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What TO SAY when pitching to a publisher

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jeffinberlin
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After posting on my blog, Berlin Game Design, some funny (but often, sadly true) things that have been said by first-timers when pitching a game, and after many of you have asked what one SHOULD say, I've now added a post for that very reason. As always, I welcome your comments, either here or there:

http://berlingamedesign.blogspot.com/2011/12/things-to-say-when-pitching...

Cogentesque
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I wish to take full credit

I wish to take full credit for this ¬_¬

...just sayin'

Thanks for the nice list Jeff, have posted a further suggestion that might be good for you to cover / get you some popular traffic :)

thanks again

sam

truekid games
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I agree with the conceptual

I agree with the conceptual basis of the statements, but I couldn't picture actually saying most of them out loud, even situationally.

jeffinberlin
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truekid games wrote:I agree

truekid games wrote:
I agree with the conceptual basis of the statements, but I couldn't picture actually saying most of them out loud, even situationally.

I realize that it seems a bit mechanical when listed like this. And it's true that the publishers often raise these issues themselves. The idea of the list is a counterpoint to the other, and that you should be prepared to answer any questions along these lines. However, it is also good to show some initiative.

As far as "not picturing yourself saying these things," I can't imagine a publisher not wanting to know the basics of your game in a limited amount of time, that you thoroughly playtested it with people who were not your closest friends, that you know the market and know the company to whom you are pitching, the playing time, that this game has something different than any other game on the market, and that "something different" is exciting enough that it will sell your game, and that you are easy to work with.

I admit that #7 is probably usually communicated more indirectly, as your willingness to accept criticism during the interview will say a lot to the publisher about how well you can work with them (and how much you are willing to "let go" of your "baby" so that they can continue development work).

Thanks for your feedback!

InvisibleJon
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Plausible usage...

jeffinberlin wrote:
truekid games wrote:
I agree with the conceptual basis of the statements, but I couldn't picture actually saying most of them out loud, even situationally.
I realize that it seems a bit mechanical when listed like this. And it's true that the publishers often raise these issues themselves. The idea of the list is a counterpoint to the other, and that you should be prepared to answer any questions along these lines. However, it is also good to show some initiative.
I feel that the suggestions (or rough equivalents to them) flow more easily into pitches to publishers than one may suspect. I know I've written more than a few of these in "pitch letters" to publishers (Most notably #2 (good fit), #4 (tested play time), #6 (re-theming), and #8 (look over here?).). I've also used equivalents to #2 (good fit), #5 (5-minutes rules), and #10 (take my prototype, please!) in person.

Good advice, Jeff. Very generous of you to share it.

truekid games
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again, the concepts are good,

again, the concepts are good, I can see wanting to communicate the ideas expressed- my problem is with the phrasing, which ranges from "self-important" to "hard selling", none of which is the impression I'd generally like to be pushing.

jeffinberlin
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truekid games wrote:again,

truekid games wrote:
again, the concepts are good, I can see wanting to communicate the ideas expressed- my problem is with the phrasing, which ranges from "self-important" to "hard selling", none of which is the impression I'd generally like to be pushing.

I know what you mean, and I'm definitely not the "used car salesman" type. I used to HATE selling things for school fundraising. When it comes to the games I've worked hard to perfect, however, it's not difficult to "sell" something I believe in. Furthermore, publishers only have a few minutes of time to spare, and if you don't sound confident in your game and cannot distinguish it from the other 500 prototypes they see every year, you do not have a chance at a publishing contract with them.

I would love it, however, if you could rephrase any of these that are bothersome to you so that they don't sound as "self-important" or "hard selling" yet still confident and important enough. How would you do it? I may even modify my blog.

PauloAugusto
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jeffinberlin wrote:[...] I

jeffinberlin wrote:
[...]
I would love it, however, if you could rephrase any of these that are bothersome to you so that they don't sound as "self-important" or "hard selling" yet still confident and important enough. How would you do it? I may even modify my blog.

After carefully thinking about it (and even writing a full response and re-writing of many of the points), i think that the easiest way to make the blog post consistent would be to change the title from:
"Things TO SAY when pitching to a publisher"
to
"Things a publisher might like to hear" ["when having a game being pitched at them"]

With the first title, many of the things seem like pushing the designer into lying to the publishers.

jeffinberlin wrote:

This game has very accessible and intuitive rules, but it also has some mechanisms that set it apart from other games (examples...) in its genre and target group.

