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Subject: Help me improve my cold-call pitch to publishers? rss

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David Somerville
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This summer, I'll be taking my game, Trove, to publishers. I'm trying to craft a good cold-call pitch for blind submission forms (although I realize that's never the best way to try and reach a publisher — still, leave no stone unturned, right?).

Would you take a look at what's below and let me know if you think it's compelling, or give me any input you might have as to what I could tweak?

Thanks!

---

Dear __________ ,

I'd love to submit a prototype for my genre-breaking mid-weight cave-crawler, "Trove."

Trove is a super-asymmetrical fantasy adventure for 2–4 players. Players take on the roles of the Knight, the Goblin Horde, the Cave, and the Dragon — each with unique pieces, powers, and paths to victory. Essentially, 4 mini-games play out on a single board, interacting with one another to create dramatic and unexpected stories and challenges for each player.

All players use a combination of cards, tokens, pawns, and dice, but each in their own unique way to evoke a particular mood and play style, which combines into a thrilling and satisfying quest for each player.

If you're interested, please take a look at the rulebook at http://smrvl.com/bgg/trove-rulebook.pdf, or at the ongoing thread about the game on BGG at http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1175320/trove-that-crazy-asy... ... I hope those will give you enough of a taste to merit further conversation.

Please don't hesitate to call or write at any time, if you'd like to learn more. I'm in DC, and would be happy to meet at any time to show you more of the game in person.

All the best,

David Somerville
http://twitter.com/thisistrove
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Bill Eldard
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They are likely going to want to know what makes your game different than other dungeon-crawlers. I'd list those games that TROVE is NOT like in the letter, which, if they have any interest, ought to prompt them to respond with a request for specific comparisons. Include the targeted market audience for your game.
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Brook Gentlestream
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90% of the time, I find I can improve on these sorts of things simply by removing a few words here and there. Somethings that sound okay conversationally don't translate well to a document. These are all very minor and style-oriented suggestions but I think they make the overall request "stronger".


smrvl wrote:
I'd love to submit a prototype for my genre-breaking mid-weight cave-crawler, "Trove."

1. "genre-breaking" is not as great a buzz-word as you might think. This translates as roughly "difficult to market".

smrvl wrote:
Trove is a super-asymmetrical fantasy adventure for 2–4 players. Players take on the roles of the Knight, the Goblin Horde, the Cave, and the Dragon — each with unique pieces, powers, and paths to victory. Essentially, 4 mini-games play out on a single board, interacting with one another to create dramatic and unexpected stories and challenges for each player.


2. "Asymmetrical" is fine and interesting. "Super-asymmetrical" doesn't really mean anything, and makes it sound less like you know what you are talking about.

3. "unexpected stories" translates to "completely random stories" when I read it. Is that your intention?

smrvl wrote:
All players use a combination of cards, tokens, pawns, and dice, but each in their own unique way to evoke a particular mood and play style, which combines into a thrilling and satisfying quest for each player.


4. I wouldn't describe "cards, tokens, pawns, and dice". This is starting to sound expensive. Just start with "each player uses their components in a unique way..."

smrvl wrote:
If you're interested, please take a look at the rulebook at http://smrvl.com/bgg/trove-rulebook.pdf, or at the ongoing thread about the game on BGG at http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1175320/trove-that-crazy-asy... ... I hope those will give you enough of a taste to merit further conversation.


5. I would get rid of "if you're interested" and start with "You can see the full rulebook at..." or something direct like that.

6. "to further merit conversation" should probably be reworded. It sounds... I don't know, way too humble to the point of self-doubt.

smrvl wrote:
Please don't hesitate to call or write at any time, if you'd like to learn more. I'm in DC, and would be happy to meet at any time to show you more of the game in person.


7. You can get rid of "please" in the last sentence. Yes, it's polite, but you are already saying something polite and without please it sounds more like an offer than a request: simply, "Don't hesitate to call or write at any time." I would also like to get rid of "if you'd like to learn more". In general, I would get rid of all "if" statements to prevent unconsciously guiding the reader down unwanted decision trees. Just saying "Don't hestitate to call or write any time" is already fairly polite and direct.

8. You can remove 'more of' from the last sentence and change it to "show you the game in person". Also you may want to open up the possibility of just mailing a prototype rather than just arranging a personal meeting.
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David Somerville
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Eldard wrote:
They are likely going to want to know what makes your game different than other dungeon-crawlers. I'd list those games that TROVE is NOT like in the letter, which, if they have any interest, ought to prompt them to respond with a request for specific comparisons. Include the targeted market audience for your game.

