Bamboozle Brothers Schedule at GenCon

GenConWe are getting ready for our first visit to GenCon and we thought we’d share what are plans are with y’all. If you want to connect with us – know that our time is pretty tight, but we do have some time in the evenings.

Here’s where we’ll be while we’re at GenCon:

Wednesday, July 29

Day: Sen is driving in
Night: Pitch to Level 99 to at 8PM
Late Night: Meeple Syrup Show live from GenCon!

Thursday, July 30

Morning:  Check out booths
Afternoon: Jay arrives from flight, pitch to Dice Hate Me at 5pm
Night: Nerd Nighter Charity, Demo of But Wait There’s More at 10pm (Hall D, Green, table 10-11)

Friday, July 31

Morning: Interview with The Spiel at 10:30am
Afternoon: Pitch to R&R at 12pm, Foxtrot at 1pm, Z-Man at 2pm, Action Phase at 3pm, Hasbro at 4pm, Renegade at 5pm
Night: Demo of But Wait There’s More at 7 and 8pm (Hall D, Green, table 10-11)

Saturday, Aug 1

Morning: Walk around convention
Afternoon: Pitch to Tasty Minstrel Games at 12pm, Ad Magic at 2pm, Give seminar to public about pitching games to publisher – C Plaza: Penn Stn B, Demo of But Wait There’s More at 5pm (Hall D, Green, table 10-11), pitch to Lamp Light Games
Night: Totally free right now!

Sunday, Aug 2

Morning :Demo of But Wait There’s More at 11am (Hall D, Green, table 10-11)
Afternoon: Jay leaves to airport
Night: Sen drives home

So hope to see you there! If you do – come up and say hi…we’re Canadian so we’re pretty friendly! 🙂

-Jay Cormier

Advertisements

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

The Gathering of Friends: Part 2 – The Lay of the Land

When I got to the Gathering I got my name badge and a goodie bag full of freebies! The goodie bag had some card games (including a special Tichu deck with new pictures of people who have attended the Gathering in the past), some expansions to other games (like the expansion to fellow GAC member, Roberta Taylor’s Octopus’ Garden) and even the full box version of Two by Two from Valley Games (and designed by fellow GAC member, Rob Bartel!).

The name badge system was awesome as they were colour coded to help you identify people a lot easier. With this information it was easy to identify the publishers as you walked around.

  • Red Badge: First year attendee (so I had a red badge!). Generally speaking, red badge attendees are always welcomed by others and made to feel at home pretty quickly. People were constantly shaking my hand and welcoming me to the Gathering. It was very nice!
  • Grey Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for the last 9 years
  • Black Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for 10 years or more
  • Blue Badge: Publishers

    After I got my badge, I surveyed the layout.

Basically there was a large convention room with tons of tables set up for open gaming. Off to one side were the prize tables! Everyone was encouraged to bring something for the prize table. If you contributed to the prize table, then you could participate in the prize draw at the end of the Gathering. Near the Prize tables was a table full of brochures for local restaurants and more freebies. I found an expansion to Valdora and another for Mondo there! Around the edges of the room were tables where people stored the games they brought.

Oh look, Pierre Poissant-Marquis (right), half of the design team of the game Quebec is playing Belfort!

Generally speaking, anyone could grab any game and start playing at any time, as long as they returned it when they were done with it. Outside of the convention room were a few open areas with more tables ready for open gaming. These tables were used for the poker tournament that happened on one night. Finally, down the hall there were a couple of rooms with a few more tables. During the day we found these to be a bit quieter and therefore made it a favourite spot for us to pitch to publishers. In the late evening one of these rooms were used for a large Werewolf tournament! There were always water stations all over the place to ensure you stayed hydrated throughout the event, so that was nice! On a whole, the hotel and its staff, while a bit gungy (the hotel, not the staff), were prepared and made us feel welcome.

I found Rob and saw that he had a spot along the tables around the edges of the room, so I added my prototypes to his pile. Once we were set up then we were free to either start our own game, or join another group that’s about to start playing a game. It was always easy to find people to play a game of anything! Some of the times it would be a prototype and other times it would be a ‘regular’ game. There were a lot of designers there who, like Rob and I, were looking to get some feedback on their designs, as well as pitch to publishers. Friedemann Friese had a table dedicated to his games for the entire event. I wanted to check them out but never seemed to line up when the table was free. While the hotel offered a mini café in the latter half of the week, most of the meals were either at TGIF, which was in the same hotel, or a restaurant in the casino across the street. Sometimes people with cars would drive others to another local establishment nearby (Duff’s Buffalo wings!) or a few times we walked to a nearby Indian restaurant.

Even though I stayed up late on some days (3am) and woke up early on other days (8am), there were always people playing games somewhere in the convention area! Sleep is for chumps!

