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Subject: My experiences of pitching to publishers at Essen Spiel 2015. rss

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Adam Porter
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Essen Spiel is almost certainly the largest annual board-game convention in the world (rivalled only by Gen-con in the United States). It attracts hundreds of publishers from all around the world, and thousands of visitors. The convention is really a trade-fair which is open to the public (as opposed to a gathering for game-playing) and as such it is the ideal place to meet publishers, pitch designs, network with other designers, and formulate new ideas. I managed to arrange meetings with 16 publishers in advance if the convention by emailing them with an overview of the games I had to offer. I had many more informal conversations with publishers simply by approaching them at their stands. There were a number of other Playtest UK members following a similar path, and a few things became apparent about this approach from my conversations with publishers.

1. They are fully aware and comfortable regarding designers showing their games to multiple companies. They will ask for exclusivity if they require it.

2. Several companies remarked on the abundance of UK designers approaching them this year, and they had fond words to say about many of these designers. It is evident that this Playtest UK community is seen in a hugely positive light. I remarked that all the UK designers tend to know each other and support each other; one publisher regretfully said, "...that was what it was like in Germany in the old days".

3. Almost all publishers are extremely friendly, sometimes blunt with their feedback, and genuinely want to find a game that will sell. Many provided coffee, soft-drinks, sweets and biscuits. Even the colder individuals were professional and polite.

4. Publishers often speak in hyperbole and absolutes:

"This game will never be published in its current form." The very next publisher you meet will tell you that your game is innovative, marketable, and interesting.

"This is the most interesting prototype I've seen at the convention so far." The next publisher will tell you they can see nothing innovative, marketable, or interesting about it.

"There are FAR too many dice games (or trick-taking games, or sci-fi games) at the moment and there is not room in the market for more." The next publisher will tell you that your games are in vogue and that you have produced the perfect product at the right time.

You have to smile, take the feedback on board, learn from it, and ultimately form an opinion based on the overall consensus of many people rather than one individual!

5. One publisher told me "I know we always say that the appearance of a prototype doesn't matter, but it does really help." I have always suspected this to be the case. I play many prototypes myself and I can always get more enthusiastic with some serviceable graphics, if not lavish artwork!

6. Publishers like to use their existing "universe" or "branding" to create more games with an immediate audience. Two publishers looked at my games and immediately talked about them as having potential as the dice-game version of their existing popular card-game; or the board-game version of their existing popular card-game.

7. It is definitely helpful to provide a prototype whenever you are able. This is expensive, time consuming to produce, and takes up space in your luggage, but I believe publishers are far more likely to play a physical copy which is handed to them on the day, than one sent to them later. Several publishers expressed a willingness to construct and play a print-and-play copy (when the game was not component heavy). I appreciated their offer, but I have a suspicion that this will reduce the likelihood of them ever playing the game or, at the very least, delay it.

8. Publishers are willing to return your prototypes to you by post. Several returned copies to me last year, and one remarked this year, "Please don't hesitate to contact me if you want your prototype returned by post". One publisher even offered to pay me for the prototype components rather than post the game back. Of course, I declined! Indeed, I offered to pay the postage cost myself if that was his concern. Generally, I consider these prototypes to be gifts. I do not expect them returned, but it is a bonus if they are.

9. I was recognised twice at the convention from my video-reviews on the boardgamegeek website. This minor profile has proven to be a mixed blessing. It means that several publishers already know who I am when I approach them. I am not completely anonymous. One publisher engaged me in conversation about a rare German game that I had reviewed, and commented on how much he had enjoyed my videos. But I am very aware and self-conscious about some negative reviews that I have done and the impact that could have on future relationships with the publishers of those games. I do not make video reviews any longer as a result, and have not done so for some time.

10. Most meetings take place in a sort of "cardboard-hut" - the base for each of the bigger companies alongside their products. Other meetings take place in a corporate area, with tables and hospitality. Some take place on a table amongst customers, with very little room and many interruptions. Some take place in a dark corridor on some marble steps. You have to be adaptable!

