Step 20: Getting your Game in Front of a Publisher: Preparing for a Convention

After deciding which convention you’d like to go to, then it’s time to prepare.  The first step is to book tickets, flight and hotel.  While this might seem obvious, if you wait too long then the convention might sell out or the nearest hotels might not have rooms.  You don’t want to have to take a cab or bus to get to the convention every day.  Believe me – even heading up to your room that’s in the same building as the convention is a lot of work!

Once the tickets are booked then it’s time to research which publishers will be attending.  You probably have already done this (as that was Step 17!) and was probably one of the reasons why you chose the convention you did.  If you have more than one prototype that you’re bringing with you, then it’s a good idea to come up with a battle plan.  Which publishers should you show your games to first?

Don’t waste time pitching your games to publishers that don’t publish the kind of games you’ve made (unless you have heard that they’re looking to expand into different markets).  For example – you wouldn’t pitch a party game to a company that only makes RPG (role playing games).

Next step is to email each of the publishers.  The goal of this email is to set up a specific time during the convention for which you’d like to pitch your products to them.  This email should consist of the following:

1)     First sentence: State your goal in the first sentence.  Don’t start an email by praising the publisher or talking about how awesome you are.  Instead, start off with something like:

I am a game designer who will also be attending the _____ convention and I am inquiring about setting up a meeting at the convention so that I can showcase a few designs that would be perfect for your company.

2)     Next you should explain why your game would be perfect for their company.  This is where your research comes in handy.  If they said on their website what they are looking for, then mention how your game(s) fulfill those needs.  Don’t get into specifics about your games, but be a bit more general.  Something like:

I understand that you are looking for games that are quick to learn and have a lot of social interaction and I have a couple games that meet those requirements that I’d like to show you.

3)     The next paragraph should be about your game(s).  This is where your 30 second elevator pitch comes in handy.  Write out a 1-2 sentence description of your game – and keep in mind the requirements of each publisher.  You might have to tailor this part to each publisher since each publisher is looking for different things.  If your game has something that a publisher is looking for – just make sure it’s highlighted here.

4)     Finish up the email by reinforcing the purpose – setting up a meeting at convention.  Ask for a specific date and time that would work best for you.  If you have other arrangements or meetings (or seminars that you don’t want to miss) then you should list times that you are not available – because no one wants to be part of a huge back-and-forth email chain.

You should send this email out around 2-3 weeks before a convention.  If you don’t hear back in one week, then follow up with either a phone call or another email.  Obviously everyone is always busy, so remember to keep the tone of your email friendly!

If these steps are followed then you should be in a great position once the convention starts!  Next up: What to do at a Convention!

-Jay Cormier

As Jay is usually the one that is going to the convention as our “point man”, I do a lot of the intel in advance of the convention to try to plan out Jay’s trip and ensure that he is in the right place at the right time more often than not.

Here are just a few things that you may wish to take a look at pre-conference:

1) Go through any of the seminars / speeches that are given to earmark the ones we feel are worth-our-while, Not only are some of the subject vital if you wish to make a game that publishers will want to publish more than others (e.g. specific consideration on components, electronics in boardgaming, translation issues, etc.), but some are given by the “superstars” of the biz – i.e. people you want to know that you know about them and what they believe in – if you get my meaning. Going up to Max Osterhaus of Out of the Box (of Apples to Apples fame) cold may be difficult. But if you have just listened to him talk about “Manufacturing Costs in the US”, you may be able to speak on a common subject – you’ve got an in.

2) Virtually “scout out” the venue if possible. A lot of conventions will provide floor plan online detailing which booths are where. This can help you make the most efficient use of your time and space. You can plan a route that takes you quickly from publisher to publisher. You can stack your prototypes in the order of your appointments so that you are ready quickly.

3) Check the schedule of events to know when and where to present your games in a favourable light. For example, if you have a dexterity game, there is a special time for that genre of games to be played at BGG.con. You will generate more interest in players that love that kind of game in that specific room and most of the publisher reps for that kind of game will be there if they are available.

4) Make a list of priorities before you book your ticket. What are you goals for the conference? What games do you want to get in front of a publisher? Which publisher, specifically? Make a list and check it twice because, as they say “Christmas only comes once a year” and unless you own your own Learjet, you may only get to one convention a year. So make your one trip count!

Remember: Luck is nothing more than hard work coinciding with opportunity.

Jay and I work hard (as can be attested to by my wife and my accountant) on creating games. But without getting them in front of a publisher, all that hard work will amount to nothing. Pre-planning the convention can make all the difference because you will have an efficient plan to execute.

-Sen-Foong Lim

Step 19: Conventions – Choosing the Right One

Sen and I have had most, if not all of our success from attending board game conventions.  Here are the steps on how we approach a convention, which we’ll detail in the next few posts:

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

Choosing which convention to attend: To most people reading this it probably comes as no surprise that there are indeed a lot of board game conventions in the world.  If your main purpose for going to a convention is to pitch your games to publishers, then the thing you have to identify first is the purpose of each convention.

