I have some friends who are published. Things are easier for them. I have some friends who have best-selling games. Things are even more easy for them.
We like to think that our game’s qualities matter. They do, but that’s only part of the truth. The full truth is this: “Chance of publication = Game qualities + Name”, and when you start out your Name = null.
Having a name is more than having a name. It’s knowing people in the business, it’s being known by people in the business. It’s having a fan base, no matter how small, that you can point to when you try to sell. It’s being able to sell directly to your fans.
It’s knowing who’ll like a particular game and if there are enough of that who to make it worthwhile to publish.
I’m not saying that my games are better than my friends’, boo-hoo, what a cruel and unjust world we live in. No. My games are, mostly, worse than those of my published friends. They are worse for the markets where my friends are published. They may be better for other markets, and sometimes they are. But if my friends would try to break into those markets they’d have just as hard a time as I have. That’s because a name is worth very little outside its target market. Every designer is world famous in Poland (yes, that is a reference). Not only that, you’ve got to keep your name going.
When I freelanced my name was pretty good with my clients. Then I put freelancing aside for a number of years. If I’d want to start up now I’d have a bit of rep with my previous clients but I’d have to fight their current regular go to guys. And while I’d probably beat out any fresh competition based on past merits alone I wouldn’t put money down on beating their current providers. And that’s the way it should be: if you’re happy with the services you’re getting, why change?
Same with anything we consume. I like my cereals. Why should I try a new brand? Unless it’s guaranteed to prolong my life, grow back my hair and save me a load of bucks in the process, sure. But just switch for the hell of it? Nah, I’ll keep my oat rings, thank you kindly.
So ask yourself this: if you’re a publisher and you’ve got a stable of tried and true, established designers. You have a single slot left in your publishing schedule for next year. You’ve got two submissions, both pretty decent, but one is from a new designer, the other from one of your regular ones. Which would you pick?
I’ll have to admit, publishers try out more new designers than businesspeople try out new freelancers. Most publishers, while money savvy, are also gamers at heart or they would find a nice, steady, lucrative job. So they’ll give you a chance. They’ll play your game, try it out, see if it grabs them.
Being in a hobby dominated market sure has got advantages.
Just don’t expect them to remove the need for that long, hard slog to getting published.