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Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Steve Cole muses: Just thinking to himself about a recent outside game designer who pitched us a card game. We pointed out a few things he needed to know, straight up front.

1. As with any game company, we have more ideas for games than we have time or money. An outside design is going to have to be really special, not simply a fun game that actually works. Remember that virtually all publishers are designers who could not get anyone else to publish their game.

2. It's unlikely that any "new game" will get onto this year's schedule, but there are always more years, assuming the Mayans were wrong. We do want to move our company away from multi-decade, thousand-page games for people with Mensa membership cards and move into sell-through-and-gone, light-fun-games-for-normal-people so your game may be part of the new crop we need to be planting.

3. Card games are expensive to print (including art costs that can be astronomical) and their sales are hit-or-miss. In this industry, a lot of really cool card games never got noticed and hence, lost money. This makes card games somewhat harder to get into the schedule as they are a serious risk if printed in distribution quantities. Printed in on-demand quantities, they're too expensive to sell into distribution. I do already have two card games fighting to get onto the schedule. I cannot really afford more than one money-loser a year and that means not very many high-cost/high-risk games get done. That's why so many sequels and expansions are done: proven market, much lower-risk, even if the reward is smaller.

4. Game designer royalties, I'm sure you know, aren't much. Even assuming sell-through of 2500 copies of a $10 or $20 game, the total pot of money isn't that big and the retailers, wholesalers, and printers get more of that pot than the publisher gets. I found out when moving into publishing that the publisher gets more money than the designer because the publisher is the one risking the up-front money. I can think of a product or two I wish I had not printed.

5. Outside designers are a mixed bag; the fact that this one had published games put him ahead of the great unwashed pack. Over three decades in this industry, I have seen way too many outside designers who never finish the product (or do it very late), do sloppy work, or are just ornery to work with. I guess the same is true of publishers.

6. Small publishers are frustrating to work with because we have to use a tiny number of people do the same number of jobs (print buyer, editor, marketing director, art director, layout, dishwasher, playtester, Q&A guy, warehouse crew, shipping clerk, accountant, customer support) that a publisher with ten times the sales and five times the employees gets done easily. Sad to say, I have dropped as many balls as I have juggled. If you don't hear from me for a week or two, remind me that I owe you a reply, even if it's "I am busy and will get to you when I can." Assuming your game arrived on my desk today, I probably would not open the envelope until August after I finish the big project I am now working on. Well, I'm supposed to be working on it.

7. In our unique case, yes, we have a Star Trek license, but it's a very strange one that nobody understands (other than us, and sometimes we're not sure). We cannot use anything from TNG or the movies or the comic books or the novels or the Paramount trek website. It gets worse: We cannot use specific characters from the show, so we can make up any Vulcan we like but cannot use Spock. We can only use whatever is already in our published games (and new ideas we made up ourselves). Rather than expect you to run out and buy $2000 worth of games and spend six months reading them, we work with general guidelines on submissions (you just saw them two lines up) and specific "You cannot do any of the following" replies to those submissions. So do understand that we may well kick out specific cards or concepts or rules, and that if we do, there is no arguing and no negotiation. "No, we cannot use that", means "no, we're not ever going to use that no matter how much you beg, whine, or argue." Don't take it personally. I'd love to include more than a few things that I cannot include.

8. At least, you're dealing with a company that pays its bills on time. We may not make a special trip to Wells Fargo to telegraph your royalties to you in time for your mortgage payment, but we will mail a check every three months as per the contract without dragging our feet.

9. The way the industry works, we need to give the wholesalers at least 100 days notice of a new game, and that's after we have a final ready-for-press design and the cover art. (Some interior art can be done later.) Which means when the day dawns that we say "Ok, your game is officially on the schedule for release" that release is likely to be at least four months away (and your check a month or two beyond that).

10. As for a prototype, a really snazzy prototype is more likely to upset me (thinking of the money you spent) and hand-cut cardstock with laser-printed cards that have the information but not the art is probably going to do just swell. Frankly, I'd just as soon do a first read off of a PDF without even cardstock or cutting being involved. Even before that, start with a couple of paragraphs describing the game. Be sure to tell me the number of cards, number of players, basic concept, basic operation, and any special components the game needs.