Courting a Game Publisher – DO’s and DON’Ts

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Courting a Game Publisher – DO’s and DON’Ts

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Believe it or not, there is an etiquette when submitting your game to Publishers. Publishers receive many submissions and just like submitting a resume for a job, the simplest things can turn Publishers off. To a degree it’s like courting- there are Dos and there are Don’ts that most Publishers expect. I reached out to a few of my Publisher friends, and of course I’m also a Publisher, to assemble a short list for you Game Designers out there to follow:

do

DOs

  • Research Publishers and only contact those who are likely to be interested in your types of games. Don’t waste everyone’s time by attempting to submit your war game to a casual game company. Same goes for themes that might be a turn-off to the Publisher you’re submitting too.
  • Check a Publisher’s website for submission guidelines before you do anything else.
  • Read the Publisher’s submission rules and clauses – some even take ownership of your submission
  • In most cases it’s acceptable to contact multiple Publishers at the same time about interest in your game. But please tell the Publisher that you are doing so.
  • E-mailing Publishers is fine. Make sure you put a 1-paragraph description of your game near the top of your letter. Try to include the “hook” for your game that makes it unique.
  • List the game’s vitals: play time, age, # of players, primary mechanics, expected retail price
  • List the game’s components – just totals of each item (like cards) not details
  • List the game’s target audience: Euro-gamers, Ameritrash, Casual gamers, Party gamers, etc
  • Send 1 small picture of your game with the initial inquiry or be prepared to send several pictures of your prototype on request
  • Include a link to the PDF rules or provide them on request
  • If you can, make a game sales pitch / short play video or even a sales flyer. It’s easier to watch and listen or gaze at a summary sheet then read through a long email to figure out what your game has to offer and what makes it stand out.
  • The best thing you can do is schedule time (beforehand) at a convention to meet with the Publisher to demo your game in person. Not all publishers have the time at conventions but personal demos work best
  • When creating a prototype, consider layout and use clip art graphics. Try to approximate what you think the final version should look like.
  • When you send your prototype to the Publisher make sure it’s a fully functional prototype with all the bits (including dice) in it. Don’t make the Publisher hunt for bits.
  • When submitting a prototype, include multiple copies of the rulebook.
  • Write only once a month at the most for an update but once a quarter would be best. Publishers are busy and get a lot of submissions.
  • It is acceptable to ask for a final answer or the game back if it’s been a year or longer. This can be a double-edge sword though – it puts some pressure on the Publisher to take you seriously but they might not have the time and just send the Prototype back.
  • You may be required to pay shipping if you want your prototype back, but most Publishers will pay.
  • Keep improving and testing your game while you are waiting
  • Take your game to conventions and local meet-ups and game store game nights. Get people to play your game and listen to as much feedback from as many types of people as you can.
  • Be flexible on potential theme, component, or rules changes / development proposed by the Publisher.
  • Offer to work with the Publisher’s developer to test their proposed design changes and to continue to develop the game.
  • Offer to help with promotion of your game, including Kickstarter if applicable, as well as upon release. Most Publishers are small 1 or 2 people companies and your personal help promoting the game will go a long way. But make sure you get permission before releasing any artwork or details on final products.
  • Write a rule book that can be blind-tested. This means that you don’t have to explain the game and someone can learn it without your help. This is very hard but the better you do the more likely the Publish is to have a good time learning your game. Of course their editor will hack it apart later, but you need a good start.
  • Make sure your rule book has an accurate parts/contents list.
  • Be prepared to move once the Publisher says they want to go with your game. It’s GO TIME and you need to keep up.

