The Gathering of Friends: Part 6 – Pitching to Hans Im Gluck and more Toy Vault

Rob was doing a good job in bumping into publishers and setting up meetings, and we had another meeting set up for Thursday morning with Tom from Hans Im Gluck. He said he was looking for meatier games and so Rob showed him games like Coffee and Tortuga and all I could show him was Akrotiri. He really seemed to like Akrotiri, but understood that it was with another publisher. But again, it’s good to have a ‘line-up’ of publishers willing to look at our games! We went to lunch together and had another casual time with a publisher!

Later in the day/evening, I wanted to play Swashbucklers with a couple people. Rob and our friend Brent Lloyd agreed to play. This game was recently picked up by a publisher and time between our submission to the publisher and now, the game underwent a few tweaks. I wanted to play the game we sent to the publisher and then play the newly tweaked game with the same people to get their opinion.

We played the first game almost the same as the one we sent to the publisher. It was apparent to Rob and Brent that there were some imbalances to the game. So we played it again with all the new tweaks and they both loved the new version a lot more. This was good and reaffirmed that we now have to show the publisher this new version as it’s a better game. While we were playing, Frank from R&R Games came by and expressed interest in seeing the game. I had to let him know that it was already signed and he said he would look forward to seeing it on the shelf!

Then as we were winding down, Ed from Toy Vault came by and saw the last few rounds. It dawned on Rob and I that we should play more prototypes in very visible areas more often! As we were wrapping up, Ed asked if we were free to try Hog the Remote with some people. Uh – yeah, sure!! I went into the main convention area and found some people to play with us. I had played a game of Alba Longa with Peter Hawes – a fellow game designer, who previously asked if I could help him playtest one of his games the next morning with a publisher. I agreed – and later, when I was looking for people to play Hog the Remote, I saw that he wasn’t busy, so recruited him to play. I found Chris Handy was free as well and he agreed to help out. Rob found Jenna and we now had 6 people!

We played a round of Hog the Remote and it couldn’t have went better! We played it using the “Train of Thought” scoring – where one person is the ‘describer’ and everyone else is guessing and the describer has to get as many titles guessed as possible. Afterwards we talked about possible spin offs that focus on different categories like movies or books or song titles. It would mean that the first game shouldn’t be called Hog the Remote though – so a new title is in the works!

Ed then asked if people could stick around to try But Wait, There’s More and while Peter had to get some sleep, Lucio came by to replace him and Chris, Rob and Jenna stayed. I had told Ed that this game shared some similarities to The Big Idea but that it was different enough to warrant assessing. He agreed. We played a few rounds of But Wait, There’s More and it was possibly the best session I’ve ever had of that game. There was so much laughing – it was awesome! At the end Ed asked the group if this game was only for extroverts and Chris piped up to say that the game offered enough structure that would allow introverts to play. Rob added that most party games do involve mostly extroverted people to some degree, and then Jenna mentioned that she was an introvert and this was the limit of what she was willing to do in a party game. She said that the cards made the pitch funny and she didn’t have to work very hard at it at all to be funny.

Ed asked everyone which game they preferred and it was if they were both being paid by me because they said they liked them equally. Jenna slightly preferred Hog the Remote, but said she would definitely buy But Wait, There’s More to play with her friends. Overall, it was a fantastic gaming session with Ed! I’m excited about the prospects for both these games! He said we should know one way or the other in 3-4 weeks.

The rest of the Gathering for me was more social and I spent time playing some actual games with people! I played Last Will, Catacombs, the unpublished, upcoming game from Queen called Escape the Curse of the Mayan Temple (very fun), Quebec, Africana, as well as some more protoypes like Rob’s Crazy Train and Peter Hawes Railway game with Tom from Hans Im Gluck.

I wanted to get in at least one game of Belfort with the upcoming expansion. I found some complete strangers to play the game (it’s so easy to find people to play games with at the Gathering!). Two had played the game before and one hadn’t, but they were all interested in playing with the expansion. The playtest went smoothly with one player saying that he’d only ever want to play Belfort with the expansion in the future because it brought the complexity up to a level that he enjoyed more. The game ended up in a tie between me and another player, and the tie-breaker is number of resources – and we both had the same amount of resource, so it was a complete tie!!

While I was wrapping up, another person came by and when he found out I designed Belfort he was effusive in his praise for the game! He said he even had a review of the game coming out next week in his online magazine called Gamer’s Alliance! He was pretty excited for the expansion, so I showed him how it worked. He was excited to eventually try it!

On the last day Rob and I were walking around, looking for a game to play and bumped into a complete stranger. We asked him if he was looking for a game and he said he was. We asked him if he had any idea of what he wanted to play as Rob and I were easy to please. He asked if we heard of a game called Belfort..! That was pretty cool! So, since Rob hadn’t played the game yet, we set it up and found a fourth player interested in playing and played a game of Belfort – without the expansion as they were all first-timers. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and Rob even squeaked out a win in a close game!

