Pitching Survival Guide
I’ve officially survived two years of pitching games to publishers at Conventions and in Speed Pitching Competitions and here’s what I’ve learned:
Tips for Setting Up A Pitch Before a Convention
Research Publishers to find the right fit for your game(s).
E-mail publishers a month or so before a convention to see if they’re interested in setting up a pitch.
Make sure to include a sell sheet with the basic info (game name, description, age range, player count, time, how to win, the hook) if you don’t write it out in the e-mail.
The e-mail can be short and sweet but make sure they know enough about the game to decide if it’s a possible match.
If you don’t have an e-mail for a publisher submit your inquiry to their website. Many publishers have a tab for game submissions with contact instructions.
Check different facebook groups and twitter feeds to see if publishers are taking pitches. Many publishers post a month out that they are looking for a specific type of game which could be your game! I recommend the “Designer/Publisher Speed Dating” Facebook Group, they post on there a lot.
Check in a week after sending the initial e-mail. Publishers get busy so don’t get discouraged. Many times they are working to fill their schedule.
Make sure when they confirm a time with you that you know what the time zone the meeting is in. (I have messed this up before and it was embarrassing.)
Don’t book back to back meetings unless you have to. Always give yourself a 30-60 minute buffer between pitches. Publishers can run late with a meeting and it can cause a domino effect that messes up their whole schedule for the weekend. Plus, you might have a Publisher interested enough to go past the 30 minute time block discussing your game and you don’t want to cut them off to talk to another publisher. Also, Convention Centers are large and it can easily take 15 minutes to find the location of the next pitch meeting.
Re-confirm your meeting! Things happen last second all the time. I’ve had publishers not show up, text me the minute the meeting was going to start that they can’t make it or they need to rearrange their schedules so we have to meet another time. Or they are just running late.
Don’t get upset at any point. You don’t want to burn a bridge because someone is running late. If you have to choose to stop waiting for a publisher let them know politely that you have another meeting to make and you’d like to find another time down the road to speak.
What You Need at the Pitch
Your Game (Be Prepared to set it up and play a round.)
Extra Prototype Games with Rules if they’re interested (Some Publishers will ask for a copy of the game to take back and playtest.)
Digital Print and Play (This could mean a PDF you can e-mail them or one that you have on a flash drive that you can hand them.)
Business Cards (Some Publishers like them but if you have the information on a sell sheet you should be fine.)
Have your day’s schedule down so you can jump from meeting to meeting without too many issues.
So you got the pitch, you have everything you need to bring. What is your next step?
Show up 10 minutes before the meeting so you can make sure you’re on time and prepared. Sometimes meetings end early so you can get started earlier. It also shows that you are responsible and timely.
Depending on what Convention you’re at your dress code might be different. If you’re pitching in a formal setting like the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (CHITAG) dress in a blazer, dress pants, suit, tie, dress or whatever business attire you have. If you’re pitching at a GenCon/Origins Game Fair you can dress in jeans and your favorite nerd shirt or whatever makes you feel comfortable. Hobby Conventions are much more casual than Mass Market. Another tip is don’t wear too many layers, Con halls are typically pretty warm and you don’t want to sweat during your meeting.
It’s your time! Introduce yourself and give a firm handshake (unless it’s COVID).
Get started on your elevator pitch with the game you agreed to show and wait to see if there are any questions from the Publisher.
Make sure to hand them a sell sheet at the beginning of the pitch as a reminder so they can take notes on the pitch. Have extra sell sheets in case there are multiple people in the meeting or they introduce you to a different publisher.
Depending how the conversation goes offer to give them a prototype copy or print & play.
Thank them and send a follow up e-mail after the convention to say thank you and attach any requested materials. Even if they didn’t want this game, thank them for speaking to you. They might want your next game and they took the time to meet with you so they deserve a thank you.
You’ve had some small talk and your game is set up. What are some key points to hit?
Give the overview first, ending in how you win the game.
Then show what a turn looks like.
Make sure to stack the deck so you can seem prepared and to avoid fumbling over getting 10 of the same card in a row.
I always suggest setting up the game in a midway point versus the beginning of the game so you have pre-set examples to show the different components and what they mean.
You can discuss the set up, what inspired the game and the parts you enjoy.
Be prepared to improvise and answer questions.
Questions You Might Get Asked By A Publisher
Let me start by saying you might only get asked 3 to 5 of these questions or a question more directly related to the game you showed but these are some good things to think about just to design a good game. I hope this helps and doesn’t overwhelm you!
What's your favorite/least favorite part of your game?
What is the biggest learning curve to your game with playtesters?
Why is your game different then other games in it's genre?
What inspired your game?
How much creative control do you want in the development of your game if it gets signed?
How much player interaction is there?
What was something that didn't work in your game and how did you fix it?
What player counts have you tested? (Make sure you’ve tested all the counts before pitching)
How many times have you playtested? (Don’t pitch the game if you’ve only tested 10 times. Make sure you’ve tested multiple times with more than just your family.)
What other published games will your game be competing with?
Do you have an idea for stretch goals if it were to go on Kickstarter?
Do you have an idea for expansions or additional games related to the design you're pitching?
If you could only keep one part of your game what would it be?
What style art do you see for your game?
How attached to the theme are you?
How attached to the title are you?
Do you have a picture of what you want this game to look like in its finished stage?
Why do you want us to publish your game?
You survived the pitch! Continue to follow up with any publishers that took a copy of your game. Just try to not spam them with e-mails. I normally poke them once a month (with the exception of COVID). If you don’t hear back after 6 months from any of your e-mails you can check in less frequently and eventually mark it as a “pass/reject”.
Tips for Tracking Pitches
Create a google spreadsheet so you can access it on different computers or make an excel spreadsheet.
Create a tab for every game you are pitching.
Add columns for the publisher’s name/contact, date of initial contact, contact method, notes, a pass/no pass, check-in columns for notes and anything else you might find helpful.
As I playtest, I update possible Publisher names that might fit each of my games that are mentioned by the players. Then I add it to the game’s tab for when I’m ready to pitch.
I like color coating pitches to show what status they’re at but that’s just me.
I just suggest keeping good notes and remember to update the sheets to keep things organized. You don’t want to re-pitch a game you already pitched.
I hope this guide helps give you a list of things you need to know to set up and execute a game pitch. Good luck and know you can only get better with practice! If I survived so can you!