How to Pitch (and Not Pitch) Your Game to Stonemaier Games

12 April 2018

Over the last year, we’ve received 207 game submissions. I don’t know the lifetime number of submissions, as the form we now use has only been live for a year, but in total I’d say it’s around 400 submissions. Of those 400, we have published (or will be publishing) 5 of them.

A number of people have asked me, “What’s the best way to submit a game to Stonemaier Games?” So I thought I’d answer that in today’s blog post. Even though this is very game- and Stonemaier-specific, the methods we use may apply to other publishers and industries.

The answer, quite honestly, is simple: Go to our Submission Guidelines page, read it, and fill out the form.

That’s not just the best way to submit a game to us; it’s also the only way to do it.* Don’t e-mail me to ask if I like your idea or if I’ll read your rulebook. To be perfectly blunt, if you try to circumvent our submission process–whether it’s intentional or out of ignorance–it raises a small red flag. The form is there for a reason.

The reason the form is so important is that it acts as a filter for all the games that simply don’t meet our core guidelines. It helps us–and you–weed out the games that aren’t geared towards Stonemaier Games. Some are questions that any designer should consider before submitting a game to a publisher (“Have you playtested your game at least 10 times?”), while others are specific to what we want (“Does  your game feature the potential for a special, must-have component?”).

There are probably a number of people who have started to read through the form, realized their game isn’t applicable to Stonemaier Games, and closed the page. That’s great. That means the form is working for everyone involved.

Of course, the form isn’t the only part of the process. Here are the various steps in sequential order:

  1. Designer fills out the form.
  2. If Alan (co-founder) likes what he sees, he’ll request a rulebook and/or a video of the game being played.
  3. If Alan is still intrigued, he will request a prototype and learn it by playing it against himself (or we’ll learn the game from the designer at Gen Con).
  4. If Alan thinks I’ll like it, he’ll bring it to our weekly meeting to play. Around a dozen games have gotten to this point over the last year.
  5. If Alan and I both enjoy the game, I will write out detailed feedback to the designer and ask them to consider the feedback, tweak and test the game, and send it back to us for final review. This is intended both to improve the game and to see how the designer responds to constructive criticism.
  6. If we like how the designer communicates and improves the game, we’ll negotiate a publishing contract and move forward with development.

It’s all fun and games, but we take this process very seriously. It’s a big time commitment for us to develop a game and an even bigger commitment of resources to actually publish it, so we want to make sure it’s a good fit for us before we do that. Also, we want to respect our fans and customers by only selecting and advocating what we believe to be the best games for them.

You’ll also note that I don’t get involved in the process until the 4th step. Part of the reason is that this is Alan’s main responsibility, while I’m busy running the day-to-day operations of Stonemaier Games. But the other reason is that I engage with a lot of different people in the gaming community, yet it’s important that I remain impartial when it comes to design submissions.

*There is one soft exception to the rule about how to submit to us. I’ve made a habit of falling for publicly shared fan expansions–not just expansion ideas, but expansions to our games that fans have designed, playtested, and written the rules for. When people create stuff out of love for the game (and when their ideas are both innovative and true to the spirit of the game), I’m drawn to their creations.

What do you think about the many layers and filters of our submission process? If you’re a publisher (of games or anything), what’s your submission process?

Also read:

36 Comments on “How to Pitch (and Not Pitch) Your Game to Stonemaier Games

  1. It’s a great process to filter out so many games. You’d go crazy other wise.

    I’ve never submitted a game to any publisher before, but I am considering it. If you can, I would like your take on something I hear publishers say. It’s “Don’t send copies of the same prototype to multiple Publishers”. I’ve read stories about many designers that have submitted games to publishers. They are waiting months for the interested publisher to playtest, and it could be 1 year later before the publisher says “it’s not a game for us.” I’d imagine if a game is sent to 10 publishers and 1 loves it, then that is a good average because of so many factors a publisher might have (line-up full, not the right fan base etc…). So if a designer follows the submit 1 game to 1 publisher and wait, then they could be waiting 10 years to submit it to 10 publishers. If a contract is signed or there is major interest I can see that being a different story. But like I said, I have 0 experience submitting a game. What do you think of that publisher rule from a publisher point of view and a game designers point of view? Is there a win/win?

