Behind The Joy #8: Interacting With Your Publisher
Last week, we walked you through pitching to publishers. It didn’t however, tell you what you are likely to hear back from them at the end of the meeting. This week, we explore the publisher’s options, summarize some highs and lows of working with a publisher, and give you some tips on how to get the most out of the experience.
Responding to the Pitch
Publishers will typically respond to a pitch in one of four ways. A very few lucky designers will receive the coveted, “Yes, we want to publish this game as it is!” Many will receive the discouraging, “No, we are not interested in publishing this game.” It bears mentioning that this answer may have more to do with the publisher’s current lineup, upcoming challenges, or previous setbacks than it does with your game. At least this is a very clear answer, and it allows you to move on. Another possible response is no response at all. While more likely from an electronic pitch than in person, it still happens. Generally, this is a publisher’s polite way of saying no, but occasionally communication just gets lost. The last publisher response is, “We are interested in doing more testing on the game before making a final decision on whether or not to publish it.” Most games by first-time designers that are eventually published go through this process.
The Waiting Game
Assuming a publisher has agreed either to test or to publish your game, you are entering one of the hardest periods of life for a game designer. Waiting for the publisher to play the game with their focus groups or get the game into their production queue can become one of life’s most frustrating experiences. The amount of communication you will have with the publisher varies according to publisher size. Smaller publishing companies will communicate much more frequently than larger companies. A general rule of thumb is to email publishers once a month if they have not been in touch with you. It is not easy to wait, so we recommend getting your mind to work on something else.
Lots of good web resources survey game designer contracts. Instead of exploring contract details, I will simply say that this can me the most exciting or the most confusing parts of the process. Do your homework with rights reversion, royalties, etc. It will definitely help you to go into the negotiation armed. Remember, board game profit margins are very thin, and publishers need to stay in business too!
This second round of relative designer inactivity isn’t really a slow period for the game. Usually, publishers are hiring artists, making final adjustments to gameplay, and getting the game into production. This phase may, or may not, include a Kickstarter to raise initial funds and buzz for the game. Again, designer involvement can vary from key creative input to none at all with the size of the publisher (small to large respectively).
Since our game has not made it to this point, we thought it important to make a disclaimer. Our reading and interaction with the larger community, however, tell us that many publishing companies involve the designer in the public release of the game. This helps the publisher promote the product, and gains publicity for first-time designers. In theory, it is definitely a win-win arrangement.
We hope you found this overview of the designer-publisher relationship useful! Next time, we jump back to the big decision, and explore what it is like to walk the self-publishing road. As always, fire away with comments & questions!
Pat & Kat Lysaght