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How much must the designer get done himself?

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Stony
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I've been wondering. How much of the complete design must the designer get done himself? At least as an unpublished designer... And how much will it affect the chances of getting the game published?

Should I take steps to get the artwork done, or will the publishers rather put their own art-people on it? Should I take a look at box cover artwork, or would that be over the top? (Actually I really-really-really like the works of Luis Royo, and is considering purchasing something from him and use it.)

In other words, should I make an effort to get the prototype as close to 100% done as possible, or are there certain things publishers would rather put the final hand on themselves?

Thanks for any feedback.

Stony
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How much must the designer get done himself?

Perhaps I should specify slightly...

How much does the publishers expect to get handed to them, and which parts will they readily accept that they have to do themselves? And will this be different from publisher to publisher?

How about agents. Are they any different, and will they prefer presenting "finished" products, or will they also take on prototypes that obviously are just that - prototypes.

Krakit
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How much must the designer get done himself?

I think that the ultimate rule of thumb is that the prototype should be playable.

That means that the board, peices, cards and instructions should work well. In terms of form over function they should be effortless in terms of reading text, recognizing one peice from another and differentiating one part or card from another.

Esthetics are entirely up to you and fall into the catagory of showmanship and labor of love.

I made my prototype as close to a finished product as possible more for myself than the potential publisher. It also helps to get playtesting done if the protoype is very attractive.

In terms of publishing, it's all about utility. Will the publisher keep mistaking your "blonks" for "blinks?" Are the suits on your cards too similar to one another? Are the spaces on your board easy to see and distinct?

That's really all that matters.

In terms of packaging, I wouldn't worry about box art at all. I personally use any box that fits well.

My last prototype was a perfect fit for an empty pizza box. So, I used a Papa John's 14" pizza box for months. That's the same package that I just shipped my prototype to a potential publisher in.

Most importantly do NOT expect the potential publisher to do any work for you.

It is up to YOU to cut out the cards, punch out the pieces, apply all thesitckers and supply all the dice, cards, pencils, paper, spinners etc. yourself!

Good luck.

Carl

Stony
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Joined: 06/24/2010
How much must the designer get done himself?

I know a few publishers a visiting these pages. At least Z-Man games and probably others. Some feedback from these people would be lovely. :)

jwarrend
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How much must the designer get done himself?

In general, publishers are going to have the artwork and graphics professionally done upon accepting a game for publication. There's nothing wrong with having a game that looks very nice, and in some cases, if the artwork is good enough, the publisher may choose to use that in the design, but I don't think this is likely to be much of a selling point if the game itself is not exceptional. Make the game as good as you can, and make the prototype as functional as possible, but only worry about making it look pretty if you already have those skills or are willing to invest the money.

Agents really only come into play if you're looking to design a mass market game, and the considerations there are probably completely different.

-Jeff

Stony
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How much must the designer get done himself?

jwarrend wrote:

Agents really only come into play if you're looking to design a mass market game, and the considerations there are probably completely different.

Uhm....? From what I understand, some companies like Uberplay only accepts game submissions coming through an agent. Or was that Hans im Gluck....?

sedjtroll
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How much must the designer get done himself?

Krakit wrote:
My last prototype was a perfect fit for an empty pizza box. So, I used a Papa John's 14" pizza box for months. That's the same package that I just shipped my prototype to a potential publisher in.

My All For One prototype is in a Picurro's Pizzeria box, and at the KublaCon design contest thing James Earnest joked that the best part was the "Five locations in Tucson" on the side of the box :)

- Seth

clearclaw
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Re: How much must the designer get done himself?

Stony wrote:
I've been wondering. How much of the complete design must the designer get done himself? At least as an unpublished designer... And how much will it affect the chances of getting the game published?

At one point I regularly played prototypes fro a game publisher, mostly from frequently published game designers. The standard in-house joke there was that the actually successful designer's prototypes were always the most skimpily prepared and produced and it was the wannabe's that went overboard on trying to make it look nice, or have nice bits etc.

Quote:
Should I take steps to get the artwork done, or will the publishers rather put their own art-people on it? Should I take a look at box cover artwork, or would that be over the top? (Actually I really-really-really like the works of Luis Royo, and is considering purchasing something from him and use it.)

I'll contrast three prototypes I played from three reasonably well known designers:

Reiner Knizia: Several sheets of graph paper marked up by hand with a felt-tip pen and glued (paste glue?) to a piece of brown cardboard (packing box?) for a board. The cards were a cheap standard 52-card deck with stick-on lables drawn on with permanent markers.

Alan R moon: Board made from butcher paper drawn on with biro, coloured in with felt pens and crayons (I can smell the wax), glued and sellotaped to a bit of black craft paper.

