Adventures in Essen, Part 3: Pitching to a Publisher

Going to Essen as a game designer can be very beneficial if you plan properly and have a modicum of sales or personal skills. In this post I’ll walk you through how I pitched to all the publishers I met with while in Essen. To catch up to where we are in the series, here are the previous posts:

Adventures in Essen, Part 1: The Fair

Adventures in Essen, Part 2: Attending as a Designer

Because we’ve been published already, I started each conversation by bringing out a copy of Train of Thought and Belfort. I did this for a couple reasons.

  1. To let the publisher know that I’m a published designer of two great looking games and,
  2. To let them know that we’re looking for international partners. If the publisher was a European publisher and showed some interest in either one, then I’d quickly review the game and then gauge their interest levels. The more interest they show then the more details I provide, going so far as to open the box and give them an example of game play.

Sales Sheet for our game, Akrotiri

Once we were finished talking about International rights (which Sen and I do not have, but I was there to gauge interest and connect them with our publisher for negotiating), I’d bring out my folder full of Sales Sheets. Prior to the meeting I’d review the emails with the publisher to see if they expressed interest in specific games of ours or not, and if they did then I’d only show them the Sales Sheets for those games. If I didn’t have any guidance from previous emails as to which games they prefer to see, then I’d start with the games that I felt fit that publisher the most.

I’d bring out the Sales Sheet and face it towards them and give them the 30-second elevator pitch, just like in Step 16. Based on how interested they were, I’d continue by explaining how the game plays while pointing to each picture on the Sales Sheet. I’d ask them if they’d like to see a sample round played out and if so, I’d grab the baggie with the prototype and quickly set up enough components to play a round. Depending on the game I would explain a certain percentage of the rules since not all rules would be needed to play a round or two. Basically I’d follow what we detailed in Step 25. Whenever it made sense I’d point out key strategy aspects but I always let the publisher make up their own mind as to how to play.

A small room where I just finished pitching Swashbucklers to a publisher (the publisher left for a moment so I snapped this image with my iPad!)

During a pitch session the time for humility is at the end of the session if the publisher has feedback, but at the beginning and during your pitch, throw humility out. I mean, don’t be an egotistical ass, but this is the time that you really have to highlight what’s unique and special about your game. As we play I’d point out how unique a movement mechanic was or how clever or novel a specific aspect of the game was. I’d say things like, “What I like most about this game is that everyone is playing at all times” or “The hook to this game is that you’re giving many tiny clues which, by themselves mean little, but when put together they make more sense.” You have to remember that this publisher is possibly spending their entire time at Essen seeing new designs every 30 minutes from different designers. How are you going to stand out and be remembered?

After playing a round or two I am usually pretty forward and like to ask their opinion about the game from what little they know of it. This is key if you have many games you’d like to present. Each of the meetings I had were specific slots of time – usually 30 minutes (though one was an hour), so I wouldn’t want to ‘waste’ my entire time on pitching just the one game. When the publisher gives you feedback, remember to follow what we reviewed in Step 26. Now IS the time for humility. Don’t be defensive and just accept whatever they say. There’s no argument that you can provide that would convince the publisher that their opinion should be different.

Whatever their opinion is, start packing up the prototype if it’s out, while the publisher is contemplating or sharing their thoughts. Keep eye contact with the publisher and don’t appear rushed, but I knew I had a few more games I had to get out and I was just trying to be as efficient as possible. None of the publishers seemed to mind this at all.

At the end of the session I’d always review the key take-aways. I’d summarize which games they were interested in and then, as detailed in Step 27, I’d ask them if it was ok to come back with the prototype at the end of the Fair, and all the publishers were cool with that. I’d shake their hand and thank them for their time and ensure I got a business card and be on my way.

It’s key during these pitches to really try and be yourself. You can’t be super salesman-y the entire time as that comes across as cheesy and forced. Show them that you’re a good person and that you’d be fun and professional to work with if they chose your game to be published. I never found it necessary to comment or flatter them with praise about any of their existing games as I felt like that would come across as pandering and fake. I think they appreciated that I was good humoured but also got right down to business.