Essen is the biggest board game convention in the world and its main purpose is to highlight the newest board games to the public.  The focus at Essen is to experience a lot of new games – and buy a lot of new games!

BGG.con is getting very large and its main purpose is to get together with old and new friends and play a lot of games – many of which are hot from Essen.  This is a gamers’ convention.  There are other activities and fun to be had – but all of them are focused around playing games.

GAMA is meant for retailers and the publishers show up and demonstrate their products to all the retailers in hopes that retailers will carry more of their games.  There’s not as much game playing at this one as there is at any other convention.

New York Toy Fair is a huge event but is focused more on toys, though board gaming is growing at this show.  The purpose of this event is for publishers to show off their new toys in an effort to get them to the stores – kind of like GAMA – but for toys.

Regional conventions happen all over the place and will be smaller than all these and could vary in size and scope and purpose.  Mostly these regional conventions are meant for gamers to get together and play games – and possibly sample some new games from some publishers.

So why is it good to know the purpose of a convention?  Well you really need to get inside the head of what a publisher is trying to accomplish.  At BGG.con the publisher is constantly trying to get their games played by people because every single person that attends BGG.con is like a walking advertisement.  If someone at BGG.con likes a game and they chat about it on BGG.com – then that is worth more than spending a bunch on magazine ads and the like.  Because publishers are so focused on getting their games played, none of the publishers have much time to talk to designers.  Not only that, but BGG.con only has about 6-10 publishers show up anyway.  On top of that, some publishers won’t even send the people that you’d want to speak to. At BGG.con, Jay Tummelson of Rip Grande didn’t come – instead he had a bunch of other people to explain games to people (and he sponsored the restaurant bus – yay!).  So if you went up to someone at the Rio Grande booth – they wouldn’t be able to help you anyway.

At Essen and the New York Toy Fair (though I haven’t been to either yet) publishers are focused on selling their game – which involves a ton of demoing.  This again means they won’t have tons of time to talk to designers.  The good news though is that there are a lot of publishers at Essen and the Toy Fair.  I’d be curious to hear from any reader out there who’s been to Essen or the Toy Fair and what it is like from a designer’s perspective – please chime in!

So that leaves GAMA.  While the objective is similar – in that publishers are trying to sell their games – the attendance is mostly retailers, so it’s a lot less crowded.  This was the first convention that I went to and it proved to be very effective.  Since it wasn’t super busy, publishers were more agreeable to listen to designers.  Almost all of the big and many of the small to medium publishers come to GAMA so you really have a great opportunity to talk to a lot of different publishers.  GAMA is also great because they offer a lot of seminars and workshops and some are even targeted to the game designer.  I’ve learned a lot from these seminars – and have passed off a lot of what I learned on this blog already!

As for regional conventions, it’s rare that a publisher will show up.  While they might sponsor a part of the event, they usually don’t send the people that you want to talk to.  Often you’ll just get a card or direction to follow what it says on their website for submissions.  That’s not bad as even getting a card is a tiny foot in the door, but I wouldn’t spend too much money in attending a regional convention if your main purpose is to get your games in front of publishers.

Each convention has its benefits, but knowing the purpose of the convention will help you determine which one you should attend.  I’ve now been to GAMA twice and BGG.con once.  I’ve had to pay for my flights and hotels for each, so it’s definitely not cheap.  As you’ll see in the upcoming posts, without attending these conventions Sen and I would not have had the success we’ve had (or at the very least it would have taken a lot longer!).

-Jay Cormier

There are also some other major game conventions and toy fairs to mention:

The Nuremburg Toy Fair – Feb 3-8 2011, Nuremburg, Germany – http://www.spielwarenmesse.de/

The Origins Game Fair – Jun 22-26 2011, Columbus, OH –http://www.originsgamefair.com/

Chicago Toy and Game Fair – November 2011, Chicago, IL –http://www.chitag.com/

Note that some are open to the public, some are industry and press only.

There are also specific boardgame design related conferences, such as Protospiel in Ann Arbor, MI.

http://www.protospiel.org/

If you check the site, you’ll see that Elfinwerks, Mayfair Games, Minion Games, North Star Games and Steve Jackson Games were present there. And you can be guaranteed they went looking for new material.

Some smaller local conventions might have product reps that can meet with you – you just have to ask. When Jay and I both lived in Hamilton, we went BayCon – run by Bayshore Hobbies, our FLGS – and there were always reps from companies like Privateer Press, Mayfair, and Chessex demoing games, selling product and showing off unreleased titles. So check out what’s in your area before you drop a few c-notes to travel to NY, Chi-town or Vegas.

