s personal e-mail.  When I contacted him, he told me he preferred to meet at a convention because they provide the play testers he needs to try out a game.  Also, he told me he would be attending Origins and GENCON.  Since GENCON was out for me due to work commitments (BOO!), this put me on a crash course with Origins.  I immediately requested a meeting at Origins, and he gave me a time that fit his schedule.  Now the clock was actually ticking.

ON THE CLOCK

            Play testing continued through March and into early April.  By now, the game seemed to be working very well, and I thought I was where I needed to be.  This was about the time I stumbled across Jay and Sen’s blog.  My initial response…PANIC!  Boy was I unprepared.  I had only made it to Step 13.  The sudden realization sent me into overdrive.  I prepped sales sheets, researched the convention facilities, and started thinking about other publishers who were attending the convention.  By the time the dust settled in mid May, I had official meetings with Rio Grande and Mayfair, and approved contact points with Z-Man and Asmodee.  Then, just when I started to feel comfortable with the concept of approaching publishers, the game underwent a significant prototype change, and all my products had to be reworked in the last two weeks before the convention.  Despite the stress, the mental gymnastics of working through Jay and Sen’s pre-convention steps gave me a clear, concise way to communicate the game’s core.

MY PITCHES AT ORIGINS

            I walked into the convention with what I considered a realistic goal: convince a publisher to take my game into their development cycle.  As a first time game designer and a first time convention attendee, I thought attempting to get a publication commitment on the spot would probably be out of reach.  My other post talks about some of the things I did at the convention to “get the word out” about my game.  Some of these ideas were spur of the moment, and some were definitely preplanned.  For example, I followed Jay and Sen’s advice all the way down to the roll aboard suitcase and business casual attire.  My focus here, however, is going to be on the pitches themselves.  I will cover them in chronological order.
MayfairGames_logo-mdMy meeting with Mr. Yeager from Mayfair Games was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.  He actually stopped by the table I was demoing my game at before our meeting, but as soon as he realized it was me, he wandered off to get some things rolling on the showroom floor.  I showed up a few minutes early to setup the game board so that he could see the components.  When Mr. Yeager sat down for the meeting, I launched right into my 5 minute drill.  After that, he asked some questions, and I basically ended up walking him through the role of every unit, resource, mechanic, and other component.  After that, I demo’ed a part of a turn.  We ended up spending approximately 45 minutes together.  At that point, he expressed a willingness to take the game into their development cycle, and talked me through the rough timelines and processes.  When I told him about my other meetings, he completely understood, and asked for me to let him know on Saturday if I would be sending the prototype home with him.  At that point, I asked him for some feedback regarding my pitch and prototype.  Mr. Yeager said that my prototype quality was better than average, my delivery solid, and he would be open to hearing about my other designs in the future.  In other words, I had achieved complete and total victory by 2 PM on Wednesday afternoon.
rio_grande_gamesThursday was rough.  I pitched to Mr. Tummelson at Rio Grande and Zev at Z-Man.  Mr. Tummelson stopped me about halfway through my pitch, and said that they would not be interested in my game.  It was a matter of a dice-based military mechanism and player elimination.  These were showstoppers for him.  On the plus side, he spent the next 20 minutes talking to me about the nature of the American game design atmosphere, recommended three other publishers to approach with my particular game, and encouraged me to continue designing games.  Also, he mentioned he appreciated the quality of my prototype and my degree of preparation.

ZMan_LogoI met with Z-Man later than afternoon in the Board Room.  He actually sat down and played a whole game with me.  It took just over an hour, and he asked questions throughout.  Like Rio Grande, Zev identified a few reasons he would not be interested in publishing the game.  He did, however, recommend some adjustments that would help streamline gameplay, compliment my pitch, and say that he would be open to future designs.  While these pitches were disappointing, I gleaned some important lessons and feedback from them.  Later that evening, I had a disastrous game demo in the Board Room.  Basically, one person was convinced the game was fatally flawed, and made it their mission to highlight it to me in a series of games.  By midnight, I was exhausted, discouraged, and genuinely concerned that my game was not worthy to be published.  I had just finished picking up the pieces (literally), and was resting my head on the table when it happened.

THE TURNING OF THE TIDE

            As I was sitting there, a man approached me and asked if I was testing out a prototype.  I said yes, involuntarily regurgitated the pitch I had given countless times in the last two days, and was about to tell him I would be happy to demo the game for him tomorrow when he opened the box.  He said he 5 minutes to kill while his son finished up a game, and wanted to look over my design.  What followed was 15 minutes of critical analysis about the size, material, and number of my prototype’s components.  I was at wit’s end, and was about to let him have it when a singular thought occurred to me.  “Why would this man care that my prototype instruction manual is not on normal letter-sized paper?”  Then the realization dawned on me.  I was speaking to a publisher.  We ended up chatting for about 30 minutes (he actually sent his son back to the hotel room), and he asked me to demo the game for his son the next morning.  Let me tell you, if you are going to have a bad day as a game designer, this is a good way to end it!

