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.