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Suggestion: North American Hippodice Equivalent?

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RobBartel
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Joined: 12/31/1969

I've been noticing that a growing number of North American & English-language publishers are beginning to close their doors to outside submissions (Days of Wonder being one of most recent to do so). This significantly narrows the range of opportunities available to emerging designers and, theoretically, also runs the risk of stagnating the market as a whole.

In the more mature European market, this problem has been addressed through a number of high-profile annual competitions for amateur designers. The competitions serve as an important conduit for previously undiscovered talent with detailed assessments of the top-tier games distributed to the various professional publishers. In practice, this has led to the eventual publication of a significant number of the winners and finalists - it saves the publishers from having to mine the slush piles for hidden gems and the award also helps guarantee sales.

The most notable and prestigious of these European competitions are the 'Contest of Creators' out of France, 'Hippodice' out of Germany, and 'Premio Archimede' out of Italy. While all of these competitions have done a commendable job of accepting and rewarding English-language submissions, there's nevertheless an inherent national bias in terms of player and publisher tastes.

To my knowledge, no such competition exists on this side of the pond to specifically meet the needs of North American publishers and designers. My hunch is that the various publishers would be very supportive of such a competition and the role it could play in expanding the domestic board game market. Running short of other opportunities, I'm sure that English-language designers would flock to it. The only question is who should operate it.

It should be noted that 'Hippodice' is run by an amateur game club, one of countless in Germany - while they're very dedicated players and very generous with their time, there's nothing inordinately corporate or professional about them. In North America, the most obvious such fan group would be BoardGameGeek - they have an English-language focus but an international reach, they're now holding annual BGGCons where some of the playtesting and judging could occur, and they have significant enough market pull that publishers will give sufficient weight to their recommendations.

As for the necessary funding, I don't think it would be hard to scrounge up. I suspect a number of the publishers could be convinced to help sponsor the competition in exchange for advertising. Premio Archimede charges submission fees, which could be considered. BGGCon charges fees for attendance. The 'Spiel de Jahre' supports itself solely through licensing fees for its name and logo.

As designers, what are your thoughts on such an initiative? If any publishers are lurking here, does the idea strike a chord with you as well?

Intrigued,
Rob

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Re: Suggestion: North American Hippodice Equivalent?

RobBartel wrote:
I've been noticing that a growing number of North American & English-language publishers are beginning to close their doors to outside submissions (Days of Wonder being one of most recent to do so). This significantly narrows the range of opportunities available to emerging designers and, theoretically, also runs the risk of stagnating the market as a whole.

You're definitely right that it's getting harder to have a submission looked at, but I don't think this will stagnate the market. For one thing, I'm not convinced it was all that easy to get published back in the old days where companies like Days of Wonder or Uberplay were looking at outside submissions. I'm pretty sure that with the exception of Tongiaki, neither of these companies has published a game by a previously unpublished designer. So in some sense, a lot of companies have open submissions "in name only". Obviously as a designer, that's still good because you can at least get closure on your design, but practically speaking, there probably haven't been that many opportunities lost. Moreover, if you look at the games that have been published recently, there are still new designers getting published. For example, the game of the moment is "Caylus", by William Attia, who, I'm pretty sure, is a new (or newer) designer. So, there's no question that a good game will still rise to the surface, somehow. I think we may be heading for a new route to publication whereby you self-publish a small print run of your game, it generates some buzz, and then a big publisher picks it up.

Your idea of a North American Hippodice is certainly a good one, and indeed, it's one we've had here. Here's one thread on the subject, but I'm pretty sure there have been others. We actually moved the idea along pretty far, even securing a handshaking commitment from some publishers to participate in the judging, but we sort of petered out in the logistics of the playtesting.

Hippodice works because they have a single group willing to do nothing but playtest 50 games for 3 months every year. I don't know if there's a similar group in America willing to make that kind of a commitment, so we were trying to develop a scheme for playtesting these games with different groups. Unfortunately, then you need to figure out a way to physically get the games from one group to another, to normalize the different group's scores to each other, etc. We never really resolved how to do all this, who would do it, or what kind of a committment to ask the playtesters for. If nothing else, your note will hopefully a kick in the pants to get things moving again.

Being honest, I realized at some point that "hey, by helping out with this thing, I won't actually be able to enter" and unfortunately, that took the wind right out of my sails. This project is a massive undertaking, and I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm to devote so much time to so altruistic an endeavor. I'm sure that sounds pretty selfish, and maybe it is. But I think the key that makes Hippodice work is that their motivation is to get to have some say in which games will end up getting published; to direct the course of the hobby. In contrast, a contest run by designers will presumably have as its primary motivation what you've already noted, a "greasing the wheels" sort of effect. But I suspect we'll always run into this snag, where designers involved in the contest will realize they're simply greasing the wheels for other folks.

Quote:
As for the necessary funding, I don't think it would be hard to scrounge up. I suspect a number of the publishers could be convinced to help sponsor the competition in exchange for advertising. Premio Archimede charges submission fees, which could be considered. BGGCon charges fees for attendance. The 'Spiel de Jahre' supports itself solely through licensing fees for its name and logo.

The SdJ can do that because winning virtually guarantees sales in excess of 100,000 copies. I think that just by participating in the judging, the publishers would be doing us an enormous favor. I suspect the contest would be funded primarily by the authors, at least for a few years. (and it will be somewhat more expensive than Hippodice since your game will need to be shipped to several locales). If lots of good games came through the finals and got published, publishers may become willing to pony up some support.

-Jeff

RobBartel
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Suggestion: North American Hippodice Equivalent?

Fair enough and a good response, Jeff. I'm glad to hear that this is a discussion that has already been taking place here at the bgdf.

Thanks for the link to the original thread - I'll resurrect that conversation rather than continuing this one, as it already has a lot of useful discussion.

Regards,
Rob

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