This article created November, 2002 -- updated November 2019
A: I wrote in FAQ 1 and FAQ 11 that it is unlikely for anyone except an industry professional to succeed in licensing his video game concept to a major video game publisher. I didn't say that it was impossible, mind you. In spite of the overwhelming odds, it does sometimes happen that a game company will take and publish an outside concept. My advice is that you don't go into this expecting to sell your concept, but rather go into the process with hopes of accomplishing something positive out of the venture. For instance, maybe they'll be so impressed with your presentation that they offer you a job. At the very least you'll have some new contacts and information that'll be useful in future ventures. The purpose of this FAQ is to discuss the submission process so that you will be better prepared to make a stab at it (should you choose to grab for the stars).
My apologies that the first thing I have to do is go back over some ground I already covered in FAQ 11...
This also is a "telephone" (perhaps you're more familiar with this type).
You need to use a "telephone" for your initial contact with the submissions manager.
I am serious. Trust me on this one.
Ask for the name and number of the submissions manager. Each game company may use a different title for this person's job - one might call it "Director of Submissions," one might call it "V.P. of New Business," another might call it "Business Development" or "Acquisitions Manager." The receptionist might not know what you mean by "submissions manager," so be prepared ahead of time with a clear explanation of what you're looking for. Be clear and confident-sounding (if you are prepared properly, you will be confident. You certainly don't want to stumble and sound like an idiot when talking to a receptionist - imagine what could happen when you finally talk to a Director or Vice President!). The next step is to telephone the submissions manager and inquire about the submission policy.
If their policy is, "we don't accept submissions from industry outsiders," well, sorry - you'll have to forget about that company.
Get the needed forms, addresses, etc. No game company likes submissions to be sent in without having a properly signed Disclosure Agreement in place. Each company may have a different name for this document. One might call it a "Submission Agreement," one might simply use a standard N.D.A. (Non-Disclosure Agreement). These agreements are usually very straightforward. You probably don't need to hire a lawyer to check it over for you before you sign. And the game publisher does not want to sign your submission agreement. If you don't like what their agreement says, then don't submit your game to them.
Never send anyone your game idea without a signed Submission Agreement in place.
Prepare your submission package. What should put into your submission, you may ask? See FAQ 35 and read Dan Marchant's articles on preparing a pitch and preparing a demo.
I Don't Want Money - I Just Want My Game To Be Made
Some aspiring designers say to me, "I don't care about getting any money; I just want somebody to make my game." Sorry, it doesn't work that way! If somebody is going to make your idea into a game, there absolutely must be a licensing agreement (in which you legally give them permission to use your intellectual property), and there absolutely must be compensation. Why? Because if your game sells a million copies and earns the game publisher a ton of money, sooner or later you (or, if you are underage, your parents) will wish you hadn't just given it away for free - and that means legal troubles for everyone. So forget about naïve ideas like "I just want someone to make my game, I don't want any money." Of course you want money. You need to have a lawyer if you license your concept to a game company.
What kind of offer might you receive (in the off-chance that they offer you a deal), you may ask? See FAQ 35.
Well, I've gone as far as I intended to for the sake of this FAQ. For follow-up reading, See FAQ 35 - and perhaps you might want to read my article, "Financial Aspects of Game Development,".
And a follow-up - September 2003: Click here to read FAQ 31 ("What If I Have The Ultimate Idea, Though?").
It often happens that a conversation on the Q&A bulletin board helps clarify a topic. The following thread is a good case in point. - Tom
Name: Noah Decter-Jackson
Age-Ed-Occ: 23, B.A., Game Designer (Trying Anyways)
Date: 14 Nov 2002
Tom, I have another question, this time a little more directly related to your Design Lessons. Particularly your most recent on the submission process and your earlier lesson on Tradeshows:
What about the process of making the necessary contacts to actually have someone to show your game development directly. Let's say that you do have a nearly completed game, or a demo, or at worst a concept to pitch. You've mentioned before that tradeshows are a good place to find the sort of people who are responsible for making publishing decisions and analyzing potential developments.