Bruno Faidutti. Plastic bingo chips, standard cards with stick-on lables, hand drawn and coloured simple line images and writing on the cards, looked like a simple printed spreadsheet for the player mats.

Quote:
In other words, should I make an effort to get the prototype as close to 100% done as possible, or are there certain things publishers would rather put the final hand on themselves?

I'd say to make the game functional, inoffensive and undistracting from the actual mechanics of play. Leave the rest, including theme, up to the publisher (tho you might have a default theme or even propose several possible themes for the game).

markmist
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Re: How much must the designer get done himself?

clearclaw wrote:
I'd say to make the game functional, inoffensive and undistracting from the actual mechanics of play. Leave the rest, including theme, up to the publisher (tho you might have a default theme or even propose several possible themes for the game).

Ugh. So we are only supposed to design mechanics so publishers can paste a theme on them? No thanks. To me a good game with be able to integrate the mechanics to the theme for a whole package. If I was designing only mechanics - I probably wouldn't bother with game design.

I think a publisher will recognize if you have done this and will take a game more seriously that already has a theme so they don't have to work to make one up. Maybe I am wrong, but if I were a publisher - I would take a complete game with mechanics/theme over mechanics only any day.

clearclaw
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Re: How much must the designer get done himself?

markmist wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
I'd say to make the game functional, inoffensive and undistracting from the actual mechanics of play. Leave the rest, including theme, up to the publisher (tho you might have a default theme or even propose several possible themes for the game).

Ugh. So we are only supposed to design mechanics so publishers can paste a theme on them?

Only? No, that's up to you of course. I didn't say to never put a theme on. Just do not get too attached to it. Just under half the games I've seen make their way through to publication (admittedly in the German/Euro designer game market) changed their theme at least once during the process, and in a couple cases, three or more times before they were sent to the presses.

Quote:
No thanks. To me a good game with be able to integrate the mechanics to the theme for a whole package. If I was designing only mechanics - I probably wouldn't bother with game design.

Your call. Sometimes the designer's theme is thought to be right for the game and the market. Sometimes it isn't. I can't give averages here as I didn't see enough games go through the pipeline, but my impression was about 60:40.

Quote:
I think a publisher will recognize if you have done this and will take a game more seriously that already has a theme so they don't have to work to make one up. Maybe I am wrong, but if I were a publisher - I would take a complete game with mechanics/theme over mechanics only any day.

Certainly, and that's why I recommended to provide either a default theme or a list of possible themes to apply. Let's look at some rather public examples: Keytown ended up being Alladin's Dragons. Ra started out themed on Chinese marketplaces IIRC, then went Egyptian and thence 1930's gangsters (Razzia). Wongar started out themed against ancient Japan and ended up with Australian dreamtime mythology. Etc etc etc for other games.

I'm not about to say that themes are bad (well, I'll say that when they're too thick, but that's another personal preference story), just that it doesn't seem wise for a game designer to get too attached to their themes or the other details of their games. Publishers rightfully exercise pretty free rein in those areas.

jwarrend
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How much must the designer get done himself?

Stony wrote:
jwarrend wrote:

Agents really only come into play if you're looking to design a mass market game, and the considerations there are probably completely different.

Uhm....? From what I understand, some companies like Uberplay only accepts game submissions coming through an agent. Or was that Hans im Gluck....?

Actually, I think that for the most part, companies like Uberplay and Days of Wonder aren't accepting submissions from anyone, unless your name is already well known. If they're using agents now, that would be a pretty new policy. You may be thinking of Ravensburger, who adopted a policy maybe a year ago (?) that all submissions from unknown designers would have to go through one particular agency, and by the way, you had to pay a pretty exorbitant fee up front, and by the way, that agency would help themselves to 40% of your royalties if your game did get published. It was (if I recall the details correctly) a pretty raw deal, I think the idea being that Ravensburger was getting bombarded with unsolicited submissions and perhaps wanted to stem the tide a bit?

clearclaw wrote:
At one point I regularly played prototypes fro a game publisher, mostly from frequently published game designers. The standard in-house joke there was that the actually successful designer's prototypes were always the most skimpily prepared and produced and it was the wannabe's that went overboard on trying to make it look nice, or have nice bits etc.

Having attended PowWow last year, I can certainly believe this: one sees some amazing looking prototypes among amateur designers! I think there are good reasons for this. The big names like Moon, Knizia, survive on volume, whereas unpublished designers typically have a couple of projects that they can work on as a labor of love. Additionally, it's trivial for a Moon or Knizia to snap their fingers and get an army of playtesters for any game, even if it's made on Kleenex, whereas a rookie sometimes needs to have a more visual element to attract playtesters to want to try the game. Your point is completely accurate, though: don't make the game pretty in the hopes that it will lead to publication, as that may not be the way it will work out.

