Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Evolve your sell-sheet!

 I am currently taking part in The Pitch Project - a competition in which game designers present their sell-sheets in the hopes of getting some pitch meetings with an impressive list of name board game publishers including Hasbro, The OP, Arcane Wonders, Renegade Games, AEG, WizKids, Stonemeier Games, Spin Master and many more!

I've submitted three pitches (so far), but the best thing that has come out of the process is the message board where all of the game designers are giving each other valuable feedback on their sell-sheets! This spirit of cooperation is one of the many reasons why I love the board game design community!

After reading the feedback on my own sell-sheet, I decided to go back and take a look at the evolution of one as it has improved over time. Let's take a look at the sell-sheet for my game Castle Climbers.

The first sell-sheet I created for Castle Climbers used my 1st version of the prototype featuring my hand-drawn, water-colored artwork! Obviously, I wanted to show it off... as well as recreate the castle wall that appears in the game. Note the character climbing up the wall while being menaced by the guardians in the windows - a strong visual element from the game. I've already come up with an OK catchphrase "Building the castle is easy... staying on it is the hard part!" and there is a brief description of game play but I am missing several important things! First off, I'm missing the "3 essentials": Number of players, Age of players and Play time. These should be on every sell-sheet as they are the first clue to the prospective publisher how to market your game.

Also missing is a components list. This is a list of all of the "things in the box". This is also very important to publishers as it gives them an idea of how much your game will cost. If your component list has 100's of miniatures or handfuls of custom dice, the publisher might pass because of the cost to make it.

Also missing is a good image of the game in action. I realize now that the images of the individual tiles doesn't give the viewer a good idea of the game in play or even how to play the game!

Finally, while horizontal orientation is not taboo, it doesn't play to the strength of the game's design: climbing the castle.

In version two, I've re-oriented the sheet vertically to make it feel more like the character is climbing the castle. Most of the same mistakes have been repeated, but at least I've added the "3 Essentials" to the sell-sheet.

Version three was created after I commissioned my daughter Evelyn to create artwork for the game. I now show the box cover, an OK photo of the game in action, but I'm still trying to recreate the wall using the artwork. The "3 Essentials" now have icons to help draw the eye and I have a component list, a better description of the game play and... maybe most important of all, contact information so potential publishers know where to contact me! (as well as a snazzy Bedbug Games company logo)

Version 4 represents the game after I streamlined the components list for potential a Kickstarter. I decide to take a new photo and labeled each part of game play with white text. I still think it's a cute idea, but it's also too cluttered for clear reading. Note the list of game play mechanisms (tile laying, take that, etc.) up near the top of the sheet. I actually entered this sell-sheet into a festival competition and was told it didn't clearly explain how the game was played.

Version 5 is the result of that festival feedback. I have now broken out the game play into their own little pictures with the big image of the castle in the middle. I also swapped out the picture of the treasure chest with the guardian. People are usually more interested in looking at characters than things. I was quite pleased with this sell-sheet until someone pointed out that I had organized the steps of the game play going down rather than across. Note, my contact information has been removed as per the rules of the Pitch Project contest.


The current final version (6) takes into account that feedback, so I have numbered each of the game play "call-outs" running from left to right, traveling downwards. This way you still get a good look at the castle (I couldn't find a good way to make the reader's eyes go from bottom to top to imitate the climb) and the game play is clearly explained to the reader. I'm pretty pleased with this final version, especially when you consider what it started as!

UPDATE: So, I wanted more feedback so I turned to Reddit. And man, o' man, did I get it. Several people complained about the fonts. One person said "my title font looked like it was made in Windows 95" and another said they hated the font used for the text. And even though their feedback was... raw... I still think it made some good points. So, I adjusted it again.


 I created a new logo for the game (I was inspired by the Clash of Clans logo - which has the right amount of silliness and medieval-ness I was looking for) and I changed the text. I moved some of the elements around to give the pictures on the left and the text a little more room for readability. I also noticed that several of my fellow designers were putting a "Tested at ProtoSpiel" logo on their sell-sheets and since I had done extensive testing of the game at several San Jose ProtoSpiel events, I figured it couldn't hurt. 

And to be honest, even though the feedback was a little tough to swallow, I think the sell-sheet is even better than before!