There were quite a few tournaments throughout the week ranging from 7 Wonders and Tichu to Loopin’ Louie and poker. The winners of each tournament got first choice of the prize table on Saturday night! Before the prize ceremony there was a flea market. Those that could travel with their assortment of games offered them up for sale to the rest of us. Since most people had to fly, it was a tough decision on what they could buy and what they could pack! I managed to pick up a copy of El Cabellero – a Wolfgang Kramer game that is out of print and one that I’ve been looking to get for a long time now!

[Sen:  Really?  That’s the single game of my collection that I’ve ever sold, IIRC.  Well, you know what they say about one man’s treasure…]

The prize ceremony was really the only time we were all together as one group. The hotel removed all the gaming tables and set up chairs theatre-style to fit all 400 of us in the room. Alan took the microphone and reviewed some things about the next year (I’m already pre-registered!), and then showed off the high-end prizes that people brought for the prize table. Some of the highlights included:

  • a crokinole board made by fellow GAC member, Mike Kolross, (plus graphic design by another GAC member, Mark Klassen) in the shape of a record with the label being Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride,
  • handmade table covering with a Tichu mat on one side and a Can’t Stop and Liar’s Dice on the other – complete with all the dice and cups
  • a copy of the impossible-to-find game, Hotel
  • Big Boss from Wolfgang Kramer – another hard to find game
  • The Cookies of Catan – a fully playable and edible game of Settlers of Catan!
  • Line for Life for an upcoming game called D-Day Dice (designed by another fellow GAC member, Emmanuel Aquin). The Line for Life meant that the person would receive every expansion they ever make for this game for free!

I was called somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I managed to get the exact game I was hoping to pick up – Castles of Burgundy.  It was a game I had wanted to pick up in Essen last year, but they sold out too quick!

Up next I’ll get into the specifics of what it’s like to pitch to publishers at the Gathering!

-Jay Cormier

Adventures in Essen, Part 2: Attending as a Designer

If you’re a Designer and you’re at Essen, it’s for one of two reasons: You’re there to promote a game that’s launching or you’re there to pitch new games to publishers.

Matt Tolman (a fellow Game Artisan of Canada) had his game Undermining, published by Z-Man Games, launch at Essen. He had a few obligations throughout the fair, like demoing the game at the Z-Man booth multiple times and filming a video interview for BGG explaining the game. Even though Belfort just launched as well, our publisher, Tasty Minstrel Games, was not attending the Fair, so my goal at Essen was to pitch new games to publishers and make as many contacts as possible!

Planning for my trip to Essen started a few weeks before going to the actual Fair.  Sen, following our own advice as indicated in Step 17, used the Spiel ’11 GeekList on Boardgamegeek to create a database of all the publishers that might be interested in one or more of our new games.  He found out the contact information for each of them (sometimes much harder than it would seem, especially in foreign languages), prioritized which ones to contact and determined which of our prototypes should be shown to each based on their current product line or their submission guideline.

I then followed Step 18 and proceeded to email each of them explaining who I was and that I’d like to set up a meeting with them at Essen. Since this blog is all about being transparent and letting you see the entire process, here’s an example of an email I sent off to a prospective publisher:

Dear <Publisher>,

I’m going to be attending Essen this year and would like to arrange a time  to show you some of our new prototypes as noted below. Please respond with your preference.

Sen-Foong Lim and I are members of the Game Artisans of Canada and have designed Train of Thought and Belfort which have both been released this year from Tasty Minstrel Games.

We have a few games that we think would fit well with <Publisher>, and a sales sheet for each one is attached:

Bermuda Triangle: A time-travelling, pick-up and deliver, medium weight, strategy game for 2-4 players. Players program their boat’s movement using a unique mechanic in an effort to rescue more trapped explorers than the other players.


Swashbucklers
: A dice allocation game for 2-5 players. Players play pirates, rolling and assigning their dice to one of the 5 actions. Once all dice are rolled, players resolve the actions in an effort to get more boats or crew or attack each other with cannons in the sea, or with swords on land. We classify this as a medium-weight filler game.


Clunatics
: A party game for 3 or more people. Players must get any other player to guess a common phrase by providing the smallest of clues. On their own, the clues do not offer enough information, but add a couple more clues and it becomes more clear! A new twist on party games that keeps everyone involved at all times.


Lost for Words
: A word creation game that keeps everyone involved at all times with its unique 3×3 tile of letters. As one tile is flipped face up, players race to find the longest word possible in a straight line. Score is determined by subtracting the value of your word with that of the lowest valued word – so players are motivated to find any word to reduce other players’ scores! Fast and fun word finding game that can be played with 2-8 players in under 25 minutes.

We are also looking for international partners that are interested in publishing Train of Thought or Belfort outside of America. I’ll be bringing Train of Thought with me and if I receive my copy of Belfort in time then I’ll be bringing that along as well.

Thanks for your time.

I sent out about 15 emails or so to the publishers that we thought would be a good fit for the prototypes that we had to show. I got responses from most of them and we scheduled our meetings. I’d get a specific contact name, time slot and location (usually the publisher’s booth) and, after juggling a few conflicting, I had a pretty decent schedule with 4 meetings on Thursday, 4 on the Friday and 4 with publishers who said I should just stop by during the Fair at any time.

