Designer Diaries by Daniel Grek

Designer Diary entries for games designed by Daniel Grek/Concrete Canoe Games!
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Dirigible Disaster Part 3: Pitching, Patience, Persistence, and Publishers

Daniel Grek
United States
New Jersey
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Board Game Designer
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Dirigible Disaster

View Part 2 Here:

I had been hitting the books hard to make sure I was ready to pitch Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster. One of the toughest parts in the entire game design process can be making the transition from hobby to business. We all get into games to have fun and sometimes we can let that bleed into our professional persona a bit too much. That’s not to say the behind the scenes of the board game industry is all work and no play, but when you approach a publisher you need to be aware that they are a company and will have certain criteria. I’m not going to detail every single little thing that I learned in my research, there are plenty of existing resources for that (I recommend, James is a designer, publisher, and a store owner and he has a great deal of experience in the business). I will mostly focus on the things that I applied to my own pitching.

I had previously done a little work looking up some of the bigger publishers and finding their submission requirements and forms. One bit of information that came up was that if you can present you game in person you should do so. A face to face conversation can have a greater impact than an email and the best place to meet publishers face to face would be at a board game convention. I had never been to a board game convention before (I had been to New York Comic Con a couple times and hoped that level of crowded would be nowhere near me again). I started to look into good conventions to pitch at and discovered that many people suggested the best con to show off you game would be Origins in Columbus, Ohio. Origins has a sizeable crowd but nothing as bad as GenCon and it tended to allow a solid collection of publishers and more time to speak with them. Excitedly, I bought event passes for myself and my fiancée (girlfriend at the time) and decided to also make a bit of a vacation out of the trip as well.

It is at this point that I will mention that Barley’s Brew Pub has amazing chicken wings and I think about them often. Sorry, carry on dear reader.

Conveniently, James Mathe was running one of his Publisher/Designer Speed Dating events at Origins that year. These events allow designers to set up a table and demo their game a few minutes at a time to a wide variety of publishers. Not everyone signs their game but an event of this type would save me a bit of awkwardness that comes with approaching random people at a crowded con. (Side point here is you can also try to make appointments with publishers if you are worried about just randomly approaching them as well). Another added benefit is that you have set blocks of time to work in. No matter how you pitch your game, remember that a publishers time can be precious, especially in a convention setting so be mindful of their needs in that regard. I signed up for a Saturday night P/D Speed Date session and focused on how I was going to pitch. I wanted to be sure to:

- Have my quick, elevator pitch down so I could get out information quickly but still be coherent and interesting.

- Have a professional visual presentation to let publishers know I was serious about my game and understood I was dealing with businesspeople.

- Make sure I had my own copy of my game as well as extras in case any publisher wanted to demo on their own.

- Have all necessary resources on hand so that potential publishers would see the breadth of the work I had done.

To accomplish these goals I first researched each publisher involved with the event to know the kind of games they liked, disliked, have already put out, etc. Familiarity with each company could give me an advantage is making subtle changes to my pitch so it seems more tailored to the individuals. I wrote up a quick pitch on Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster and made changes to improve clarity on my own before going to friends who’d either played the game a few times, so they could adjust points, and then friends who hadn’t, to see if they could get the idea of the game effectively from my short speech.

Once I felt confident in how I would verbally present the game, I worked on the visuals. I design games under my own little company, Concrete Canoe Games, and while you don’t have to file for a business yourself, it can be a good idea to at least have your own company name to add some weight. I was sure to print out business cards for Concrete Canoe Games as well. This looks professional and serves the obvious purpose of getting your contact information easily into other hands.

The most important visual you can bring to a pitch meeting, event, or even send in an email is a sale sheet. A sale sheet will contain statistics for your game such as number of players, age range, and time, components (important for publishers to also get an idea of how much a game could cost), samples of existing artwork to further entice, and of course details on how the game is played. Your sales sheet will occupy the eyes of the publisher while you give your pitch but also give them something to go back to and remember the game by. I will add in a link to the Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster sales sheet somewhere on this post if you would like to reference it and work on your own.

I also printed out a handful of other useful materials including: The Father Geek review of the game, user reviews from The Game Crafter, notes I had received from blind play testers, additional samples of artwork, and even the sale sheet for another game I was working on just in case anyone was interested. I put all of these together with some business cards and my sale sheet in a manila folder and made a Farns label to help them stand out. This was my full sales packet, and any company I talked to received at least one. This presented all of the information neatly, securely, and in a professional manner. I ended up making 25 packets, more than I intended to give out in case I met a company I didn’t account for or someone wanted an extra, and made up three full copies of my game. I wouldn’t recommend going too crazy with demo copies at this stage because some publishers prefer they be the only one with a copy if they demo.