Do you have any suggestions to how to make this sell-sheet better? Do you have any sell-sheets you'd like to share? Post them in the comments below!



Friday, July 31, 2020

Six Pointers for VIRTUALLY Pitching to Publishers




In a previous post, I listed Six Pointers to Pitching Games to Publishers. That list is so 2019! It's 2020, baby! Times have changed! Everything is VIRTUAL!

So, you can't go to conventions to pitch your games. That doesn't mean you can't pitch your games! You can still pitch them VIRTUALLY! I've already pitched several games via Zoom and other video conferencing systems and while it is a bit tricky, it can be done. Here are SIX pointers for VIRTUALLY pitching your game via video conferencing.


1. Create a landing page: As you prepare for your pitch or if you want to give the publisher a "take-away" about your game, go virtual! Create a web page or blog site for your board game that shows a few images of the game in action, write a short blurb describing what's cool and unique about your game and describes the game play, and don't forget to list out the "3 essentials" (Player count, Player age and Play Time). Or you can post your sell-sheet on the web page. If you can afford it, try to secure an URL with the name of your game as the address.

You can also list your game on boardgamegeek.com - which allows you to upload photos of the game, set all of the essentials and even list the types of mechanisms that compose the game. You can upload your rule book or even print and play files.


2. Make a video: In a recent panel at San Diego Comic Con, several game publishers said that the majority of the pitches they received recently were videos. This means that you are going to have to learn how to make a video if you want to pitch your game. Don't worry, making a video isn't as hard as you might think... as long as you are prepared.

First, you need to know what to say! Play out what you are going to do. Place pieces within easy reach. "top deck" cards if you have to. Make the game play the way that you want it to. Once you've figured out your "spiel", it helps to practice it a few times first. If you aren't good at improvising, then I suggest writing a script. No one cares if you are reading from a script, just try to make your delivery natural sounding.

Then you need a camera. Unless you already have a digital camera, then great but a cell-phone camera works fine too. Many designers shoot the game from their point-of-view. That's fine as long as you can concentrate on what you are shooting and remember to focus on the game. Don't let the camera drift away from the table or components. If you find you are no good playing a game and filming at the same time, then try to get someone to help you. Just make sure they know what you are doing so you can choreograph the camera with whats going on in the game.

When shooting your game, keep it short (3 minutes or less) but take your time. Skip extraneous details like backstory and just focus on what the player does. If you are going to show of a card or component in the game, make sure you linger on it for a moment so the viewer can properly see it. (I usually give myself a "three count" while filming.) Make sure you go through the key points of the game including how many players, how long it takes and how to win the game.

If you can shoot the demo in one sitting, that's fine. If you can edit, then even better. I wouldn't get too fancy. As long as the sound is clear and legible, you don't need music or sound effects unless it is part of the game. Keep away from visual effects too. You are trying to simulate the experience of playing the game in person, not make some flashy Hollywood trailer!

Don't make the publisher have to download the video. It's best to upload your video to a host site such as YouTube or Vimeo or even link it to your BGG listing for the game. You can then easily send them the link to that site for review.


3. Learn Tabletop Simulator: Many game designers have created prototypes in Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia to test their games during the pandemic. While this is a great way to get "real live" people to play your prototype, be aware that making the virtual prototype is lot of effort and can get very frustrating without help. I have been wrestling with Tabletop Simulator since the start of the pandemic and I finally feel like I know what I'm doing.

The documentation for TTS isn't great, the interface is un-intuitive and you have to prepare files like cards individually rather than by pages - which might be different than how you might prepare them for print and play or production. I also had some size issues when importing in models based on the polygon count and rotation of the model, but thanks to the help from a few tech-savvy friends, I was able to translate my board game Rayguns and Rocketships to TTS.

Right now, I've been using TTS over Tabletopia as I already own it (it costs $19.99 on Steam) and it seems to be what the majority of players are using. Some of the better TTS tutorials I've found online are here:

General features: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MfuHyBoJGE
Helpful user short-cuts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cjWpm9kj-I
Making a prototype in TTS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AZwP4pKoP4 - Ludolodge has several other tutorials that are all quite good. Check them out!

