Jul 3, 2008

Origins 2008 - Sunday and Final Thoughts

Sunday was uneventful. Sundays are always the quietest day of a convention, but I think that the con opening early on Wednesday made things even worse, as people were completely burnt out come Sunday morning.

When I got up, I immediately went down to the board game room and set up my Titans of Industry prototype. I was hoping to get in a playtest using my preliminary ideas for 3-player and 4-player rules. I waited there for a couple of hours without attracting much interest. On Friday I had done the same, and some people had come over and expressed interest in trying the game out later, but Sunday saw no such activity.

In the early afternoon I had a meeting with the owner of Jolly Roger Games. The previous evening, he had seen me working on my prototype and told me that he could give me some advice on getting published. The advice he relayed definitely included information I hadn't heard previously, such as how to write a cover letter or how to write a rulebook so that it conforms to printer specifications.

I also asked him about the viability of self-publishing. He warned me of the many pitfalls associated with it, from what to expect when dealing with distributors to having multiple games ready in the pipeline before you send your first to the printer. He said he was helping me because he knew how hard it was to get published, especially when many publishers give little or no feedback when rejecting a design. I was glad to get such in-depth advice from an actual publisher. I definitely realized some of the mistakes I had been making in my communications with publishers to date.

After that meeting, I went around to a few more publishers. It was already Sunday afternoon, so I wasn't looking to show them my prototype so much as to establish a personal connection so that a follow-up e-mail request for a meeting at GenCon would be more likely to garner a positive response.

Finally, I went back to the board game room and set up the prototype again. The only person that came over was actually a volunteer for Tablestar Games, makers of the depressingly good Wealth of Nations.

I say "depressingly good" because when you are trying to sell a heavy, economic game to publishers, the last thing you want to see is a brand-new, clever, well-designed, and attractively-produced heavy, economic game. I didn't have time to actually play through this game, but I did read the rulebook and watch part of a game. Some of the mechanics of this game, especially the factory tile-laying, are impressively well thought-out.

This volunteer saw that my prototype was obviously also an economic game and wanted to find out how I represented certain concepts in my design. There certainly are non-trivial differences between Titans of Industry and Wealth of Nations. My consumer demand mechanic is original, as far as I know (if you know of a game that employs it, please tell me). I also think a couple of things in Wealth of Nations are unnecessary, such as the claiming of territory with flags.

Eventually I hooked back up with my friends. We played El Grande. I liked it for the most part (influence games tend to appeal to me), but the unrestricted movement caught me off guard. Being able to move cubes from province to province without regard to adjacency is somewhat counter-intuitive. Had I known about this, I think I would have done things differently. After dinner, we turned in and my Origins 2008 trip came to a close.

So, how would I sum up this trip? Although my hopes were dashed by an undeniably harsh rejection, I am generally happy about the trip.

Let's face it: game designers have to be prepared to hear some pretty hurtful things about their work. Your work is never as good as you think it is (well, maybe yours is, but mine isn't). It doesn't get easier with time. I remember the first time I got feedback from a publisher. The feeling then was the same as every time since. You get a little choked up and there is suddenly a void in your abdomen. You realize that something you have spent hours and hours working on for years is considered terrible by someone who is just giving an honest opinion.

The important thing at this point is to not lose focus. You're going to want to shut out everything you're hearing. Don't. Set your ego aside, suck it up, and get back to work. The feedback you are receiving is the single most important thing to your future success. Be grateful that you have access to opinions you would normally never get. Evaluate it and incorporate it, then try again. If your design doesn't change, neither will your results.

You need to understand that this industry is built on relationships. Everyone knows everyone else. Take every opportunity to network. One of the playtesters who lambasted my design also pointed me towards another publisher who might be willing to look at it. That's at least two contacts netted from that experience: the publisher and the playtester (who is a known person in the industry).

Also, don't stop designing. Don't get too attached to a single game and tie your future to it. Keep coming up with new ideas and testing them. Ofttimes, I will find ideas I come up with for one design migrating into other designs. It is diversity of thought that spurs creativity and allows you to come up with solutions you otherwise wouldn't have.

A corollary to that point is that you must also not be afraid to abandon a design. As I've been posting over the past week, I noticed how many of my prior designs I've either set aside or abandoned completely. I believe that my moving on from this early work has allowed me to grow as a designer. If I was still working on "fixing" Programmer: Battle for Bandwidth, I would never have had the time to come up with Titans of Industry.

Frankly, I'm almost ready to move on from Titans of Industry. This game is mechanically where I want it to be. If the gameplay still isn't good enough to publish after a couple more rounds of fixes, then I am better off abandoning it and coming up with something more marketable or dedicating more time to developing and selling Privateering. In fact, I'll say right now that if no publisher is actively considering Titans of Industry at year's end, I'll stick it in a closet and never look back.


  1. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Michael, another option you should consider is to enter your games in some contests, such as Hippodice, Primio Archimide (sp?), etc. (I believe there are links to these at BGDF in the Wiki somewhere). Many of the high-profile contests have European publishers as members of the jury, and it's not at all uncommon for the games that make the finals in these contests to be considered for publication. Placing well in a a contest winner would certainly help in future contacts with publishers, as it distinguishes your game from the many other submissions they receive.

  2. Tim:
    I'll be posting a copy of the rules soon.

    Thank you for the suggestion. I will definitely look into those competitions.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. As Tim said, maybe posting your game rules could elicit some helpful advice. You might try doing so on the boardgame designers' forum.

    As Jeff said, hippodice is a great opportunity to see how your game measures up with the competition, and it's not expensive to enter (first, you send an email, then 5 Euro with a prototype if it makes the cut).

    Otherwise, don't be too dissapointed that your game was rejected after two years--that's actually a pretty short "incubation" period, especially for what sounds like a complex game.

    The key to getting published (from my perspective, at least) is to work on several different KINDS of designs of varying degrees of complexity. And even when I'm working on a complex board game, if it gets to be too much for me, my playtesters, or publishers, I'll try to design a "card game version" to force myself to think about the game differently and make it simpler. Then, I can take those ideas back to the board game version.

    I would definitely advice AGAINST self-publishing, though, if your playtesting at cons hasn't gone well.

    It was still good to meet publishers, even if you didn't get good reviews this time around.

  5. Anonymous2:06 AM

    Wealth of Nations may go out of print. By it generating a positive buzz, it does open the door for Titans of Industry.

    Just my 2 cents here. I have playtested it before and look forward to seeing the finished product. And I do own Wealth of Nations.

    - Rich Hutnik