After the Prize ceremony on Saturday I had a friend who lives near Niagara Falls drop by for a visit and we drove to Buffalo in search for Buffalo wings. It was actually harder than we thought as we didn’t really know where we were going. We found a place and I got to relax with a buddy and eat some wings and drink some beer! A great ending to an amazing week!

All in all, it was an exhausting weekend that was also a complete blast! Tons of new friends made, tons of contacts made in the business, and lots of games played. Can’t wait until next year!

-Jay Cormier

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Step 17: Finding Publishers

Wow, it’s taken us 16 steps to get to the moment most of us thought should have come a long time ago!  But it’s only through your motivation, versatility and persistence (MVP) that you will find yourself fully ready to show your game to a publisher.

Now, how do you find a publisher that might be interested in your game?  Well the first step is to do some research on publishers (“What? More work?  Just tell me who will publish my game please?”).  Nope, research first!  What we’re trying to do is find out which publishers might be interested in your game.  First we need to look at the games that a publisher already has published.

Basically there are five types of games that publishers will make:

  • Strategy/Euro games
  • Family games
  • Party games
  • Collectible games
  • Role-playing games

There are subsets of each of these of course, but this is a good place to start.  So which category does your game fit into?  Now find a list of all the current publishers that make those kinds of games.  You can use boardgamegeek.com, but I’d recommend actually going to your local board game store and heading directly to the section that pertains to your category.

As you’re listing them, make a note if there are any that share too many similarities to your own game.  These publishers would probably be less willing to publish your game if it will cannibalize sales of their own game.  One game that Buffalo Games liked of ours was Jungle Jam as it fit within the kind of games that they like to make, but they were already in production on a game that shared a similar mechanic – so they opted to pass on that one.  Fair enough.

Now you should have a great place to start. These are not the only publishers that might publish your games, but it’s a great place to start.  One thing you won’t know until you start connecting with publishers, is what they are looking for currently.  Sen and I had a deal with Tasty Minstrel games to make Belfort, but when their developer, Seth came to visit me to work on the game, I showed him another game of ours called Train of Thought.  At the time Seth was firm on his belief that Tasty Minstrel will not publish party games.  That was fine – but he kept asking to play that game while he was visiting.  He ended up taking my prototype and three weeks later we got word from Tasty Minstrel that they wanted to publish Train of Thought as well!

So you never know if and when a publisher is looking to branch out of what they do normally.  The best way to start gathering this information is to reply to your rejection emails (oh and you will get them!), by asking what they are currently looking for from game designers.  You won’t get a response from everyone on this, but you will get some.

Next up will be posts on how you should approach a publisher – via email and in person.

-Jay Cormier

Research is key when it comes to looking for appropriate publishers. Not only can solid research save you potential embarrasement (“We already publish a game exactly like that…it’s called Monopoly…you may have heard of it?”) but it can save you money. It once cost us something like $80 US to have a prototype shipped – so we wanted to be sure that it was going to a company that would seriously consider the game. It can also save you time. In this world of instant messaging, snail mail can seem deathly slow. And time spent in transit and time spent at the game company is time that the game could be played by another company. So make sure that the company is one that fits your game.

How do you do this?

There’s this series of tubes…

Check out Z-man games for a good example of submission guidelines. Z-man have published a ton of great games lately and are sure to do more – maybe even yours! But look at their guide and be sure your game fits their bill. You could have the greatest abstract game in the world…but alas, Z-man will not publish it because they do not deal in that genre. Nor do they deal with trivia, sport-simulations, word, or party games. Remember – knowledge is power. And it saves you time, money, and effort that could be better directed towards other publishers.

Most publishers have a submission page on their website. You’ll note that a lot of them state emphatically that they are not accepting unsolicited submissions. What does that mean? Well, it means that if you send them a prototype, you can be 100% guaranteed that it’ll be returned to you unopened. So don’t waste your time or money. Does that mean that the door is always closed to you? No! But it does mean that a little more work is required.

Get out of your Hobbit hole, Bilbo

If you’re not already a member of one, join a local gaming club. Learn about which publishers are strong in what direction by playing their games. Some have great production values. Some have really good rules. Some are consistent. And other gamers can help you increase the breadth and depth of your gaming knowledge with their experiences so you don’t have to play every game for yourself. You can also learn which brands other gamers respect and which brands they don’t. And if you beg and provide chips, you may also coerce your club members to playtest for you!

Participaction

Participate on forums, like bgdf.com – a forum specifically catering to boardgame designers. Not only will you get to know the best source for meeples on the web, but you may be able to learn more about which publishers might be interested in your design. Jay and I are active members of the Game Artisans of Canada, a group of designers, many published, who banded together over the interweb to help each other get quality games out to the real world. So far, it’s been a great reciprocal experience with that team of people. We playtest each others games and help with the promotional aspects as well, including helping people think of which publishers make sense for specific games. Become an active member of your gaming community, be it local or on-line.