If you know of other virtual prototyping programs, please list them in the comments!
4. Get a second camera: That camera that is installed into your laptop is great when you are Zooming with Mom, but it's a real hassle to use when trying to show off your game prototype. This is why I strongly recommend investing in a second camera. Most video conferencing programs allow you to switch between cameras.

If you set up your secondary camera ahead of time to show off your game, then it will be very easy for publishers to see your game. Or you can swoop it down close to show off the information on a card or some other component.

USB cameras are stupidly inexpensive right now. You can buy one on Amazon.com from $20 to $70 depending on quality and durability. Or you can do what I did, convert your Playstation's EyeToy camera into a USB one by downloading this free driver: https://download.cnet.com/EOCP-Driver-for-Sony-Eyetoy-USB-Camera/3000-2120_4-10532564.html

Just be aware that some video conferencing systems allow for easier switching of video sources than others. I've had great success with Zoom but haven't been able to switch cameras in Microsoft Teams.


5. Set-up in advance: I find it very helpful to have your game prototype set up in advance of the call. Take a half-hour ahead of the call to set up the game as if a few rounds have already been played. But make sure to "stack the deck" ahead of time to show off the game's best features.

You might want to set up more than one game, that way if you get done faster than you anticipated, you will have the other game ready to show. And if there isn't time to show any game, at least you were prepared.

6. The other things still apply: All of the pointers I shared in the previous post still apply - you are still pitching your game to a publisher, you just happen to be once removed.

Good luck and happy pitching!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Six Points For Pitching to Publishers



The documentary film Gamemaster (that I happen to be in) features scenes of game designers pitching games to publishers. Many say that pitching their game is their least favorite part of being a game designer; but to be honest, I really enjoy doing it! If you don't like to pitch games, allow me to share a few pointers with you.

But before I start, you might be asking "How do I even start pitching a game?" The first step is to find the publishers that you want to pitch to. I suggest that you research each company and the types of game the company makes. If they publish only hardcore Eurogames, then you might not want to pitch your space combat game to them. Create a list of potential publishers and then reach out to them via email. (You often can find a contact link via their website) Send them a brief but polite message along the lines of:

Dear Publisher,

I am a game designer with an exciting new game design called (game name here). I will be attending (name of convention) and if you have a few minutes, I would love to show (game name here) to you. Please contact me so we can coordinate our schedules. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
your name here

I would include a sell-sheet with this email which I talk about here - http://mrbossdesign.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-importance-of-sell-sheets.html - and your contact information.

Once a publisher accepts and schedules a pitch meeting (you usually only have 30 minutes to pitch, keep your pitch lean and tight!) (Also, give yourself time to get from one meeting to another - 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the show!) now you are ready to use these six pointers during your pitch meeting..

  1. Tell a story, not instructions: People loves stories. It's how we communicate with each other on a daily basis. However, when it comes to teaching someone how to play a game all too often the designer will rattle off a list of instructions instead - which can be boring and tedious. Even worse, your audience is trying to hold all of this information in their head about how to play the game - which can be hard, especially at a noisy and distracting place like a board game convention.

    Instead, tell "the story of your game." Who the player is, Why they are doing what they are doing, How they are going to win and how they can lose. Why the publisher should care about the game. A good game has a flow and a logical order of events. Use this to show them all of the actions they can do while playing the game. Don't focus on the "backstory" or the lore of your game - as much as you love your game's fiction, the publisher doesn't care. They just want to know how game is played.

    Practice telling this "story" before the show. The better you get at telling the game's story, the more entertaining you can make it. Don't be afraid to channel your inner "ham". Funny always helps. Just be careful not to overdo it. In addition, I avoid using hyperbole like "this is the best game ever" and I never tear down other games to make my own sound better. ("This is like Catan, but much better.") You never know if the designer of that game is sitting right there with you!

 
 
2.  Cheat (but just a little): In order to give a great demo of your game, you might have to "stack the deck" in your game's favor... just a little bit. You might want the most impressive combo in your game to "just happen" during the demo or you might want to show off a particularly funny or cool card from the game. It's OK to do this, you're not be dishonest, you are just showing your game in the best possible light.

