So you have decided that you do not want to go the self-publishing route. Some developers don’t, and that is perfectly fine. If you want to shop your game around for a prospective publisher, then feel free to do so, yet know that it is going to take a lot of effort on your part to impress them. Publishers both large and small see an abundance of games on a regular basis, and more often than not, they choose not to publish games pitched to them – even games they feel are remotely interesting to them in the first place.
Publishers need to know they can make money on the indie game, and if the doubts and risk outweigh the potential for making money, they are probably going to pass on the game in question. It’s a crapshoot to be sure, yet how you can do your part to showcase that your game is worthy of being published by a certain publisher? How can you capture the minds of those you are pitching your game too to maximize the chances of your game getting ‘picked up’ by a publisher? There are a few techniques for increasing your chances. Use them properly, and reap the benefits later!
Before we begin, learn the virtue of patience
If you think that even the best pitch is going to have publishers calling your office and throwing big bucks your way, think again. It isn’t going to happen. You are likely going to have to wait a little while – perhaps a week, two weeks, or even months. Publishers have a lot of other games to contemplate partnering with before yours, so play the waiting game. Have a contact in the company that is associated with the decisions made as to which games are partnered by a publisher, and inquire about your game every few weeks to see if a decision is getting closer to being met. It’s a great way to let the publisher know you are interested as well, so win-win. With that being said, do not contact the publisher every day or every other day. Nothing will stop your calls and emails from being returned like bugging a publisher to make a decision about your game.
Plus, it could hurt your chances of getting a publisher as shallow as it may sound. Think about it: what better way to get someone to stop bugging you than by giving them a quick, easy decision such as, “no, we’re not interested.” It tells the publisher that you do not have any other options, you’re desperate, and makes them think maybe there’s a good reason why you are in that other publishers have told you, “no” as well. Play your hand correctly: don’t make publishers think you need them, but do let them know you are interested in providing your business to them. You will come across as professional and confident, and in this industry, that can go a long way.
Now to the ‘meat’ of the discussion (sorry, I’m smoking a Christmas ham today, so my mind is on eating flavorful, smoky meat at the moment).
Create a ‘wowing’ demo reel
This is a topic I’ve been debating on covering in a full post for a while, but the opportunity hasn’t really presented itself until now. A demo reel is vital to how your game comes across to other parties. It’s a big reason why a lot of Kickstarter campaigns fail, in that if the demo reel leaves much to be desired (or really doesn’t tell anything about the game in particular), most people are not going to fund the game. That goes for ordinary people via Kickstarter and publishers.
Thus, you need to ensure that your demo reel not only tells the viewer what your game is about, but you need to ensure it gets them excited and makes them wanting more after they have finished viewing it. That’s really the trick, too – make them wanting more.
Provide a lot of visual ‘eye candy.’ Ensure that your game’s protagonist looks as if he/she belongs in the game and generally, make them appear fun to control. Nobody wants to play a game with a protagonist that is unlikeable – it’s one of the things that killed Assassin’s Creed III after all. In addition, ensure that the game looks generally fun to play. If you are developing a platformer, show parts of the game in the demo reel that captures the very essence of the game you are developing. Create moments where the game’s level looks alive, the best powerups are in full detail, and you have, again, captured the very spirit of the game. When you have achieved this, you’ll know it.
Don’t just show, explain
Going back to showcasing the ‘fun’ factor for a moment, in addition to showing the ‘fun’ of the game, explain why the game is fun. Create a PowerPoint to accompany the demo reel you have created for the publisher which explains the levels, protagonist, enemies, power-ups – essentially, anything that makes the game unique. Sure, the publisher may be impressed with what they see in the demo reel, but if they are unaware as to the context of the demo reel itself, they may still be unwilling to partner with you. Thus, use this PowerPoint to explain why the game is awesome.
Yet, ensure your PowerPoint isn’t too long. Nobody wants to read through a few hundred slides just to learn about a game. Instead, shorter the PowerPoint to roughly 20-40 slides, and really showcase what makes your game stand above the rest. By doing so, publishers are going to see your game for what it truly is, and if the game is one they believe will make them money? They may just partner with you.
If all else fails, go to where the publishers are
If you want to run with the wolves, sometimes you have to stop trying to attract the wolves and instead run to them yourself. If you are not getting any calls back from publishers, go to where the publishers are. E3. Gamescom. PAX. There is an array of conferences devoted to gaming around the world several times per year, and at these events, you are bound to meet publishers that are looking for new prospects. You may think that you by standing amidst all of the AAA games that seem to dominate these events that you are not going to stand out, but you’re wrong. Be proactive. Do your part to contact publishers that are attending the conference and see if you can have a meeting with them. Set up a booth. You’re bound to catch the eye of a certain publisher at one of these events, and while most publishers are going to pass you by, there’s a good chance that you’ll get some leads from these conferences.
It happened for the devs of Cloudberry Kingdom. They attended E3 to see if they could ‘catch the eye’ of a few publishers, and guess what? Ubisoft ended up publishing their game. Never rule out what could happen. Even if you only get one meeting as the result of attending a conference, that one meeting could lead to partnering with a publisher and getting your game published by them.
It’s this positive thinking that is going to be the secret to your success, so do just that: remain positive. Be diligent. In the end, good fortune will eventually come your way.