Gathering: Pitching to Asmodee, R&R Games and Abacuspiele

Continuing the series of my board game pitches to publishers at this year’s Gathering of Friends. Previous posts:

  1. Intro and overview of the Gathering
  2. Pitching to publishers overview
  3. Pitching to Asmodee and Repos
  4. Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games

I met up with Stefan from Asmodee later in the week and let him know that I still had more games that I wanted to pitch to him.We quickly found a table, and played a few games. I showed him Lions Share, Clunatics and Top Shelf. Wow,Top Shelf? That was the first game Sen and I fully designed. I brought it with me because I still had fondness for the game and think it still works – and also wanted to hear some feedback on the direction we should go with it.

TS-top of boardTop Shelf is a tile laying, matching game where you’re trying to make four in a row.We played the entire game, which is always a good sign. He liked the design but it wasn’t something that fit with Asmodee. He thought a different theme would help though. So, something to think about.

He had similar reactions for Lions Share and Clunatics. No real feedback to make the game better or different, they just didn’t fit with Asmodee.Well, you can’t argue with that!

Next up was R&R games. Right before I was about to begin, a guy named Doug comes over with his camera and asks if he could record the pitch as he was making a documentary about board games from the designer’s perspective (It’s called Adventures on the Tabletop and will be on Kickstarter soon!). Frank from R&R didn’t mind, so he set up and I began.

Now I have to say that Frank indicated that he didn’t have much time. So since I didn’t have sales sheets (see explanation here), I told him I’d give a 15 second pitch on each game and he could indicate which ones he’d like to know more about or not. I started with Lost for Words and I gave a very quick overview and asked if that was in the keep or discard pile. He wanted to know more immediately so I explained a bit more of the rules.Then he wanted to play a round. So now I’m all out of sorts and have explained half the rules and now have to backtrack to explain exactly how to play and it’s all a bit befuddling. Lesson learned here is to either have sales sheets (uh…yeah) or give the 15-30 second pitch, then if there’s interest, figure out if it’s worthwhile to jump right into a round or give more highlights. For a lighter weight game, it’s probably better to just jump right into a round! And of course this was all caught on video by the documentarian! Great.

Regardless, Frank was thinking it would be too hard to market a word game.Yep – it would be.Why do we keep designing word games? 🙂

ex-neigh1Next up was SimpliCITY and Frank thought it was good but gave us the exact same feedback – too much multiplayer solitaire. Hmmm…I think we’re going to have to rethink that game a little bit.

Update – since the Gathering, Sen and I have been tweaking SimpliCITY to add some more interaction and we’ve come up with some really neat ideas. I’ll be playtesting them tomorrow!

Lions Share also didn’t work for him, but you know what did? Pop Goes the Weasel! This is our kid’s game that uses roll and move – but adds one element of choice to it. He said it filled a hole that they had right now. Yay! Frank ended up taking Pop Goes the Weasel back with him.Three prototypes now with publishers!

Just as Frank left, Matthias from Abacuspiele found me as we had set up an informal meeting to pitch him games and it was happening right now! Doug kept rolling, but this time I slowed down and took control of the pitch session a lot more. The good news is that Doug mentioned that he’d be giving me the footage of the pitches, so I can share them right here on this website! Stay tuned for that.

I started with Lions Share and he expressed interest in it. This was our card game that had players playing in between each other and sharing cards that they won with their opponents. He wanted to take it back with him! Huzzah – four games taken back by publishers! He also showed interest in another Artisan’s game called Garden Plot and wanted to take that one back with him.The other games I pitched to Abacuspiele weren’t as much of a fit, but he did seem to like them…but again, just not for Abacuspiele.While that’s an easy out for a publisher – it’s still nice to hear!

Next up I’ll be regaling you with our pitches to ThinkFun, Hasbro and Mercury Games! Wow – busy week we had!

-Jay Cormier

Step 6: Does your theme match the Game?

We wanted to design a card game that had partners in it as we were big fans of the game TIchu.  We came up with some interesting mechanics that made the game feel like we were playing volleyball.  Knowing that games based on sports are hard sells (how many jock/geek combo people are out there really?!), we came up with an idea to turn it into a game about juggling.

When we made the prototype we made the pictures on the cards with higher numbers, harder things to juggle – like chainsaws, raw fish and even cats (hey have you every tried to juggle cats?  Steve Martin can tell you how challenging that can be).  We thought this added a fun element to an otherwise logical game.  We called it Up in the Air (as this was years before the George Clooney movie came out).

I had the chance to show this game to R&R Games at a convention and after playing a few rounds the gentleman to whom I was showing it said something like, “I’m sure this is a fine game, but I thought it was going to be more of a goofy game based on the fact that you’re juggling cats.”

This was an important lesson for us to learn. Does the 30 second ‘elevator pitch’ for the game match the game play and mechanics?  So we could have taken this two ways – either make Up in the Air’s theme a bit more serious or make the game play more goofy (or a third option would be to ignore the feedback and try showing it to another publisher!).  We decided to look into the mechanics as we wanted to keep the partner aspect and the goofy juggling concept – but were wondering how to make the game play goofier.

We brainstormed a bit and one wacky idea that was thrown into the mix was, “since it’s about juggling, what if there was some sort of dexterity or balancing aspect to the game?”  Now that’s a silly idea for a partner based card game, but something about that idea got us thinking about it.  We had yet to design a dexterity game and we tried to think of what it would look like.

After more brainstorming and then prototyping, we came up with an amazing idea that involved cards and balancing blocks.  However, now the theme of juggling cats didn’t fit at all with these new mechanics so we abandoned that theme altogether and renamed it Junkyard.  Not only did we abandon the theme, but even the partner aspect was abandoned as the game had changed so much and it didn’t need that any more.

So far Junkyard has been shown to 5 publishers including Hasbro and Mattel.  We’re still waiting to find a publisher that wants to publish the game.

The lesson we took out of this experience was to make sure the title and theme match the gameplay mechanics.  Does the title sound like a kid’s game but in actuality it’s a pretty challenging strategy game?  Or vice-versa?  Think about the games you’re trying to get published and if the title and theme matches well with the game play.

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For each game that you’ve designed, write down the title, theme and a one sentence pitch on how you’d explain it to someone else.  Objectively analyze if that matches the kind of game that it is when it’s being played.

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