dont

DON’Ts

  • Don’t write a long email on first contact.
  • Don’t go into a long story about your development of the game.
  • Don’t go into a lengthy description about the game’s theme. Publishers may want to change the theme for many reasons, such as using art resources they already have or simply prevent the theme from overlapping with another release. You can explain how a certain theme could enhance the game but don’t look like you’re going to fight the Publisher if they want to change it.
  • Don’t submit a game similar to a game a Publisher already produces.
  • Don’t send a game that requires a IP license
  • Don’t ask for an NDA or imply you’re worried about your IP. This is a big newbie question and a turn off. Many Publishers will not even give you a second thought after that.
  • Don’t bother to patent your game idea as it’s probably not useful and very expensive.
  • Don’t worry about a Publisher stealing your game idea. They don’t have the time to redo all your work. They have plenty of ideas of their own they’d like to work on.
  • Don’t submit more then one or two games to a Publisher at a time. Pitch the game you think that Publisher is most likely to print. You can always return later.
  • Don’t set any hard deadlines or time frames for getting you an answer about your game unless you’re prepared to take it back right then
  • Don’t hire an artist / friend to work on your game unless it’s for free or willing to be thrown out. That’s not your job and most Publishers will not accept it. You are offering a working game design and nothing more to the Publisher.
  • Don’t be unwilling to make changes. Designers should be flexible to changes in design, components, and theme. The more established you become the more authority you’ll gain over these decisions but ultimately remember that it is the Publisher who is taking the biggest financial risk publishing the game so they need to do what they feel is the best chance for success.
  • Don’t send copies of the same prototype to multiple Publishers (or even ask them). Once you’re at the prototype stage with a Publisher it is usually understood that they will be exclusively working with you till they make their decision.
  • Don’t nag weekly about the status of your game. A Publisher has to get your game in front of several people and play it a few times. They have other games to look at too. Reviewing a prototype usually takes months. If you nag the Publisher they’ll just mail the prototype back or throw it out.
  • Don’t send unsolicited prototypes to Publishers.
  • Don’t submit game ideas to Publishers. They only want fully developed games. If you don’t think it’s playable out of the box, don’t submit it to a Publisher. This does not mean there won’t be more development suggestions from the Publisher.
  • Don’t send a publisher a Collectible Card Game (CCG/TCG/TMG) – we don’t have the money to create and market a game that will be DOA. Make it a non-collectible game in a box or LCG
  • I’ve learned this later in life and I’ll assume most of you are younger… so: Don’t make excuses. Whether it’s your Boss or your Publisher, they don’t want to hear about your issues and problems and excuses. They want to know when to expect results and for you to meet your deadlines.
  • Don’t run a Kickstarter campaign and THEN look for a publisher. Most publishers won’t touch your game after you have run a crowd funding campaign for it already. Contact them before and leverage their marketing to make the best of crowd funding.

 

Publishers I know are accepting submissions:

Stronghold Games
Crafty Games
Alderac Ent.
Dan Verssen Games
Tasty Minstrel Games
Valley Games
Indie Boards and Cards
Z-Man Games
Game Salute
Clever Mojo Games
Minion Games
Rio Grande Games
Spartacus Publishing
Wishing Tree Games
Ape Games
Flatlined Games
Gozer Games
V&C Games
Arcane Wonders
Asmodee
Gut Bustin’ Games
USAopoly

 

Some pretty common threads in what hobby publishers are looking for and more telling, NOT looking for…

AEG
Not Interested:
- RPGs
- CCGs
- Variants on classic games, like a chess or poker variant
- Games thematically dependent on acquiring a license.

APE GAMES
Interested:
+ family games, but they need enough meat on the bone for more serious gamers
Not-Interested:
- overly-heavy games
- CCG’s, RPG’s or wargames
- Thematically no sports game, zombies or fantasy
ASMODEE & CO.
Interested:
+ Any games that can be translated and good in all languages.
Not-Interested:
- Games that we can’t make changes or already in production, send your projects to the distribution team instead
- Concept around a trademark, without the rights
- Older game with a new theme, without the rights

ATLAS GAMES
Interested:
+ card games – edgy or humorous
+ games that don’t require a lot of bits
Not-Interested:
- abstract
- educational games
- CCG

COSMIC WOMBAT GAMES
Interested:
+ medium to light games, about 30-60 minutes in length
+ unique themes and gameplay
Not-Interested:
- zombies, sci-fi, or D&D type of fantasy themes

FOXTROT GAMES
Interested:
+ Accessible and engaging strategy games
+ Light to medium Euros
+ Card-only games
+ Open to abstract games
+ Open to games with children’s themes
Not-Interested:
- CCG
- Heavy Euros
- Party games

GAME SALUTE
Not Interested:
- Variants on classic games, like a chess or poker variant

GOZER GAMES
Interested:
+ Lightweight card games or medium weight Euro-style games
+ Nothing over 3 hours play time for board games, 45 minutes for card games
+ New or interesting theme – Space or Steampunk fine
+ Unique hook or interesting game mechanic
+ Should have a good number of players – 4 minimum, 6 preferred
+ Worker placement
+ Co-operative or competitive
+ Exploration games
+ Games where something is built
Not interested:
- Zombies
- CCGs, Deckbuilding
- Dice or “press your luck” style games
- Party games, Trivia games
- Children’s or Sports games
- 2-player games

GREENBRIER GAMES
Interested:
+ science fiction, military & Weapons
+ realistic, or plausible fantasy w/o magic
+ mad scientist, monster building, robots/mechs/cyborgs
+ traiter dynamic, moral ambiguity (tough choices)
+ tactical miniature combat
+ trading, leveling, ecomnic, resource management
+ modular terrain, worldbuilding
+ micromanagement of simcity/civilization style games
+ worker placement
+ voluntary co-op or voluntary pvp, not forced.