I need to underline the importance of Sales Sheets again. I’ve talked about them in previous posts for sure, but I actually asked a few publishers their thoughts about Sales Sheets and every one of them said it was a great idea. One specifically liked that it helped him remember which game was which since they had pictures, while another preferred them during the pitch sessions as it was quicker to explain games instead of hauling out tons of bits and pieces. In the future I think we’ll be tweaking our Sales Sheets a bit to make them even a better aid when explaining how the game is played.

Up Next: A review of the publishers I pitched

– Jay Cormier

Advertisements

2010 Sales Information

Purple Pawn has posted an interesting report about the state of the business in 2010.  Their research claims that 85% of game businesses did at least as good as they did last year or better.  The list at the end of the report which showcases the most popular games – based purely on a survey, not real sales necessarily, is interesting.  There are a few obvious games in there like Settlers and Magic, but also some surprising ones like Dominion (which I knew was popular – but not as popular as Settlers!).  Check it out here.

Sales stats of popular board games

Found another interesting list on boardgamegeek today.  This one shows the sales of over 200 board games including uber-popular ones like Monopoly and Yahtzee.  I was surprised to see how high some sales were and how low other sales were.  I see that many of the stats are out of date – but they still are a good indicator.  Follow this link to check out the list.

While Monopoly boggles the brain with its sales of over 275 million units, one of my favourite games, Entdecker, has sold only 25,000.  There’s a direct correlation between the complexity of the game and its sales – with most of the top sellers being party or family games.  There are some exceptions of course, as Settlers of Catan as sold over 15 million units – with an interesting side note that Mayfair plans to sell one million a year in the near future.

So while there are the few breakouts, they are few and far between.  Hopefully this will answer the question I get from people when they find out I design board games: “Oh, are you going to be rich soon?”

-Jay Cormier

Step 14: Create Sales Sheets

Once you’ve decided that you want to send your game to a publisher then the next step would be to create what we call a Sales Sheet.  A Sales Sheet is a one-page document that gives a quick overview of your game to a potential publisher. To some this might seem superfluous, but to us, we credit a lot of our success to having these Sales Sheets ready.

Showing a clean looking Sales Sheet to a publisher immediately tells them that you are professional and you know what you’re doing.  When I attend board game conventions and approach a publisher’s booth to ask them if they are accepting submissions, I often get an ‘eyes-rolling’ kind of vibe as they begrudgingly say “ok sure.”  Then when I pull out my Sales Sheets, I can actually see a visible change in attitude as they immediately realize that they’re dealing with someone who’s serious about game design and not someone who has designed the next Monopoly clone.

A Sales Sheet needs to include the following things:

  1. Title of game – preferably with a mock up logo
  2. Suggested age range
  3. Number of players
  4. Length of time to play the game
  5. Quick overview of the game
  6. Category that the game fits into
  7. List of contents
  8. Images of the game
  9. Sample of one turn or round of play
  10. Some reasons on why this game will sell
  11. Your contact info!

Here’s an example of one of our Sales Sheets for our game Jungle Jam (which has since been retitled to Jam Slam, but we haven’t updated our Sales Sheet yet!).

board game sales sheet

Our newer Sales Sheets have a lot less text, but this one had all the major points on it that I wanted to cover.  See bottom of post for an example.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

1. The logo might seem challenging to you if you don’t have artistic skills, but you really don’t need a lot of skills to create a logo.  Google ‘how to make a logo’ and you’ll find a bunch of resources to help you.  The main key is that your logo should have the same energy that you want your game to have.  If your game is a quick reaction game then your logo needs to be playful and punchy; but if your game is a serious game about trading antiques then an old fashioned feel is obviously better.

2-4. The next three can be combined into a graphic similar to what we see on published board games.  If there are ways to remove or reduce text on this page, then do it!

5. The quick overview gives the publisher an understanding of what the game is all about and should not take longer than 15 seconds to read.  So keep it short and concise.  It will take a lot of copy editing to come up with the most colourful yet efficient ways to get your message across!  Get your English Major friends to help you with this one.  Here’s an example of an overview for our game, Junkyard:

“The Junkyard is the frantic and fun-filled stacking game where junk piles rise high but tensions rise even higher. Each player builds their own junk pile out of oddly shaped blocks that their opponent’s have challenged them to use.  Should you place that piece to make your junk pile more stable or make it taller? While a stable structure will keep you in the game longer, it’s the tallest junk pile that wins!”

