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How to meet with publishers at conventions even if they’ve never heard of you

Conventions (Cons) are a busy time for publishers. They are often focused on releasing and demoing new games, and likely won’t have a lot of time to talk to you about your brilliant game idea. Unless of course you make arrangements in advance.

Cons present a great opportunity to meet with a number of publishers all in one trip. If you can get some dedicated time with a publisher, this will be your chance to demo a game in front of them and start to build a relationship.

It’s much better to contact these publishers ahead of time, usually at least a month in advance, to pitch them your game via a sell sheet and/or overview video. Then, if they are interested, you can arrange to meet so that you can show them your game during a dedicated time rather than just showing up at their booth and making a pitch.

You’ll find that contacting these publishers is very hit and miss. You’ll reach out to them, provide a sell sheet, along with a brief description of why you think the game is good fit for them, and may never hear back. Other publishers may get back to you and let you know that they are either not currently accepting submissions or that your game doesn’t quite match what they are looking for right now. However, you might just find that one publisher who would be quite interested to set up a meeting with you.

If you’re able to arrange something, make sure to confirm how much time you have for the meeting. But, also be prepared in case they have less time than originally expected. Things come up and a publisher may be stretched for time.

Practice your pitch and make it concise. Give them an overview of how the game is played, and if time permits, you may be able to play a round or two of the game so that they can see exactly how it works.

It’s also important to be selective about which Cons you are attending if your intention is to pitch your game to publishers.

While Gen Con and Essen are the biggest conventions, they are not necessarily the best places to meet with publishers. Often there are hundreds of new games being released at these major Cons, so publishers are quite busy introducing, demoing, and selling their games.

Consequently, if you go to some very small Cons, there may not be any publishers there at all. These may just be small events where locals get together and play games.

The sweet spot is often found in the medium to large (but not huge) Cons. You’ll want to look for Cons where many publishers will be attending and hopefully also where there will be a publisher/designer speed dating event as well.

My top pick, which is also favored by many other game designers, is Origins Game Fair. This is considered a large Con by most standards, yet it is not nearly as crazy as Gen Con or Essen. If you can only get to one Con to pitch your game, Origins might just be your best bet.

Yes, publishers will be there releasing new games, but not nearly at the same volume as the bigger conventions. It is a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, and with publishers being not quite as busy, there are more opportunities to meet with them. Origins also runs for five full days, so publishers may have a bit more time in their schedule than they would at other Cons.

Other events you may want to consider are Pax Unplugged (probably my 2nd favourite after Origins for meeting publishers), BGG Con, and some smaller Cons and events where there is a list of publishers attending. You may even want to check out one of the toy fairs in Chicago and New York.

Here is a link to a site showing most of the tabletop events out there, along with a helpful map so that you can see what is happening where and when:

Be warned: There is quite a long list of events and some are focused more on playtesting or straight-up gaming, so they might not be the best places to pitch your game (some may have few publishers, if any, attending)!

Here are some tips to increase your chances of getting a meeting set up with a publisher:

  • Have your sell sheets, overview videos, rules, and prototypes ready before you contact anyone
  • As always, make sure your game plays really well and is a good match for the publisher
  • Contact publishers 1 to 2 months prior to the Con or event to see if they have any interest in your game, and if so, set up a meeting
  • When you reach out to a publisher, make it personal. Rather than sending a generic email, mention some of their games that you enjoy and why you feel your game would be a good fit for them.
  • Schedule a specific time and meeting location with the publisher, away from the busyness, to make it easier to focus.
  • When booking your meeting, the earlier in the duration of event, the better. Most publishers will be tired after the end of the long day in the vendor hall.
  • Practice setting up and tearing down your game(s) quickly. If you can be there early and set up in advance, even better.
  • Prepare your pitch, along with how to quickly set up and demo your game (publishers are busy folks, and may even have to cut back their meeting time with you)

Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll increase your chances of meeting with that publisher you’ve been eyeing.

What Cons have you attended? Have you had success pitching to publishers there?

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