    P.S.
    Possible typo: “Even though this is very game- and Stonemaier-specific”
    My comment is probably full of typos :)

  2. All of that waiting is something we avoid in our system–we try to get back to designers quite quickly. At the same time, we don’t mind of designers submit to multiple publishers. I think if there are a few publishers you really want to work with, target them first (simultaneously). If that doesn’t work out, you can expand your reach from there.

    PS. It’s an awkward sentence, but that’s actually what I meant to type! :)

    1. The types of things that make gamers like me salivate when I see a game: custom meeples, metal coins, miniatures, custom dice, and unique components that haven’t been featured in other games.

  3. Jamey,

    I’m quite stunned that there have been 400 submissions. I’m frankly pleased to see that Stonemaier has taken the traditional role of Gatekeeper…something that was done in the past by other major companies, if an individual could even contact them (Parker Brothers, Hasbro, etc), as they often had in-house designers (see Rob Daviau, Richard Launius, et al). These days, anyone with a good idea seems to think that it’s an equally good idea to initiate a KS project. That site is a barren wasteland, at times, of unfunded projects which will thankfully never see the light of day.

    To one of the comments made earlier, I wholeheartedly agree…there’s no way you could dedicate time and energy to that manby projects and it’s completely sensible to weed out as quickly as possible the potential gold from the definite dross. While my time as a developer serving designers is conducted in my spare time, I have the luxury of working on only those games I think a.) have potential and b.) worth my time and energy. It’s wholly different if my mortgage and my next meal were decided upon by those requiring a developer. However, I think that to maintain integrity in the system, very, very few games should ever be published.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Joe: I almost used the word “gatekeeper” in the post, though as a former crowdfunder, I’m hesitant to think of myself that way! :) I agree with what you’re saying about maintaining integrity in the system. I still value the “crowd” as a gatekeeper, but hopefully Stonemaier Games can fill that role on behalf of our audience for the next few games we’re publishing.

  4. I like the idea of the form very much. We receive a lot of submissions as well through mails, so without such a list to reference the submitters to, we have received games that haven’t been playtested. I am very keen on building something similar :)

    On the other hand, I am worried if the form is too “strong”. I would be worried that some great ideas that fit the company would not be submitted by someone misreading or being intimidated by it. Do you have similar concerns?

    1. I think that’s a valid concern. I’ve honed that form over time as I’ve learned what we like and what we don’t. I think what I’ve realized is that there are great games that we’d miss out on–like, Hanamikoji is one of my favorite games, but it’s 2-player only, and we don’t publish 2-player only games–but it’s okay to not publish some games I love if they don’t fit with our brand. As for people being intimidated by it, I think I may see that as an asset. :)

  5. *puts on publisher hat*

    The submission process at Spiral is nowhere near as formalised or structured as yours but that is partly because the whole publishing side of the company is in the middle of a large reworking and as such we haven’t locked down all the details.

    At the moment people wanting to submit email us a sell sheet with the all the basics “what your game is, how many does it sit/how long does it run” etc. Which comes through to my desk and I take a look over it.

    After that if it is something we’re not interested in I’ll give some feedback on how they can improve/change things to make it more appealing and wish them the best. If it is something we’d like to look into further I generally ask for a copy of the rulebook digitally to read through.

    Then starts a process of me reading the rules, running thorugh a few hypothetical game scenarios in my head and deciding on whether it’s worth more effort or not. Again if not kindly explain why not and what changes might make it better / worth resubmitting in the future.

    Then comes the producing a prototype (or receiving one in the mail) and putting it in front of the others in the office (most importantly infront of bossman Paul) who will decide if it’s something worth moving forward on to contracting and full development or not.

    Small problems with our process are A. it relies entirely upon me (which is also an advantage as I have a better knowledge of everything we’ve got signed/may be signing) but I can’t help but worry that my own personal preferences may influence some of those early decision points and B. At no point are we checking to see how much playtesting has been done before we take an interest, which thankfully hasn’t been too bad as most designers are more than happy to tell us but it’s something that needs to be looked at being formally introduced into the application process moving forward.