Is it really? For some games it is true, for some it isn't. It may be something [publishers might like to hear]. It is not something [to say], if it isn't true.
jeffinberlin wrote:
I am, of course, open to any changes in theme and art direction you may have.

Am i really? I might no be so.

While the trend around BGG's and BGDF's designers (and regular people) tends to be regarding games as a collection of mechanics with some theme glued onto it (benefiting or not the game), i think that is an incorrect view and many games have it's theme as an integral part of itself. Much work is spent on the theme of many games and some developers might not want to give that up.

Imagine the game Twilight Struggle without that fresh cold war theme, maybe changed into fantasy because it's what's hip. Imagine Through the Ages changed from a civilization theme to a farming theme because the game Agricola is what's hip right now (that would completely change the feel of the game).

I understant publishers not wanting to give up the freedom to change the theme of the game, but i also understand that a designer might not want it's theme changed. Either way, o think that that may be something [publishers might like to hear], not something [to say], if it isn't true.

jeffinberlin wrote:
[several more examples]

I may be different (and much speach from many people leads me to thinking that may be so) but i have integrity and i would definetely try to not tell anything untrue to a publisher.

If what i have to say to a publisher is not good enough, it probably isn't the fault of what i am choosing to say but, instead, fault of the game not suiting that publisher or not being good enough.

Now, a post on how to correctly present your game to a publisher would be much more interesting. After all, i don't want to say untrue stuf to publishers, but i don't want them passing on my game because they haven't got to correctly know my game.

jeffinberlin
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Thanks for your input

Good points and THANKS so much for taking the time to make them.

I'm beginning to realize how brevity can have a downside--mainly, misunderstanding.

Naturally, I was not encouraging anyone to lie when they pitch a game. If you haven't playtested the game with anyone other than your best friends, then you should say that. Of course, that might not get you very far, but lying about it will destroy your credibility completely when the publisher looks at your rules and realizes the truth (and they are very good at recognizing this). What I'm getting at is that you have to playtest the game the way I described and then use that fact when presenting your prototype. Knowing that you put your time in--and that many other people continuously wanted to invest their time in the game--goes a long way in convincing the publisher that they should invest their time as well--at least in playtesting it themselves.

The same goes for the "original mechanism" part. If you don't have SOMETHING original in your game, whether it be a mechanism or different treatment of a theme, how is anyone going to be convinced to invest in that idea? I wouldn't want to invest in yet another "worker placement game" unless there was something very different about this one. I've had designs of mine turned down for this very reason--not original enough. Sure, the parts were put together in a slightly different way, but not enough to stand out from the crowd, in the publisher's opinion. I took it to heart, took a long look at the prototype again, and had to agree with them. It's back on the shelf until I can create something that makes the game stand out from the crowd.

On the other hand, I am very excited about a game of mine that is scheduled for publication this coming year because there are parts of it that I have never seen in a game before. There are also familiar parts, but when a publisher asked me what was different about this game, I could tell them immediately and enthusiastically. That's the kind of think I'm getting at here.

I completely agree with you about integrity, and believe me, I've fought to keep a theme or thematic element where I felt it was justified--and, in most instances, I've won over the publisher. My main point here was not to sound like a prima donna game designer when pitching a game to a publisher. You should, of course, not be afraid to speak up if you have strong reasons for feelings about something during the development of your game, but working with a publisher is a partnership, and there is a delicate give-and-take. It's good, then, to choose your battles, and let the publisher know you respect their opinions and are capable of compromise.

As examples, I've fought for the agricultural theme in my game, Heartland, because--although fairly abstract--it was based on my homeland, Iowa. It was a purely sentimental reason, of course, but it was important to me, and I let the publisher know that when they considered a city-buildling theme. Even so, I never presented my argument in any way other than respectful to them, and I even deferred the final decision to them, which they made in my favor.

Alea Iacta Est, on the other had, was originally a Medieval game, but I had absolutely no problem with the Roman theme, as it fit the brand (alea, duh!) so well. Still, alea also gave me and co-designer Bernd the courtesy of asking our permission to change the theme.

