By Rob Daviau,
formerly of Hasbro Games,
now President of IronWall Games,
For 14 years I was a designer working at Hasbro Games, the big daddy of game companies. Over this time I evaluated dozens, if not hundreds of games. And I was the one at the end of the line. The number of games that didn’t make it to my desk was a lot more. Over the years, the system of how I got games changed. Some years I had a lot of insight into why this game caught management’s interest. But a lot of years I did not. A lot of times a game just appeared on my desk. No note. No context. It was my job to evaluate it, and the inventor’s intent, with too little information at my disposal. Often I could reach out and gather this information, get a sense of why it was here, who liked it, why it was picked to evaluate. Too often, though, this information just wasn’t available. People were on vacation or traveling or busy. Deadlines loomed and I evaluated the game cold, having it go forward or back only what was in the box.
This is my advice: Everything about your game needs to explain why it is different. During your time as an inventor you will get a chance to pitch this game to a rep. Your passion will show through and you will be on hand to answer any questions. Probably you are making little changes or adaptations to your pitch as you are making it. Maybe you get to pitch your game to a larger group containing decision makers. If you are lucky, you will get all the right people in the right room while you are there.
But you won’t always. And your game will go on its journey without you. Your pitch will get repeated without you, changing a bit on the way. Other people will see things or suggest things without you being there to comment.
Eventually it may end up on someone’s desk with no story of why people like it or what your intent was. Too many times I found myself playing detective, trying to figure out why this game made it this far. Was it the exact version that you, the inventor, pitched or was it expected to change a lot? A lot of times there’s a good game that just didn’t fit in the line plan so the expectation was that it was going to change from concept to reality. I was often reminded to evaluate games not only for what they were but for what they could be.
Now the issue here isn’t with you as you’ve done your job of explaining things. The issue is that your game is far away from you and people along the way have made assumptions, changes, and thoughts about it.
My advice is to make sure you include as much about your game in the game itself. In addition to the rules, write down a summary of your pitch. Why is your game different? Who is the audience? What’s its special reason for being? Is it a party game? Is it best for 4 players (even though it lists 2-6 players)? Is it meant to be a 10-minute diversion or an in-depth experience? Whimsical? Brain-burner? Puzzler? Laugh-out-loud? If there’s a plastic piece or a device or gadget that isn’t designed how it will be, can you include a write-up or illustrations of what it might become?
In short, if you had to drop your game off at a game company with no ability to talk to anyone or pitch it, how would you make sure that your message and passion get through?
Because, sometimes that’s what happens.