Enter contests, like Hippodice’s annual event (sorry, entry deadline was 1 week ago!). Some of these contests can lead directly to publication as the prize for the winning entry. It’s well worth it as an unpublished designer to put a strong design in for consideration. Even if you don’t win the whole shebang, the feedback you get from the judges is usually very high calibre. There are tons of design contests around. Search the web and you’ll find local, state-or-provincal, national, or international level contests. Note that these contests often have criteria regarding your submissions (like it can’t be currently under consideration by a publisher) so be sure to double-check that your game meets their standards.

Meet People

Get out there. If you want to be a game designer, you have to spend time in the field. Designing games and playing them with your friends is one thing, but the business end of it is the next big step. This is what really separates the wanna-bes from the people who’s names eventually will grace the game box. And I’m not talking about going as far as Essen or Nuremburg. Just in the Continental United States alone, there are some great opportunities to get your name AND game out there – designer conventions such as ProtoSpiel in Ann Arbor, MI, going to industry trade fairs like GAMA in Las Vegas, NV, or player-oriented conventions like Origins in Columbus, OH or the much-ballyhooed (and exclusive, invite only) “Gathering of Friends” hosted by prolific designer Alan R. Moon (also held in Columbus, OH – a veritable hotbed of gaming, it would seem!).

Basically, you need to up your game and rub shoulders with the movers and shakers of the industry if you want to get ahead. Much like the music biz, there are probably countless people across the world who can sing better than Lady Gaga. But she gets the accolades because she’s out there working it. Now, I’m not suggesting you wear a dress made of meat at a convention to get your game noticed, but a little bit of face time goes a long way. For this reason (amongst many others), I’m glad that Jay is my partner in crime. He is the face and voice of our team. He has experience in sales, acting and improv. I tend to be more on the Asperger’s side when it comes to social graces. Jay can sell more than our game design. He sells *US* as a team that is worth working with.

But more of that in the next post…

-Sen-Foong Lim

Step 4: Persistence pays

The third part of my lovely acronym MVP is the P…Persistence!

in 1981 Abbott and Haney sold 1100 copies of Trivial Pursuit and lost $60 on each of them. They stuck with their idea and 3 years later in 1984 they sold 20 million copies.
Fortunately for Abbott and Haney they had a great game, and possibly more importantly they had persistence. They could have tucked their tails between their legs and counted their losses after 1981, but they believed in their game and stuck it out.
In this business you have to be persistent. Sen and I started seriously designing board games in 2005 and it’s taken 5 years to get one game to market. Mind you we both have “real” jobs and have only been able to work on this in our spare time.
In those five years we’ve submitted over 14 games 20 times to a variety of companies. So we’ve had our fair share of rejections. With only two of those games being published we’re only batting .100 so far. That’s actually a pretty decent average so far from what I’ve heard from other designers in the industry.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, when you get rejected from a publisher they will give you some feedback on why they don’t want it. Sometimes it’s things that you can’t do anything about – as was the case when we submitted our game Junkyard to Buffalo Games.
They loved the game and kept it for a few months while they deliberated over it. They said it fit perfectly with the kind of games they like to publish. Unfortunately they ended up passing on the game because the components were made out of wood and they only had experience in making games with cardboard because they manufactured it themselves. Not much we could do as it was imperative that the game be made out of wood…or possibly plastic.
However, sometimes you get feedback that can help your game! For our game Jungle Jam we were rejected by R&R Games because the scoring was too fiddly. They said that everyone enjoyed playing it but the parent playtesters were worried that the scoring bits would be lost.
Fiddly Scoring Bits
We were saddened of course, but after thinking about it we found a way to include the scoring onto the cards themselves thereby allowing us to remove the scoring pieces altogether! This game is now currently back out being shopped to other publishers.
Adding scoring onto the cards!
I look at rejection as a part of the process, but there are ways to reduce how much rejection you get, which I’ll get into in a future post! Just remember that if you believe strongly in your games, stick with it. Be cautious with how much of your own money you pour into it because you could lose it all – but as long as it’s only costing you time, keep with it!
-Jay Cormier

With every bit of feedback we get, not only does the game that got rejected get a bit better, but all of our games get better. Because we subscribe to an overall design ethic / aesthetic, many of our games have similarities, however subtle. So sometimes, when we get feedback that changes how we look at one game, it can possibly change how we look at some of our other previously designed games and it definitely affects how we proceed on current and future designs.

To bluntly state “man, they don’t know what they’re talking about – our game ROCKS!” after getting the rejection letter is just being egotistical (even though many of our games do, in fact, rock ;) ). It’s only through getting feedback that we can really improve our product and tailor it not only to gamers, but the publishers who have sometimes very different agendas (i.e. $$$) than the people who will end up playing the game itself. And so we must expose our work to constant criticism and feedback. It’s all in how we choose to view the responses, really.

“We must learn from the past to change the future”.

There’s a game in there somewhere…

-Sen-Foong Lim