What is a good process for actually reaching these people at tradeshows, making the necessary contacts from the ground up? Finding them, appraoching them, and actually figuring out some way to convince them to hear your pitch or take a look at your product? I'm sure if the publisher and big developer representatives were easy to find and approach, they would be swamped at the shows each year, and might chose to not even attend where they could be regularly accessible...?
Perhaps this question extends too far out of standard bulletin board knowledge and to deep into the trade secrets of professional consulting?
If so, just say the word and I won't press it:), but it would seem to me to be a good complimentary topic for those trying to get their game or game concept published. Does it just take good mingling skills? Or are there more reliable approaches to take?
Either way, thanks very much for your time and advice.
Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 14 Nov 2002
Hi Noah (exender), you wrote:
> Let's say that you do have a nearly completed game, or a demo, or at worst a concept to pitch. You've mentioned before that tradeshows are a good place to find the sort of people who are responsible for making publishing decisions and analyzing potential developments.
I think I have already said this: as an end result of pitching your demo to a publisher, you are far more likely (assuming that your demo is quite a humdinger) to get development work than a publishing deal. I have already said that, have I not? Since you know what the most likely good outcome of a publisher meeting is, you are in a position to accordingly adjust your pitch. In other words, you should be trying to give them a good impression of YOU, more so than your game. You are the product being pitched (you are a potentially more prized commodity than one game, because you have the potential to make many successful games).
>What is a good process for actually reaching these people at tradeshows, making the necessary contacts...?
Contact them well in advance of the trade show and make an appointment. That isn't easy, but there is no easy way. If there was, everybody would be doing it!
>Perhaps this question extends too far out of standard bulletin board knowledge and to deep into the trade secrets of professional consulting?
I don't think so. Does the answer sound like it? (^_^)
>it would seem to me to be a good complimentary topic for those trying to get their game or game concept published.
I hadn't realized that I'd left a gap there. Have I closed it now?
>Does it just take good mingling skills?
Not just those, no, of course not. Besides, "mingling" is what one does at a party or other gathering where everyone is at leisure. Trade shows are most definitely not like that.
>Or are there more reliable approaches to take?
The most reliable approach is direct. Contact them and make an appointment to visit them at their office. Trade shows are 2nd to that. - Tom
I wrote MORE about this topic in January, 2004. Need to know what to put into your submission? Need to know about possible financial considerations? Read FAQ 35.
I wrote an article on game finances in April 2001 (while I was in Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show) about Financial Aspects of Game Development..
Gil Winters wrote an excellent article series on Gamasutra that goes much more in depth into this subject.
Gil's series was written in 1999. A Google search in 2017 revealed the new URLs for the series. If Gamasutra changes their website again, you can Google "Gil Winter getting published Gamasutra" to find their revised location.
And here are two additional vitally important articles you should read on how to make submissions:
http://www.igda.org/biz/submission_guide.php. Okay, so there's one vitally important article. The IGDA massively redesigned its site, that redesign was a catastrophe, and it was massively redesigned again - and a lot of content was lost. The IGDA submission guide can probably be found with a Google search, possibly on the Wayback Machine.
You used to be able to see Irrational Games' original pitch document (aka "treatment") for Bioshock at
http://irrationalgames.com/insider/from-the-vault-may/#, but that link now redirects you to ghoststorygames.com where you are asked to enter your birthdate. DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR ACTUAL BIRTHDATE. Instead, just Google "Irrational Games Bioshock pitch document" to find the actual URL, where you won't be asked to provide any personal unique identifying information.
Think your idea will sell? Well, how can you tell? Take ... The 10-Minute Game Sales Potential Test
How can you tell if a game has the potential to become a huge hit based only on its design? Marketing executives at major publishers have sophisticated tools to evaluate that kind of things, but you donít need all that complexity to find the potential of your idea. With just a few questions, you can evaluate the marketability of your game.
The test is at
http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070212/garneau_01.shtml. I don't know where it is now - just Google "10-minute game sales potential test garneau gamasutra" to find out where Gamasutra moved it. Good luck! (Both finding the test and getting good results from it.)
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