Practice what your "best game" might feel like and make sure that you are ready to quickly set up and show your game. It's always better to simulate a game "in-progress" than from the beginning. You will almost NEVER get to play more than a round or two of your game. The more complex your game is, the most likely you will have to be prepared to do this during your pitch. Also, practice putting game away quickly so you don't lose or damage anything as you hurry to leave.


3. Read body language: There are many of websites and books that can teach you how to read body language. I won't recount them here, but you must realize that a game pitch is essentially an job interview your game (and you!). Treat the pitch the same way - arrive on time (or better, early), dress appropriately, and be polite.

During the pitch, if you are observant, you can tell whether you are doing well just by seeing how others are reacting to you. In the above image, Ryan (right) is smiling, leaning forward and his "system" is open - he is interested in what I have to say and maybe even the game I am pitching; while John (left) is uncertain, leaning back and has what is known as a "closed system" (arms crossed is a big "tell") - which indicates he isn't convinced with what I am showing him. I can try to get him to "open up" by addressing John more, or perhaps use him in a positive example about my game. If I can get John to "open his system up" during the pitch, that's a good sign that I am headed in the right direction.


4. Bring a back-up: A story. I was packing for a ProtoSpiel where I was running demos for a couple of prototypes. I had a prototype for a small party game that I almost didn't bring with me because I didn't want to "muddle the waters." It is possible to bring too many games with you to a show. I usually try to bring two - a "marquee" game that I spend most of my time and effort promoting and a secondary game to pitch in case there is an opportunity to do so. If you bring more than that, you end up carrying around too many games - which can get very heavy!

Despite this, I ended up bringing the game with me. At the show, I ran into a publisher who I had always wanted to work with. I asked if he had time to look at one of my games and he said he only had 15 minutes. I realized the only game that short was the little party game. We played a few rounds. Long story short, he loved the game and we made a handshake deal on the spot to sign the game. (It didn't get published in the end, but that OK, it happens.)

The lesson is, if I hadn't brought the game with me and I wouldn't have signed the game. If you aren't sure, bring it with you. You never know what might happen!


5. Leave a "take-away": Sell-sheet and business cards might seem old-fashioned but publishers look at many games over the course of a convention. Without these visual reminders of your game, they might forget about you after the show.

Another thing that game designers bring are extra copies of a game. I am torn about leaving a prototype with a publisher. Giving a prototype to a publisher in no guarantee that it will be published. I often can't afford more than one or two copies of one of my games (printing prototypes can get expensive) and leaving one with a publisher to evaluate means I have one less copy to use for other pitches or for demos at a show

Additionally, publishers usually don't look at your prototype right away (They have other shows to attend and their own projects to work on) I know some designers who have waited months or longer for a publisher to get around to playing their prototype. Most publishers I know have a big stack of these prototypes to play and only so much time to do so. I find it much better to try to play the game (or at least a few rounds) in person so that way you know they have looked at it and you have been able to present it in the best possible light the first time they play it.


6. Always thank them: No matter what the outcome is of your pitch; no matter how badly it went; no matter how much they didn't like your game; always thank the publisher for their time. Not only is it polite, but even if you don't sell your game, you are selling yourself. There might be other opportunities in the future for you to work with that publisher and no one wants to work with a rude jerk. The game industry is too small and word gets around. "Be friendly, be helpful and be grateful" has served me well in my career.

I hope you have found this advice to be helpful. I wish you the best of luck with your pitches!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scott Rogers, Game Designer on Patreon!



I now have a Patreon page!

There are three extremely reasonable tiers (The Scholar of the Black Notebooks, Guardian of the Components and Champion of the Prototypes) which get you get access to behind-the-scenes of the game design process, exclusive video content, you can help me design a game and every month, a PRINT AND PLAY GAME for you to play at home!


Some of the PRINT AND PLAY GAMES include "I am NOT the Werewolf" - a fun werewolf variant, SCRAM! - a light and fast strategic game and PIZZATOWN - a pick-up and deliver game for the whole family! 

To JOIN, just click on the link below! I appreciate your support in advance and look forward to having you join in on the fun!

Join Scott's Patreon!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The "Younger Sibling Effect"



While I'm past middle age, I don't consider myself THAT old. However, once in awhile I find myself wondering about the actions of the younger generations and one of them that perplexes me the most is: why would they rather watch someone play a video game than play it?

