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.
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!
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.
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…