Further thoughts in my design blog:

https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/46743/extra-mid-week-blog...
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Nate
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Thank you for sharing your experiences! It was very insightful and helpful. Good luck on getting published! Hopefully your design gets picked up.
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Rob Harper
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Thanks for sharing. This is very interesting.
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Benjamin Benson
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I loved your reviews, why don't you just review games you do like?
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SAKURA in KYOTO 2018 Back to Kansai
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Adam78 wrote:
sometimes blunt with their feedback,

That is just the German way. They call a spade a spade. The Dutch are similar. As you know, they're not trying to be rude, they just say what they think.

Adam78 wrote:
But I am very aware and self-conscious about some negative reviews that I have done and the impact that could have on future relationships with the publishers of those games. I do not make video reviews any longer as a result, and have not done so for some time.

You should not stop making video reviews. Just stop making negative reviews. Not for self-censorship or correctness or self-preservation. Just don't make negative reviews. They're a waste of everyone's effort. And I'm not talking about off-hand comments on BGG or similar, anyone should say when they don't like something, what they didn't like and why. I mean published reviews. Why spend hours constructing and editing and publish a review of something you didn't enjoy. use your energy and resource for things you do enjoy.

Start making reviews again. Just stick to things you liked.
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Matt Knaack
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Definitely keep us in the loop if things move forward on any of the designs you pitched! It's so exciting to see other users from BGG move forward like this.
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andy duthie
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Great read, really interesting feedback! Good luck in the future.
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Koen Hendrix
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Great stuff Adam, thanks for sharing!

I'm in Liverpool and am planning to attend a few Playtest UK meetings soon, starting with the one in Leeds next month. Probably London after that. Cardiff would sure be nice but realistically I can only make it to the weekend playtests meeple
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Adam Porter
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Thanks for the positive comments!

Maybe I should start video-reviewing again. I don't know - the reviewers who are "always positive" seem to take a lot of flak from the viewers.... but at least it wouldn't upset any publishers. I wouldn't be lying about games: just making sure I only reviewed games I genuinely liked.

I'll give it some thought.

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Manuel Correia
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Good article! It was my first time at Essen and I underestimated the amount of positive responses so I had 14 meetings in three days. Meeting with publishers and figuring out how to get to the next appointment was all I did in the event.

Today I got a very enthusiastic response for one of the three games. Fingers crossed!


...oh, and good luck!
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Alan Kaiser
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EYE of NiGHT wrote:
Adam78 wrote:
sometimes blunt with their feedback,

That is just the German way. They call a spade a spade. The Dutch are similar. As you know, they're not trying to be rude, they just say what they think.

More likely it's just that publishers get these pitches ALL THE TIME. It serves no ones interest to beat around the bush and try to be nice. If a publisher is not interested then they are likely most interested in quickly moving on to the next game or the next designer rather than waste time.
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Adam Porter
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alkaiser wrote:
EYE of NiGHT wrote:
Adam78 wrote:
sometimes blunt with their feedback,

That is just the German way. They call a spade a spade. The Dutch are similar. As you know, they're not trying to be rude, they just say what they think.

More likely it's just that publishers get these pitches ALL THE TIME. It serves no ones interest to beat around the bush and try to be nice. If a publisher is not interested then they are likely most interested in quickly moving on to the next game or the next designer rather than waste time.

Yes, I suspect it's a bit of both. But I appreciate their clarity - it is never ambiguous. You always leave a meeting with a very good idea of whether they are interested or not.
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Adam Porter
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gr9yfox wrote:
Good article! It was my first time at Essen and I underestimated the amount of positive responses so I had 14 meetings in three days. Meeting with publishers and figuring out how to get to the next appointment was all I did in the event.

Today I got a very enthusiastic response for one of the three games. Fingers crossed!


...oh, and good luck!