-Jeff

Dralius
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How much must the designer get done himself?

jwarrend wrote:

it's trivial for a Moon or Knizia to snap their fingers and get an army of playtesters for any game, even if it's made on Kleenex.

*Snap* *Snap* *Snap*

*Checks last name on drivers license*

Ah Rats!!!

*Blows his nose with his latest design*

Jpwoo
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How much must the designer get done himself?

I don't think there is any harm in making a pretty prototype unless you consider lost time harm.

It is good to know that publishers care more about game play quality than the quality of bits.

From my perspective, as a fledgling at game design, I have spent a lot of time on my crappy little war game. And ultimately I may be the only person who ever plays it. So I want a decent copy. :)

clearclaw
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Re: How much must the designer get done himself?

clearclaw wrote:
Ra started out themed on Chinese marketplaces IIRC, then went Egyptian and thence 1930's gangsters (Razzia).

Actually Ra started out themed against the Rockefellars and then went Egyptian and thence gangster.

Perhaps more interestingly and relevantly to this thread, quoting Reiner himself from:

http://gametable.blogspot.com/2006/04/reiner-knizia-by-numbers.html

Quote:
Knizia has been successful getting games published in both the US and Europe, but acknowledges that the markets are different. Says Knizia, "In America, the theme is seen as the game where as in the European the game mechanics and the game system are seen as the game." Knizia tells a story about when he took a game prototype to America. It had an Egyptian theme and when an American publisher saw the theme they said, "We are not interested in this game, we have a game about Egypt and we don't need another." So Egypt was the game to them. Knizia asked them "Won't you at least have a look at it?" and they said no, we don't want this game. A few weeks later he was back in Germany showed the same game to a German publisher. The publisher sees the game has an Egyptian theme and says "Oh, are just in preparation of an Egyptian-themed game, so the Egyptian theme wouldn't work for us. But let's see the game first and then we can see what we'll do about the theme." In Germany the game was not the theme, but the game system. So there is a very different perception of what is a "game." For Knizia, that understanding is the starting point for what games he offers to the different markets.

But even in the same market, publishers are very different. They have their own niches and look for their own products, but they also vary in how they produce the games and the criteria by which they choose what to publish. Once accepted, some will take the game as delivered and some want to add their own ideas. "Sometimes these ideas are good, and sometimes they are not so good." says Knizia, "Some publishers are much more pleasant to work with than other publishers. So you have a selection process where publishers are trying to choose the good games and I am trying to choose the good publishers."

Some Knizia games have more lives than Shirley McClain's cat. Quandary, Thor, Flinke Pinke and Loco are all various incarnations of the same basic game. Colossal Arena is a card game where creatures battle to the death and was previously published as Titan: The Arena. In one of the stranger re-theming of a game, it was originally published in Germany as Grand National Derby, based around the famous horse race in England. Knizia explains, "The mechanics were relatively simple and it worked very nicely. It is a steeplechase and a lot of horses do not finish and drop out during the different hurdles. Then when the idea came from the American publisher to do a Titan: the Arena game we needed to beef it up a little bit. So more thematic elements came in and that brought a bigger range of different abilities for the cards, which the original horses didn't have. So we have a game that was very much liked in both markets with very different themes. Another example is my game Through the Desert, which is now a game of moving caravans. The working title of my original design was Rockefeller. The original idea was an island filled with rich people each trying to out-do each other by building the biggest palace and the biggest golf course and linked to the nicest areas of the island. These became oasis and palm trees and caravans of camels. This theme was actually suggested by the publisher because they thought they could position it better. They were right as the game has done well in many different languages."

zaiga
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Re: How much must the designer get done himself?

clearclaw wrote:
Actually Ra started out themed against the Rockefellars and then went Egyptian and thence gangster.

You are confusing "Through the Desert" with "Ra". "Through the Desert" started out as a Rockefeller game, then was turned into the famous camel herding game.

As far as I know "Ra" has always had an Egyptian theme. Originally "Ra" was a much more involved game, and with much longer playing time, but after trying out various incarnation Knizia came to a very stripped down version, containing little more than a cool auction mechanic. But it always kept its Egyptian theme.

Some other Knizia games did change theme, though. "Taj Mahal" was originally staged in early Medieval England. "Palazzo" also had a different theme, which got changed by the publisher. In all these cases it is said that Knizia wasn't too happy about the thematic changes, but obviously he realizes that it's the publisher who has the final say.

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