No, No, No, No ...Yes (Part 3)
, 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.
7/7/2018 10:42:04 am
I'm half inspired and half mortified by this story. I give you massive props for following through over the course of 4 years. I might have given up after publisher 2 or 3.
7/7/2018 11:10:54 am
Patrick, don't let my experiences scare you off. Your reaction is proof that I need to write part 4 about finding encouragement to persist after the "no"s.
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I am Charlie. I have designed some fun games that others enjoy playing.