Pitching game ideas: My first rejection e-mail!

A week ago I wrote to a games company to try and pitch a couple of setting ideas. They were willing to consider them, so I then spent the rest of the week drafting two 500 word synopses. That was a challenging exercise, trying to boil 30+ pages of notes and ideas down to 1-2 sides of A4. I appreciate the feedback I got from friends on the drafts.  I submitted the synopses on time and got my rejection email a few hours later.

The rejection was polite, and contained a lot of useful feedback for me. I am not feeling in the slightest bit dejected. One of my ideas is just too much like another product just launched to the market. My other idea was a little more intriguing, but I had failed to really demonstrate how it would be a great product for the company to try and publish. So before I start rewriting my ideas, I think I will just summarise the lessons learned.

Lesson #1: work on one pitch at a time.

Trying to write two pitches in one week spread my effort too thin, and proof reading and editing drafts always takes longer than you first anticipate.

Lesson #2 pitch your strongest idea first.

I knew by the end of week of drafting, that my “flying city” pitch was stronger than my “beacon stars” pitch. That was my gut feeling, and the opinion of about 80% of the people who read my drafts. It would have been better if I had spent all week working on just that pitch.

Lesson #3 it must be good on its own merits.

Try to avoid mentioning other published games and game mechanics.

Lesson #4 explain how it is unique.

While I thought I had managed to nail this, with two concepts that I do not think have been adequately presented or explored in roleplaying games, part of the feedback was that I needed to bring out the uniqueness more. No publisher wants to waste time on a generic F20 home brew setting with a Clichea map.

Also, I am pretty sure the world is done with zombies for a generation.

Lesson #5 focus, focus, focus!

I think a lot of self-published games fail to articulate exactly what the players do that is different from any other game out there. So for both of my pitches I had a lot of options for what the characters could be doing. For my next pitch I am going to focus on the strongest option for interesting play in the setting.

Lesson#6 explain how it will fit into their catalogue of supplements.

Not something that had occurred to me when I was drafting, and it was not in the advice guides I read. Obviously you should not try and pitch a D100 game idea to someone like Wizards of the Coast, but for a small publisher with limited resources it could be good to point out how your pitch will fill a gap or enhance an existing product range.

Lesson #7 articulate the setting strengths, cultures and magic.

This was specific feedback to my “flying city” idea, and essentially I failed to communicate how these would look in the game, even though I had some cool ideas in my own head. This links back to focus, the less you write about, the more you can write about it. So I am going back to the drawing board with a lot of ideas and I will spend a few weeks hammering away at them to try and refine the ideas.

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