As indicated in Step 21, I packed my prototypes in individual Ziploc baggies and ensured they were clearly labeled with the game name and our contact information. I carried them in a backpack along with a folder full of 10 sales sheets for each game, as per Step 14, and an extra copy of rules for each game.  The amount of preparation we put into our pitches definitely helps make us look even more professional in the eyes of the publishers.  Many of them commented on how much they appreciated things like the Sales Sheets or how clearly everything was labeled.

I made sure to arrive before each meeting with time to spare because some publishers have multiple booths – if you go to the wrong one a few minutes before your meeting only to find that the meeting is supposed to be in another Hall, you might be out of breath for your meeting from all the running! I went up to the counter and asked a staff member if my contact was available as I had an appointment scheduled. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes and was soon escorted to a small room at the back of the booth – private and away from all of the hustle and bustle.

The publishers (or at least my contacts at the publisher – usually editors) were very nice and considerate – all of them! They all offered me something to drink and made sure I was comfortable. This was really nice as it made me feel more like an equal partner rather than someone who is begging them to publish my games. After a few pleasantries we got down to business.

Up Next: How I pitched games to publishers!

-Jay Cormier

Step 27: Getting your game in front of a publisher at a convention: Leaving the game with a publisher

Here are the three best case scenarios that could happen to you when you’re at a convention:

1)     There’s a ‘bidding war’ between multiple publishers over the rights to publish your game.  This would be amazing but usually only happens to designers with a reputation.

2)     A publisher agrees to publish your game at the convention.  There’s no contract because it’s so impromptu – but it’s usually a verbal agreement that will restrict you from showing the game to any other publisher.

3)     A publisher is interested enough to take the game back to their offices to playtest with their playtest groups.

Number 3 is the one that will happen most often as a publisher wants to see the ins and outs of the game on their own time.  After showing a game to a publisher at a convention and they say they would like to take it back with them, the acceptable thing to say is that since you only have one prototype that you’d like to keep it until the end of the convention.  Every publisher I’ve said this to immediately understands this and is 100% fine with it.  Who knows, maybe there’s another publisher at the convention who’s willing to agree to publish the game right there at the convention!

Hot Property Game Design

Hot Property: One of our Games on the Go games

Max from Out of the Box liked our Games on the Go line of games enough to want to take them back with him.  Before I could reply he said that if they were my only copies of the prototype then I could come back at the end of the show to give them to him.  Nice.

 

When you do hand off your games, make sure your games are properly labeled.  A properly labeled prototype has your name and contact information on as many things as possible: on the outside of the box, on the inside of the box, on the rules and even on any other smaller boxes or baggies.  If you have business cards made up, then just glue or tape your business cards to the box.  Label the outside of the box with the name of your game.  Make it in colour and use an appropriate font.  You don’t have to be a graphic designer to come up with an acceptable logo for your game.  The publisher fully understands that this is a prototype – but all these extra touches shows how serious you are about it.  For Akrotiri we just searched online for a Greek font and came up with dozens to choose from.  We made it blue and added a drop shadow behind it – and voila, we’ve got a logo!

You have to think about where this box is going.  It’s going back to their offices with however many more games they agreed to take a look at – and added to the pile of boxes that they already have there.  You need to ensure that your game will stand out from the others.  Something that will make one of the playtesters say, “Hey let’s play that one with the leopard print box.”  If you just pack it in a boring brown cardboard box and tape it shut – then you’re not doing yourself any favours.

So by the end of the convention, it’s time to hand off as many of your games as possible.  If you got offers from more than one publisher for the same game then you’re going to have to make some tough decisions.  At my first convention we got an offer to look at Jam Slam (back when it was called Jungle Jam) from R&R games as well as Face to Face Games.  Since Jungle Jam at the time needed electronic components we decided to show the game to R&R Games since they had experience making games with electronic pieces.  In discussing this with Face to Face Games at the end, they understood and weren’t disappointed as they got to take another one of our games back with them at the time.

So that’s it for conventions.  As you can see they are very important for game designers as is evident in the quantity of posts we devoted to the subject:

Step 19) Picking the right convention

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

The next few steps will be about working with a publisher who’s agreed to publish your game.

-Jay Cormier

 

Step 26: Getting your game in front of a publisher at a convention: Taking Feedback from a publisher

You’ve just played some or all of your game with a publisher, and now comes the moment where the publisher expresses how much he loves your game and wants to give you a ton of money to publish it.  Er…no…

If you’re lucky, you’ll at least get feedback from the publisher at the end of the game (and of course, sometimes throughout the game too).  Now here comes an absolutely critical point – LISTEN!  It doesn’t matter that you already thought of the idea that he just suggested – publishers want to know if you are going to be easy to work with on the further development of the game.  This isn’t to say that you have to roll over and accept all their feedback 100%.  Listen to their entire feedback and then formulate your response appropriately.

