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Jack Degnan: Feedback on Feedback

I recently pitched a game to publisher who I knew well. The game was ultimately declined and the publisher provided me with an elaborate and detailed explanation of why the game was not being accepted. He outlined all of the positive attributes of my game and highlighted some areas that I might consider changing while providing me with clear and articulate examples. The suggestions were rich, lengthy, and helpful. Then I woke up from my dream.

When it comes to pitching games, my experience has been that it is rare to get feedback on a rejected game. Although I do know one publisher who makes it a point to always offer some helpful explanation, most have offered nothing more than “This is not right for us”. It may be that publishers review so many games that it does not seem worth the time to provide feedback. It may be that they are afraid of hurting the inventor’s feelings. Or perhaps they don’t want to let on that they knew their answer quickly and never actually played the game.

Whatever the reason, I think constructive feedback to inventors happens infrequently. When I do receive it, I feel very fortunate - like I’ve found a piece of a treasure map. Publisher feedback is very valuable. Even the smallest of suggestions can point me in the right direction, shine a light on something I missed, or help me to avoid pitfalls. After all, who knows better what publishers want than the publisher themselves?

One trick I’ve learned is to listen closely. They may be offering a subtle, but important, suggestion and if I am not paying attention or being closed-minded, I may miss it. Of course, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – so what one publisher is looking for may be what another publisher quickly rejects. I especially take note when the same opinions/suggestions come from more than one person.

It is also important to be clear about the answers provided. “This is not for us” probably means “no”. But what about “This is not for us right now”? I pitched a game once to an inventor-relations representative who clearly did not like the game. I showed the same game three years later and she loved it, took it in for review, and it almost became part of their line. I’ve learned it is important to distinguish the difference between ‘the wrong game’ and ‘the wrong time’.

One publisher I have shown multiple games to would never even provide a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As hard as I tried, I could not get a response. I was always confused about what to make of this. Should I assume the games are all not a good fit? Not fun? Too similar? Too different? Too expensive to make? Bad timing? Still deciding? Should I keep asking – or move on? The person I worked with was actually someone I consider a friend – so I finally took it upon myself to provide a check off list of possible responses. Even very busy people can check a few boxes. Here’s what it looked like.

It worked. I got the feedback I needed. The lesson learned was a simple one: When feedback doesn’t come, ask for it.

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