Good luck to you too. The activity of approaching publishers is all-consuming. Any time where you are not in a meeting, you tend to feel too agitated/stressed/excited to think about playing or buying games! (Still brought home a packed suitcase-full though...)
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Koen Hendrix
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I assume you pitched to some German publishers. Were there any language barriers at all? I'm sure you can always get by with lots of gesturing and explaning-by-doing, but I can imagine I'd want the explanation to go as smoothly as possible...
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Adam Porter
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khendrix wrote:
I assume you pitched to some German publishers. Were there any language barriers at all? I'm sure you can always get by with lots of gesturing and explaning-by-doing, but I can imagine I'd want the explanation to go as smoothly as possible...

Yes, I pitched to many people who were not first-language-English. They all spoke very good English though, so I had no problem at all!

(Except that I quickly realised that no-one understands the word "trump"... so I had to explain that familiar concept each time!)
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David J. Mortimer
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Congrats on making the Geek Weekly!
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Charlie Theel
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Adam78 wrote:
gr9yfox wrote:
Good article! It was my first time at Essen and I underestimated the amount of positive responses so I had 14 meetings in three days. Meeting with publishers and figuring out how to get to the next appointment was all I did in the event.

Today I got a very enthusiastic response for one of the three games. Fingers crossed!


...oh, and good luck!

Good luck to you too. The activity of approaching publishers is all-consuming. Any time where you are not in a meeting, you tend to feel too agitated/stressed/excited to think about playing or buying games! (Still brought home a packed suitcase-full though...)

This is absolutely true. I had a couple of meetings at Gen Con and the days leading up were full of stress and nervousness. Post meetings the feelings weren't necessarily better.
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Trey Chambers
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Quote:
Publishers often speak in hyperbole and absolutes:

"This game will never be published in its current form." The very next publisher you meet will tell you that your game is innovative, marketable, and interesting.

This is true. Don't get discouraged. Let's be honest, a lot of trash games get published. Publishers (or anyone else really) are hardly objective judges of "goodness".

What is important is this: FIND THE RIGHT FIT FOR YOUR GAME.

Do some research into publishers. Seek out ones that have published games like your prototype thematically, mechanically, and component-wise. Ask publishers when you speak to them what kind of games they are looking for right now.

This is the most important thing. Your game might not even be good, plenty of bad games get published. The key is finding the publisher that likes YOUR game. It's like dating, everyone has their fish in the sea.
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Adam Porter
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morti wrote:
Congrats on making the Geek Weekly!

Haha! I had no idea!
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Hi Adam.

Was great to meet you at Essen.
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Adam Porter
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pincao wrote:
Hi Adam.

Was great to meet you at Essen.

Thanks Paul - good to meet you too.
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Interesting article Adam.
Point 4 made me laugh. Nothing has changed since Decca turned down the Beatles saying 'guitar bands were dead'.!

It's all about finding the right publisher.

Point 2 is really exciting as we managed to get a small and functioning 'Britzone' in Hall 2 with 10 of us small UK publishers getting together, sharing stands and cross-promoting.

Get in touch if you want to know more and message me through BGG or www.yaygames.uk

I'm glad Essen went well for you. We had a fantastic time!

Andrew
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Eric Walkingshaw
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Adam78 wrote:
(Except that I quickly realised that no-one understands the word "trump"... so I had to explain that familiar concept each time!)
This is surprising since Doppelkopf and Skat are both hugely popular trick-taking games in Germany, and both have the concept of trump.

One guess as to what could have caused the confusion: in German, the noun is "Trumpf", but you don't use it as a verb. The verb for taking something with trump is "stechen".

Note: I'm not fluent in German, but I play a lot of Doppelkopf with Germans!

Also, great write up. Thanks for sharing!
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Phil Campbell
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Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Picking up on Trey's point above, how much research Did you have chance to do on the various publishers prior to arranging to see them?
 
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Trey Chambers
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Phil68 wrote:
Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Picking up on Trey's point above, how much research Did you have chance to do on the various publishers prior to arranging to see them?

I try to attend publisher/designer events like Publisher Speed Dating, but approaching their booth and trying to arrange a meeting or demo will also be more fruitful for both parties if what you're pitching is something they will be interested in.

As for research, I try to keep up with all of the major publishers and minor publishers that have a con presence, and their catalogs, though it is often easier to see someone who can actually make a decision to publish your game with the smaller publishers.
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