So, yes, I agree that integrity is important, but professionalism and teamwork are equally as important, and not at all contradictory.

As far as how to present your game to a publisher, I was trying to show that, if you can say most of the things on this list without lying, than you're ready. Have you playtested the thing to death with different groups? Do they always ask you to bring it back because they like playing it so much? Can you explain the main points of the rules in 5 minutes or less? Does your game have something original in it that makes it stand out from the crowd--and can you explain that clearly, briefly and enthusiastically as part of your pitch?

Finally, there's nothing like experience to help you improve in pitching. How you take rejection and how your try to improve your designs utilizing their feedback can help you immensely the next time.

Thanks again for your comments, and I hope my response explains it better. One more disclaimer: I'm writing from the perspective of someone who has dealt almost exclusively with German publishers. It may be quite different in the U.S.

For more information from a U.S. publisher's perspective, you might try the Kobold Guide to Game Design, something I downloaded and read recently.

bluepantherllc
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What to say to a publisher

I would like enter this thread with just a little bit from the publisher perspective. We ran a "Small Game Design Contest" last year and published the winner last summer. We were VERY SPECIFIC about what we wanted - number of cards, small number of components, has to fit in a small box, needs to have dice, should play in 30 min or less, etc. The only thing we did not specify was the theme or mechanics.

Some entrants made a real effort to meet the contest guidelines. Others sent in designs that they might have happened to be working on, or that they thought they could convince us would work. We even had a few that clearly did not meet the guidelines (free advice: if you're going to pitch a game to a publisher when the publisher says the game will have a dice tower as integral to the packaging as part of the design contest, it's probably a good idea to include some dice in your game design).

The game that won the contest was not the most elaborate, not the one with the richest theme, not the one with the deepest of strategic options. It was the one that met the guidelines for the contest - almost as if it were designed specifically for the contest. In fact, of the dozens of entries received, there were a handful that were really good and really close to our guidelines. It was not an easy choice.

So if you're going to pitch a design to any publisher, take the time to figure out their list of guidelines - some publishers put it on the site, others have contests with specific guidelines, and for other publishers your best idea of their guidelines would be to see what they've published, or even to request one from them. This research will make your design more likely to be considered, it will tell the publisher you are taking the time to understand the business from their perspective - in other words, that you are using due diligence and being professional.

And if you do manage to interest a publisher, you better have a 30-60 second pitch that catches attention. Either a paragraph or two or a quick snippet at a busy game convention - but have that ready too.

And today, the game designer has alot more options than just a few years ago. There are a few places that do print-on-demand and low volume orders, and there are crowdfunding sites like KickStarter that designers (and publishers) are using.

Put just a fraction of the time in to how you present the game to a publisher or the public compared to how much time you playtested it, and you will be more likely to be successful

PauloAugusto
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PauloAugusto wrote:[...] I

PauloAugusto wrote:
[...]
I may be different (and much speach from many people leads me to thinking that may be so) but i have integrity and i would definetely try to not tell anything untrue to a publisher.
[...]

jeffinberlin wrote:
[...]
I'm beginning to realize how brevity can have a downside--mainly, misunderstanding.

Naturally, I was not encouraging anyone to lie when they pitch a game. [...]


I didn't expressed myself well enough and, looking back, i could be seen as implying you were indeed encouraging.

"and much speach from many people leads me to thinking that may be so" was mostly refering to 2 circles that i know of: job seeking advices and one other circle. In the job seeking advices circle, there is an extremely strong presure to force the job seekers into present themselves as something that may widely be regarded as good (which is stupid starting right here), independently of how the person really is and independently of what the job offerers really are needing.

PauloAugusto
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jeffinberlin wrote:[...] The

jeffinberlin wrote:
[...]
The same goes for the "original mechanism" part. If you don't have SOMETHING original in your game, whether it be a mechanism or different treatment of a theme, how is anyone going to be convinced to invest in that idea? I wouldn't want to invest in yet another "worker placement game" unless there was something very different about this one. I've had designs of mine turned down for this very reason--not original enough. Sure, the parts were put together in a slightly different way, but not enough to stand out from the crowd, in the publisher's opinion. I took it to heart, took a long look at the prototype again, and had to agree with them. It's back on the shelf until I can create something that makes the game stand out from the crowd.
[...]

