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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

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kungfugeek
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So I think my game is finally ready (5 years and multiple playtests and it finally feels "right") and I really like Fantasy Flight games so I thought I'd submit there first (might as well be rejected by them first to get it out of the way). I went to their website and read their submission guidelines.

The problem is their guidelines only talk about prototypes -- nothing about a query letter, which, according to the Game Inventor's Guidebook, is where you should always start. Also, there wasn't an email address given for board game submissions, just snail-mail.

So I emailed their standard "contact us" person and asked for the email of the person who reviews submissions. They sent a response the next day, but all it said was "Our submission guidelines are here..." And pointed me back to their submission guidelines page.

What do you think? Should I just send them my prototype (actually their address is close enough for me to hand-deliver)? Should I send a query letter via snail-mail? Should I try rephrasing my question and send another email? I don't want to bother them too much because I'm sure they're swamped with submissions, but I would like to get a rejection as soon as possible so i can move on to the next publisher. :)

zaiga
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

It's a bit of a catch-22, isn't it? I read their submission guidelines and it seems that they want you to send your complete prototype right away. I don't understand why they do it that way, because it creates a lot of overhead both for them as well as the designer, but if that's they way they want it, then that's the way they get it.

s2alexan
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

I've read the submission guidelines for just about every publisher out there. They ALL specifically state that you are not to send a prototype first, you must send a query letter.

The fact that FFG specifically leaves out that part, and makes reference (a couple of times) to submitting the actual prototype, leads me to believe they want the game right away.

Let me know how it goes - I have a game I designed with them in mind, so I would be interested in hearing about your experience.

Anonymous
Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

s2alexan wrote:
I've read the submission guidelines for just about every publisher out there. They ALL specifically state that you are not to send a prototype first...

I've had the same experience researching publishers. The ones that are accepting submissions specifically state that you should send a letter briefly summarizing your game and why you think it would fit into their product line. If they're interested, they'll ask you for the rules and only if they're still interested will they ask you for a full prototype.

On the other hand... Like zaiga said, if that's what they want...

The good thing is that they imply that you will get your prototype back if you include a SASE with your submission.

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

Thanks for the quick replies!

Does anyone out there have experience working with FFG?

I will let you know what happens.

Anonymous
Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

I am wondering what your game is all about. I always want to hear descriptions of games that people are ready to try and sell

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

DrMayhem wrote:
I am wondering what your game is all about. I always want to hear descriptions of games that people are ready to try and sell

Figures. I typed up a huge thing and then suddenly it all disappeared.

I'll tell ya, but I was wondering -- do potential publishers care if your game submission was discussed in the open on an internet forum? If they don't like multiple submissions how would they feel about this?

Anyway, the game theme, i have to admit, isn't very original -- resource gathering + civ building + vp's in the old babylonian empire. I made sure to have some vp's visible to all players, and some hidden (I think it was Klaus Teuber who said that for a game to be fun each player must have at least the appearence of being able to win). Where I think it breaks from the mold is with the closed economy and the supply/demand market mechanics it has. Will those two things be enough? Probably not but I might as well try. Another encouraging thing was that my gaming group (euro-gamers all) requested it out of the blue quite a few times after playtesting. Figured that was a good sign.

But I think your question brings up another point. Not to go off-topic, but I'm starting the submission process now even tho I have put a few unplaytested changes in there. I have two reasons and want to know what you folks think of my "logic". First, the submission process I'm told can take a long time. That's a lot of time for playtesting and tweaking if suddenly I don't feel as "right" about the game as I do after additional playtesting. Second, like one of my friends said, sometimes you just have to go with it. I could keep tweaking and modifying this forever if I wanted to. But it'll never get published if I don't submit the stupid thing.

What do you think?

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

Just thought I'd follow up. I wrote Fantasy Flight again asked them specifically if they would want a query letter. Nope, they really just want prototypes out of the blue.

I think this was mentioned on another thread, too. Just thought it was weird.

zaiga
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

kungfugeek wrote:
Not to go off-topic, but I'm starting the submission process now even tho I have put a few unplaytested changes in there. I have two reasons and want to know what you folks think of my "logic". First, the submission process I'm told can take a long time. That's a lot of time for playtesting and tweaking if suddenly I don't feel as "right" about the game as I do after additional playtesting. Second, like one of my friends said, sometimes you just have to go with it. I could keep tweaking and modifying this forever if I wanted to. But it'll never get published if I don't submit the stupid thing.

The obvious response is that you should try your damnest to playtest the heck out of your design and get the game "right" before sending it off to a publisher. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. A publisher is willing to spend sometime perfecting an already good design, but they won't spend time fixing a bad, mediocre or even average design. I have submitted games too early in the past as well and regretted it. I now have a rule of thumb that says that I want to playtest a game at least five times in a row without making any modifications to it.

