Jupiter Rescue, our cooperative robot game, met success in a big way. We had already received lots of great support from our playtesting groups, won The Game Crafter co-op challenge earlier in January 2013, and become a finalist in the Cards Against Humanity Tabletop Deathmatch. By the end of Gen-Con 2013, we had the wonderful problem of too many publishers that wanted to work with us, and a few weeks later, we had signed a contract with Twilight Creations.

This month, we’re excited to say our game became available nationwide in game stores everywhere.

This is how we got there.

mark_jupiterrescue

In 2012, Mark and I were Catan-casual gamers. We played games with our friends, we got to know a few awesome folks in the Game Crafter community, and Mark loved drawing up games and mechanics. We had a lot of fun at Gen-Con 2012, but we felt no professional connection to anyone except self-publishers.

As a game design team, we had no idea how to approach people that could publish and bring our games to our favorite game stores. Was it like a job interview where they’d ask us trick questions and we’d have to know the right answer? Was there some secret science to gauge industry interest? Did we need a Mensa award or some other seal of recognition? We had no idea how to move from “rookies” to “pros”, but we very much felt like we were on the “rookie” end of the spectrum.

In one short year, we learned. After Gen-Con 2012, we found our local gaming convention. In the Los Angeles area, that’s Strategicon, and unlike every other con we went to, it was… tiny. We didn’t see any of the stuff we associated with the gaming, comic, or anime cons we knew and loved.

Gen-Con, land of a thousand geek-out opportunities.

But ironically, the tiny local convention taught us something that Gen-Con or PAX couldn’t. There was no swag or celebrities or big events or big vendor booths. We had no friends to meet up with or lines to stand in or schedules to keep. There were no cosplayers to photograph or Chessex dice bins to oggle. Instead, all there was to do was…

Sit down and play games with strangers.

It didn’t really occur to us that playing a board game with a person you didn’t know was something you could do. There was always something bigger or flashier distracting us from the quiet tables of people enjoying their favorite games, and it wasn’t until we went to a smaller convention where that really was the focus that we saw its value.

When you play games with strangers, you:

  • Gain access to games that have new mechanics and themes than the ones you’d normally gravitate toward, and sometimes that can inspire you to create new things.
  • Learn that there are going to be people who like and hate any game, and learn how to discern if there’s a market for yours.
  • Get people involved in your game-making process who won’t just say nice things to you because they’re your friends or family.
  • Practice explaining rules clearly and concisely to people of all persuasions.
  • Practice quickly convincing people that they should play your game over Cards-Against-Battlestar-Tokyo-Resistance for the eighth time that night.
  • Understand that some game nights, people get focused on one mechanic at a time, but on a different night, they might have a new view.
  • Understand that when nobody asks about your game or has good things to say about it even after a lot of tweaks, it might be time to shelve it and come up with something else.
  • Get immediate feedback about player engagement and how fun a game feels beyond cold spreadsheet data about wins/losses and balance data you get from remote playtesters.

Who are these guys?  And why aren't they standing in  a crowd trying to get T-shirts thrown at them?

There was a little more to connecting with publishers, like writing an effective sell-sheet and emailing publishers with them asking if they’d be interested in seeing our games at Gen-Con. But it turned out when we got there, it wasn’t a contest or a speed date or a stuffy interview. Going to those publisher appointments, we did the same thing we learned how to do from our local meetups and conventions… sit down and play games with strangers.

Oh, come on. Surely winning all those contests and getting a show made about you didn’t HURT.

Here is my game.  You may look at it from 10 feet away.

Here is my very fun game. You may look at it from 20 feet away and I will describe how fun it is with my mouth-words.

To be sure, big events like the Cards Against Humanity Deathmatch, The Game Crafter’s contests, and James Mathe’s Publisher Speed Dating Event were valuable exercises and handy networking opportunities for self-publishing. Absolutely do them when you have the opportunity – you will learn a lot.

But the actual events were big, distracting, and often nerve-wracking, and not in a good way for either designers or publishers. In one case, we were talking to a wall of 15 people with cameras and lights in our faces who discussed our game in secret, and in another, we were rapid-firing our pitch to a group of weary publishers at the end of a draining day. We didn’t make much progress with getting publisher attention there.

By contrast, most of our publisher meetings were one-on-one sit-downs in the open gaming areas, where we talked and played a few rounds of the game, just like our local meetups.

It turns out, you already know how to work with publishers. Treat them like people.

christinaseth

Just like our playtesters and friends, the publishers we met with at Gen Con 2013 openly told us what they liked and didn’t like. They told us if they were excited or if they didn’t think it was their kind of game. And even in the cases where they passed on the game, they were excited about our direction and the other games we had in development, and wanted to keep in touch with us.

That’s where we really learned Board gaming as an industry is filled with geeky game-loving individuals just like you. There is no secret handshake you have to learn to interact with industry professionals.

Breaking into games doesn’t have to come in the form of a contest, an event, a Kickstarter, or a feature on Geek and Sundry. The biggest and best tool in your arsenal is the thing that you and I and game publishers all do on a regular basis…

Sitting down and playing games with strangers.

Jupiter Rescue, a cooperative space adventure.Jupiter Rescue (formerly known as Jupiter Deep) is a cooperative game for 2-7 players, where your crack team of rescue robots is trying to evacuate the bumbling humans while giant tentacle monsters convert them into alien creeps and tear apart their space station.

It’s now available at stores everywhere. We hope you play it with your friends, family, and strangers soon!

Christina Major

Artist/Designer at Whirling Derby

Christina does freelance graphic design for board game publishers with her husband Mark Major, is the wig-wearing half of Whirling Derby, and draws/authors a webcomic over at sombulus.com

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  1. Luke Laurie on May 28, 2014

    This article as absolutely spot on. There is so much value in playing games with strangers. Playing at cons of course is especially valuable too – because the types of strangers you’re likely to meet may be looking for games just like yours to publish! Peter and I had a great weekend at Kubla Con, and we were able to play some of my prototypes (Replicant, Drill, Baby, Drill, and Bannerlords) with veteran gamers and designers and others in the industry. We played games with Richard Bliss, Aldo Ghiozzi, Seth Jaffee, and many others.

    The League itself of course had its roots in the meetings of strangers at cons with shared interests, and its awesome to see all the contributions of the different members. What will come from our next few cons playing with strangers?

    Thank you for this great piece!

    • Christina Major Author on May 29, 2014

      Thanks Luke! It’s true; you never know who you’re going to meet! Next year, we’ve definitely got to try to make it up to Kubla.

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