Welcome, dear hopefuls and hopefully soon to be published brand name designers, to the third installment of our “Pitching for Dummies” series (and I promise, it will be the last one for a while). Last week we deconstructed the following pitch and saw that, lo, it was a good one:
Dear Jane Publisher,
My name is Gregory Amedesigner and I’d like to interest you in my game Sell It, which is a Eurogame similar to GreatEuro, published by you last year but aimed at a different audience. Sell It is a semi-casual party game for 2-6 players that plays in 45 minutes.
Enclosed, please find a sale sheet and game rules as PDF attachments. A complete prototype is available upon request.
This week we’re going to do stuff to it. Evil stuff. Dangerous stuff. Stuff that will make it crawl, bleed and beg for mercy. Ready? Here goes.
Don’t try any funny stuff
Don’t, please don’t. Your game might be a hoppsy-turvy romp around the enchanted glade with bunnies and fairies but you’re not. You need to show that you’re professional and that (mostly) means straight arrow boring.
(Yes, such pitches have happened. It’s a classic. Not in a good sense.)
Don’t be a stocking stuffer
My game Sell It, which is a highly themed Euro with elements of push your luck and area control, tied together with a card drawing and hand management mechanism that uses high interaction drafting to create an environment where players may place their 27 different types of meeples.
This is a pitch not a spelling bee. Throw everything in there at once and nothing will be visible. Look to what’s special about your game and use that (that’s called a USP or “Unique Selling Point” in marketing speech; basically it says “show off what only you can do”). If it’s a theme then go for the theme. If it’s a combination of mechanics, go for that. If it’s a similarity to a product by the publisher, try that. But don’t do everything at once.
(Yes, this is also a classic mistake.)
Don’t think you’re beyond the guidelines
Dude, if the publisher wanted to open up into a new market or new production type they’d find the best designer they could contract with a proven track record in that market and make sure that their first entry will have as high a likelihood of succeeding as possible. They’re not going to change their business strategy based on a single pitch from an unknown designer. So get over not being able to pitch your Live Action Trivial Pursuit game to Fantasy Flight and go do your homework.
(Yepp, you guessed it, another classic.)
Don’t quote your mother
My name is Gregory Amedesigner and I would like to pitch you a game that all my friends thing is really, really great. Even my mom plays it and she says it’s very nice.
No one cares about your mother. Not that she’s not a nice person, well worth caring for, but unless she’s a complete gamer geek and an experienced game reviewer then her opinion isn’t worth squat. And even if she is, chances are that she’ll be biased.
That’s why you never rely on your friends for final playtesting. You need outsiders, hardhearted people who are willing to bash your game to the breaking point and beyond. That’s the type of playtesting you should be doing, and talking about: “my game Sell It, playtested by over 200 college students” (assuming that college students are your target audience). So, please, don’t quote your mother.
(If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard of someone doing this…)
Don’t try to outsmart the publisher
Errr… Would you click on an unknown, masked link in a mail from an unknown sender? You would? Well then, I’d like you to know that I’m the Honorable Long Lost Brother of the King of Sweden and I’m willing to share my Crown Jewels with you if you only send me your bank account details.
Seriously, you need to trust your publisher. If they’re interested they’ll read your sale sheet and rules. If they’re not they won’t. Either way you’ll either get a rejection letter or you won’t. Those are the only two possible outcomes. Trying to see if the publisher read the rules or not is pointless. If you’re that interested, mail them after getting your reply and ask what they thought of the rules and how they could be improved. But don’t try to fool them with something you can track.
Beginning writers used do this quite often when sending in paper manuscripts, by placing a hair in their manuscripts or turning a page upside down or some other silly stunt. One editor commented the practice with the words: “if you don’t trust me, I have no interest in reading your work”. And since there are more prospective writers than publishers (and more prospective game designers than publishers) burning your bridges this spectacularly is just dumb.
You’ll either get the publisher’s interest or you won’t. If you don’t, thank them, ask for feedback, consider it (and change the game if necessary) and send it to the next publisher on your list. Getting published isn’t about connections (although I’ve seen the work of people who’ve been published because of their connections and it’s usually not good). Getting published is about having a good game at a time when the publisher is looking for that particular type of game and willing to work with a new designer. If you don’t get it this time, you’ll get it the next. Just consider Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, who went for five years before landing at :Portal:. So don’t worry, if you fail this time you’ll make it the next, if not with this game then with another.