When playing Belfort for the first time with Tasty Minstrel Games, they gave a couple of suggestions at the end.  One was about determining player order.  They had a different idea for how players could change player order throughout the game.  I thought it was an interesting idea and then actually wrote a note down while in front of them.  This helped to show that I took their feedback seriously. I was fortunate enough that they wanted to play again the following night and I said it would be easy to incorporate their idea in that playtest.  We did, and the game played better.  I think the ease of working with me made their decision to publish Belfort a bit easier that night.

If a publisher is not forthcoming on their feedback, then start them off by asking them the things that they liked the most about the game, then what they liked the least.  Even if they never publish the game, this feedback is like gold to you as you now have feedback from a publisher on how to make your game better (at least in their eyes).  While you don’t have to change the game based on every piece of feedback you get from a publisher, it’s still wise to listen and keep track of what feedback you’ve received in case you start to see a pattern developing.

Remember that they are giving feedback to change the game into something that they would want to publish.  Maybe this publisher makes a lot of games for younger kids so they keep trying to simplify the concepts and strategies.  Of course, if you did your research beforehand you’d know what a publisher wanted and would show them appropriate games.  That said, sometimes it’s getting near the end of the convention and you haven’t had a bite on a couple of your games, so you start branching out to some not-so-perfect fits!

Sometimes the feedback you get will be that they’re not interested.  If possible, without sounding too much like a doofus, try to find a reason why not.  Humility will be very important here.  Try not to be defensive!  Most likely you’ll get a response that they’re not publishing games with pirates, or card games, or games with high production costs, or games with language on it, or games for that demographic.  Whatever their response – it’s great information for the future.  One day you might invent a game that does fit with this publisher’s needs.

When showing Up in the Air to R&R Games they said that they thought the game was going to be a lot goofier based on the theme of juggling.  When they saw it was more of a serious card game, they lost interest.  Fair enough.  When showing Hog the Remote to Out of the Box Games, Max said that he wasn’t looking to get into any more pop culture games based on the sales of a recent game not performing well. No problem.

Bottom line – listen, listen, listen.  It’s so easy to become defensive about your baby that you’ve been working on for years.  Instead, keep your emotions in check and listen.  You might be surprised how it turns out.

Next up we talk about the last phase of a convention – leaving your game with a publisher.

-Jay Cormier

As much as designers want a game to be played, they tend to design games that they themselves would want to play – sometimes subconsciously. More often than not, the end result is a game that, while good, may not have the mass appeal necessary to take the game to market. Taking feedback is a critical skill as it is the best ways to transform a game from something you like into something more people will like.

Unfortunately, the designers are usually too close to the project after working on it for so long to be completely objective Being detached about their “baby” becomes difficult and accepting criticism is very difficult, but is, in my opinion, the real definition of being professional. It’s not whether you can design a game, or sell 100,000 copies – it’s whether or not you can receive feedback gracefully and implement suggestions in a constructive and positive manner.

So – how do you take feedback in a professional manner? As a therapist, I have studied how to give and receive feedback in depth. Here are some pointers, specific to meeting with a publisher:

Be Attentive

There’s a line in a movie or TV show that’s always stuck with me that goes something like “To be interesting, you’ve gotta be interested.” See the difference? I think it had something to do with picking up the ladies in the movie, but what this means in terms for feedback is that you need to show the person giving you the constructive criticism that you are actively involved in the feedback process.

When feedback is being given to you live, it is not a passive process and it is not one-sided. Your role as the receiver is to first ask for feedback. And from there, your job is to appear interested in order for the person giving feedback to feel like they are being valued, that they are being listened to. Non-verbal cues such as leaning forward attentively, making good eye contact, and writing down what they’re saying are sometimes more powerful than the verbal cues. Make the person giving the feedback feel like they are the only person in the room and that you are hanging on their every word. Add this to verbal cues like saying “That’s great, please go on!”, “Excellent feedback – let me jot that down!” and you’ve got a recipe for helping people open up to you.

Remember though, being a good listener means that they’re doing most of the talking – it’s very difficult to use your ears when your mouth is constantly in motion!

“Please, Sir, may I have some more?”

Will every piece of feedback be useful? Will every piece of feedback even be constructive? No – some of it is not helpful at all and some of it will just be offhand comments with little to no bearing. But there is an art to drawing out the kind of feedback you need from your audience. Once you have a publisher engaged in an active feedback session, you want to get every last bit you can from them.

Again, there are both verbal and non-verbal cues you can give to elicit more feedback. Simple things like nodding and saying “go on” can help make a person feel like you are willing to continue listening. Asking a person to clarify or expand upon their initial feedback is a great way to keep them talking and to get to what they really mean – more often than not, their initial statement is just scratching the surface of what they want to say. So following up their comment with something like, “That’s interesting – tell me more about how you see that working” can help them help you.

The longer you can keep them interested in talking to you, the more memorable you and your game will be to them and the more they will likely feel that they had a hand in helping the game come to fruition. They may even talk themselves into liking the game enough to take the prototype for further consideration.

So, much like a hostage negotiator – keep ‘em talking!

