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Sunday, May 16, 2010


Steve Cole reports:

It's an axiom of faith that all 250 adventure game (wargame, RPG) publishers are game designers who could not find publishers. As such, we are constantly amused by other designers looking for publishers. Rarely, we publish a game by an outside publisher. Most of us just delete such emails, but sometimes we reply to them with information that is helpful.

Remember that YOU think you designed a great game that millions will enjoy. The sad truth is that the last few hundred people who contacted the same publishers you are contacting felt exactly the same way about their games. The game-playing population simply doesn't buy as many games as are designed, and a lot of good games never get published.

The HOBBY industry can be broken into the toy industry, the craft-collecting industry, the sports industry, and the game industry. Games are by far the tiny part and the junior member of the group. The game industry includes three kinds of publishers: BIG ones like Hasbro and Milton Bradley, which are offered about 2000 games a year, review maybe a dozen or two, and buy maybe one or two. The FAMILY game publishers print in decent-sized runs, but always have boxed games, physical parts, very simple rules, and a nice production value. There are a bunch of companies that do this, but they don't buy a lot of outside designs, and are (like the BIGs) hard to get a reply from. The Adventure Game Industry (a combination of the wargame industry and the RPG industry) includes a few "big" companies (big for adventure gaming, but a fraction of the size of Milton Bradley). You can usually find all of the above in "hobby stores", but only "game stores" (run by players of adventure games) carry the other 100 or so adventure game publishers who do physical products. (The remaining 100+ sell only PDFs.) Being gamers first and always, it's more likely that somebody who designed a new game and wants a publisher will get an answer from one of us, but we're in no position to help them publish a game designed for Milton Bradley standards. More is the pity.

I can offer some advice for people who have designed a game for Milton Bradley production values and cannot get Milton Bradley to answer. I wish you all the luck in the world in finding a publisher. I don't think you will, but that's nothing personal against you and no insult to your game design. It's just the numbers. Look at how many new games a company like Milton Bradley markets per year. (You can find that out by some web searches or a few visits to a hobby store.) What you did not know is that they get at least 2000 games offered to them every single year. They don't even bother replying to most of those.

While I encourage the designer hunting a publisher to try anything and everything that even remotely looks like a publisher, you'll have more luck with a publisher who your research shows already does your kind of game. (Today, a guy with a fantasy game approached me, and a look at my website shows nothing but science-fiction games. Not a good fit, but he should have and did give me a try anyway.)

You designers hunting for publishers might also want to go read my (free) book on the game publishing industry. www.StarFleetGames.com/book
Read this chapter first: http://www.StarFleetGames.com/book/3-the_industry.pdf

Adventure game companies don't print the kind of game that Milton Bradley prints because we don't sell enough copies to afford the minimum economical print run of the kind of games Milton Bradley prints.

Sadly, lots of very good games never get published, and most of those that do get published fail to succeed. I suspect you designers not going to find a lot of publishers interested in your games. Don't take that personally. It's just that there are too many games looking for publishers. I'd suggest that you NOT try to publish a Milton-Bradley type game yourself. You'd spend tens of thousands of dollars and probably end up losing money because the doors to the markets you need are not going to swing open for an unknown single-game publisher. If you won the lotto and want to blow your winnings publishing a game, then go for it, dude! But do NOT get a home equity loan to publish ANY game.

Milton-Bradley type games are VERY expensive to produce. If you're looking at 32 "chess" type pieces, the economics of production mean that ONLY way to print the game is to print a LOT of them and to print them in China. Don't try that unless you can afford to lose every dime you invest and unless you have someone who knows how to do it help you.

WARNING: There are companies out there that will do a "turnkey" job for you, taking your money and delivering to you 5000 very nice copies of your game. They will charge you more than you could get it done for elsewhere because they prey on people who know nothing about production. The problem is, they have ZERO access to the markets, know full well that you'd end up throwing away 95% of what you bought from them, and they do not care. I see new publishers at the Origins Game Fair every year, having mortgaged the house to print 5000 game boxes, and flabbergasted that they spent a week at Origins and sold 23 copies. Worse, people who printed 5000 games and THEN tried to find a wholesaler to buy them did not have any clue about the industry discount structure and find out that the manufacturer will pay them so little for the few games they will buy that the guys who went this route lose money on what they do sell.

You can find a company that will produce a few "prototypes" for you so you can show them around. That way, you won't lose too much money before you find out that selling the games you paid to print is not easy or automatic.

Most game designers (who see and play Milton Bradley games and think that all publishers do those) do not realize the economics. The problem is that the wholesaler is only going to pay the publisher 40% of the retail price, and our production cost has to be less than half of that, preferably a third of that, to make the kind of money that pays for offices, a customer service person, utility bills, advertising, and so forth. That means that a $30 game bought in a hobby store netted the manufacturer only $12 and he had to get it printed for about $4 if he was going to make a profit and pay the designer a royalty. (Even then, the royalties on anything less than Milton-Bradley sales figures are not going to be much. The money is in publishing games, not designing them. Sigh.) That's how I can survive as a game designer, because I get the manufacturer's much larger percentage of the profit. Most of you designers will have to become manufacturers in order to see your games published at all, and if you don't know how to run a business, please do not start a publishing business. Go read my book. Even then, don't start a company. See if you can scrape up the money for the printer and before you spend it, ask an existing publisher if he'd warehouse and market your game for you for a percentage of the sales.