Behind The Joy #7: Pitching For Success
In our last article, we concluded pitching your game to a traditional, established publisher is the default position for new game designers. Now we will explore what exactly the process includes, and how you can do it successfully with your game. Here again, the 33 Steps at https://inspirationtopublication.wordpress.com are well worth your time.
Finding a Good Fit
Your game creates a unique player experience. With few exceptions, however, most games fit into a one of the board gaming stereotypes. Is your game a heavy euro game, a dexterity game, a family-friendly puzzle, a social-deduction game, etc.? Publishers tend to stick to one or two of these levels to enhance their branding within the game industry. For example, Academy Games prints games that teach history by exploring the topic in the game space. This is why they stick to titles accessible to younger crowds, but with interesting strategic challenges for players. They were a good target for our game Commissioned, but would not be a good fit if you had created the world’s greatest zombie crawl. Do your homework. Know what the publisher is looking for, and how your game fits into their line.
The board game industry is very welcoming and cooperative, but don’t let the smiles fool you. Game publishers have been around the block, constantly shift through new ideas, and are evaluating you from the moment you begin interacting with them. If you have the opportunity, schedule your first meeting at a convention. You can do this through email or phone. In my experience, companies are open to either. The important thing is to give them enough lead time to reserve a spot for you without disrupting their convention planning. Once you have a meeting, be there on time (or slightly early so you can setup a demo), dress professionally, and be ready to speak clearly and concisely. If you can’t clearly articulate your game, no one can. You will get 1 shot with a publisher. Be ready.
A pitch to publishers has two pieces. First, you must have your elevator pitch. This is a 2-3 sentence summary of your game that you can give in 1 minute or less, and includes the “hook.” This is a unique aspect of your game that grabs the listener’s attention. It will take clarity and practice to develop and deliver this. It is a good thing you spent the last year working on identifying and honing the game’s player experience! Here is an example for Commissioned:
“Commissioned is a 2-6 player historically-themed, cooperative board game with a simple deck-building mechanic that plays in 1 hour. The players are the Apostles of the early church, and work together to strengthen their unique faith decks, grow the church, collect the New Testament, and overcome trials.”
After hearing this, the publisher knows the type of game, the theme, some mechanics, and can begin to get a feel for who the game might appeal to. If they are interested, you get to move on to the 5-minute rundown.
The 5-minute rundown includes an expanded overview of the game’s objective, components, player actions, and potentially a sample turn. It is designed to build off the elevator pitch and enhance the publisher’s understanding of your game. Commissioned’s rundown goes like this:
“On the board you have church member cubes, missionary meeples, and Apostle pawns. Your goal is to get a piece of any kind into all the cities in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, and collect the 9 cards that represent the books of the New Testament before either the Trial deck runs out or you lose five churches. The Trial deck contains historical examples of governmental oppression, religious persecution, and natural disasters faced by the early church. The players overcome these trials by strengthening their faith decks with increasingly powerful cards including miracles from the New Testament. The game is played in rounds with three phases. First you draw cards, then you take turns facing and overcoming trials as the team’s Elder, finally, you buy new Faith cards with the cards remaining in your hand. The game includes 5 scenarios, 2 difficulty levels, and an adversary variant that allows one person to play against the team as the Roman Legion.”
This may sound like a lot, but it is simply the first five minutes of teaching anyone to play your game. The key is to deliver it clearly, with enthusiasm, and to tailor it to the publisher you are talking to. Different publishers will resonate with different parts of your game. Emphasize those in your pitch. Practice before you go to the meeting, but don’t sound like a robot regurgitating a canned spiel. If you can approach a stranger, speak clearly, listen to their comments, and respond capably, you will stand out from the average game designer who has not prepared adequately. In fact, it may be enough to get you to the medal round: a play-through.
Publishers do not usually have much time at conventions. If a publisher sits down to play all, or a part, of your game, recognize the compliment they are paying you. Your job now is to demo your game to the point where they have a feel for it. This takes practice to get the feel for what game elements they are grasping, and what pieces require more explanation. In my experience, publishers will offer some free feedback when finished. LISTEN TO THEM! The feedback will help you better understand you game, and how other publishers may view it.
Next time, we will discuss publisher responses and what to expect when working with a them. As always, fire away with comments & questions!
Pat & Kat Lysaght