So to skip ahead to the publishing night, I was a little nervous and was the first person to arrive at the event location. This game me some time to review my pitch in the space, though, so that worked out in the end. Some companies unfortunately ended up having scheduling conflicts but in all I recall about 10 being present. I had some interesting experiences that I will be sharing but, for the most part, I will not list specific company names as this diary is about my experiences getting Dirigible Disaster to where it is today. So without further ado some things I noted:
Firstly, your game is not your baby. You need to be able to make compromises and listen to critiques. This needs to go through your head as you converse with people about your game.

Be prepared for small talk. In the case of FFDD, the game is frantic and fun but also fairly light. One company at the event new immediately that it didn’t have enough player choice for their taste and it became clear that giving them the full pitch would be a waste of all of our time. I didn’t take this personally and you shouldn’t either but I still engaged with them about the convention and business in general so if any other company looked over I wasn’t just sitting there in silence and the company representative wasn’t looking bored.

You don’t have to be too nice. One company loved my artwork and started asking about how much it cost, who did it, and so on. At this point it became clear they were more interested in getting a good deal on art in the future. It is okay to give basic information but don’t turn into an infomercial for someone else if this is your chance to make an impression. Do what you can to bring them back to your game. I made sure to keep referencing my game specifically even when I did give them information about my artist.

Compliments can suck sometimes but take what you can as a victory. This is the only specific name I will drop because I said it a few times already. As part of the speed dating event I got to sit down with James Mathe (Minion Games) and pitch to him directly. He had many kind and awesome things to say about my game and even went so far as to say if no one there signed it I should consider Kickstarting it because I had something special. Those words have stuck with me but so did him saying that it was a shame they had recently signed a co-op game and weren’t looking for new ones at the time. I could’ve gotten down about that but I let it fuel me, after all he flat out said the game looked well done sooooo WOOOO! I feel like this comes off as a humble brag but I typed it so I’m leaving it.

My last little bit of advice is treat all the publishers with respect because sometimes you don’t know who will turn out to be your best option. There were two companies that expressed interest in seeing FFDD further. The first I met with a representative of the company who loved the theme and new the boss would be interested in it. The rep was very friendly and engaging in conversation. I was given the owners contact information so I could speak with him. The second company I met with the owner directly. The owner appeared a bit disinterested and maybe a bit irritated or out of it. This person, however, said they had not been feeling well but had interest in the game and wanted to talk about it the next morning after they had a chance to get some rest. Originally, my girlfriend and I were leaving the next morning but I figured I could pick up additional passes and stop by and meet the owner of the “nice” company then swing by and see the other company briefly. At the “nice” company, I waited patiently as the owner finished a conversation then introduced myself and was sure to just quickly say I looked forward to talking more in the future. The short conversation felt very one sided and I could feel the owner’s eyes rolling back into his head for most of it. I left their booth feeling a bit down now and shuffled over to the second company. A now rested owner there was polite, interested, and a great conversationalist. I was ready to write the company off because someone was having a bad evening. They took a copy of the game and said they would play soon and get back to me.

And they did get back to me. The testers had a fun time with the game and barring future success on an up incoming Kickstarter campaign I could have myself a contract. Unfortunately, due to a variety of issues that Kickstarter did not succeed. I made sure about once a month to contact and check how things were standing. There was always open communication, and board games can take a while to come out but after a year without an official contract I asked permission to show the game to other reviewers. As there was nothing signed I remained on the companies short list but kept my eyes open for any interest.

That interest came a few weeks later. I was in the chat at when a fellow guy named Dan mentioned he was looking for games to publish. Dan Letzring had completed two successful Kickstarter campaigns of varying scales (Phd: The Game and Dino Dude Ranch) and was looking to get another game out while co-designing a game for down the road. Dan L. is a family man and like the idea of a co-op that could appeal to a range of ages and gamers so I sent him over a copy. I signed a contract with Dan shortly after and informed the other publisher I was doing so. When Dan first spoke with me about playing the game he did so with such a passion. For him to bring such an energy to this thing I created really helped to win me over. He also detailed for me a lot of the lessons he had learned from Kickstarting previous projects and I knew that he and his company, Letiman Games, would be able to do justice to something I’d worked so hard on.

Letiman Games’ first suggestion as publisher was to possibly shorten the title for easier recognition on shelves and with that the newly shortened Dirigible Disaster started to take flight, sailing closer to being my first fully published game.

Join us for the final part of this designer Diary, Part 4: The (Kick)Start of Something Wonderful.

Dirigible Disaster comes to Kickstarter January 12th. Check out its BGG Page or @ConcCanoeGames on Twitter for more updates!

Check out the Kickstarter Preview Page here:
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