MINION GAMES
Interested:
+ Unique theme with a great hook
Not Interested:
- deck builders
- party and trivia games
- sport simulations
- abstracts
- educational games
- word games
- twists on classic games

NORTH STAR GAMES
Interested:
+ Family Games
+ Party Games
+ Ideally no individual game turns
+ Light Strategy Gaems 1 hour or less
+ Crazy simple with lots of replayability, but with interesting decisions
Not-Interested:
- Heavy/hard-core Euros games
- No Wargames

TMG
Interested:
+ Small dice games
+ medium-heavy euros
+ interesting card games
+ space / fantasy
Not-Interested:
- Party games
- word games
- children’s games
- zombie stuff
- horror

TWILIGHT CREATIONS
Interested:
+ board games
Not Interested:
- no overly complicated games

ZMAN
Interested:
+ Unique with a great hook
Not Interested:
- party and trivia games
- sport simulations
- abstracts
- educational games
- word games
- twists on classic games

 

 

Also check this index:
Game Designers Hub – Publishers Index

and these pages…
BGG Publisher’s Accepting Submissions List

BGDF.com Publishers List

 

Some more writing on this topic:

Pitching games to publishers at Gen Con 2013 – Part 1

http://onlinedungeonmaster.com/2013/08/19/pitching-games-to-publishers-at-gen-con-2013-part-1/

Don’t Throw Games at Publishers!

http://www.cheveedodd.com/thoughts-networking-earns-pitches.html

Pitch Like a Pro

http://hyperbolegames.com/2012/03/19/pitch-like-a-pro/

10 Tips for Writing Board Game Sell Sheets

http://andrewfederspiel.com/myblog/?p=226

How to Create a Sell Sheet

http://inspirationtopublication.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/step-14-create-sales-sheets/

How to Explain your Game To an Asshole

http://www.pentadact.com/2012-03-17-gdc-talk-how-to-explain-your-game-to-an-asshole/

YOU HAVE AN IDEA FOR A GAME – HERE’S WHY NOBODY CARES 

http://www.theastronauts.com/2013/05/you-have-an-idea-for-a-game-heres-why-nobody-cares/

 10 Takeaways from Pitching to a Well-Known Publisher

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/16569996

 

And get your butt to some prototype events!
Game Designer’s Hub

Happy Gaming!
~ James

16 thoughts on “Courting a Game Publisher – DO’s and DON’Ts

  1. Fred Wallace on

    Sir, I have a powerful christian game submission………are you accepting board game submissions with christian content……….or know anyone accepting them?….thank you for your website with great information do’s and don’ts,
    Fred Wallace (game designer)

    • I only accept games if the theme is the second most important aspect. We did publish Kingdom of Solomon which is a great classic Euro-Game with a historical/religious theme. Submissions should be sent to MinionGames.com contact for though not here.

  2. Stephen Avery on

    Nice article. Really concise with some good common sense items in there. I like how you added publisher links at the bottom as well. Good Job.

  3. Great article, and I agree with all of it – except one item, but since it’s an important one, I’d state it :
    “Don’t send copies of the same prototype to multiple publishers”

    Given that most publishers, even after receiving a prototye they asked for, can wait one year or more before giving an answer, sending prototypes to only one at a time means that you accept to wait for years before your game can be published – and often it’s obsolete or out of fashion before this time. I think sending to three or four pulishers at once is always acceptable, providing they lnow about it. I’m sure several of my games would never have found a publisher if I had waited for a definitive answer from one before sending the prototype to another.

    • Thanks for the comment Bruno! Most publishers I talked to don’t want to see a prototype till they are really interested and at that time they expect that the rug will not get pulled out from under you. I guess the best answer is just ask the publisher if it’s ok to send the prototype to others. They can’t tell you know unless they agree to give you an answer in a reasonable time on your game.

  4. Really great post; it’ll definitely help us refine our pitch for Gen-Con. One question for you: We’ve got a self-published game that’s doing really well on TheGameCrafter.com that we’d like to start pitching to publishers, but if publishers are asking for exclusivity, will the fact that there are ~20 copies out in the wild be a detriment?

    • I’m afraid that’s going to be a show stopper for some (like Zman) and a positive for others. So it’s all over. To me it’s a good sign you have a game far enough along and liked enough for people to buy and play it. So it’s a positive for Minion Games. But for many other larger companies its a show stopper.

  5. Ivan on

    Just a quick note, Stronghold Games doesn’t accept unsolicited game submissions. I tried to contact them and got a speedy negative response.
    Cheers

  6. I was wondering what a typical budget for artwork would be for a game with a box cover (obviously), game mat and about 100 cards. I’ve dealt with artists before, however I was self-publishing so my budget did not need any approval.

    However on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I have approached a publisher who asked me to submit artwork along with my game’s rulebook. I already had an artist in mind and so we agreed to do three (3) cards and the box cover for the game. I paid him for his work thinking I might be able to fully develop the remainder of the artwork with this artist.