Then again, I find it incredibly hard to follow my own rule of thumb. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that I'm a perfectionist and keep tweaking and tuning the game into infinity, which means I hardly ever have five playtests in a row with an unmodified design. At a certain point I just have to make a judgment call: keep on tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, or simply decide that the game is "good enough" and submit it to a publisher with the risk that it might not be perfect or that you come up with a brilliant idea for the game, one minute after you dropped the prototype in the mail.

I do think that it is generally a bad idea to submit a design with changes that you haven't tested. This is a recipe for disaster. It is my experience that sometimes seemingly insignificant changes can have a unexpected impact on a design, and sometimes you can't really tell without playtesting. So: playtest, playtest and playtest some more, but also know when to stop tweaking and tuning a design and just submit the damn thing.

Anonymous
Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

zaiga wrote:
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I think this hits the nail right on the head.

kungfugeek wrote:
...the submission process I'm told can take a long time. That's a lot of time for playtesting and tweaking if suddenly I don't feel as "right" about the game as I do after additional playtesting.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this, but it sounds like you're planning on submitting the game, playtesting while you wait for any reply from FFG, then forwarding changes to them (if any changes are neccessitated after playtesting).

Zaiga's comment fits perfectly, especially considering your are sending to a company that wants a playable prototype to begin with. If you were sending an overview of your game and then waiting for a reply while you playtested your changes, that would be OK, so long as the version that you send is playtested and as final as you can make it.

If you have already sent in the prototype with untested changes and the changes need to be fine tuned after submission, you could always hope that they like the game and suggest some changes. You could then take that openning to go over the fine tuning that you felt was required. The problem is that, without a final tested prototype in their hands, you might be less likely to even get to that stage.

It's worth taking the time to playtest and blind playtest if you can. That's what the review group at FFG will be doing and you would probably rather find any unforeseen surprises in an environment that you can control and fix than in one that you can't.

Whatever the situation, you owe it to yourself to send them the best, most stable version of your game that you can.

Best of luck!! Keep us informed of the process and how it goes for you!

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

Thanks for the feedback -- you both raise some good points.

SiskNY -- Yes, I was thinking that I'd send a query letter first and playtest while I waited for a response which, as the odds tell me, would likely be "no" anyway. But since FFG wants a prototype after all, i'll have to playtest now.

zaiga -- I like that 5-playtests rule, but like you said, it may be hard to live up to. I have a stable gaming group but I don't want to take too much advantage of them. If I ask someone to playtest my game, I'm asking them for a pretty big favor, imho. Maybe I could offer to buy the pizza for those playtesting nights.

As far as getting a second chance to make a first impression -- if they're being flooded with game submissions, do they really keep track of who they've rejected? You're probably right anyway.

I'll take your advice to heart. I think I'm just getting impatient. I've read that similar ideas tend to spring up simultaneously in board game design, and I'm starting to worry that by the time I get this right, someone will already have published something so similar that mine would look like a hack job.

Also, boardgaming is starting to take off and I want to get in the industry before it dies down again. Things go in cycles, after all.

Anonymous
Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

kungfugeek wrote:
As far as getting a second chance to make a first impression -- if they're being flooded with game submissions, do they really keep track of who they've rejected? You're probably right anyway.

Will they remember nmes of people they have rejected? Probably not unless that person already has a pretty good reputation. Will they remember the game they reject? This is quite a possibility. I remember most games I have played or even looked at with a pretty high retention of the information, it is likely people working for a publisher will also be able to remember many games that come through their door.

nickdanger
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

kungfugeek wrote:
If I ask someone to playtest my game, I'm asking them for a pretty big favor, imho. Maybe I could offer to buy the pizza for those playtesting nights.

This strikes me a bit odd. If having them play your game comes off as a "favor", perhaps the game needs some major retooling. Seriously, if I have a play test that people are not enjoying I know it's a failure.

I have a couple people at work that won't play the normal games I bring in but if I'm bringing in a new prototype to playtest they want in on those games. I've never felt like I was imposing on anyone having them play my designs.

If it's a real raw design then usually I just need to see a couple rounds in action to get the info I need. When it's time for some heavy playtesting, the design is sound enough that the sessions are just fun and not work like.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if people aren't asking to play the game, and enjoying the experience, it's probably not ready tp send out to publishers.

