As the newly formed Pinwheel Design team, we are focussed on developing and designing great games for kids. For several years, we developed board games at Peaceable Kingdom and had the opportunity to review many ideas from new inventors. There were some consistent pieces of advice we found ourselves offering to hopeful inventors as a way to help them improve their games and their chances of being published. We are sharing our favorite tips here and wish all game designers smooth traveling on the road to publishing!
1. Put in the leg work!
Take the time to research current games in the marketplace and even games that have exited the scene. If there is a game that seems similar to yours already on the shelves, it doesn’t mean you need to scrap your idea--find a way to make yours stand out from the crowd. When pitching to a game company, always carefully research the types of games they produce to make sure yours is a good fit for their line.
2. Play test, play test, play test!
So important, we had to say it three times! It’s crucial to get your game in front of your target audience and take in their honest feedback. Play test it with kids you don’t know through local schools or day camps. Watch how kids behave while playing your game. Are they engaged? Excited and happy to participate? Most important, do they want to play it again? Don’t forget to play test the rules - ask parents to read the instructions and provide feedback on anything they don’t understand.
3. Ageism - the good kind!
Be sure to keep the target age range of your game in mind while you are creating it. Do your research online or consult a child development specialist to confirm that the play pattern is age appropriate. It’s okay if the game is a bit of a stretch for the age range but kids shouldn’t struggle to play.
4. Hand-painted wooden meeples or cheap plastic pawns?
It’s good to be mindful of pricing constraints when you are designing a game. Be as creative and innovative as you can with your game idea but build flexibility into your design. Think strategically about ways that your game could be adjusted to scale for a smaller budget if need be.
5. Educational lite or light?
Some games are mostly for entertainment but include an added layer of learning. Others are designed to target the educational market. Whether yours is the former or the latter, make sure the educational aspect matches current school curriculum and is age appropriate. You may want to enlist the help of a local teacher or child development specialist to confirm that you’re on the right track.
6. First impressions count!
When pitching a game concept, send a clean, playable prototype, a concise set of rules, and notes from your play-testing sessions. You don’t need a fancy prototype - just a functional one!
7. Follow the rules.
When writing the game instructions, use short, declarative sentences as well as clear and simple language. If the rules are somewhat complicated, consider including a brief version of the basic play so players can quickly get into the game. (Parents are often reading the rules while kids are eagerly waiting to play and like to start right away.) Remember to highlight any special rules or player tips.
8. Princesses, elephants, and dinosaurs, oh my!
A strong theme can make all the difference to the success of the game. It can be integral to the play or the icing on the cake. Some consumers and retailers buy games for kids based on theme alone.
9. Know the company you’re pitching to.
Research the mission and ethos of the game company you are pitching to. Some may be trying to encourage social-emotional learning through play while others aim to entertain as many kids as possible with blockbuster games. By understanding the goals of the company, you’ll have a better chance of pitching them a game idea that appeals to their sensibility.
10. Team players rock!
If your game piques the interest of a company and they ask you to make changes, keep an open mind. Be willing to make revisions and possibly even get rid of an element of the game they tell you isn’t working. Use their experience and know-how to help you improve your game.
Thank you and good luck!
Margaret Garrou and Jenny Rez are the co-founders of Pinwheel Design. Find them at www.pinwheel-design.com.