44: Development

44: Development

How finished are your designs before you start pitching them to publishers? How do you like to work with publishers in developing the games further?

 

 

I want to have a game that is mechanically finished and as polished as I can make it before pitching. I want my game to be it’s best self. Not only do I want to make the very best first impression, I also want to respect the publisher’s time. As to development, I am happy to work with a publisher to further refine, polish, or extend a design. They know their business and look at my game with fresh eyes, and I get to learn so much from the process.

Roberta Taylor

I’m quite lucky that I work for the publisher, but I still like to ensure that anything I’m presenting to the team is a few steps beyond just a basic concept. I’ll normally have gone through four or five different versions of a game at that point, with early builds just having lots of solo plays. Once we get past the “yes, we’re going to pursue this further” step, development is very much a team affair. And honestly, that’s a part of the process that I really enjoy. Refining game elements, shaving off the pointy corners, just making the game the best it can be. Some designers are very much hands-off, moving on to the next concept and pitch, and that’s grand. I prefer to really get into things, tear them apart and rebuild them.

Michael Fox

My games tend to be more spit than polish when I pitch them so, while some publishers want to avoid a long development cycle, a well-developed game is so much better and can be custom fit for a specific audience. I want to work with developers who are hands-on, who can confidently learn the mechanisms so they can iterate content and balance changes without asking for permission at every step. There are some developers who are more of “project manager” – I don’t need someone to remind me about deadlines, I need someone to put the finishing touches on my games.

Sen-Foong Lim

I aim for 90%, both in games that I pitch as a designer, and games that I accept as a publisher, because then there’s only the second 90% to go.

Peter C. Hayward

I try to pitch games to publishers when the game is good and fun, but not completely developed. That is, there’s more on the game to do, but there’s not a lot more to do without knowing who is going to publish the game. This also depends a lot on the relationship I have with the publisher; if I know them well, I’ll show the design to them a lot earlier in the process to get their feelings on the game and advice on how to get the game more into something they would publish. Clear expectations are key! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get important dates from a publisher.

Carla Kopp

I want my game to be it’s best self. Not only do I want to make the very best first impression, I also want to respect the publisher’s time. — Roberta Taylor

No design is ever ‘finished’, but it at least needs to be ‘complete’: enough to wholly communicate your concept. I am definitely guilty of over-engineering the visual or physical presentation of prototypes, but that effort is never wasted if it aids that communication. It has to be true that the more you can do to show, not tell, a publisher how your idea might translate into a product, the better its chances.

Further development is great, but can be frustrating if a publisher doesn’t know what they want, or can’t communicate it. They need clarity of purpose.

Brett J. Gilbert

I like to have a game as finished as I can make it, but I expect that a publisher will do their own development and make more changes. In fact, I count on it because I know I can only take a game so far. I look forward to publishers knowing what they want from a game made by them and that they’ll take it that last mile over the finish line. I do hope that they’ll include me, but I also know that some publishers want complete control. I just need to be confident that I’ve done my best.

Sarah Reed

Most of my games are on the light-to-medium side of the spectrum, so I like to get them very close to what I would consider to be “done” before showing them to publishers. If it’s a 15 minute game and something is obviously not there yet at the time of pitching, I would consider that a failure on my part. My understanding from talking to peers who design heavier games is that there’s much more development and involvement expected later on to get the game humming along smoothly.

Alex Cutler

You have only one chance to make a first good impression. So, in my opinion, you have to are the closest as possible to a final game before pitching to publishers. If they sign the game, I have to be open to evolutions / changes / fine tuning in order to fit with the final publisher’s target. But I do this work myself or in close connection with the publisher’s team. I always keep the final cut concerning rules.

Bruno Cathala

The more you can do to show, not tell, a publisher how your idea might translate into a product, the better its chances. — Brett J. Gilbert

Good ideas are never finished, so it can be hard to independently gauge how “finished” a game is. Have you playtested it a lot with many different groups of people? Can you justify your choices? Have you ruled out many different choices? Can you articulate the essence of the game clearly, concisely, and in a compelling way? Developing games with publishers is great when expectations are clear and the process is collaborative. You have to develop your own ability to see a game with fresh eyes to identify problems and generate solutions, and that takes practice to develop.

Kathleen Mercury

I always tell designers: “If you’re pitching a game to a publisher, you should be happy to see it on store shelves as-is (with pretty artwork). At the same time, don’t be upset if the publisher wants to make development changes of their own.”


Frequently a publisher will change a game to better fit their target audience, but the onus is on me as the designer to provide a complete game in the first place. Some publishers are happy to sign an unfinished game and then put the work in to finish it, but unless that’s explicit, it’s not something I expect of them.

Seth Jaffee

80-90%, art added only if it’s needed for comprehension. The development work is started, but not complete. I leave room for tweaks to IP or product lines.

Adrienne Ezell

This varies by project and can be as incomplete as a few stray ideas sketched onto a page with an outline of the vision for the game, to a tuned and tested game that just needs deep balancing done for all the cards/actions. Typically, something in the middle. That is, a tested and proved core concept with enough extra material built around it to demonstrate that the game is enjoyable. My favourite part of working with publishers is seeing the game evolve into a product as decisions about presentation, graphics, components, and layout come together and transform my raw prototype into something really cool. I like to work together to ensure the glossy overlay of bits and bobs supports and enhances gameplay. It’s really exciting when doing that leads to gameplay and mechanics innovations along the way.

Jessey Wright

You have to develop your own ability to see a game with fresh eyes to identify problems and generate solutions, and that takes practice to develop. — Kathleen Mercury

Twenty years go, I used to submit designs which I thought were completely finished, and publishers published them as is, with no rules change, just adding art. Ten years ago, I was submitting the same kind of “finished” designs, but the publishers started to change them, adding rules or asking me to add rules, changing the setting, etc. So now, I often start submitting designs which are not completely finalised, once it’s clear they will work, knowing that publisher won’t see the difference and will always ask for some changes.

Working with publishers to develop a game can be a fantastic or a very painful experience, it depends with whom and how you are working. It’s a question of balance – the designer must be open to exterior ideas, but must also stay in control because he is the one who knows the game best. This balance is not always easy to find, some publishers are frustrated designers who want to add “their own ideas” even when they obviously won’t work, others are too wary or timid to take initiative and only make vague suggestions. The best ones are in between.

Bruno Faidutti

It depends on the relationship and the publisher. With IP publishers, I pitch concepts, not games, and get buy-in (and a contract) very early. In general, I think it’s best to learn what publishers are looking for and develop games to fit, rather than cook a game to completion and try and get a rose from someone. Truthfully, a fully developed game without enough zazz will languish, but a mostly working proof-of-concept with an awesome hook will get picked up.

Isaac Shalev

For me this varies greatly on the publisher and the concept. The more you get to know your publishers, the more you can gauge how far along a concept has to be. Some struggle to see past a theme they don’t like, but have great vision when there’s a loose theme and the game could be just about anything. Whereas, there are others who are very attracted to something that’s extremely finished and polished. But all of this is weighed against the time/cost to create the prototype. If it’s for exactly one publisher and it’s a long shot, it’s likely not wise for me to sink a ton of time and effort into polishing something and instead I’ll pitch in it’s earliest showable form to see if it’s worth pursuing.

Kim Vandenbroucke

I would say about 90% done. Usually my designs are playtested thoroughly and the rules are already in their 3rd or 4th version. I know that different companies take games in different directions, so I am always ready to change them accordingly. Thinking your design is 100% ready and not being flexible might cause problems.

Pini Shekhter

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