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The top 3 ways to tell your game is NOT ready to pitch or publish

Last week we looked at 3 things you can do to build an audience. In today’s article, I’m taking the suggestion of fellow game designer Andrew. We’re going to flip one of my recent articles on how to know when your game is ready on its head and look at the top 3 ways to tell your game is NOT ready to pitch or publish.

Now, it would be really easy to just take that previous article and write the exact opposite of each of the points made there, but the easy road isn’t always the most enlightening, especially in this case. Instead, we’ll try to look at this from different angles.

So, let’s jump right in and look at the top 3 ways to tell your game is NOT ready to pitch or publish.

#3 Your game is still in the idea phase

I sometimes receive emails from new game designers asking about pitching their games to publishers. They’re super excited about their game idea but as I read more it really sounds like that’s all they have at the moment – an idea.

I will often follow up with them to ask them if they’ve playtested their game with others, and if so, how much and who they playtested with. Usually, I hear back and find out they haven’t even gone as far as creating a prototype, let alone playtested it to the point where it is playing well and is ready to pitch.

Publishers aren’t interested in ideas. While ideas are great to have, they are essentially worthless without taking action on them and creating something and testing it out.

If your game is still just an idea or a bunch of concepts written on napkins, you still have a lot of work ahead of you.

#2 Every playtest ends with problems being identified

You’ve been playtesting your game a lot with various different groups, and it seems like every playtest has you going back to the drawing board. Maybe not a full re-design, but something major enough that has been identified as a problem.

It could be that there is a major balancing issue, a rule that doesn’t make sense or is completely unthematic, a system that’s not functioning well, or even that they feel the game is playing them (lack of agency).

If you’re constantly seeing major issues being identified, you need to find solutions. Your first fix may not work, so you need to be persistent and keep trying until you uncover that elegant solution or make the right change to get your game running smoothly.

You’ll likely have to do this a lot over the course of developing your game, tackling one problem after another. Then one day, it will all work just right (we hope!).

If you’re still at this stage, you need to hold off on pitching your game.

#1 Your game isn’t unique enough

With thousands of board games coming out each year, your game will not survive unless there is something about it that sets your game apart.

We’re talking about innovation.

If your game is “just another deckbuilder” or “just another tile-laying game”, then who is going to be excited about this? Someone can just pick up Dominion or Carcassonne. These games have stood the test of time. So, why would someone buy your unproven game that’s kind of like these other games instead?

If you can’t figure out what makes your game unique and will “hook” players into playing and ultimately buying your game, you still have work ahead of you.

Your game needs to be innovative. It must combine mechanics in a way never seen before or add something completely different to a genre or do something players haven’t seen in a board game.

Notice how I said, “unique enough.” Your game doesn’t have to be completely off the wall or not resemble any other board game in any manner, and in fact that would be a much riskier approach. People love familiarity. But they are also curious. They like trying new things. The board game world is very much about the “cult of the new.”

Innovation is about taking something familiar and changing it up. If people see your game and say “It’s kind of like [popular game X] but it also has [insert cool thing about your game]” in a positive way, this can be really helpful in bringing people in to enjoy your game. There is a starting reference point as well as something new and interesting.

Wrapping it up

I’ve just shared with you 3 major ways you can tell your game is not ready to pitch.

  1. It’s still just an idea.
  • You’re still running into problems in your playtests.
  • There’s nothing unique about your game.

Any of these issues will likely prevent your game from being signed by a publisher or meeting success on Kickstarter. So, if you’re still at any of these stages, keep working at it. With enough time and persistence, you can get there!

What is one way you can tell your game is not ready to pitch or publish?

Please share your thoughts!

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    Useful stuff! I get so excited about game ideas that I almost immediately build the prototype (I enjoy the process) and test it with my son, and every. Single. Time. it needs to be majorly overhauled. I don’t see this as a fault, rather part of the design process. Still, I can’t imagine trying to sell someone on a game at that stage.

    Thanks, Curry! Yes, I’ve had some new designers ask who they can pitch their idea to. When I’ve asked about playtesting, prototypes, and game development, it sometimes gets very quiet.