One question I find very useful is called a “scaling question” – you ask the person to rank some aspect of the game (or the overall game, even) on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being poor and 10 being great. Then you ask them how you could make the game even just half a point better (so a 6.5 instead of a 6, for example). This type of solution focused questioning leads to some amazing insights and really helps to involve the publisher in helping you find solutions to their issues with your game.

Be Open and Accepting

The #1 way to kill a feedback session before it has really started is to be defensive. You want to project a sense of collaboration rather than confrontation. So you need to be objective. You need to separate yourself from the project at this moment and recognize your purpose in asking questions. It’s to gain the knowledge you need to get your game published, first and foremost.

Taking feedback sometimes means taking the bad along with the good. You may not particularly agree with what the publisher is telling you. Sometimes, you may have already heard that. But by shutting them down by saying, “Yeah, we’ve heard that before…” or “No, I disagree with what you’re saying” you are effectively closing the door on your own future.

And rolling your eyes when a publisher says something like “Hey, have you considered adding a spinner?” is always a bad idea.

Be open and willing to accept any and all feedback. This doesn’t mean you have to act on all of it. In fact, a high percentage of it you might have already heard or its the kind of feedback you can disregard as it doesn’t fit your artistic vision. Your goal isn’t to get in an argument with the CEO of Company X over whether your game has any merit or not. Your goal isn’t to defend the current incarnation of your game. Your goal is to find out what the next incarnation of your game would have to look like for Company X to consider publishing it.

You may not realize it at first, but the publishers are giving away a gold mine of information when they give you feedback. They are, in effect, telling you what changes would need to be made in order for your game to become more publishable. So, be open and accepting of the feedback you’re given. Some of it may just help you out in the long run.

So that’s just a few hints about feedback.

One of the fringe benefits of working as a team is that Jay and I are constantly giving each other feedback, and while most of it is positive, sometimes we’re telling each other that we really don’t like where a project is headed or that we’re really not interested in a specific game at this time. That’s sometimes difficult, as we usually champion projects separately and in a duo, there’s no such thing as consensus!

Giving and receiving feedback is a difficult thing – it is a skill that takes time to master. But if you can, you will be further ahead for it. As I wrote above, it is the mark of a true professional to be able to take difficult constructive criticism and act on it accordingly. Remember – yes, you are selling your game but you are also selling yourself as someone who can work with a publisher in a rational manner. And being able to give and receive feedback and make positive changes to your game because of it is the best way to show a publisher that you’re in this game to win it.

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Step 25: Getting your game in front of a publisher at a convention: Playing your game with a publisher

One goal of going to a convention is to get your games played by as many publishers as possible (keeping mind that they should be the appropriate publishers for the kind of games you have made).  So let’s look at what happens when it’s time to actually play your game with a publisher!

If the convention is slow, or if it’s after hours, then the publisher might want to play a full game – or at least a few rounds to get the idea.  This is where you have to be REALLY good at explaining rules.  Some people are naturally good at this, while others are terrible.  You’re going to have to find a way to be great at this if you want to be taken seriously.  I’m sure you’ve played a new game where halfway through, the person who explained the rules suddenly added a new rule that was integral to the strategy.  It feels like a waste of time.

Ask your friends if they think you’re good at explaining rules, and how you could improve.  One key thing to keep in mind when you’re explaining rules (of any game) are questions that pop up.  Why are they asking questions at that moment?  Probably because they don’t see how it all fits together yet and are stuck in their minds on how it works.  The more questions you get asked during your rules explanation, the more you have to improve this skill.  If you’re not great at explaining rules, then you should practice.  For every game you play – not just your own prototypes – volunteer to explain the rules.

Explaining rules for a game could be its own post – or three – but here is a quick overview of what people need to know before playing a game – usually in this order:

1)     What is the theme/story about what you’re doing in the game.

2)     The objective.  Is it to get the most points or build the tallest building or have more horses than anyone else?

3)     Define the pieces that will be used in the game.  Some won’t make sense to the players, but they’ll need to know the terminology of what things are called.  Make sure to say “and I’ll explain how you get those in a bit” whenever applicable.

4)     Turn order.  What does a player do in a turn.

5)     How to score/win.  Why have we been collecting these tokens? Oh I see – each complete set is worth 5 points.  Got it.

Example for Belfort: (1) We’re each playing architects and are trying to construct buildings in the town of Belfort before the first snow hits. (2) At each of the three scoring rounds we’re going to score – and whoever has built the most buildings in each district will get points, as well, whoever has hired the most workers will also get points. (3) Every player has a player aid, 3 elves, 3 dwarves, 1 wood, 1 stone, 1 metal and 5 gold, as well as your houses to indicate which building you built on the board. (4) The turn order is listed here on your player aid, so let’s review each step <go through a turn>. (5) During the scoring rounds, here’s how we’re going to score: each district will be scored separately and whoever built the most buildings will get 5 points.  Whoever built the second most gets 3 points, and third most gets 1 point.  If there’s a tie then they get points of the next lowest rank – so players tied with the most buildings in a district get 3 points each instead of 5.  Then we look at each worker type and whoever has the most and second most get points.  Make sense?