    The publisher responded and said they thought the artwork I sent was “Great”! However we have not discussed the budget for producing the artwork. We are only at the playtesting stage (they – the publisher – want to playtest my game). I guess more discussions will follow if they like playing the game…

    I know what professional artists charge and have negotiated fair budget for my artist – but I was have second thoughts, worried that my artwork budget may be too high for the publisher…

    Note: Obviously this publisher was interested in knowing what kind of artist and artwork I could provide.

    Note 2: I feel very blessed to have met and worked with my artist to produce the sample artwork. I too am fond of the artwork. A sample can be seen on BGDF at: http://www.bgdf.com/image/sample-box-cover

    Anyhow I would just like a range (not an exact budget) for this type of project (100 cards)…

    Thank you,

    QuestCCG

  7. Thanks James for all the good and free advice. Especially the do’s and don’ts of courting a game publisher since I am looking for one. Also thanks for the list of companies accepting and not accepting.

  8. Hi – two real quick questions that have held me back for years on even trying to publish my millions of game ideas –

    1) I have a couple of pretty strong ideas for board/card games that are each very focused on a specific career. It aims to be hilarious , but, admittedly, only people in that field would “get the joke.” However, I think the action and everything else about it would truly be successful and something everyone in that field could relate to – no matter what level they are currently at. (LIke I said, I have two different career-focused game ideas like that). My question is – is this WAY to niche? I can imagine publishers would say it doesn’t have enough of a market or TV/movie hook to sell itself, but…is it worth a shot if I am passionate about it? I think I’ve seen games for lawyers, etc. (This isn’t) but have yet to see games about these two fields of work).

    2) Which brings me to my next question: though these two professions are quite prolific and not at all obscure, one of them is (ahem) a bit on the NSFW side. Which might actually give it more marketability, idk. Unlike a voyeuristic , college frat, drinking or silly party or badly written sex couples’ game, this is from the inside…and players can have experience in the field or not.

    So I guess my question is – are their legal issues with this? Is the subject matter (escorting, daily life of) something most publishers won’t want to touch with a ten foot pole, or do you think there might be a real interest? I have a TON of ideas on this game – ready to go in my mind. It wouldn’t be just gratuitous and it also wouldn’t just be some “feminist” educational rant. It would be a tried and true, hilarious, real, sad, down to earth, realistic yet too hot to be boring, kind of game. A cast of characters, too, so you get losts of points of view and stories, not just from one person.Are there adult publishers that specialize in this or should I try mainstream “party” board publishers??

    Last question,I promise (and thank you in advance to everyone for your help!) : I know it is as old as the wind to copy other board games – especially Monopoly – but one of the game ideas I have currently uses Monopoly as its model. Is that stupid? Publishing chance killer? And lastly, is that even legal/possible? Would I have to pay for license or buy serial rights? Is it in the “common domain” yet?

    Thank you again to everyone and all who can take the time to help me with these questions. Though I worked in book publishing for many years and can you whatever you would want to know about that – I know absoilutely nothing about getting a game publishged, but it has always been a dream of mine. (I used to make games – all the pieces ths cards, board and everythign , when I was as young as 3rd gradew and all the kids would paly it at recesss with the nuns and they all LOVED them)!

    OK – enough babbling from me. Thank you again – so so much!!
    Sincerely,
    Erika Whitmore
    erikacharisma@yahoo.com
    P.S. Also, my first job in college was at a game store (this was before video gaming was really taking off) and a friend had devloped a game that we could not keep on the shelves. At Christmas we had a waiting list to buy it a mile long. I cannot find him OR his game ANYWHERE. Does any know or have heard of a very cerebral yet fun word / vocabulary board game, I think it was called “Articulation” – in a black box – very plain – came out around 1988 or 1989 – designed by Kermit Heartsong I think his name was….? Thanks!

    3)

    • Good questions. I’ll try to be brief as much of this is covered in my blogs. 1) If your game is a niche of a niche it will be hard to find a publisher but you can use Print on Demand services like http://www.DriveThruCards.com or http://www.TheGameCrafter.com to get your game out there at least. Of course that leaves the layout and artwork management in your hands. 2) There is a market for most every theme and if you’re going print on demand then you should have no issues. But if you’re looking for a publisher, again you’re limiting yourself. But hey, look at Cards Against Humanity – it has sold HUGE and is a very un-PC game. There shouldn’t be any LEGAL issues as it’s a form of freedom of press/expression. 3) Yes it’s pretty taboo and shows lack of creativity or understanding of the industry to rip off Monopoly. That’s not to say it hasn’t been done and work- but on Kickstarter and in the Hobby Game Industry it will not sell well. Good luck, but my best advice is read the rest of my blogs!

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