    Other problems lie at our end internally because of the restructuring and shuffling of resources around as it means we have a long time lag between initial applications and moving forward with the rest of the process, but these are all things that i’m hoping to get cleared up soon :)

    In the end our current system is working as I handle all the development moving forward once something is signed so I have a head start on understanding the game and the designer so I can help them better moving forward but there is lots of room for improvement. Plus since we are nowhere as big as Stonemeier in public awareness or releases so a lot of what we get/experience I have is more limited I don’t know how much help hearing from us will do you but there you go. The Spiral Galaxy submission through to signing process :D

  6. Wonderful overview. Thank you very much, Jamey! Every board & card game company should consider how they want to be approached by game designers, and what games they’re likely to publish. It’s incredible to have such a detailed and well-considered example out there to inspire new and evolving companies to build their own guidelines and processes.

    I’m curious – is there a particular reason Stonemaier doesn’t consider 2 to 4 player games? Is it just a matter of wanting to accommodate as many group sizes as possible, or is there a less obvious rationale?

    Thanks again for all your continued support in the community. It’s humbling to see you work.

    1. Patrick: Thanks! That’s a good question, and your guess is correct. We want games that couples can play (so, no games that only play 3+) and games that several couples or a number of friends can play together (ideally up to 6, but 5-7 is fine). It’s become part of our brand identity, and it ties into our design tenet about keeping turns short and streamlined.

      1. Hello Jamey! My wife and I are avid gamers, and recently began designing and playtesting a game that we built around a new mechanic. In an ideal world, we’d be looking to submit to Stonemaier in the future (much of the mechanic design is inspired by Scythe, and the guides and tenets here have been a great asset).

        However, there are two primary concerns when comparing to the types of games your submission page is requesting: The game is on the shorter side (~1 hour), and we’ve been primarily aiming at 4 players (though there’s no current mechanical restriction that prevents 2 to 10 players, it only disrupts the balance of actions).

        In such a case, would it be better to submit, and get your feedback (e.g. “here’s how we’d easily make it accomodate 2-6 players), or shape the game ahead submission? Realizing that only the slimmest minority of games will be accepted by publishers, our primary goals would be: A) get feedback from experienced designers that hold a design philosophy in line with our vision; B) find a way to make the game and/or mechanic available to people if it’s something they would enjoy.

        1. David: Thanks for your question. Part of our submission requirements is that you must have at least tested it with 5 or 6 players–it can’t just be a hypothetical that it could work at those player counts. The game doesn’t need to be perfect at any player count, just fun, function, and innovative (and fitting our guidelines).

  7. Hello! This post, like so many others on this site, are just great. I have a general question that, if better suited for another thread, please forgive me. When sending playable material to others, be it publishers or online personalities, would it be acceptable to share a demo?

    For example, say I were Richard Garfield sharing Magic The Gathering for the first time, could I send over just a Red and Blue deck to get the feel of the game across in a shorter form? Or sending a single adventure story-arch in an RPG?

    Thanks in advance to anyone with an opinion!

    1. Thanks John! Sure, I think most publishers would like a bite-size portion of the game to start. Though it’s always best just to ask before you send it, as some may have different preferences.

  8. I appreciated the focus even though the game I’m shopping – abstract, casual, sub-30 minutes – was ruled out in the first dozen or so lines. Every “how to submit” list I’ve seen talks about knowing the audience, so knowing to pass up front gives me a better overall feeling than blindly sending a sell sheet and rules into a submissions@ address and hoping it ended up in an active mailbox.

    Turning the question around a bit – have you actively sought out titles for consideration that have not been brought to you? If so, could you share your thoughts about how folks pitching, demoing, or publicizing their designs can best capture the attention of publishers?

    Thanks as always for the thoughts; I’ll keep watching for you to launch your casual game line imprint.

    1. Rob: That’s a great question. There have been a few games published in other countries that I’ve pursued, but those were published games. There’s also one game that was on Kickstarter that I pursued for a bit, but again, that means the designer took the steps to self-publish before they caught my eye. Oh, and there’s one game that a designer tested at the Stonemaier Games Design Day that really stood out. That’s definitely a good way to catch my eye.

