10 key things designers need to know about submitting a design to a publisher

By Caezar Al-Jassar and edited by the ACG team

I decided to write this blog to help designers get the most out of their designs. We get a lot of pitches through our games submission form on our website. However, even though we try to make it very clear what we are looking for on our games submission form, which is updated every 4-6 months, I’d estimate that about 70% are incompatible with Alley Cat Games, or the designer is sending it to multiple publishers hoping one of them takes a sniff.

So I decided to write this blog post to give a bit of subjective guidance. That’s the important thing to note here, this is most definitely a subjective list, and I ask other publishers and designers to pitch in in the hope it can be refined further :)

1. Have you playtested the game enough?

This should be a given but it has to be said. Some designs pitched to us have glaring broken mechanics and are, in all honesty, a complete waste of time for us to pursue further or to even test it at all. Unfortunately, it can leave a sour taste in our mouth. Playtesting to us has to be done a number of ways:

Firstly, playtesting with your friends and family (particularly those who aren’t gamers) is a valuable first step for any game design but doesn’t count for much in the long run. It’s good enough to get the concept tested but their input can often be useless owing to lack of experience and withholding critical feedback to not hurt your feelings.

Secondary, playtesting with other game designers/developers is probably most useful as they are able to pick specific issues with the game. However, each designer/developer will have their own subjective opinion on games, some may like ultra simple games, others, ultra complex and deep games. It’s the pinpointing of the flaws that is most useful here.

Finally, you need to playtest with different groups which are from your intended audience. Playing your euro game with wargamers is pointless as they will not grasp the fun euro gamers will enjoy, and vise versa. The “different” part here is key too. If you keep playtesting with the same group a) there will be what we call “playtest fatigue” whereby players will often lose sight of the original intention of the game, but also b) showing the game to different groups will allow you to see patterns, such as broken mechanics, or nuances that are picked up repeatedly by players that make the game a worse experience.

Having a heavily playtested game, that at the end of it is hugely fun to the intended audience, makes your game far more attractive to a publisher!

Multiple playtests are the key to a great game

2. Know the publisher inside and out

I can’t stress this one enough. I myself design games, but more as an exercise for my brain to potentially pitch to mass market publishers. Therefore, when I design those, I have about 1-4 publishers in mind to specifically pitch them to. As a result, those 1-4 publishers are the ones most likely to take them on. Luckily, and so far, with the mass market designs I’ve pitched, 100% have taken physical prototypes to assess further.

One of the main reasons to know the publisher inside out, is mainly not to waste your own time, but also the publisher’s. Most publishers I’ve spoken to do not appreciate it when a designer sends them something which is completely different to anything they’ve published before, or makes a submission so generic that it was obviously blasted to maybe a dozen or more others to “save time”.