What i was really talking about was the thought current that i seem to see floating around BGG, blogs and many players i know that the only originality in a game is it's mechanics. And, by mechanics i mean, for example, the Rondel, the Catan board, the Commands&Colours, the Deck-Building mechanic, the Drafting-Mechanic, et cetera. Heck, i've even seen the rules of a game design contest state that, basically, they won't consider anything else than the mechanics.

And i think that thinking that way is wrong. All of these great successes did not have innovative mechanincs.

# Agri-Cola (the sower cola).
Even though i couldn't bring myself to like the game (i tried but it still wasn't enough to not offended the Agricola fanboys), i have great respect for the game. It is brilliant. However, how inovative are it's mechanics? Not really inovative, the game is heavily inpired mechanically in Caylus. How successfull the game is?..

# Twilight Struggle (TS)
Even though i think this game is overrated, i like this game and get that feel of (re?)living the cold-war history. Again, what does TS has of inovative mechanically? Very little or near nothing.

# Ticket to Ride
Again, no real mechanical inovation here.

# Memoir '44
This is probably the best example. Before Memoir '44 there was Battlecry. After Memoir, came the version "Ancients" and then "Napoleonics". As far as i can understand, between the 4 all that changes is non mechanical stuff, mostly all of the mechanics are exactly the same. Yet Memoir is a huge success while the others are not as much.

I understand why people end up in the «new mechanics are the only possible originality». After so many plays of Memoir, a troops squad is no longer a troops squad, it's «the unit with 4 HP that moves 2», we start to abstract ourselves from everything that is non mechanical. After seeing and evalluating so many games, i bet game evaluators also end up in the same trap.

However, as Agricola, TS, Ticket to Ride and Memoir show, game mechanics are not all there is needed to make a game good. I am in doubt if this is what you interpreted from what i said, since you wrote:

jeffinberlin wrote:
[...]
If you don't have SOMETHING original in your game, whether it be a mechanism or different treatment of a theme, [...] It's back on the shelf until I can create something that makes the game stand out from the crowd.
[...]

Which is indeed true. Not as something original in it's mechanics but something original in it's whole.

Agricola has a great integration into theme, the theme was not yet overly used yet, the mechanics weren't new but also not overly used. TS has a very fresh and intense cold-war feel. Ticket to Ride has an integration of non-inovative mechanics that is very fun and very easy to use. Memoir has an extremely overused theme (WW2) but is very easy to handle, which targets it at an audience which wasn't already bored of the WW2 theme (which is superb), has world-class production quality and maybe also benefited from better marketing than other games.

My point is that i think that it is wrong to see games as only being acceptable as decent/good/magnific if they have at least one greatly unique new mechanic. A game is much more than the sum of all it's different mechanics.

PauloAugusto
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bluepantherllc wrote:I would

bluepantherllc wrote:
I would like enter this thread with just a little bit from the publisher perspective. [...]

I'm assuming you are a publisher. It is always important to hear from the perspective of the publisher. In fact, i would say it is mostly all that matters.

bluepantherllc wrote:
[...]
And if you do manage to interest a publisher, you better have a 30-60 second pitch that catches attention. Either a paragraph or two or a quick snippet at a busy game convention - but have that ready too.
[...]

Is it having that 30~60 sec pitch prepared really necessary? I would assume that the game evaluators have some set of things they always seek to know and would ask. For example, if it's publisher is looking only for Wargames, it would start by asking if it is a wargame. Or, if it's publisher only wants original mechanichs it would ask what mechanics the game uses.

So, from a publisher's perspective, what are the most critical things you would like to know? What should be put into that 30~60 sec pitch?
I'm assuming number of players, play time and general theme as a start. But, upon consideration, number of players may be not that important.

jeffinberlin
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Yes

Yes, originality goes beyond an original game mechanic. It may be an original theme--or treatment of a theme, or an original combination or variation of known mechanics, which most games are.

The main point is that it needs to stand out from an increasingly crowded marketplace. If you're going to do a network-buildling train game, for example, it's original to do something that provides tension with only 3 turn options and a paragraph of rules (and lots of colorful but uncomplicated bits).

I would make that a big part of your 60-second pitch to a publisher as well, and I'm sure Blue Panther would agree: what makes this game different than all the other games for this target audience, playing time, component cost, etc.?

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