AEG tries to have a submission process as open as possible. We believe you never know where you are going to find the next great game or game designer, and we want to meet as many designers as possible and see as many games as we can.
We try to set aside time for new designers at every convention we attend. We have development staff there to take meetings with any designer who signs up. We try to be very reasonable about looking at submission sheets for games from any designer, but we have to weigh our opportunity against hard limits to our ability to review, develop, and publish new games.
There are just realities of time and size, that limit how much time we can put into finding new games. This is both an outline of our process and also a road map for designers who might want to submit to AEG in the future.
GATE 1. Sell Sheet: This is a quick glance for us. We are looking for something that makes this idea stand out or a quality of work in the sheet itself that makes us want to take a second look at this game. Let’s say it takes about five minutes to review a sell sheet when it is sent in to AEG.
- We do not let about 50% of the games we are pitched at sell sheet level through this gate.
GATE 2. Rules Play Video: This is a new gate for us.. We are asking them to do a 2-to-4 minute play explanation video. We understand that these can be tough to make and we are not looking for slick production quality, but we are looking to confirm that there is something interesting in the pitch to open the next gate. Most designers are now sending these little videos with their sell sheets which expedites the process.
- We do not let an additional 40% of games past this level. So at least 90% of the games we are pitched do not make it past the first two gates.
In a normal month we get about 50 -100 new submissions. Someone spends about one full day to review submissions and follow-up with designers on these submissions.
GATE 3. Rules and Skype Session: The next step is a review of the rules and/or a Skype play session where we watch the designer actually play the game with his group. We commit about an hour for these sessions and do about 8 a month so about one day per month is set aside for this gate.
- Assuming 100 new pitches a month, about 10 games make it to the Skype sessions. We eliminate another 7% of the games after this pitch.
GATE 4. Full Play: The next step is a full play session of the game. This is anywhere from 1 hour to 2.5 hours. We now require that designers provide us with a prototype. We are unfortunately past the point where it makes sense for AEG to be building prototypes (even simple ones). We figure about two hours average per game for the first playthrough. And this is not just one person; it is 2 – 4 people. We play about 5 – 8 new games per month, so that is about 4 days of just game play on games we have not signed yet.
On a good month we will end up playing 1 – 3 games that were sent into us via the Blind Submission process. We play another 2 – 5 games from designers who are already past the first 3 gates.
- On average, I would say 1 in 150 games we see make it to the next gate.
GATE 5. Stress Test: The few games that make this final stage now go through a stress-testing phase. This is where we play as much as we can to see if the game holds up after 5 to 10, or maybe more, play sessions. If we like a game we keep playing, and this is also when we talk about what it might become and how we might develop it into an AEG product. We dedicate 1 to 2 days per week to this part of the process.
- Of the games that we stress test, 2 to 4 of these make it into contract and into our development wheel.
GATE 6. The Development Wheel: This is where work begins on contracted games. I would love to say that every game that makes the wheel gets to press. And there was a day when that was true, but now I think that only about 50% of these games go to press. And we have also reached a point where a game might not go to press even after significant investment in art, graphics, and all of the other preparation
- There are currently 20 games in our development wheel. I color code and prioritize those games on a whiteboard. Currently . . .
- We have 8 games that are currently coded GREEN, meaning they are likely candidates for release in 2020.
- We have 6 games that are currently coded BLUE, meaning that they have significant development left but are progressing in a positive way towards publication.
- We have 4 games that are currently coded ORANGE. These have been in the wheel for some time and we have not sorted out issues with these games. If we do not get them back to GREEN by end of 2020, they will go to RED.
- We have 2 games that are currently coded RED, and these will likely be handed back to designers with our apologies.
This year I started tracking my monthly game plays, and I am averaging about 70 games per month. This includes: games I play for fun; games that we are working on; games that we are testing to see if we should try to publish them; and games that we are testing for the first time. Average play time including conversations with designer or developers is about two hours per game.
That is a grand total of about 12 to 15 full days of gaming every month for me. Our developers average about 7 to 10 days, depending on where their games are at in the process and what their personal skills are. And finally our Larkstone playtesters get in about 10 days per month each.