Example of Belfort set up for 5 Players using Prototype. This was what I had when I showed Tasty Minstrel this game - and they saw, played, and agreed to publish it!

Now here comes the tricky part – when playing with the publisher, should you let them win? I say no.  Don’t ‘let’ them win – but definitely help them understand the key strategies as they play.  Always ensure that every decision is their own to make, but make sure they understand the implications of some of their choices.  You don’t want to play the game for them – but since they’ve never played before, they probably won’t understand how some of the strategies work.

If a publisher makes a move that doesn’t seem like a good move early on, then I either remind them about the rules / scoring conditions or I accept blame for not explaining the rules well enough: “Remember that if you spend all your money now, you won’t have any during the worker placement phase in the next round.”  Something like that allows them to still make their own decision, but lets them know of a situation that could suck if they didn’t know.  In Belfort – that’s exactly one of the rules – and for players that forget this, when they find out on the next turn that they have no money to visit the guilds – they can get upset.  A small reminder the turn before lets them decide if they want to be in that position or not – and then the feeling doesn’t suck any more as it was their decision and strategy!

The worst thing to do with a publisher (heck – with anyone!) is to be quiet and do some sort of surprise attack that they simply weren’t aware that could happen – no matter how much you said at the beginning that it could happen.  No one likes to be ‘spanked!’  Well some people do – but that’s not the topic of this post!  If you are going to ‘spank’ a publisher – make sure they can see it coming and could have done something about it.  You want them nodding to themselves and thinking about what they could have done to prevent it.

If you do get through a full game – it should be obvious that you shouldn’t care about whether you won or lost.  End by commenting if this was a typical example of how the game plays.  Quickly add if there are other things that didn’t really show up in this play through – then ask for feedback from the publisher.

Remember that the purpose of playing the game isn’t to play the game – the purpose is to showcase the strengths of your game to a publisher in hopes that they’d want to publish it.  As you’re playing, give advice, or explain why you’re doing the things you’re doing.  In the end, they won’t care if they won or lost as much as they care about how many strategies there are to win and if it’s something that was fun to play, had meaningful decisions and was replayable.

Next up we eat a slice of humble pie as we go through the steps on how to take feedback from a publisher.

-Jay Cormier

As I’m not usually the main man when it comes to this step, I usually just sit back home in London and wait to hear from Jay. But as we’re finding more and more possible publishers in Ontario and the Eastern provinces, looks like I’m going to have to up my skill level in this area.

Like with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Jay’s comments about practicing teaching rules to people is very important. It’s definitely one of my weaker skills as I tend to be the “absent minded professor” when it comes to explaining the rules of games – even ones that I helped create! There’s even a saying in my gaming group – “Before we start, are there any ‘Sen Rules’?” These so-called ‘Sen Rules’ are the ones that I will “conveniently forget” to tell the other players, usually only cluing them in at the end of the game as I’m taking advantage of some rule that they didn’t even know existed.

Sen – “So yeah…I score 2…4…8…16 points.”
Gamer 1 – “Why? How’d that happen?”
Sen – “Oh…I forgot to tell you about how that part of the board works…see? It says that if you play there while the sun is out and it’s cloudy, you score double…sorry…”
Gamer 2 – “*SEN RULE!*”

So…yeah…Don’t be a Sen. Teach the rules completely. Avoid beatdowns whenever possible.

One thing about teaching rules – no one wants to hear your read the rules verbatim off a sheet of paper. Your presentation needs to be fluid, dynamic, and visual. It’s not like you’re reading the rules on the toilet or anything like that (not that I’ve ever done that before…) Use diagrams from the manual to help. The board and the components are right there in front of you, so use them to teach in a hands-on manner.

You can also play a hands-up “dummy” round if it helps to explain the game better. This is often the case with card games – it’s easier to just play a round and explain the rules as the situations come up rather than to front-load all of the teaching before the game is being played. Consider if your game is better to be “dived into” and taught in the moment (usually shorter, simpler games) or if it one that requires more thoughtfulness to the teaching style (usually the case where one round has lasting ramifications on future rounds).

Some general hints:

– Be clear and succint.
– Use plain and simple language.
– Demonstrate visually and use concrete examples from the game itself.
– Repeat things that bear repeating (particularly true of the game’s objective, scoring mechanisms, and end game requirements).

When teaching a game to a prospective publisher, you can explain the rationale behind certain strategies and discuss design issues but I would prefer to do that once a few rounds have been played (unless there is something critical to note at the time of a specific move). End the game when you feel that the players have had sufficient exposure to all the key elements of the game and could extrapolate the ending from where you’ve stopped. If they want to keep playing, however, take that as a positive sign and keep the game going!

At the end of the session, it’s time to wrap up and pop the question. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not “Will you marry me?” It’s not even “Hey! Wanna publish my game?” It’s “Do you have any feedback for me?” (or some form thereof – “So, what did you think?” is a more colloquial way of soliciting feedback).

