Don’t Throw Games at Publishers!
I have read and listened to a great deal of advice on how to pitch games. Advice generally touches on practicing your elevator pitches to cold-calling techniques. I continue to read about this process and am always interested in what people have to say… but honestly, I ignore most of it. I’m going to share why with you and try to show you my process in this post.
Publishers are humans. They are not companies. There are a few exceptions of publishing companies that run their businesses like a large corporation with meetings and all that… but I’m not talking about them in this post. I’m talking about that company that you have heard of, that has a few good titles under their belt and puts out three or four hobby market games a year. Maybe they even have one in Barnes and Noble or something. These publishers are typically made up of a small group of people. Some of them might even be just one person! They are not a corporate conglomerate that needs to have a meeting about having a meeting with you.
So, how do you get a meeting with these publishers? Forget about the pitch. Seriously. Just stop. Your number one goal should be to just get to know them, not shove a game in their face. Remember, these are people making business decisions. If you come at them with all your “awesome” ideas, you are not appealing to the human portion of their personality. Humans are social animals and enjoy being courted. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and imagine this scenario:
You’re standing in your yard, admiring the your new landscaping project when some random person walks up.
“Dude! You have a house!? I work on houses! I could redo your roof or build you new cabinets! Awesome right!? You in!?”
If you are like most other people, the chances of that guy getting more than a dismissive “no” would be very slim. You see, pitching is sales. Period. You are selling your games. Any good salesperson will tell you that selling yourself is way more important than the product you are representing.
So, same scenario, more awesome salesperson.
“Hey guy. Your landscaping looks awesome! I really like how you made it draw attention to your front door. I see you like to really take care of things. Listen, I’m a handyman. If you ever need help with anything, how about giving me a call?”
This is the same approach I use with publishers and it works. I’m not selling them anything up front but myself. I’m not begging for a meeting or trying to force myself on them. The best part is, you can be the shyest person on the planet and do this because it’s all done with emails! That’s right, I like to introduce myself before I meet in person. It allows me to skip the awkward phase and move immediately into the hand-shakes and smiles.
So, you’ve got an idea of how I approach the publishers… now the question is, how do I find them? Research. Research. Research. Research. Seriously, did you catch that? I’m going to Origins in a few weeks. You know who else attends Origins? Publishers! Which ones? Well, I’m not going to spell that out for you, but I’ll tell you how I chose mine.
Phase one is visiting the website of the shows you’ll be attending. Chances are, they will have information about which publishers and exhibitors will be in attendance. Now, Origins is pretty lax, so you’ll have to do more digging, but most shows will have an exhibitor list up months in advance. I’m going to specifically talk about Origins in this post because that’s the show I’m working on right now.
Going to originsgamefair.com can be a nightmare to navigate and they won’t have exhibitor information until a few days before the show. So, my method was to simply look at the sponsors section on the front page. I’m assuming, if a publisher is a sponsor of a show, they’ll be in attendance! See all those names? Write them down. Some of them I’m interested in, some of them I’m not. Write them down anyway. Surely there will be more publishers there than just the handful listed?
The second place I find information is boardgamegeek.com. You may be able to find publishers talking about their plans, but the section I’m most interested in is the BGG News. Eric Martin has his entire fist on the pulse of the industry and knows about releases way before anyone else. He’s a great resource. If you search through the ‘New Game Roundup’ posts, you’ll find all sorts of neat details about games being released at Origins. Guess what? The publishers that are releasing those games need to actually be there to do that! Got those names written down? Great!
Phase two is the long and tedious part. This is where you find each and every one of those publishers websites and you search them for any sort of contact info you can find. Remember, these publishers are generally small and chances are firstname.lastname@example.org is likely read by the same person behind email@example.com. Some of their websites will tell you that they don’t accept unsolicited submissions. Ignore that. Remember, you aren’t pitching your game!
After you’ve found contact info for these publishers, it’s time to pick the ones that you want to talk to. My suggestion is talk to as many as possible, even if you don’t think their company is a good fit for your game. Remember, you are selling yourself here. You might not have a game for that publisher right now, but if you get to talking to them, and develop some sort of working relationship, they might lean on you for future projects. That’s what networking is… developing relationships for future business.
You have a list of publishers you’d like to meet? Awesome. It’s time to start drafting up emails. Again, you are NOT pitching a game right now, you are simply trying to set aside a moment to meet up with them and say hi. My typical email looks something like the:
Hi! My name is Chevee and I’m a game designer. I’ve been a big fan of your company and really enjoyed that game you put out last year. I noticed that you’ll be attending Origins this year and would love to meet up with you if at all possible. I know shows are a busy time for you so I am completely flexible. I can stop by your booth when you are available or if you’d like to meet up for lunch or drinks, I’m good with that too.
Thank you for your time!
Now, notice, I’m not asking them to do anything more than shake my hand and say hi. At this point in our non-existent relationship, that’s all I want. Here’s the magic of how this whole thing works… they know you have games to show… they aren’t dumb… but you’ve been courteous by not wasting their time up-front, so chances are, they will extend you the same courteousness with something like this totally-fabricated but based-on-actual-emails email:
Thanks for the kind words. I will be at Origins and would be happy to meet with you. Do you have any specific games you’d like to talk about?
Neat, huh!? That publisher just asked me about my games! It’s now up to you to proceed. I recommend a short descriptive blurb. Don’t send them a page of text that they’ll never read unless they ask for it specifically. I have two or three games I’m looking to show this year so my standard[ish] response is something like this:
Yes, I have a few games I’m showing this year.
Princess Dice/Leathernecks ’43 is a quick, press-your-luck dice game for 2-6 players that involves a touch more player interaction than your standard dice game. Each turn, players can score one of three different items and at the end of the game, the player who scored the most of each item gets a bonus. Games typically last about 20 minutes.
Black Bear Downs is a betting game that uses a simple race mechanic to determine payouts. Players are dealt a hand of cards that are used to move the racers, and place bets based on the strength of their hands. It plays 3-5 players in about 45 minutes.
If you are interested in either of these games I can forward you more information in advance. If you are not interested, I understand, but I’d love to meet with you regardless.
Thanks again for your time!
Keep the pitches to a minimum here. Tell them the important info only and get on with it. I’ve had publishers pass on “press-your-luck” simply because they already have a dice game coming out. No need to make them read a bunch of text to figure that out. If they want more information, they’ll let you know. Some ask for rules or pictures. Some have read all my articles about the games and their designs. Every publisher is different because they are human. Appeal to that.
I hope this helps. I suggest pitching to anyone that will listen, even if you don’t think the game you are showing is a good fit for their company. Publishers know the market way better than you ever will and they can give you some great advice even if they are not interested in your game. Your goal should be primarily about securing a meeting and less about pitching games. Get a meeting time, and be prompt. Never be late, but also, don’t be early. Be on time. No one likes that awkward guy standing around waiting for his meeting slot.