This is a cool idea. Some points of comparison would be a great call — I'll also definitely add the target audience in the next round.
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Scott Almes
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Hi David,

It would be useful to include a quick description of the gameplay. Then, by (briefly) explaining the mechanics you can show them that it's different. The trick is to give a good impression the gameplay in a paragraph or two.

Also, if you can, offer to meet them at a convention or to send them a physical prototype.

It would be nice if you talked about the specific company, too, and why you think it might fit into their catalog.

I like the link to the thread and rules, because then they can take a glance at pictures of the prototype.

Hope this helps.

Cheers,
Scott
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David Somerville
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lordrahvin wrote:
90% of the time, I find I can improve on these sorts of things simply by removing a few words here and there. Somethings that sound okay conversationally don't translate well to a document. These are all very minor and style-oriented suggestions but I think they make the overall request "stronger".


smrvl wrote:
I'd love to submit a prototype for my genre-breaking mid-weight cave-crawler, "Trove."

1. "genre-breaking" is not as great a buzz-word as you might think. This translates as roughly "difficult to market".

smrvl wrote:
Trove is a super-asymmetrical fantasy adventure for 2–4 players. Players take on the roles of the Knight, the Goblin Horde, the Cave, and the Dragon — each with unique pieces, powers, and paths to victory. Essentially, 4 mini-games play out on a single board, interacting with one another to create dramatic and unexpected stories and challenges for each player.


2. "Asymmetrical" is fine and interesting. "Super-asymmetrical" doesn't really mean anything, and makes it sound less like you know what you are talking about.

3. "unexpected stories" translates to "completely random stories" when I read it. Is that your intention?

smrvl wrote:
All players use a combination of cards, tokens, pawns, and dice, but each in their own unique way to evoke a particular mood and play style, which combines into a thrilling and satisfying quest for each player.


4. I wouldn't describe "cards, tokens, pawns, and dice". This is starting to sound expensive. Just start with "each player uses their components in a unique way..."

smrvl wrote:
If you're interested, please take a look at the rulebook at http://smrvl.com/bgg/trove-rulebook.pdf, or at the ongoing thread about the game on BGG at http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1175320/trove-that-crazy-asy... ... I hope those will give you enough of a taste to merit further conversation.


5. I would get rid of "if you're interested" and start with "You can see the full rulebook at..." or something direct like that.

6. "to further merit conversation" should probably be reworded. It sounds... I don't know, way too humble to the point of self-doubt.

smrvl wrote:
Please don't hesitate to call or write at any time, if you'd like to learn more. I'm in DC, and would be happy to meet at any time to show you more of the game in person.


7. You can get rid of "please" in the last sentence. Yes, it's polite, but you are already saying something polite and without please it sounds more like an offer than a request: simply, "Don't hesitate to call or write at any time." I would also like to get rid of "if you'd like to learn more". In general, I would get rid of all "if" statements to prevent unconsciously guiding the reader down unwanted decision trees. Just saying "Don't hestitate to call or write any time" is already fairly polite and direct.

8. You can remove 'more of' from the last sentence and change it to "show you the game in person". Also you may want to open up the possibility of just mailing a prototype rather than just arranging a personal meeting.

This is all SO helpful! I'll post up a new draft based on this feedback (as well as Bill's) in a little while, for further review. Thank you!!
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David Somerville
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scottbalmes wrote:
Hope this helps.

It helps hugely! Thanks so much!
 
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Paul DeStefano
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Here's a weird bit of advice:

Don't sell. Tell.

Pull all the adjectives out. Cut anything that's a specific detail (no one need s to know character class at cold call level).

You want the absolute shortest description possible that makes your game different from the next one.

EVERYONE thinks their game is great. Don't waste ink on saying it.
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Brook Gentlestream
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It might also be a good exercise to make a separate "elevator pitch" for a potential player.

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Brook Gentlestream
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lordrahvin wrote:
Just start with "each player uses their components in a unique way..."

Looking back on it, unique is the wrong word here. It used so often that it has no meaning, and even if taken at face value, has the wrong meaning. It's not "unique" in that "no one has ever done this before", it's unique in that "the other players don't do it this way". I would replace the word "unique" here with "distinct" or "different". "Each player uses their components in a different way..."

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David Somerville
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This is all awesome. Thank you so much!! I'll work on crafting my new version on the commute home tonight!
 
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Lance McMillan
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I think you're approaching this from the wrong angle. The publisher is going to be far less interested in your pitch letter than the actual game itself.

I've done a number of game acceptance reviews for VPG and I can honestly say that nobody even bothers reading cover letters. If you have a prototype that's ready for analysis, don't ask if they're interested in looking it over, just send it. You don't need to send a physical copy, just the electronic files should be sufficient (if they're interested, they can print up their own demo/test kit).