You may be able to find out if a publisher’s rep is going to be at a conference by looking at their website. For example, these are the conventions where a representative from Steve Jackson Games will be present:

http://www.sjgames.com/con/

And Days of Wonder will have reps at the following events (Look in the bottom left hand box):

http://www.daysofwonder.com/en/community/

So as the old adage goes, seek, and ye shall find! But it’s always polite to have an open dialog prior to meeting…

-Sen-Foong Lim

Step 16: Elevator Pitch

Before you go to a publisher with your new board game baby, you should spend some time on your Elevator Pitch.  An Elevator Pitch is a 30 seconds or less description of your game.  Sounds easy, but you can easily get tongue-tied and forget some important aspects of your game if you just wing it. If you created a Sales Sheet that we described in Step 14, then you should have a lot of your Elevator Pitch ready.

So what should be included in an Elevator Pitch?

Name of the Game: Hopefully the name of your game is already interesting and makes a publisher want to know more.

Type of Game: Is it a party game or a strategy game?  Whatever it is, it should be mentioned immediately so they know right off the bat what you’re talking about.

Type of game play: Does your game have tile laying, resource management, worker placement etc…? Use the industry terms to describe your game.

How many players: Pretty simple – but it’s important to a publisher to know if your game is only a 2 player game or can reach the magical 5 or 6 player target that some publisher want.

Why your game is different: Here’s your opportunity to dazzle the publisher with why your game needs to be published.  What makes it different?  Why should the publisher publish this game?  Steer clear of saying things like “everyone who has played this has loved it” as publishers know that the majority of your playtesters are probably your friends and family.  Even if they’re not, don’t waste your precious 30 seconds with empty praise that means nothing to a publisher.

Leave them wanting more: Give them a tease that will intrigue them to know more about the game – and possibly a playtest.

That’s about all the time you’d have!  So let’s see an example of what this would look like.  Here’s an Elevator Pitch for one of our upcoming games called Akrotiri:

Akrotiri is a Euro-style strategy game that has tile placement, move and deliver and a clever treasure finding mechanic.  It’s a game for 2-5 players where each player is an explorer searching for lost temples in the Mediterranean.   They ship resources back to Akrotiri from the islands they are creating by the tile placement in an effort to raise enough money to fund expeditions to find temples.  How they find temples is based on a new and interesting mechanic that I’d like to show you if you have more time.

The goal would be to ensure that this doesn’t sound dry and robotic – like you memorized it.  You have to add your own personality to it when you say it.  That said, saying this 3-5 times to yourself (out loud!) before you meet a publisher will help when you have to give the spiel for real!  Combine a well practiced Elevator Pitch with a professional looking Sales Sheet and you’re definitely going to stand out from the crowd!

Next up we’ll be talking about the two ways you can get in touch with a publisher: in person or online.

-Jay Cormier

The elevator pitch – that magical 30 seconds in which the decision maker is trapped and at the mercy of the hungry game designer.

This is make or break time, bucko.

Do you have what it takes?

At any game convention where publishers are around, always have copies of your sell sheets handy, or a business card at the very least. If you can carry your prototype with you at all times without looking like you’re headed out on safari, do so! And have your pitch ready to roll.

If there’s time – and I know 30 seconds isn’t long – you can also add in bits about:

Theme – as inconsequential as some designers thing theme may be, it (plus the cover art) is a prime force in moving product off shelves. At the end of the day, that is what publishers want to do. So if you’ve got an interesting theme, sell it.

Components – some companies are in the hunt for specific games that use specific components – and conversely, some are avoiding them. So being upfront that the game is a card game or uses electronics may have some bearing to prospective publishers.

Also:

Know Your Audience – When you’re pitching, if you know a bit about who you’re pitching to it can go a long way. There are companies that expressly state things like: No CCGs. No Dungeon Crawlers. No Miniature Games. It pays not to waste their time with your game about exploring dungeons that uses a collectabile miniature system with optional card expansions because the next time you *do* have a product they might want, you won’t be “that guy”.

Let them know this isn’t just a vapourspiel – If you have a prototype ready to play, let them know that you would love to play it with them later at the convention or send it to them sometime. Get their business card or contact information so you can get their mailing address if they will accept your prototype.

Many companies will not look at unsolicited prototypes, so don’t just send stuff with the expectation that it’ll get looked at. You will most likely end up sorely disappointed. Games are kind of like vampires – the publisher has to agree to let a prototype in the door.

Your job in the elevator pitch is to ensure that your game has the highest probability of being invited to the ball. The elevator pitch is really make or break time. It is an opportunity that you cannot afford to waste. Jay and I often talk about making the most of an opportunity by being prepared. If you follow the steps above, have your pitch, sell sheets, and prototypes ready to go you will be prepared.

So, press “up”, step inside and make your own luck!

-Sen-Foong Lim