If you’re not getting rejections, you’re not pitching. Even if your game is the most innovative and brilliant design the world has ever seen, You will still get rejections.
Here are a non-exhaustive list of reasons why publishers might reject your game (that’s nothing to do with how good it is):
- It’s too similar to one of their current or upcoming games.
- It’s too different from other games they publish.
- The components are too expensive or won’t fit into their standard box size.
- It’s too complex or not complex enough for their audience.
- They’ve published a game with similar mechanics/format/structure before and it didn’t go that well for them.
- The theme doesn’t fit with their style.
- It doesn’t fit the age range of their target audience.
- They can’t immediately see how they are going to market/sell it.
Splinter has been rejected by one publisher because of the required components and rejected by another because they couldn’t see how if fit into their line.
Whack-a-Mole has been rejected for being too silly and for being too like a game in production.
Even when you’ve designed a game with a particular publisher in mind, you may get a rejection within 30 seconds of the pitch. I once designed a game that I believed I’d closely tailored to a particular publisher. It was rejected in less than 10 seconds – after just the game name and the strapline. Unbeknownst to me, the boss doesn’t like the deck-building mechanic and will never produce a deck-building game. There is much that is outside your control.
Rejection is to be expected. It happens to every designer. In 2022, I did 323 individual game pitches to publishers and signed 3 games. That’s just under a 1% success rate. This year has been a bit better – 315 game pitches and 8 games signed. That’s just over a 2.5% success rate. Of course, that’s the same as a 97.5% rejection rate. And I’m absolutely thrilled with that. Those numbers aren’t bad, at least in my book.
So, as I’m very experienced with rejection, here are my top tips for managing it.
1. Expect it and plan for it. Rejection is the most likely outcome – always. I have tasks on my list for when a game is rejected – not if it is. I’m thinking ahead – who I’ll pitch it to next, if I need to re-do or update the sizzle reel. Sometimes I’ll work on a new variant or experiment with re-theming, even as it is sitting with a publisher.
2. Make rejection a target. I once read a sales book in which the author described his approach to sales pitches. He had a target for the number of rejections he wanted to get within a certain period. Yes – not a target for the number of successes – a target for the number of rejections. If you have a rejection target, you will celebrate every pitch, regardless of the outcome. You will push yourself to do more pitches, to make more contacts. You will get better at pitching as a result and probably have some successes too! This is a great by-product of chasing the rejections.
Plate Spinner: Rejected by one company because it has too many dice and by another because dice games haven’t worked out well for them in the past.
Criminal Animals: Rejected by one company because the gameplay is too similar to a game they already publish, and by another because it’s too complex for their core audience.
3. Talk about your rejections. Share your experiences with other designers. You will soon discover that your experiences are not unique. Moreover, other designers might suggest other publishers that might be a good fit for your game, or give you pitching tips.
4. Celebrate small wins. Notice when publishers make positive comments. I recently pitched to a publisher who wasn’t at all interested in publishing the game I showed him, but praised the innovative nature of the game and explained that he thought it could possibly be turned into a very popular solo activity for children on rainy days. I picked his brain a bit and was able to follow up with more games that might suit them better. Each pitch is an opportunity to strengthen a relationship.
5. Define alternative success criteria. Before you go into a pitch, work out another way for you to feel like the pitch has been successful (other than the game being signed on the spot!). For example, your aim could be to learn a little more about what that publisher is looking for. Perhaps, you are just hoping to leave the door open for another pitch: find out what the best time of the year is to pitch and what assets (sell sheet, sizzle etc) they find most helpful. It could be that you just want to get an email address, so that you can follow up. Reframing what success looks like is an enormous help in dealing with rejection.
6. Try to emotionally detach from games you’re pitching. It’s great to be enthusiastic (passionate even) about your games… but you don’t have to see your games as an extension of your self. The more time, effort and energy we pour into a game, the worse it feels when it’s rejected. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t put your time, energy and effort into your game design – of course not. But it’s helpful to find a way to detach before pitching. Working on multiple games or getting another game underway while pitching the previous one – is a great way to shift your obsession.
Butterflies: Rejected by several companies because they don’t know how to market a pack of 5 games and by another because of the theme.
Pitching truly is a numbers game. As long as your games are solid, the more you pitch the more likely you are to land a game. You may have pitched 98 times without success… so what? The 99th could be the one…