Now, I realize more people than ever before are playing video games and there are more video game systems and games "out there" for players to enjoy. I also understand that as everyone gets older and has more responsibilities that they don't have as much time to play all of the games they would like to.

However, as someone who literally grew up with the history of video games (yes, I remember playing Pong at at a gym my parents went to) I would always rather play a game than watch someone else play it. I remember being a kid and being impatient for my turn to get my hands on the controller.

Then I made a realization.

The younger generations are the younger brothers and sisters (and the children) of the generation who grew up playing video games. And what did us older siblings (and parents) make them do? We made them watch us playing games. They got used to making the act of watching others play entertaining for them as well. Maybe it was a survival method. Maybe there was just more opportunities to watch someone play a game (via YouTube and Twitch and spectator modes) Maybe they grew to like watching others playing games. Whatever the case, it is now a "thing". (it has been a thing for quite some time just some of us are slower to embrace it.)

While I would still rather play games that watch them, I feel I understand why the "younger generation" likes to watch games a little more now.

ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE!



If you have been following my blog, you know that I've been researching games to play using the ZOOM video conference platform. While many have been figuring out how to play already published games, others have been creating new games.

I came across an interesting article about students at USC creating games for the platform. You can read it here. Inspired, and already possessing a good deal of knowledge about what ZOOM can and cannot do, I decided to design my own game form ZOOM called ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE.

Feel free to share this free game with your friends, and hopefully, they will enjoy playing it too! If you enjoy playing this game, you can join my Patreon where I create a new Print and Play game each month.

*****


Astronauts in Trouble
A ZOOM role playing party game for 3 to 20 players
by Scott Rogers



OVERVIEW
ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE is a hilarious role playing party game where one player is ASTRONAUT with a problem. The other players are MISSION CONTROL who help them solve it with their household items. But with malfunctioning audio, the astronaut can only guess how it could help. Guess correctly to score points and win!



HOW TO PLAY

Each player takes turns being an ASTRONAUT who is on a space station orbiting Earth. The other players are MISSION CONTROL.




The Astronaut player may set their virtual background to a space station interior



At the start of their turn, the Astronaut describes, in detail, a TROUBLE that has happened to them on the space station to the Mission Control players. The problem can be serious or silly, that is up to the player.



TROUBLE EXAMPLES INCLUDE:


·      A micro-asteroid punctured the hull

·      The retro-rockets mis-fired

·      A dangerous solar-flare is approaching the station

·      The toilet won’t flush

·      The station broke orbit and is hurtling towards Earth

·      The station’s artificial gravity is off

·      Partner’s tether broke during a spacewalk

·      The station has run out of Tang orange drink

·      Solar panel needs to be repaired

·      Helmet is starting to fill up with water

·      The station’s AI has gone rogue

·      An alien has invaded the station



The other players are MISSION CONTROL. HOWEVER, thanks to COSMIC RADIATION, Mission Control is having problems with their communications and they cannot be heard by the astronaut. All Mission Control Players must set their ZOOM AUDIO SETTING to MUTE.




Mission Control has to solve the problem with something around the house



Once the Astronaut has described their problem, the MISSION CONTROL players have 30 SECONDS (One-one-hundred, Two-one-hundred,…) to find an SINGLE OBJECT at their location (home, etc.) that will be used to help the astronaut with their trouble. They then take turns DESCRIBING TO THE ASTRONAUT how they must use the item to help them with their problem.



Will you help the Astronaut solve their problem in time?



THE ASTRONAUT will then PICK ONE of the player’s items and describe back the SOLUTION. If they have closely described the use of the item, then they get 1 POINT. If they accurately described the solution they get 3 POINTS. The MISSION CONTROL player whose solution was picked gets 2 POINTS.



Once everyone has had a chance to be an ASTRONAUT, the player with the most points wins!
 

Friday, April 3, 2020

13 tips for playing WEREWOLF over Zoom


As I continue to explore games that play best via video conferencing, I wanted to experience playing Werewolf -  the social deduction game that is commonly played this way around the world. For those of you who are new to this game, these are the rules of a "basic" game of Werewolf:


Players are given a role at the beginning of the game – either as a Villager person or a Werewolf. A third of the players should be Werewolves. The goal is for one faction to survive the game – which means the complete destruction of the other faction.

