There’s no doubt about it — getting your own original game design onto a shelf is no easy task. Many publishers do not accept unsolicited pitches, and those that do are often inundated with submissions.
“I’ve heard of cases up to five years, many times even longer, before a game goes from inception to publication,” says Tim Blank, organizer of the Boston Festival of Indie Games. “Generally speaking, the more experienced you are with the process, the quicker it will go.” As a game designer himself, he’s no stranger to the grind.
But tabletop publishing has its stories of overnight success, too. Kelly North Adams actually had a very different and unique experience with her first game, Veggie Garden, which you’ll be able to find in game stores across North America on April 4th of 2017.
An Idea Takes Root
“I was attending Prototype Con last year as a play-tester to support the community,” Kelly said. “I had an idea for a game that morning, and used prototype materials at the convention to put the idea together.”
Designing a game is, ultimately, designing an experience. Many factors go into this: how will the game work? How will players be incentivized, and will this lead them to the game’s fun? What will the theme be, and will it express a certain narrative?
“I decided on the theme in the shower while I was getting ready for the convention. I remember shouting ‘a vegetable garden!” Kelly recounted. Inspiration can strike suddenly, and it comes from the most unexpected of places. “My husband Chad had just joined a community garden, and he often came home with some funny stories about garden drama.”
Beyond inspiration and experience, a game also must be a functioning machine. Play-testing, prototyping, and iterating a game can be a grueling but necessary process — all of which a publisher will expect a designer to finish before bringing the game to a pitch.
“I played about four times that day,” Kelly said. During those four sessions, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from testers, she made only one minor adjustment. “I think I play-tested a [veggie] power I didn’t love, and replaced it that same day . . . but I don’t even remember what it did.”
Publisher Speed Dating
“Believe it or not, there is an etiquette when submitting your game to Publishers. Publishers receive many submissions and just like submitting a resume for a job, the simplest things can turn [a publisher] off,” James Mathe, founder of Minion Games, says here in his primer for publisher speed dating. He is widely considered a pioneer for these events, and has taken quite a bit of time and effort to arrange them for the community at larger conventions.
But, unfamiliar with this body of etiquette, with no sell sheet in sight, Kelly was standing behind a table at an event just like this pitching Veggie Garden — a game that she had assembled less than twelve hours earlier with a set of blank cards and a pen.
A publisher speed dating event is just what it sounds like. You set up your game, and a procession of publishers visit your table at four minute intervals to hear your “elevator pitch.” They’re looking for the basic information: what is the objective? What is the narrative, and how does the player fit into it? What makes the game uniquely desirable?
Pen to Paper
After this kind of event, publishers will follow up to sit down and play the games that caught their eye — often the same day. Different publishers make decisions for different reasons, and on their own time tables, but the best resolution is that fleeting dream of the aspiring game designer: a contract offer.
Within a week, Kelly received three such offers for Veggie Garden.
“It was an amazing couple of days, and an amazing experience” Kelly said with a smile.
Her journey from concept to contract took only seven days. Now, after a year of development and production, Quick Simple Fun Games is proud to present Veggie Garden and the amazing story behind it.