Sunday, July 19, 2015

Video (screencast): Pitching a tabletop game? Don’t Talk much about Mechanics

Below is the text of the slides.  There's more to this in the video, of course.

Pitching a tabletop game? Don’t Talk much about Mechanics
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

I work with publishers who usually publish games that are models of something, that clearly represent something, not abstracts
Abstract games are hard to sell – because there’s no story attached
Publishers vary as much as designers do

Following is for an email pitch, but most applies to an in-person or over-the-phone pitch

But isn’t a game the mechanics?
Technically, quite a bit; practically, NO!
Mechanics are a means to an end, not the end itself
Games are about an impression the game makes on the players
That depends on many things
mechanics are secondary
(for example) Depends on the level of player interactivity and whether or not it has always-correct solutions (a puzzle)

What’s important is what the player actually does
Talk about that, not about mechanics
Except insofar as mechanics are relevant to player action
But keep in mind, players rarely think of themselves as “doing worker placement” or “building a deck”
They think in terms of winning, and of the context of the game

Publishers also want to know the components so that they can make a ballpark estimate of cost
How many cards, how many dice, what kind of pieces and how many
Especially if the pitch comes from an unknown designer, there's a significant chance that the game will be too expensive to produce for what it does/is
A big selling-point of games (to publishers) is inexpensive components (16 or 20 cards only, for example).

What makes the game Unusual?
It’s the Kiss of Death to say, for example, “it’s a deck-building game”.
There are hundreds of deck-building games.  What sets yours apart?  Why would anyone bother with it?
The publisher wants to know what makes your game unusual, not what makes it ordinary!
Don’t say “it’s a worker placement game.”
OMG, another one?!

Your definition when you pitch
If your definition as a game designer of your game is that it's a worker placement game (say), you've already failed.
There are hundreds of such.  And the mechanic you use is irrelevant to what the game actually does
You may be proud of how you’ve made certain mechanics fit together
But that isn’t what the game is about, not to a player or publisher
So don’t talk about mechanics, unless you have a unique, surefire mechanic (both of which are very unlikely, understand)

A list?
Next slide is a list of items I include in a one-page pitch sheet (not the cover letter)
The only thing that approaches mechanics is “Game Type”, where I might say “Sweep of history game” – but that isn’t mechanics, is it?
(Sequence of play could be called a mechanic, too)
Keep in mind, these categories are for a one page pitch sheet, not for the cover letter
In the cover letter I establish my credentials and my interest in this particular publishing company
Which is harder to do if you don’t have a track record yet

Number of Players:
Game Length:
What does the game represent?:
Game Type:
How to Win:
Who does the player represent?:
What does the player do?:
Sequence of Play:
Game End:
Attractions for Buyers:
Suitability for Expansion:

Talk about how your game affects players, what the components are, why you’ve designed it as you have (where you might mention mechanics).

I intend to be at GenCon and WBC (from Wed afternoon). 
I'm giving our talks at GenCon (one per day), one at WBC (Thursday afternoon)

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