 
The game happens over a series of “days” in which there is a distinct day and a night phase. Play is moderated by an impartial narrator who guides the players through the phases. During the night phase, all players close their eyes. The Werewolf members open their eyes to acknowledge each other and then indicate which of the Villages they will kill – either on paper or by pointing at the chosen victim. The Werewolves need to come to a consensus on a victim.


The day phase starts as all players open their eyes to find the victim dead. The players must then choose to execute a player – with the goal of uncovering a Werewolf. The players all have a few minutes to discuss and debate which player should be chosen. Accusations are made and innocence is defended. Evidence against other players are often shaky at best. If the group reaches a consensus, that chosen player is “executed” and reveals if they are honest or a Werewolf. However, it is possible to execute an honest player instead, reducing their numbers. If the group cannot come to a consensus or after a player has been executed, the night phase begins again, with the remaining Werewolves choosing another victim. 

 
Play continues in this way until either all Werewolves are executed or there is no way for the Villagers to win. A victory is shared, if either Werewolves or Villagers win, everyone on that team wins.

 In the advanced game, "special characters are added: Cupid who makes two characters fall in love and if one dies, the other "kills themselves" out of grief, a Hunter who when killed, can shoot and kill one other player, A Fortune Teller who may secretly ask the moderator if a player is a werewolf, the Little Girl who may peek during the night phase but if caught is killed and the Witch who has two potions, one that saves and one that kills and may use them once during the game.


 If you want to learn more about the history of Werewolf (and Mafia, the game that it is based on) I suggest listening to my Biography of a Boardgame podcast: http://ludology.libsyn.com/biography-of-a-board-game-2145-mafiawerewolf


 There are many versions of Werewolf available for purchase and there are literally hundreds of special roles that can be added to the game. If you are new to the game, I suggest only using the roles  mentioned above.


For this experiment, I played two sessions with 11 players (and myself as the moderator). The first game, we played "basic" Werewolf - with three werewolves and the rest of the players as villagers. The second game we added in the "special" characters - Cupid, The Hunter, Fortune Teller, Little Girl and the Witch. Both games played well, but we found some things to consider when player via Zoom or any other video conferencing system.


 13 tips playing Werewolf over video conferencing systems:

  1.  If you are the Moderator, use chat to distribute roles – make sure you select "private" before sending!
  2. It's easy to accidentally send a message to the wrong user - take your time when sending a message!
  3. Let all players talk as non-verbal communication is limited - it might be hard to hear, but the chaos is part of the fun!
  4. "Dead" players should mute their audio line (click on the microphone icon).
  5.   Werewolves only get one vote at night – if there is no consensus, there no death occurs! (and then watch the player's confused faces!)
  6. Use private chat for Werewolves. Even better, have them communicate via Discord or Messenger - separately from Zoom. 
  7. It’s hard to read lips over video conferencing. Werewolves should write down name on paper – but use a sharpie as a regular pen is hard to read via the camera.
  8. Witch and Fortune Teller should use private chat as well to indicate who they are asking about/healing or killing.
  9. The Little Girl character is a very powerful one online... maybe too powerful. It was hard to tell when she was peeking. Some of my students recommended giving the Werewolves a chance to guess who the Little Girl is – much like a Fortune Teller - but I'm not sure if that is the best solution.
  10. Not having a player seen on-screen makes a big difference to the game and gives too many advantages to non-screen players. All players should show their faces.
  11.  It's easy for the moderator to miss a step or sending info to a player. Take your time so you don't make a mistake (but they will happen!)
  12. Unfortunately, Zoom does not support “grouped” chat. Breakout rooms won't work either as they show who "isn't" in the group and therefore give away who is and isn't a Werewolf.
  13. Make player vote simultaneously during the Day Phase to prevent too many "foot dragger" voting.
Regardless of these limitations, we still had fun playing and many of my students said it was the best game we've played yet over Zoom. I hope you get a chance to play Werewolf with some of your friends! Happy gaming! and remember, I am NOT the Werewolf!