Anonymous
Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

kungfugeek wrote:
I think I'm just getting impatient. I've read that similar ideas tend to spring up simultaneously in board game design, and I'm starting to worry that by the time I get this right, someone will already have published something so similar that mine would look like a hack job

I feel your pain! But you have to be careful how you play your cards, so to speak. If you get them interested and they ask you for rules or a prototype sooner than you expected, then that would put you in an akward position. Do you send in the rules as is without the potentially better-making but untested additions or do you chance it and send in the new rules without playtesting as much as you should?

It's true that they may in the near future get a submission similar to yours. By the same token, they may have already gotten a submission similar to yours. They may already be working on a game that is similar to yours. The only way to get them to give you a chance in to send them the best most thoroughly tested game you can. That goes doubly so since FFG wants a ptototype upfront. It's worth the extra time.

Quote:
If I ask someone to playtest my game, I'm asking them for a pretty big favor, imho. Maybe I could offer to buy the pizza for those playtesting nights.

I know what you mean! In these cases, pizza definitely helps! (Just don't get stains on your prototype!)

jwarrend
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

nickdanger wrote:

This strikes me a bit odd. If having them play your game comes off as a "favor", perhaps the game needs some major retooling. Seriously, if I have a play test that people are not enjoying I know it's a failure.

KFG didn't connect the notion of playtesting being a "favor" with people not enjoying the game. I have to agree with him; I think asking someone to playtest your game is to ask them to spend some of their gaming time to help you polish your game creation. Obviously, you hope that your game will prove enjoyable, but there isn't the "guaranteed" level of enjoyment that a published game ostensibly provides, and in general the presentation and tactile aspects of the prototype will be below publication standards as well.

Obviously, your second point is valid, that if people aren't enjoying the game, the game needs work. But viewing playtesting as a favor is, I think, accurate indepedent of the quality of the game. The players are helping you with your creation; to not view that contribution with an appropriate level of gratitude is to show a lack of respect for their gaming time and an overestimation of the interchangability of a published design and a prototype.

On the other hand, I don't think one needs to feel guilty about asking people to playtest, either, and I confess that I struggle with this. In general, I hope that if people aren't interested they will just say so, but I'm realistic enough about interpersonal dynamics to suspect that people may say "yes" out of a perceived obligation of friendship rather than a genuine interest in testing. In that sense, I completely sympathize with KFG's feeling guilty. But it sounds like his concerns are unfounded; people have asked to play his game. That's always a good sign!

-Jeff

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

You said it better than I, Jeff. I consider playtesting a favor because of two things -- they're helping me do something I can't do on my own (except to a very limited extent), and they're helping me do something that may make me some money. Whether they have fun or not (and they'd better!), it's a favor.

In other news, we just wrapped up our playtest! (For the record, the "bribe" ended up being brownies, not pizza. And isn't that really the most important thing?) I think I'll try to find a more appropriate thread to post the results tho. Or start a journal. But it's late and I want to get this down while it's fresh.

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

FYI: I did end up starting a journal after all. Take a look if you want (or don't).

But for the lazy-but-curious (apologies for the tangent, this will only take a minute):
-3 playtesters (including myself, one casual gamer and one serious gamer)
-Playtime was 1hr, 45 min (decent length for light strategy considering it will go down with experienced players)
-Final scores 42/28/23 so a slight runaway leader problem but that's something else that should decrease with experience.
-Response (both verbal and non-verbal) was quite positive. (One even asked to play it again right away -- both said they wanted to playtest again).
-Lots of good suggestions but nothing seemed broken.
-Final scores were unknown until the very end, tho it was pretty obvious I'd win. 2nd and 3rd place was not so obvious.
-One tester made a good comeback from being knocked out early due to his own (self-admitted) stupidity. Nice to see that come-back potential in the game.

Ok, if you care for more details read my one and only (so far) journal entry.

Thanks again for all the advice!

nickdanger
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

kungfugeek wrote:
Whether they have fun or not (and they'd better!), it's a favor.

Okay, apparently it's just me that's associates the term "favor" with something less than pleasurable. It's just when I get asked to do a favor it's something along the lines of: helping a friend move, picking someone up from the airport, emptying the litter box, etc. I've just never had someone ask "Hey, could you do me a favor and take my super model cousin out dancing tonight?"

Glad to hear the playtest went well.

kungfugeek
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Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

nickdanger wrote:
I've just never had someone ask "Hey, could you do me a favor and take my super model cousin out dancing tonight?"

Say that reminds me, Nick. I've been meaning to ask if you could do me a favor.... :-)

Anonymous
Should I send a prototype or just a query letter?

you can tell how bad a favor is by the amount of time the person asking for the favor pauses before asking.

such as: can I ask you a favor? short pause> pass the ketchup

or can I ask you a favor? Drive me to the grocery store?

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