If you feel compelled to include a cover letter, then you need to highlight what makes your game different/special from all the others. Publishers receive dozens of game submissions every month; if all you're offerring is a slightly modified version of 'Descent' or 'Heroquest,' they're just going to yawn and put your game in the reject file. What makes your design stand out from all the others? That's what they want to know.

Things that publishers will want to see:

= A complete list of components. This is critical because it allows the publisher to make a rough calculation of how much it will cost them to produce the game, and thus estimate the product's price point (lower is typically better -- they can typically sell more games at $40 a pop than at $75).

= A well-written set of rules. If it's not immediately clear how your game is supposed to be played the reviewer will either make assumptions (usually wrong) or simply reject the project out of hand. I can't emphasize this enough: the game rules are the PRIMARY element your design will be evaluated on, everything else is simply icing on the cake.

= Necessary game-play information on your prototype components needs to be clearly presented. Don't worry about whether it "looks nice" or not, the publisher will have in-house artists who'll handle that aspect in development (even if you provide your own), but if your prototype doesn't clearly lay out things like health tracks, fighting bonuses, or spell effects, the reviewer will either make their own (usually wrong) interpretation of what it's supposed to be like, or just throw up their hands in frustration and slide the package into the reject pile.

Again, in summary, your pitch is of far less importance than the design itself. If the reviewer spends more than 15-30 seconds reading/listening to your pitch, it's highly unusual. Appreciate the fact that the person who'll be reviewing your design for acceptance/rejection will be a highly experienced gamer, someone who in all probability has designed and/or developed dozens of games themselves. Your prototype has to be able to make an impact on them without you being present (they're not going to ask for you to come in and demo it for them, they'll want you to send in a copy for analysis/review), so put you effort into making the game be able to convey your brilliance and enthusiasm on its own.
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Brook Gentlestream
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Many publishers specifically say they do not want unsolicited prototypes sent, so a cover letter like this would be necessary.
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Paul DeStefano
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Lancer4321 wrote:
If you have a prototype that's ready for analysis, don't ask if they're interested in looking it over, just send it.


This is a guaranteed way to not be viewed by several major companies.
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Nicholas Vitek
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In a quick read, I got to the Knight and hit the win condition:

Make it to the dragon and roll a 6.
So, the way I win is to play a ton of game, and then hope to get a ~16% chance to win?

 
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David Somerville
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Nich wrote:
In a quick read, I got to the Knight and hit the win condition:

Make it to the dragon and roll a 6.
So, the way I win is to play a ton of game, and then hope to get a ~16% chance to win?

Yikes, Nicholas, I'm so sorry for dropping this thread!

Sorry, the rulebook is maybe a little unclear there. What happens is that (if the Dragon isn't playing) the Knight rolls all the dice she's got looking for a 6 — usually between 2 and 5 d6's. If she doesn't get it, she has to wait until her next turn, and try again. As soon as she gets the 6 she's looking for, she can race back to the Entrance as fast as possible.

Gameplay-wise, what this does is allow the goblins a few turns to round up a major onslaught for the final game, amping up the tension ... but rolling that 6 is close to inevitable, so it isn't so much a ~16% chance of winning as it is a variable chance of time spent as a sitting duck before the final confrontation.
 
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David Somerville
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Hi all!

Okay, it took a lot of playtesting/pitching in person to figure out the right way to talk about the game, but here's my new pitch. I'd love your thoughts!

-----

Dear [Publisher],

My name is David Somerville. I'm a DC-based creative director, and [Intro paragraph where I talk about my appreciation for their company and why I'm excited about them.]

I'd love an opportunity to tell you about Trove, a super-asymmetric cave-crawler for 2–4 players. Trove is a classic dragon-slaying quest ... but instead of playing a party of adventurers, each player will take on one of four very different roles: the Knight, the Goblin Horde, the Dragon, and the Cave itself. Each role has distinct pieces, powers, and win conditions. Essentially, four mini-games play out in one shared board, creating fun and exciting adventures that are different every time. Trove was hailed as a hit at a recent Unpub Mini event in Virginia, with one player calling it "Rock, Paper, Scissors on steroids."

Hopefully this piques your interest! Here are a few vital details:
- Players: 2–4
- Play time: 45 minutes
- Ages: 10+
- Components: 54 tiles, 108 cards, 12 dice, 16 player stand-ups, 16 tokens (component count negotiable)
- Target audience: Ameritrash/mixed groups (because of super-asymmetry)
- Expected retail price: $49.99
- [Link to] The full rulebook
- [Link to] The running BGG thread about Trove (currently with 31 likes)

If you'd like to see more, I'd be delighted to answer any questions, or to demo the game in person at a time and location convenient to you. Thanks for considering, and best of luck with [current release in the works, etc.]

