Summer is con season. Which means designers pitching their prototypes to publishers at Origins, Dice Tower Con, Gen Con and other various cons. There are so many good designs out there, some of which will go home with publishers for evaluation. For some designers, summer con season will end with the ultimate "yes" and a contract. Congratulations if you are one of them.
Even more designers will get their hopes up, only to hear a "no". If you read my three previous posts, you will know that I heard "no" many different times and many different ways before a sweet "yes" I received after Origins. How can you as a game designer find encouragement after a "no"?
Try to remember that publishers look at things differently than play testers. While play testers will tell you whether they would be willing to buy one of your games, publishers must decide whether they could sell thousands. To the publisher, whether to say "yes" to your game is a business decision that goes way beyond whether a game is fun. Still, as a designer, the "no" can be very disappointing. I have found that the further my prototype makes it through the evaluation process, the tougher the "no" can be when it comes.
Where have I found encouragement after a publisher says "no"?
1. Encouragement from Publisher Positive Comments
Once the initial sting of the disappointment has worn off, go back and look over again what the publisher said. What positive things did the publisher have to say about your game? Take encouragement from any positive feedback in the rejection email. Was your game not strong enough for that publisher to sign, or was it more a matter of your game was not a good fit for their product line? I have had publishers tell me great game, not a good fit for us, and then encourage me to keep looking because the game is worthy of publication. Whatever positive thing a publisher says about your game as they say "no" - hold onto that. Remind yourself of those positive words as needed.
2. Encouragement from Critical Feedback
Does the publisher feedback point out a weakness in your prototype or something that would make your game even better? Value that feedback. When a publisher tells you a change that would make your game more likely to be signed, that is a gift. Act on it, so that you will have an even better chance of success with the next publisher to request your prototype for evaluation. It is hard to hear "no" from a publisher. Yet I can tell you that several of my game designs were improved by quality publisher feedback that came with the "no". Be encouraged when experienced industry veterans take the time to evaluate your prototype and give you their advice for what could push it over the top with the next publisher.
3. Encouragement from Play Tester Feedback
For me, after a publisher says "no" to a design, some of my biggest rebounds come when I get that prototype back on a public play test table. Take that prototype somewhere where the publisher "no" can be followed with some positive play tester feedback. There are times when I have felt doubts about a prototype after a publisher "no". Hearing play testers say things like "great game", or "I would totally buy this" won't completely wipe away the disappointment. Yet it may be the words you need to hear to pick yourself up and encourage you to continue the search for the right publisher match.
Thank you for reading. I hope other designers find this useful.
, Part 1 discussed what I tell newer designers to expect when contacting publishers with whom there is no relationship. Part 2 shared how many "no" responses I heard in the weeks prior to Origins that I received while scheduling the appointment that led to the big "Yes". Part 4 when written will talk about finding encouragement to persist after hearing "no".
Part 3 is my story over the years of the times I got a prototype of this game into a publisher's hands, only to ultimately hear a "no". My hope is that my experiences of "no" before the "yes" will encourage other designers to persist in the quest to find the right publisher for your game creations.
The game I signed last month began as a brainstorm during the drive to Dover, Delaware, for Unpub3 in January 2013. By that spring, I had a playable prototype good enough for public playtest, and a year later it was on the table at Unpub4.
Publisher #1 requested the prototype for evaluation in January 2014 after Unpub4, and said "no" two months later. While Publisher#1 liked my game, as a small publisher, there were limited openings in their production queue, and there was another game they were considering that they liked even more.
Publisher #2 requested the prototype after a blind submission. (What pushed them over the edge to ask for the prototype was reading through the rule book I had posted to the Unpub web site.) Three months later they said "no". The "no" came from the owner at their Origins 2014 booth. I introduced myself, he shook my hand, then reached underneath the table and handed the prototype back to me. He personally liked it, yet his playtesters thought my co-op was too hard and unwinnable.
Publisher #3 requested the prototype via email during a follow-up after Origins 2014. Publisher #4 requested a few days after Publisher #3. When I told Publisher #4 the prototype was on longer available, they kindly ask I contact them if it became available again.
Publisher #3 said "yes" in July 2014, but cautioned me they had a full production queue, and it would be at least a year until publication. Every few months I checked in on the status, as 12 months dragged out to 18 months. During that time, Publisher #3 was acquired by a larger company, yet assured me they retained complete creative control, keeping their distinct brand under the umbrella of the parent company. Turns out Publisher #3 did not retain full creative control, and my game was a victim of the ensuing power struggle. A full 20 months after Publisher #3 said "yes", their new parent company chimed in "no". My prototype came back to me in February 2016.
Thankfully, Publisher #4 remained interested despite over a year and a half passing, and requested the prototype. After a three and half month evaluation, Publisher #4 said "no", but also provided some some useful constructive criticism.
Yet Publisher #4 gave a very special "no". They recommended the game as a good fit for Publisher #5, contacted Publisher #5, and shipped the prototype directly to them (all with my knowledge and permission).
Publisher #5 said "no" two months later during the Summer of 2016, giving some constructive criticism very similar to that from Publisher #4. Publisher #5 saw promise in the game and expressed willingness to re-evaluate if some of their issues were addressed.
Armed with the constructive suggestions from both Publishers #4 & #5, I stopped pitching the game and pulled back to rework and improve the game. I play tested version 2 throughout late Summer and Fall 2016. By early 2017, I thought version 2 was publisher-ready. I re-contacted Publisher #5, who requested the new prototype. Yet i received very little feedback from Publisher #5. Several emails went unanswered, despite some extraordinary Unpub7 feedback in April 2017. I emailed one last time, stating that if I received no response by a specified date, I would assume no interest and resume submissions and pitches to other publishers. The date came and passed, and I interpreted the non-response from Publisher #5 as "no".
Publisher #6 requested the prototype after a successful Origins 2017 pitch. I received a few emails throughout the Summer that sounded very promising, and I made a few requested modifications. But by Fall, the promising emails were replaced by non-responses and silence. I found the owner at their booth at Pax Unplugged and received some quick feedback that play testers thought the game was unwinnable.
I submitted a different game to Publisher #7 in late 2017. Because of that submission, they took a look at my web page, saw this game listed as in "publisher evaluation", and requested I contact them if it ever became available.
As 2017 was drawing to an end, Publisher #6 had been evaluating the prototype since Origins, and was still not responding to emails following the face-to-face drive by I initiated at Pax Unplugged. I sent the email stating that if I received no response by a specified date, I would assume no interest and move on. That date came and went, I assumed a "no" response.
Publisher #7 remained interested, requested and evaluated the prototype, and said "no" four months later.
Publisher #8 was one of three publishers I pitched this game to at Origins 2018. Twelve days after that pitch, they enthusiastically offered the contract which I returned with even more enthusiasm. "YES !"
So in summary, over the span of four years, no less than 8 different publishers said "yes" to accepting the prototype for evaluation.
Sorry for the length of part 3. I talked a lot about my struggles, my journey, and the "no" answers I heard throughout the years. To any designers who read this, I hope you find some encouragement in my journey. Publishers will say "no" to fun, great games for various reasons. If you have a fun great game (and thoroughly publicly play-tested!) , persist until you find that right publisher match.