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The Needle in a Haystack or How I Came to Find a Publisher

[Here is the thing - Michiel - author of The Legacy - is a really cool guy. I talked with him lately and ask him if he is ok to make an experiment with me. As you can expect, he agreed.

What exactly he agreed for? What is the nature of experiment?

On every Wednesday I will write about The Legacy and I will write how we developed the game in Portal Games and how we prepare it to Essen release.

On Fridays on the other hand Michiel will be my guest blogger and he will write how this process looks from the author perspective. I do believe it is a damn interesting and insightful way of showing you guys, all young authors and gamers how it all works.

So here we come - Ignacy the Publisher on Wednesdays and Michiel the Author of Fridays.

Amazing story of bringing The Legacy to life!]

I think it was Games Britannia that best displayed the lonely, hopeless quest of a game designer looking for a publisher. It might have been a different board game documentary, but I remember well the hopelessness of the sad old man with his business suitcase full of prototypes flying to conventions and visiting the various stands of publishers, who all told him, on camera, “this is a good design, really fun, but it just doesn’t fit in the range of games we’d like to offer our customers.” One day, he said, maybe one day, he would create a prototype that would be taken on by a publisher. This was the cue for the end of the show and the viewers knew, he was never going to find a publisher.

Of course, this wasn’t quite my situation. My situation was one of initial success – people really liked the idea, the innovativeness of its theme (and to some extent its mechanics), and many felt, after some unavoidable fine-tuning, that this game would be a big success. Taking part in the Ducosim 2009 Game Design competition was therefore the first steps on the road to success. Being a gamers’ game complete in English (no Dutch!) did however produce some issues with many of the more casual players at the fair. Still, despite some initial misgivings to the game’s potential in such a setting, it won, and all was well again in the world. Next step, a publisher.

Early on I realized (or thought I realized) the importance of finding the right publisher. Finding a publisher just looking to make a quick buck wasn’t really what I was interested in. What I found, though, was that the definition of ‘publisher’ widely varies among the actual publishers. What do they do and what do they offer? And how long is one to wait for their answer? Forever?

The first publisher I went with was a big name in the industry. I made an appointment with them at Essen 2009, and with the head honcho and a few others I sat down and played the game in a cubicle, secluded from the fair. He was interested and asked me to send him a copy of the prototype, which I did, and a number of months later I got the feedback: too much luck for a gamer’s game, too long for a family game. If I would be willing to improve the game, they would be willing to take another look. Sounds great, right? But I was confused. Surely it was clear that the game had some strategic depth and could not be turned into a family game without eliminating its core elements? And sure it was clear that only real luck factor was an event deck, for which I even had the variant rule to simply leave it out. Could I just edit the event deck out and send it back? That seemed plain wrong and clearly not what was meant. What role did the publisher play if they couldn’t make such a simple change themselves? So I let it sit, and waited, and play-tested some more.

Six months later, after very positive feedback from some of the demo-people of another publisher, they indicated they were interested in checking out the game. They liked the game, but the first question they asked, after having played, was concerning the 100 unique spouse cards with individual images. “Do you know any artists willing to create these 100 pictures, or could you do this yourself?” I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, right then and there. Was this an interview to a job that I knew nothing about? What role was there for the publisher if I had to supply my own artwork? I was, once again, severely confused.

Not knowing what to do with those two publishers’ feedback, I contacted a different publisher and at Essen 2010 I sat down with him, and we went through a few steps of the game. He would let me know what he thought. I waited and waited and waited. Months and months passed. Nothing. Six months later, I received an email from one of the people working for that publisher: “I saw your game on BGG, and it looks awesome! We would be interested in checking out your prototype – could you send it to us?” No mention of Essen. No mention of the short play-test we had there. Clearly this was someone else involved in the company who had happened to have come across the game and was interested. Weird! So I sent up the game and waited. It was after Essen 2011 when I finally got an answer: “This game is a worker placement game, and we already have a worker placement game in our collection with which it would compete. We are therefore not interested in publishing.”

I was befuddled, confused, indeed, depressed. What did I have to do to get this game published? Each and every single publisher had a different take on the game, with none of the feedback corresponding.

Then Kickstarter hit me. No, not myself. I considered self-publishing a few times, but the horror stories of garages full of games that no one wants are just too much for me – I am no businessman. No, it was a burgeoning new publisher focusing on publishing games through Kickstarter, and oh, did they woe me! They woed me until they had convinced me of the imminent success of their marketing plan. I sent them my game, and from that moment on I heard nothing. Radio silence. Had they received my game? How was it? Nothing. To this day, I have not heard back from them. Do they have it? Hell yeah, I would say they do. Will they send it back? I don’t know – I have certainly asked for it, as it was one of my only two prototypes. The mystery still continues on this one.

I let the game sit on the shelf for a while, when one day, things changed for me. Indeed, a certain publisher/designer named Ignacy changed my life. I had already subscribed to a blog by a Polish designer. He had this awesome blog post about how one of his designers, who no longer worked for him, defended his game and told them they were playing it wrong (read it here), and then he wrote about play testing with Vlaada (here, here and here). Oh my god! This was exactly what I was looking for in a publisher! Someone who took their job as a publisher seriously – someone not just out to make a quick buck, but who would be interested in making my game better!

It was already Essen 2012, and there I was, meeting with Ignacy. I met him on Saturday, and all in a panic he apologized to me that he couldn’t playtest my game. I had never even arranged for a playtesting – I was simply bringing my game for him to check out when back home in Poland! When I explained this to him, he was still very much flustered, but asked me to bring by the game the next day, on Sunday, as he was sure to lose it in the chaos of the day. As agreed, the next day I stopped by the Portal stand with my prototype. My wife and two sons were with me. “Look,” I told them, “look, this is the man who will publish my game! I know it, I have a good feeling about this!” Ignacy just smiled and promised to give me feedback within a week.

A week! A week?!? Indeed, pshaw, a week indeed. More like six months or more! But who knows, right? Every other publisher, though, needed months and months rather than a mere seven days. Anyway, full of confidence I went back home, happy to be back in the business of hopefulness again. A week passed, and nothing, of course. Duh! It was silly of me to expect Ignacy to be any different. Still, I had this insanely good feeling. I received questions about the game – will it be published? And finally, finally, after eighteen months or so of radio silence with regard to a publisher, I had an answer, so I didn’t want to withhold it from my ‘fans’: “yes, yes, I think it will be! Things are looking good!”

A day later, on the eighth day (shame on you, Ignacy – a full day late!), I received a message from Ignacy, saying he was very interested in publishing the game. Could we discuss the details? Of course we could! As I said, a good feeling. My gut feeling had not been wrong – Essen 2013 here we come!
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