-----

What do you all think? Good/bad? What would you change? If you were a publisher, would you hit reply and set something up?
 
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Jörg Wollinger
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As Brook said it already, I would drop "super"-asymmetrical. I'd stay away from all superlatives. This sounds more like teleshopping and Paul DeStefano's advice should not be overlooked: Don't sell! Tell!

Also this:

smrvl wrote:
- Components: 54 tiles, 108 cards, 12 dice, 16 player stand-ups, 16 tokens (component count negotiable)


You should understand that everything is negotiable. Or rather nothing. Read this blog entry from Ignacy Trzewiczek: http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/21350/its-all-about-trust

So drop the comment that an aspect of your game is negotiable.

And this:

Quote:
- Expected retail price: $49.99


This is not for you to decide. Cut it out.
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David Somerville
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Sperber wrote:
As Brook said it already, I would drop "super"-asymmetrical. I'd stay away from all superlatives. This sounds more like teleshopping and Paul DeStefano's advice should not be overlooked: Don't sell! Tell!

Also this:

smrvl wrote:
- Components: 54 tiles, 108 cards, 12 dice, 16 player stand-ups, 16 tokens (component count negotiable)


You should understand that everything is negotiable. Or rather nothing. Read this blog entry from Ignacy Trzewiczek: http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/21350/its-all-about-trust

So drop the comment that an aspect of your game is negotiable.

And this:

Quote:
- Expected retail price: $49.99


This is not for you to decide. Cut it out.


Great suggestions, incorporated verbatim!
 
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Sperber wrote:
As Brook said it already, I would drop "super"-asymmetrical. I'd stay away from all superlatives. This sounds more like teleshopping and Paul DeStefano's advice should not be overlooked: Don't sell! Tell!


To piggy-back on this comment, I agree that "super" is a horrible adjective here.
But I see that the asymmetry is a major selling point (it has certainly piqued my interest). So maybe you want to use an adjective like "totally" and say a "totally asymmetrical game". It brings emphasis to your unique quality without sounding like a magazine ad.
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David Somerville
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Erluti wrote:
Sperber wrote:
As Brook said it already, I would drop "super"-asymmetrical. I'd stay away from all superlatives. This sounds more like teleshopping and Paul DeStefano's advice should not be overlooked: Don't sell! Tell!


To piggy-back on this comment, I agree that "super" is a horrible adjective here.
But I see that the asymmetry is a major selling point (it has certainly piqued my interest). So maybe you want to use an adjective like "totally" and say a "totally asymmetrical game". It brings emphasis to your unique quality without sounding like a magazine ad.

That's great! Yes, I want to emphasize that this is MORE asymmetrical than other asymmetrical games they might have seen. I like "totally," let's go with that!
 
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smrvl wrote:
with one player calling it "Rock, Paper, Scissors on steroids."


I'm not exactly throwing any weight around here, but just to share my 2 cents - when I read this line I cringed. Please hear me - no offense against your game in the least. It's just that if someone is relating their game to a free, random luck children's game... it probably wouldn't interest me.
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David Somerville
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Gamer10150512 wrote:
smrvl wrote:
with one player calling it "Rock, Paper, Scissors on steroids."


I'm not exactly throwing any weight around here, but just to share my 2 cents - when I read this line I cringed. Please hear me - no offense against your game in the least. It's just that if someone is relating their game to a free, random luck children's game... it probably wouldn't interest me.

Wow, that's a great perspective. I hadn't thought of that! In context, the quote is about how everything in the game has a circular trumping mechanic, so it's all balanced and in tension... but I can totally see that without context, it looks like I'm just saying it's random. I'll have to think about that, and I appreciate the input!
 
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David Somerville
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Can I get a quick check on whether you all think this quote is useful or not?
Poll
A player said "Trove is like Rock, Paper, Scissors on steroids." Is that a quote you would use in a cold-call letter?
Yes, it sounds fun/interesting/positive
No, it sounds random/childish/negative
      31 answers
Poll created by smrvl

Thanks for your vote! I'm really trying to figure out if this is a helpful or harmful quote.
 
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smrvl wrote:
Can I get a quick check on whether you all think this quote is useful or not?


I really think you should cut that out. "Rock Paper Scissors" is a game that is known for being random and very fast paced. If you even emphasis this with the addition "on steroids" it sounds like it is even faster and more random! Then I read the game length "45 minutes". I immediately thought "Rock Paper Scissors for 45 minutes? Okay, this one is out..."

And yeah... Retail Price definitely has to go. In my opinion as well as "target audience". This is also something the publisher takes care of. You even say "mixed groups" which doesn't say anything so you can safely drop it.
 
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