The following morning was a blur.  I executed an early morning play test to check a rule tweak to fix the issue highlighted Thursday night.  I met with Stefan Brunell from Asmodee.  We chatted for 15 minutes, and he expressed an interest in reviewing the rules for possible game development.  I demo’ed “Glory & Riches” for the small publisher who had approached the night before.  His son thoroughly enjoyed the game, and the owner asked me to meet him for a second play test that evening.  While killing time, I approached the owner of Stronghold games.  This was one of the companies that Rio Grande had recommended.  Also, I had met him on the first day of the convention while hanging around the courtyard during a fire evacuation.  He had given me his card, and asked me to stop by on Friday.  He listened to my pitch, and said that they might be interested in taking the game into development.

CHOICES

            By dinner time on Friday, I was floating on cloud nine.  I actually played a game that was not my own, had some time to grab a celebratory dinner, and found a quiet corner to reflect on my choices.  Mayfair had offered to accept the prototype, but warned their development cycle is long and relatively closed to designer participation.  Asmodee and Stronghold had both offered to review the rules, and consider accepting the prototype at a later date.  I now had only to hear back on the smaller company’s position.  The owner, his son, and two friends played the game late Friday night.  They finished up just before midnight.  He told me he was interested in the game, but that there were some adjustments that needed to be made.  He offered to take the game into development, and promised a final decision before the end of July.

Ultimately, I chose the small publisher for a few key reasons.  First, the development timeline was so much faster that even a rejection would not significantly delay the game.  Also, running through the development cycle with the small company could identify issues that could be fixed before sending it to a larger company later.  Second, the publisher promised a much more inclusive experience during the development cycle.  Third, I had established a real rapport with the small company, and just felt very comfortable with them.

AFTERMATH

OriginsLogoIn the months since Origins, the small publisher has lived up to his promises with one minor exception.  I have been completely integrated into the development process.  He would identify issues in a play test, and I could tweak, test, and recommend changes for his next test.  Due to some tremendous medical issues, however, he was unable to render a final decision until the first week of October.  I completely understood the delay, but I was still getting a little antsy.  Fortunately, he has agreed to publish “Glory & Riches!”  Right now, it is slated for kickstarter in late spring 2014, and release in late 2014, or early 2015.  As the contractual details are pending, I don’t want to release the publisher’s name.  Hopefully, I can post that soon.  In our conversations since the convention, however, the publisher has made a point of commending my prototype and presentation.  In fact, he said it was one of the key discriminators between my game and several other designs he reviewed at Origins.  My profession has a saying, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”  In this case, Jay and Sen’s 33 Steps helped prepare me to identify, approach, and present my games to publishers in a professional manner.  You can bet I will be using them again in the future!  I hope my experience can pay forward some of the help I received.  Good luck in your design, preparation, and pitching futures!

-Patrick Lysaght

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The story of the Bamboozle Brothers: an interview

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jaymee Mak, who, prior to this interview was one of my students in a class I teach on board game design and game theory. It’s a great piece (well, it’s all about me and Sen – so why wouldn’t it be great?!) with a lot of insight into the process and history of the Bamboozle Brothers (that’s Sen and I). Check it out!

The Arcade interview by Jaymee Mak

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 12.07.51 AM-Jay Cormier

 

Essen Hype for Belfort?

Hall9000H@all 9000, an online gaming magazine that has been around since 1991, checks out the hot games at Essen Spiel every year and ranks the games that they think people should pay attention to while at the event. Well this year, even though this is Belfort’s third appearance at Spiel (which, by the way is the world’s most important event for gaming every year with over 150,000 attendees over the 4 days), Belfort placed 17th on H@ll 9000’s list! That’s pretty cool! You can check out the list here – just ensure you have your translation turned on as it’s in German! 🙂

-Jay Cormier

Pitching at Origins

This is the first guest post for our blog and I hope it’s not our last. If you have an interesting story about pitching games to publishers, we’d like to hear about it! For now, let me introduce you to Patrick Lysaght:

PITCHING AT ORIGINS

            In this blog, Jay and Sen talk about how to prepare yourself to pitch your design to publishers.  My name is Pat Lysaght, and I can tell you conclusively that their method works.  Why?  I am a first time game designer.  I followed their steps this year at Origins, and my game (“Glory & Riches”) is slated to be released either end of 2014 or early 2015.  When I wrote Jay and Sen to say thank you, Jay asked me to share my experience at Origins.  In this blog, therefore, I am going to talk about the some of the advantages of pitching your game at Origins.

SMALL CONVENTION, BIG PAYOFF

OriginsLogoJay and Sen’s blog talks about carefully choosing your convention, and then arranging your meetings with publishers.  This is why Origins is an ideal convention to pitch your designs.  The official attendance numbers from GAMA for this year’s Origins (2013) say that 11,573 people attended the convention.  Obviously, this is well below the approximately 160k reported from GENCON.  A quick look down the list of attending publishers, however, shows that Origins still brings in a metric ton of both big and small name publishers.  From the designer’s standpoint, here is how the math affects your ability to pitch to a publisher:

 

(Length of Convention – Publisher’s Key Events)

—————————————————–   =  Time Publisher Will Give Your Pitch

Number of People Attending

 

Since publishers attend conventions to sell games, most of their time will be spent interacting with potential customers or holding events to highlight their new products.  Typically the last group publishers want to spend their convention time with is designers. So even if you can actually get a publisher’s attention in a venue like GENCON, you won’t get more than 5 minutes max.  Origins is a different story.