6. The publisher should already know what kind of game it is, but most games have subsets of categories that it could belong to.  Our upcoming game, Belfort is a Resource Management game, but it also has Worker Placement, Area Majority and Building as subset categories.  It’s beneficial for a publisher to know which categories your game fits into as they could be looking for an Area Majority game.  Conversely they could be full up on Area Majority games and will want to pass on your game – but it’s better to know that sooner rather than later anyway.

7. A publisher is always looking at the bottom line so a list of contents will help them understand if it’s a game they can make with a profit or not. Hopefully your game is as lean and clean as possible so you don’t scare off any publishers with a ginormous list of contents.

8. If you can include actual photographs of your game instead of just computer based samples, then it will go a long way to show the publisher that there is a full prototype ready to go.  Just like when we look at a game we might want to buy from a game store, the image on the Sales Sheet would be better if it shows the game in progress.

9. It’s even better if you can use this image to show an example of one round of play.  This part can be challenging because think about what everyone’s least favourite part of playing board games is…it’s reading the rules.  So don’t just put a rules summary in your sales sheet.  The publisher doesn’t need to understand why Player A did what they did – the publisher just needs to know how some of the mechanics work together.  Here are a couple examples.

10. The last part is your chance to let the publisher know why your game is worth publishing.  It’s important to keep to facts here instead of telling them how much fun your playtesters have with your game.  Some examples of what you should talk about here:

  • If your theme is interesting or hot in the market then list that
  • if your game has a new mechanic that’s never been seen before
  • If your game has variants or expansion possibilities
  • If your game could be licensed to popular characters
  • If you are open to re-theming your game entirely (instead of wizards collecting dragon eggs, it’s a bunch of Igors collecting body parts!)
  • If it’s a kid’s game then list any educational impact
  • If you can find any sales stats that support why your game will do well, then that’s perfect!

[EDIT BY SEN FEB 4, 2015 – in discussing this with James Mathe of Minion Games, he finds this offputting; I’ve also heard that from one other publisher.  They find it presumptuous that designers would tell publishers what would sell.  While I still think it’s good for you to *think* about the above points and perhaps be able to discuss them, it may be best to leave them off lest you offend the publisher you’re trying to sell your game to.  This also clears up a poop-load of space from your sell sheet.  Don’t be in a huge rush to fill it up, though – remember that white space increases readability and walls of text are an instant turn off!  Feedback works!  See?]

11. Obviously don’t forget to put your contact info on it!

Once complete you are now ready to approach publishers.  We’ve found that whether we’re approaching a publisher in person or via email, we’ve used our sales sheets almost every time.  In an upcoming post we’ll talk about the importance of conventions and how these Sales Sheets are invaluable to us as designers.

Here’s an example of a newer Sales Sheet that is more show and less tell.  It works well for this kind of family game and this was what was used to show to Mattel and Hasbro.

Promo sheet board game design

-Jay Cormier

Not much more to say except treat your sales sheets like your “business cards with a bang”. You want something to leave people with that says more than just your name/contact info/website. You want to leave them with the impression that you are professional, that you’ve got a prototype ready to play at the drop of a hat, and that you’ve put a lot of thought into the product you’re pitching. Short of giving the publisher a working prototype, you want them to be able to get the gist of your game – the general rules, the look and feel, the target demographic – with as little effort on their part. The less amount of time they have to spend scouring the internet, calling you, chasing you down the better for you.

The sell sheet is your foot in the door when your foot isn’t even nearby. Publishers will take the countless sell sheets they’ve picked up from a convention and sift through them, hoping to chance upon the next SdJ. Make sure your game is poised to be picked up by making a sell sheet that helps them remember everything pertinent about your game without overloading them. Give them confidence in your product by creating a well-presented, succinctly worded sell sheet.

The time spent making the sell sheet and handing it out will pay dividends if it’s done right.

-Sen-Foong Lim