This is Part 4 in the blog series: So you’ve designed a game… now what? 

If you’ve not yet done so, please read Part 1: What’s your motivation?, Part 2: Testing and development and Part 3: Pitch or Publish. A link to the final part will appear in due course. In the last article, I will cover:

Using Board Game Geek

Researching publishers can be time consuming, but it’s a crucial step that can’t be avoided. Even if you are immersed in the world of board games, they’ll be publishers that aren’t on your radar and some of them may be a perfect match for your game. 

Board Game Geek is a good place to start your research. The database lists a staggering 26,166 board game publishers! Even when you take into account the defunct companies and small self-publishers, that’s still a long list. I’m not suggesting that you systematically work through the BGG Publisher List, unless you have a free month or two… No, there’s a better way. 

Some of the BGG advanced search options

On any page within Board Game Geek, you can see the search bar in the top right. Click in the search bar and the ‘advanced search’ option appears below. That’s what you want. The BGG advanced search lets you search for games that meet certain criteria or parameters. For example, clicking on the Board Game Category link allows you to check the ‘real-time’ box. Running the search now will show all the games in the BGG database that have the ‘real-time’ tag. You can include multiple tags and also exclude tags from the results. You may also like to do the same with the subdomain to define the audience for your game – defining if it is a family, children’s or party game for example.

When you have the list of results, sort them by BGG rank, so you’re seeing the most popular games first. Then click on games to see who the publishers are and make a note of them. It’s a bit of a tiresome process – clicking back and forth – but it’s worth it. Look through as many as you can – making a note of publishers that come up more than once. Click through to the publisher page and look at their linked games to see a) what kind of game they generally make, b) if they publish games by just one or two designers, c) how many games they are publishing, d) if they are still active (what is the most recently published game). If everything looks good, and you think your game might be a good fit, add them to your list.

Publishers’ websites

When you identify a publisher that you’re interested in pitching to, make sure you really get to know their website. The BGG listings tell you all the games they’ve published, but they don’t tell you what they are pushing. Looking at a company’s website will give you a bigger steer on their current focus. It’s possible that the one thing that brought you to them is nowhere to be seen on their website. That probably means it isn’t a priority. 

Which games are publishers highlighting as ‘best selling’ or ‘most popular’? These are the games that they are putting front and centre; the games that they think will sell. They’re not going to waste prime website real estate on the margins. 

As you look at a website, take note of any game series they produce or IP that they use. If your game could fit within one of their brands, that might be a good way in. Could your game become a spin off of an established line? Could it be re-themed to fall under IP that they’ve already negotiated?

PlayMonster website – showing tags for ‘new’ and ‘bestselling’ games

From the website you may also be able to determine whether they are taking submissions for new board games and what their submission process is. Some companies have a page for game designers with instructions about how to submit. These can be quite hidden, so you have to root around for them. Looking at the links within the About or Contact pages might be a good place to start. If you’re not sure what the process is, email to ask. Ideally, you’ll find the email of someone on the editorial team, rather than a generic office@ email. But you may well get a response even if you email the general email.  If you do send an email, don’t tell them about your game at this stage. Just explain that you are a board game designer and you’d like to find out if they are taking submissions and if so, what their submission process is. 

Of course, websites only tell you what they’ve already published, or games that are coming soon. They don’t tell you exactly what they are looking for… To get a better steer on this, you need to engage with them.

Spiel, Essen

Engagement

Any opportunity you have to engage in discussion with a publisher is valuable. Here are some ways to increase engagement:

  • Follow publishers on social media. Make sure you share their content and comment on it. 
  • Join publisher mailing lists and respond when relevant.
  • Volunteer to playtest and assist at events, if you’re able to. 
  • Make sure you know which events they are going to attend and look for opportunities to meet them.
  • Assuming you are already networking within the board game community, ask trusted people if they have any contacts within that publisher that they’re able to share. (If you’re not actively networking with other designers, read this article I wrote for Mojo Nation). 
  • Set a google alert for the company. When they’re mentioned in the media, you’ll get an email. This will keep you up to date with the company – you can share their news on social media and copy them in.
  • When you do meet or speak to a publisher, give them a reason to remember you. For example, I make games on coasters, which I give out like business cards. I know for a fact that at least one publisher has had it on his desk for over 2 years – because he often mentions it to me. 