I walked into Origins with 3 scheduled meetings.  I ended up pitching to 6 publishers ranging on the scale from very small to very large.  Three of those publishers spent at least 45 minutes with me.  The other three spent at least 15 minutes.  This means that even the publishers who gave me a near automatic thumbs down spent 15 minutes of their convention giving me feedback or advice on which publishers I should pitch my game to.  Don’t expect that kind of access anywhere but Origins.

THE BOARD ROOM

Origins’ second key advantage for designers pitching their game is the Board Room.  Origins devotes an entire room to free play.  Since it is always teeming with people (especially after about 7 PM), this is an awesome place to demo or play test your game with willing participants.  This does two things for you.  First, it provides a designer’s dream environment for game streamlining.  I accomplished three months of play testing in four days, and actually resolved a hidden weakness in my game at the convention.  Second, the publishers surf the board room crowd at night.  If they see people enjoying your game, they are much more likely to be interested in your pitch.  Actually, this is how I met the publisher who eventually agreed to publish my game.  Other conventions have areas designated for free play, but Origins makes this the heart and soul of their convention.

THE EARLY BIRD

Another advantage of Origin’s smaller size is the “sleepiness” of the first few days.  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday offered a designer’s paradise.  The crowds are small but steady.  The events are few.  The gamers are looking for something new to play, and the publishers are patiently waiting for Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  In short, this is a designer’s paradise.  I arrived at the convention early Wednesday morning, and was able to grab a table right in the middle of the main hallway.  I set up my game, and started talking to people right away.  The net results:

  1. I demo’ed 10 games before noon,
  2. Tom Vasel from the Dice Tower snapped some pictures of people playing my game,
  3. I was almost out of sales sheets by 10 AM (had to run to the FedEx store in the convention center), and
  4. I met several publishers as they were setting up their displays. Here’s a picture from early Wednesday morning:origins

Obviously, I heartily endorse Origins as a great venue to pitch games.  Especially if you are new to the design pitching process.  Follow the steps, and good luck in your pitching!

-Patrick Lysaght

Thanks Patrick. Really cool to read that it’s a great show for pitching games! Stay tuned for another post from Patrick as he describes the process of actually pitching games to these publishers in an upcoming blog post!

-Jay Cormier

Pop Goes the Weasel…getting published!

Well, all has been quiet on the Bamboozle front for awhile. Let’s catch up:

August

  • Sen and I got together for 6 days of game designing in August. We came up with three brand new games and tweaked others:
  • New game: Aladdin – a trick taking game in which the player with the lamp can make game-changing wishes!
  • New game: Unnamed Abstract game – it’s a nice and simple game of placing a random gem onto a board and when you make a row of 3, you take the other 2 gems and leave the one you placed.
  • New game: Unnamed Tower Defence game – this is the one I’m most excited about as we found a way to abstract out the fiddly-ness of stats that a computer does automatically. Can’t wait to get more time in with this one.
  • Tweaked: SimpliCITY – finally took the feedback we’ve been getting from publishers and made it way less multiplayer solitaire!

September

  • Worked with Toy Vault to finalize the rules and list of words and phrases for But Wait There’s More. We had a very productive 2-hour Skype call with them and we’re now all on the same page. Once things get signed in ink expect a huge and very exciting announcement with this one!

October

  • Found out that our game Akrotiri will be coming out from Z-Man in April, but it will be launching in late February at the Festival des Juex in Cannes. We got to see some art and we’ll be sharing it as soon as we’re allowed. Rest assured that we are very happy with how it’s looking. Very unique style that should help it stand out from the crowd. Sen and I are seeing if a vacation in France around the end of February is possible!
  • Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 12.14.13 AMWe got word from a publisher that they are interested in publishing our kid’s game, Pop Goes the Weasel!! This isn’t 100% official yet, but he said to expect a contract when he returns from Essen. We’ll announce which publisher once it’s 100%! It’s cool because it will be our first kid’s game to be published!
  • Sen attended a Game Artisans of Canada gathering called Cardstockawa. He got to playtest many games including some of ours: Aladdin, Abstract game, Rock Paper Wizards. 

November

  • Coming up in November we are going to attend Hammercon and Protospiel North. This is a fun weekend in Hamilton, ON where designers from all over can get together to playtest each other’s games. Good things always happen when designers get together!!
  • Sometime in November – December at the latest – our first expansion is coming out for Belfort! It’s very exciting and has got us thinking about the world of Belfort. We poked the publisher a bit and told him we’re toying around with making a quick dice game set in the world of Belfort. He said he’d be excited to see what we come up with!

Other than that, we’re going to continue to hone our existing designs through numerous play tests while we wait to hear back from Amigo about our game, Lions Share and Repos Productions for our game, What’s That? So a bit quiet on the blog, but busy as ever behind the scenes!

-Jay