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Subject: Importance of theme to publishers rss

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David Fisher
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How important is it to publishers for games to have a theme?

If someone created a game that could work just as well as an abstract game, should they add on an appropriate theme before submitting it to a publisher?

How likely is a publisher to just "re-theme" the game anyway?
 
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Pete Belli
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Depends on the theme... and the publisher.

Themes can be "hot" one season (like dinosaurs, pirates, or transporting wooden cubes) and cold the next.

Remember that your beloved game design is unlikely to survive the development, playtesting, and production process intact.

If you desire more creative control you might consider self-publishing.

Good Luck with your game!
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"Got an A from Moe Dee for sticking to themes!"
 
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Ray
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I think theme or no theme is unimportant -- to publishers that publish games of that type.

Quote:
If someone created a game that could work just as well as an abstract game, should they add on an appropriate theme before submitting it to a publisher?

This makes no sense to me. I think abstract does not mean lacking theme. I think abstract means its theme is abstract (take chess for instance with its warfare and politics theme) I think what you are talking about is presentation not theme. Artwork, text, and other non-mechanic qualities that can help convey a theme outside of the mechanical components of theme.

So is presentation needed? If its good an engaging, sure! But I also think there is much beauty in a game that can rely on its mechanics for theme and not need so much presentation. In that sense I think Euros will one day grow up and show themselves to be even better abstracts than Euros...
 
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Scott Nelson
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In my experience, the answer is YES.

First of all, it is a lot easier to read rules and understand a game when there is a theme that pulls it together. If Thebes were themeless, try explaining to someone how you go to this place, and it takes this many spaces on the track to do this, then you pull these chits out of a bag and some will be worth VPs at the end of the game. The number you take depends on how many more of that type of cards that allow you to do that are already taken....yeah, fun.

Dig into the area that you have knowledge in that area of the world. The more knowledge the more you can dig (take out more tokens). Tokens represent the finds that you dig up and dirt. You don't want dirt, so the more knowledge the better. And it all takes time, so you move down the time line for everythig you do. Nice.

My latest playtest session kinda flopped as my theme was pasted on, and the parts of the game were all thematic on their own, but the theme didn't pull it together to make this part logically work with that other part.

So, yes, the publisher can read/playtest a game a lot easier and grasp the meaning of each part, placing it in their mind and how something works with the other parts. Unless you have a checkers variant, a theme is very nice for the publisher. Even the best abstracts have a them to make sense of the parts and how they work together. Though some themes are very hard to get your head around (GIPF projects anyone?)
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Benny Sperling
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I agree about the importance of theme. I have designed games both ways, with theme to start and without theme. I find that the theme helps make the game fun. It makes you want to play it and have the adventure. Not having a theme makes me cringe, especially when I design, because it becomes difficult to explain to others what they are doing and why.
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Mark Salzwedel
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As a game publisher and designer who does a lot of playtesting and has lots of contacts with retail buyers and salespeople, I can tell that theme can help or hurt depending on how you use it.

For example, most board games without their theme are just moving pieces on top of boards with spaces, rolling dice and/or picking cards from a deck. Nothing special. In one popular Euro game, you are setting flat cardboard squares next to each other in the center of the play space and deciding which if any part of the square you want to place a wooden figure. That's Carcassonne.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I thought more people would share the whimsical attitude about killing mutant deer in Deer Hunter 2050. Game store owners frequently said they couldn't sell a game where the theme involved killing. Especially here in New York City, there is such a sensitivity to animal cruelty, much less hunting, that it's a hard sell. Now on the flip side, in a lot of other parts of the country, it's our best-selling game. And as a review in WTS Toy Reviews pointed out, even vegetarians can enjoy the game once they get into it, because they can identify more with the deer attacking the hunters!

I have an abstract game coming out soon called Samsara. You have to call a game something, and a lot of abstracts have ridiculously weird names. You have to have some selling handles that are easy, so we decided on a Buddhist theme. Abstract fans don't care too much about the theme except that it some times suggests banter during the game. One toy store in Michigan ordered it just because they had a yoga studio around the corner from their store where a Buddhist game might go over well.

If a theme feels "pasted on," as someone above mentioned, it isn't working. The theme has to be consistent with the mechanic. If you have to keep making exceptions where the theme doesn't fit the mechanic, it's going to make players' investment in the game shallower.
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Eric Jome
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When presenting a game to a potential publisher, you are making a business presentation. So, like any business presentation, you want it to look good, feel good, to sell itself. That means that not only should you have a theme, but you should have art and other attention to details to help your game look great while being great.

But!

Like any good business presentation, you'll have to be able to change direction, revise your ideas, or make alterations if you really want to seal the deal. So, it there is a suggestion of a theme change, be open to how you could get that done.

A potential publisher wants something as close to complete as possible. The more work they have to do, the harder the sale. Of course, you are usually counting on them for real production quality, so unless you are a professional artist yourself, you maybe just want borrowed art and suggestive pieces. But other than production quality, try to have the whole thing a polished effective game ready to play.
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Mark Salzwedel
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davidf wrote:
How likely is a publisher to just "re-theme" the game anyway?


On this particular question, I'd say it's actually pretty unlikely, unless the designer has made a particularly bad choice of theme but the mechanic of the game is so fun and novel that they'll put a bunch of work into re-theming.

Most publishers want a game that is already play tested and ready to publish. They are more likely to tell the designer that the theme doesn't work and to come back with a new one later.
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