Preparing for pitches

Alongside your research and engagement with publishers, make sure your game is ready to pitch. Here’s a checklist of assets you should create:

  • Clear hook and overview. What makes your game stand out? What is unusual or original about it? Why would someone want to publish your game? How is the game going to grab the attention of a publisher? Write a compelling one-sentence tag line and a great overview paragraph that makes people want to know more.
  • Rulebook. Your rules don’t need to have amazing graphic design, a simple word document is fine. But it does need to be easy to understand. Study rulebooks of published games and follow their conventions. Include images for your examples, wherever necessary. Get other people to read your rules and explain to you how to play the game. Do blind testing. 

Doughnut Dash: Originally self-published, now signed to a publisher

  • Overview video. Create a 2-minute video that gives a great overview of your game. This is crucial if you’re pitching to mass market, but very useful even for hobby publishers. The video allows your voice to travel further. When publishers are sharing your game internally, the video is going to help them. It’s like you are pitching your game live. Keep it short, put the hook up front and make sure your enthusiastic face is all over it.
  • Sell sheet. Love them or hate them, they’re pretty useful. It’s your game’s CV – a single side of A4. Make sure it’s attention grabbing, full of images, has limited text and again, makes the hook important. Include contact details, a list of components and a ‘how to play’ overview or bullet points. 
  • Images. Take images of your whole game on the table, individual components and the game being played. Make sure your images focus on conveying the hook. If you have a groovy component, get a good picture of it. If it’s a game which will make everyone roll around on the floor laughing, get a picture of people laughing while playing. If it’s a game with outstanding table presence, make sure the image looks beautiful and does the game justice.

Getting a pitch

Live pitching is so much better than submitting your game online. So if it is at all possible for you to do a pitch – whether in person or online – push for it. If you’re attending an event and you know the publisher will be there, contact them and ask if they are taking pitches. But there’s also nothing to stop you reaching out to any publisher to ask for an online pitch. You don’t need to wait until you can be in the same space. 

You could also register for a pitching event. Mojo Pitch, for example, is a great event to pitch (either in person, in London) or online to lots of mass market publishers. Board game designer Facebook groups often share pitching opportunities, so make sure you join some to keep up to date with news. It’s also worth becoming a patron of Cardboard Edison. Their weekly Omnibus newsletter points designers to publishers who are calling for pitches, as well as giving lots of pitching advice and information.

Cards from my prototype submitted three times to the same publisher.

After pitching

After pitching, make sure you follow up. Don’t expect the publisher to get back to you. They need a reason to. There’s no exact science for follow up (if only). This article might helpIt’s really about developing relationships with publishers for the longer term. Hopefully, one pitch will lead to another. If one pitch doesn’t go well, don’t worry. Just make sure you leave the door open for the future. 

If you get a rejection ask how the game would have to change for them to be interested. If you get specific feedback that you feel you could work on, ask if you can resubmit the game later. I’m about to sign a contract for a game that the same publisher had rejected twice before. But with each rejection came specific feedback, which I acted on. It’s easy to walk away when you get a rejection due to embarrassment or disappointment, but that’s cold be an opportunity wasted. This article on dealing with rejection might be useful. 

Finally, it’s totally fine to approach multiple publishers simultaneously. There’s no problem with having a single game sitting with several companies. Some publishers take a long time to go through submissions and respond (many months). If you only ever submitted to one company at a time, each game might take years to find a publisher! 

I’m always really keen to hear about designers’ journeys to finding a publisher. Please do share your story and any tips you might have for others in the comments below.