      Every now and then I see a blogger or video blogger (like Gaming with Edo) talk about the prototypes they played at a playtesting convention. I haven’t pursued any of those games, but I thought about it for a few of them. I kind of wish there was a single place where publishers could go to read about peoples’ reactions to unpublished prototypes.

  9. About a month ago I was about to submit a game through your process when I read the requirements and really stepped back to evaluate the game’s design. After diving in deep, even though we have test-played and blind-test-played, we found a few areas that needed cleaning up. Now those changes are in, but we need to go through the testplay and blind test plays again with the new changes. They were significant enough to warrant new test plays.

    Even if the submission is denied once we finally send it in, your process has caused us to re-think and refine our game to a much more elegant version.

    Even if they don’t hit the submit button, I think it would benefit any designer to put their game through the fire (metaphorically) of your submission process.

    Thanks for this, and hope to send you something soon :)

  10. I definitely appreciate reading through your guidelines, even as they make it clear my games wouldn’t be a fit (they tend to be shorter, lighter affairs than the “event games”). The form itself is good design as well.

  11. I filled out the form after starting to read so i could understand better, and i failed to pass due to a single point –

    Unique: We’re looking for unique themes and mechanisms–please, no pirates, zombies, Cthulu, or trains. Jamey typically does not enjoy stock games or hidden-movement games (with the odd exception of Scotland Yard, which he loves).

    I thought hard on this, and whilst the form doesnt actually state themes – only mechanisms:

    Does your game feature a unique twist on a mechanism that isn’t in any other game?

    I answered no, but as the guideline says theme too – I may have answered differently.

    That said this game i have used as my standard may only be unique in my perception (or not as the case was here)

    Do you have some examples of what a unique mechanism will be – i do have some unusual ideas for this specific one but i don’t know what makes it unique.

    (also maybe an idea to update the form to match submission guidelines if someone is just a unique theme and you do want to see those)

    Regards,

    NIk

    1. Nik: Basically, if you’re pitching your game to a gamer, if you were to highlight one or more mechanisms in the game because those mechanisms aren’t in another game, what are they? For example, say your game is a worker placement game. Worker placement isn’t unique, and that’s okay. But it needs a hook for your specific game to be compelling. So, for Viticulture I might say that it features a worker-placement mechanism where players are given a special worker that can use an action even if all action spaces are blocked.

      1. Thanks for the feedback – its very insightful. I would take some time to think this over in to how one could include / manage such a mechanism / twist.

        Thanks Jamey,

        Nik

  12. How much time can it take for the second stage to occur. Basicly how much time can it take for the Co-Founder to read a submission and email the person for a video and rule book

  13. A game passes stage 5 and it is time to be negotiated and published. You said that you will select 5 from all those submissions. Will those 5 games be published all together at the end of the year or as soon as the game has passed every stage it is published

    1. George: Sorry for the confusion. I think I may have said that in the entire history of Stonemaier Games, we’ve only selected 5 games not designed by me for us to publish. It’s a historical number, not a future target.

      1. Alright the assuming my game is good to publish will it publish immediently or at the end of the year

        1. If we decide to publish your game, we’ll spend between 6 to 18 months developing it with you. After that we’ll take care of the art and graphic design, and then we’ll send it to the printer. So usually after we sign a game, it’s at least 12 months before it is published, and probably closer to 18-24 months.

  14. Hi Jamey, great article. In a former life before my games venture we operated ‘Strategic filters’ for deciding which projects to invest in or which companies to acquire. The Strategic filters were composed of multiple metrics that created an overall score as to the Fit, attractiveness and long term potential of the project. I see your filter in much the same way.

    Really like the fact that you provide ‘evergreen’ agreements to save yourself the hassle of renewing them but also I assume as an extension of your philanthropic business ethos. We operate with an auto-renewal clause that if we achieve a certain volume or value of sales in the first term there is an automatic renewal of the agreement.

    As you indicated there is an approximate 1% chance of success of adoption for someone submitting a game to Stonemaier games which ties in quite nicely with the old adage that 99% of game designers that believe they have created the next great blockbuster are delusional !

    All the best

    Graeme

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