Have your pen and pad ready, because this is the critical point of your new relationship with a publisher…

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Step 24: Getting your game in front of a publisher at a convention: Showcasing your game to the publisher

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.

-Jay Cormier

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!

Sen-Foong Lim

Step 23: Getting your game in front of a publisher at a convention: Approaching the publisher

For any publisher that you don’t already have a meeting set up in advance (see Step 20), it’s time to approach the publisher – or at least someone who’s working in the publisher’s booth!  My approach is always with a smile and sounds something like this:

“Hi, I’m a game designer and was wondering if you’re looking at submissions while you’re here?”

If you’re not speaking to the right person then you’ll be told who to speak to, but otherwise this approach has served me well.

At this point I usually get a vibe of disappointment from some publishers as I’m not a potential customer to them.  Imagine how many designs a publisher sees in a year/month/week.  How many of those are awesome?  So you can see why a publisher doesn’t always have high hopes when a designer approaches them at a convention.  That said, a lot of publishers have told me that they only look at new designs at conventions, so it’s not all doom and gloom!

The response you get from a publisher at this point will be one of the following:

a)     Sure, tell me/show me what you got

b)     Sure, why don’t you come back a X:XX time

c)     The person who looks at submissions isn’t here but here’s our submission guidelines/email this person

d)     We’re not accepting any outside submissions at this time

If you get ‘d’ then make a note and move on. If the convention lasts a few days and there are a ton of publishers at the convention then it’s quite possible you’ll forget which ones you’ve talked to by the end.

If you get ‘c’ then you’ve got a contact and it will give you an in when you do email them the week after the convention.  Make sure you get the name of the person you spoke to in person at the convention so you can say that you were talking to Susan at the convention and she referred me to you.  Makes it sound less like a cold call.

If you get ‘a’ or’b’ then you’re in luck.  The first thing I do is I let them know that I have many games but I have selected a couple that would really fit well with their company.  I said this to Atlas Games at a convention once and the rep at the booth was so thankful that I wasn’t about to show her 10 different games.  This made me think that a lot of designers had been showing her tons of games throughout this convention – and that some of them weren’t a good fit for her company.  Atlas Games had games like Beer Money and Gloom and we thought our game about collecting geeky things like comics, figures and movies would appeal to them. She appreciated that we knew her business.

As I’m saying this I bring out my sales sheets (see Step 14) and begin showing the ones that fit this publisher.  I have often noticed that the attitude of the publisher changes immediately once they see my sales sheets for my games.  It’s as if they realized they were speaking to a professional designer instead of some jimmy-jo-jo designer who’s invented a really cool monopoly clone.

Now it’s time for the elevator pitch (Step 16)!  This is it – this is what we’ve been leading up to.  Hopefully you’ve practiced saying this out loud quite a few times already so it will come naturally when you say it to a publisher.  While you’re saying your pitch you can use your sales sheet as a visual aid.  Point out the specific components and highlight what makes the game unique. The end of every pitch at a convention should be an invitation to try out the prototype – because you have it with you.

Check out the next blog post which will be about showcasing your prototype to a publisher – the Do’s and Do Not’s!

-Jay Cormier

See how it all comes together? As I alluded to in our last post, there’s not a whole lot of luck about how we got published. It’s about setting a course of action and executing your plan.

You know how there’s that saying about first impressions? Well, it’s true. You need to make a good one with each and every publisher you meet, especially if you hope to be in this business for a long time – it’s a small community and you’ll end up seeing the same people over and over if you go to multiple conventions. So make sure that you present yourself well – professional, considerate, and well-groomed. A little bit of effort in this department can go a long way. Publishers need to have confidence in not only your game, but in you as a designer.

This means knowing your target audience so that you only pitch appropriate games to specific publisher. It means knowing how to take “no” or “not interested” for an answer. It also means having your act together – quite literally!

Jay and I will often role play pitching our games to a publisher to help Jay get his “patter” down. As a sales person, an actor and a street magician, Jay’s patter is strong, but even a vet like him gets nervous from time to time. He needs to prepare his responses to questions like “Why aren’t there more dice in this game?” or comments like “This looks like the same game as Knizia’s last one.” It sounds silly, but rehearsing helps immensely. It helps with flow, timing, and hitting all the key points. In fact, some of the times, we come up with things that we end up including on our sales sheets because they are excellent points to highlight!

Speaking of the sales sheets, what you’re actually aiming for is to be able to use a combination of everything we’ve talked about before – your pitches and your sale sheets – to interest a publisher so much in the idea that they want to see the prototype. You need to be able to tell a prospective publisher nearly everything about a game without even bringing the game out on the table. Why? Because in a crowded convention hall there may not be the opportunity to play the game right there and then. So use words and pictures to get the idea across strongly enough that a publisher will want to playtest the game. This can mean setting an appointment for a later date, giving the prototype to the publisher for them to take back with them, or mailing it to their head office in Germany.

