The Terror of Pitching

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I haven’t had to pitch a game since January 2012. It was 7 months ago when 5th Street Games licensed Farmageddon for publication. Since then, I’ve been working on the Farmageddon expansion, Poor Abby (shelved), and now, the glorious Empire Reborn. Pitching your game to a publisher is miserable, terrifying, and bound to be full of disappointment. Hooray for me, I’m about to jump head first into that fun again!

I’ve been crunching away on Empire Reborn for a few reasons. One, I really like the game and I’m delighted to finally have another title that isn’t painfully bad (game design is hard). Secondly, I know from experience that sending emails is a fool’s errand and GenCon is an amazing, 4 day opportunity to demonstrate the game in person and at the very least, get much faster turn around on that “nope.”

I learned quite a bit in my search to find a publisher for Farmageddon. Most importantly, don’t pitch your game to publishers who will have no interest in publishing it. Farmageddon is a casual card game. GMT, for example, will NEVER publish a game like Farmageddon. No, I wasn’t that dumb, but honestly, there were times when I was close. I won’t be the first to say it, but I’ll say it again as it’s worth mentioning: Only pitch to people who care to hear it. Pitch to the right publishers. 

For Empire Reborn, this is an interesting list. It’s a war game with some area control strategy elements. It’s based (currently) in a fictional, approximately19th century world. There isn’t a “ah, yeah, THAT publisher.” In retrospect, THAT publisher for Farmageddon is 5th Street and Gamewright. Those are the two.

I’m also torn because, unlike Farmageddon, I’m not paying for the art this time. Therefore, I’m not controlling it. I don’t recommend it per se, but I paid for the majority of the art on Farmageddon and that made things strange in some cases. This time, I haven’t done any art. In fact, I’ve merely explored layout for cards and basic materials. It saddens me that it’s almost entirely assured the art I want to do isn’t the art that will be done if I’m published. If you want complete control, self-publication is the only way. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to self-publish, nor do I have the know-how to do so.

Most ominous, though, is the inevitable string of “no, not for us” responses I will receive. It is  easy, for me at least, to put my game in front of random testers and take in all sorts of difficult feedback. That’s testing and design and it’s 100% within my control. But, when I’m asking a publisher to take a big risk on my game, see the potential, and believe in me as a designer, that’s out of my hands. What if someone pitches a game they like more? What if they are in a bad mood? What if I said something stupid at some point? What if Russia invades and a subtle theme in my game becomes taboo?

Gah! It’s like trying to figure out if the girl likes you or not. You know what would make pitching a game simpler? If I could send them a handwritten note that said:

“Do you like my light to medium war game?” Answers: Yes/No/Maybe

But, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a good year and I’m developing my craft. I’ll find a publisher for Empire Reborn. After all, this war won’t fight itself.