Notes from the Panels at UnPub3

The Designer Panel at UnPub3

I'm back from UnPub3 with plenty to talk about, so this will spread out over a few posts. Trust me, there's plenty to discuss regarding Belle of the Ball, but I wanted to cover some of the more general interest stuff first. Case in point: The Panels!

First up were the designers who have had their games at past UnPub events and have since been published. From left to right we have John Moller hosting the event, Ben Rosset with Mars Needs Mechanics, Darrell Louder with Compounded, T.C. Petty with VivaJava, Jason Tagmire with Pixel Lincoln, and Jesse Catron with Salmon Run.

The Publisher Panel at UnPub3

There was also a publisher panel which focused on how to approach publishers and the value of Kickstarter to fund your company's ongoing bottom line. From left to right we have A.J. Porforino of Van Ryder Games, Bryan Fischer of Nevermore Games, Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games and Dan Yarrington of GameSalute.

I live-tweeted the panel discussion with quotes, but I couldn't type fast enough to attribute the quotes so I left them anonymous. There goes my chance at a Pulitzer. Hope this is still useful to you!

From the Designers:

"I sent a rule book to the publisher, pic of the game, explained what set it apart and why it fit their catalog."

"Go to cons. Schedule meetings ahead of time. Publishers are very approachable. Be persistent, but not pushy, no more than 30min."

"You first have to tell yourself it's going to be published. Going to cons lets you have best chance to go viral and get lucky."

"You don't have to be a graphic designer or buy art for your prototype. Publishers can see the potential."

"A unique theme helps stand out as an indie. Up here we have Martian steam punk, chemistry, coffee, 8-bit Lincoln, and salmon."

"If I could go back in time, I'd reassure myself that my first game will suck but it's a long process."

"Don't overreact. I had one game go bad because of one mechanic and completely revamped it, which ended up failing worse."

"Find the interesting decision players are making and strip away everything else. Simplify, simplify. And remind yourself of that."

"1hr of play testing with other people is worth 10 alone in front of your computer. Got an idea? Get it to the table fast."

"I am forcing myself away from the computer and not let myself obsess about the negative comments."

"My wife said she'd never play with me again if I kept sulking about a bad Play test. You have to brush it off. "

"Look at negative comments as an opportunity if you get the same feedback over and over."

"Ignore the BGG comments, especially if they haven't played. You *should* care about the face-to-face comments and from this event."

"Look at the data. What was the spread? Compare that to the feedback you get."

"Don't ask 'do you like it?' Instead ask specifics, 'when x happens, what about that?' 'Hows the length?'"

From the Publishers:

"Polish your game as much as possible before submission. Don't change it while being evaluated."

"When you ask a publisher, you're asking for time and energy - both are limited supply. Don't waste either with unfinished pitch."

"You can trademark a name, art, but not your game. Also It's costly and unnecessary... And patents are only worth the money you have."

"Ticket to Ride wasn't just a success for its design, but marketing, etc. The publisher does that. Value and respect that contribution."

"Of all industries where you can steal an idea, the game industry is probably the least valuable. No one wants to steal your idea."

"Even if so someone does want to steal your idea, you're already months and years ahead of them."

"Detractors ask why you keep going to Kickstarter, but the benefits to sustainable business and community are too great."

"If you *can* succeed as a company without Kickstarter, it feels like more validation. Also Kickstarter could be outlawed tomorrow."

"Even non-KS publishers miss their deadlines."

"If you want to publish, do it, but know you probably won't have time to design any games. Know that before you go to KS."

"A large part of publishing business is actually just customer service. A KS campaign is like a political campaign in terms of face time."

"If you're lucky enough to succeed and get the product, you're not done. Now you have 1500 more boxes to move."

"Someone raised several times over their small KS goal. A year later, they were 30k in debt. Manage expectations better."

"Most successful KSers lose money due to shipping and packaging. They hurt feelings also not thinking about long timelines."
Both panels were excellent and these cursory notes don't cover half the stuff they all said. I look forward to seeing these panels on video.


  1. Daniel, sorry I didn't get a chance to introduce myself during UnPub. Belle of the Ball was on my short list, and I still didn't get to it. By all accounts, I really missed out.

    I think it was Ben R. that said that one hour of playtesting is worth ten hours of analysis. He's right, of course, but one comment I'll make about the "get it to the table fast" advice: I would caution designers not to ask people to playtest a new design until you've playtested it solo yourself at least once or twice. I think it's important to be considerate of people's time, and playtesting is very valuable time. So don't waste it - and disenchant people with your game in their first exposure to it - by having them conduct your very first run-through of an untested game. Your first couple of solo plays will uncover the gross flaws that you really don't need other people to identify for you. Get those out of the way, and when the mechanics seem to work functionally, then you're ready to expose it to real people and discover the things that only live playtesting can tell you.

  2. Very good advice indeed. Even after polishing a prototype at home, I still present nascent games with the caveat that it's a work in progress.


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