Designing an awesome game is all well and good but if you can’t sell it to a publisher it’ll just sit on the shelf. You need to sell yourself as well as your product. So polish up that silver tongue and make some snappy sales sheets because no one wants to be a Jimmy-Jo-Jo (Not even Jimmy-Jo-Jo!)

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Step 22: Getting your Game in front of a Publisher at a Convention: Now you’re at the convention

We’ve picked the best convention, we’ve set up some meetings with publishers beforehand and we’re packed properly – now we’re at the convention!

The first thing to do is to understand the schedule.  As Sen alluded to in Step 20, you might want to take in a few seminars (if there are any) or even – heaven forbid – play some games!  Sometimes the schedule is available before attending, so you could have this done before attending – but it’s always worth re-checking as schedules often change at the last minute. Try to attend as many seminars or workshops that are about game design or game manufacturing as possible.  Even if you never want to self-publish, it’s extremely important for a designer to understand the ins and outs of the entire business.

When you’ve determined it’s time to hit the trade show floor, make sure you have everything you need.  What do you need?  Come on, haven’t you been reading this blog from the beginning? Just kidding.  OK, you should be carrying around your sales sheets (Step 14)  in an easily accessible folder.  I get my sales sheets printed in colour on nice glossy or thicker matte paper.  I then put one sales sheet for each game in a folder.  The folder is one of those that open up, but the sales sheets are not bound or attached to the folder in any way.  This allows me to easily find the one I want and show somebody.

So rule #1 – always, always, always have your sales sheets on you.  Always.  If you go to dinner at a convention – bring your sales sheets.  If you’re playing someone else’s games – bring your sales sheets.  You just never know when you’re going to need to show them.

Case in point: I was at the GAMA trade show a few years ago and saw a couple people setting up a prototype of a game.  Seeing that I wasn’t too busy, I asked if they would like another playtester for the game.  They agreed and we started playing and chatting.  While chatting, the purpose of my visit to this convention came up and I showed them my sales sheets.  They expressed interest in a game called Belfort and wanted to play it after.  Sure, why not – I thought.

About ¾ of the way through playtesting this game, I realized I wasn’t playing with other game designers – but I was playing with a publisher.  Tasty Minstrel, in fact.  Astute readers will see where this is going.  After playing their prototype – called Homesteaders (now published by Tasty Minstrel Games), they played Belfort and enjoyed it.  So much so that they wanted to play it again the following day.  After that second playtest they offered to publish the game.

So you really never know when you’ll need your sales sheets – so have them handy at all times!

Second ‘rule’ for conventions – have all your prototypes with you when you are walking the convention floor.  I try to have my prototypes with me almost all the time when I’m at a convention – but for sure you need to have them when you’re walking the floor.  The best case scenario when approaching a publisher at a convention is that they will want to take a look at your game – right now – so you better have an easily accessible prototype at the ready.

When I first get into a convention floor – where there are dozens of booths, I like to do a walk around before talking to anyone about publishing my games.  I like to see what they are showcasing and how they’re doing it.  I like to see if I can tell who the person is that I should speak to when I return.  I also like seeing all the new games that they have out!  Once I get a good lay of the land, I refer to my preparations and see which publishers I wanted to speak with first.

Now timing is key at a convention.  You never want to approach a publisher right at the beginning of a convention because they are really focused on the purpose of why they’re there (see Step 19).  If you’re not a potential customer, then you could rub them the wrong way right off the bat.  Also you want to time your approach to when their booth is empty – or at least one person at the booth is not occupied.  If the publisher is there to talk to customers or retailers, then you are preventing them from doing that – so respect their purpose!  The best timing is, of course by setting up a meeting in advance (Step 20).

In the next post we’ll get into details about approaching a publisher and what happens next!

-Jay Cormier

Again, my comments are pretty short and sweet on this section as Jay’s the point man for our two-man strike team when it comes to conventions.

When you consider that out of all the prototypes a publisher sees in a given year, only a very small percentage get published, you might attribute some of our success to luck. But if you think of the equation:

Luck = Opportunity + Planning

then you might be more apt to see how Jay and I work. Nothing came to us by luck. Did we go to GAMA 2009 knowing that we’d get signed or that we’d even have a meeting with Tasty Minstrel Games? No. We didn’t have the benefit of a nifty blog like this one telling us to get an appointment first!

But Jay’s willingness to help playtest (Opportunity) plus us having prepared well laid-out and thoughtful sell sheets at the ready (Planning) ended up in Tasty Minstrel Games being interested in our product and reciprocate by playtesting our prototype.

Even more than that, sometimes, is this often overlooked fact – we are not trying to sell the publisher on just a single game. We view the designer/developer/publisher relationship as one that needs to be developed and nurtured. We want to make sure that the publishers are a good fit for us and vice versa. We want to let prospective publishers know that we are a good team to work with – we are selling ourselves as designers as much (if not more) than we are selling our designs.

And this is how you turn one bit of “luck” into even more good fortune.

-Sen-Foong Lim