AEG is a mid-sized game company. We have about a dozen people on staff, but only five of these people are solely focused on game development and design. We round out our creative team with freelancers and contracted developers and designers. Believe me, these folks are plenty busy with the projects they are working on now. New games, expansions, and a whole host of things people are not aware of that developers do after a product goes to press.
Needless to say, we have a limited amount of time to decide on what projects we will be doing. We have a small team of “pickers” who sort through all of the games and then get to decide on what games will make it to the final stage where the whole company gets to vote on what we do.
SCHEDULE & HIERARCHY
As noted in an earlier blog, AEG is trying to do fewer and fewer new games. For the sake of having a number to work with, let’s say that AEG does eight brand new games in a big year. One game per quarter plus a few games for Big Game Night releases plus 1 to 2 Kickstarter projects. This means that of the thousand pitches we see each year, only eight will become fully realized games.
The hierarchy of how we review games works like this:
Family: If you are a current or past AEG designer, your game submissions get looked at first. We believe that at some point you took a chance on AEG and we took a chance on you, so we are now family and family gets first seat at the table.
Designers we admire: Yes, we have a dream board and it is filled with the names of designers whose work we love and admire. We are fan boys and girls first, so when one of our idols comes knocking or answers our call, we often jump them to the front for review. Success breeds success, and some designers just know how to make great games.
Staff: AEG is very focused on development, but occasionally an idea springs up internally and we do a deep dive on making a game from the ground up.
Designers that we have already vetted but not yet published a game with: I would say we have a list of about 30 designers who have gone through the process of getting a game close to being published with AEG and it just did not happen for one reason or another. We like the way their minds work, and if they have games to pitch we want to give them a chance to join the family.
Designers who we met with in person at a show: Meeting face to face means something. Even in a 15 – 30 minute pitch, we can quickly determine if someone might have that something that we are looking for.
Designs we received in our inbox and have passed the first few rounds of testing: Last but not least, the games we get pitch sheets for and decide that there is something about them that makes us to look at that game.
AEG prioritizes some of its time for new designers. We think that is an important part of growing our industry and ensuring that AEG refreshes our talent tree. Here is our advice on how to move up the hierarchy at AEG or any other game company looking at games:
SELL SHEET: Sell your game and yourself.
- Unless otherwise directed by the company, do not send in unsolicited submissions. Send a polite letter asking for the best way to submit a possible game. (If you do not get an answer follow up, post online that you are looking for contacts at X company. Always be polite, never complain, especially online.)
- Your sell sheet should be well designed, edited, and informative. (If you cannot make a good one-page sell sheet, why would we think you can make a good game?)
- Why is your game DIFFERENT and SPECIAL?
VIDEO: Make a 2 – 3 minute video tutorial of the basics of your game. You don’t have to be on camera or even the person speaking about your game. Know your elevator pitch and repeat it in this video.
NOTE: If you are a designer wanting to pitch AEG and have read this Blog, you are welcome to send us a SELL SHEET and VIDEO to firstname.lastname@example.org. No need to send the letter in first.
Don’t present a game that is not finished or that has not been tested.
Do not pitch us ideas.
MAKE OUR LIFE AS EASY AS POSSIBLE
Send a link to the 2 – 4 minute LTP overview video with the sell sheet.
Build multiple prototypes, offer to send them to us if needed. (You should have this anyway if you are correctly playtesting your idea.)
RULES – YOU DO NOT HAVE A GAME IF YOU DON’T HAVE RULES. Rules and game-play explanation needs to be easy to follow but does not have to be complete.
YOU AND YOUR INTERNET PERSONA
Here is my last piece of advice that I give to all designers and folks who want to work with AEG. I am not sure about other companies, but we want to work with people who like to play games, have fun, and treat others with respect.
We check you out on the internet and we conduct a little research before starting business with new people. We like smart people with opinions, but we do not work with trolls. If you are in the business of making games, we like to work with people who understand that making games is hard and that getting a game published is harder. Opinions about games, people, and things happening in our industry is good. Being mean, piling on, treating other industry creatives like their work is “less than” is just not something we want to be around and we look to avoid.
This week Asger Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pederson were guests at the Larkstone house. We played and worked all week on a special project that looks to be coming into its own for 2020. We got to see the Flamme Rouge expansion and a number of other projects they are working on for other companies. (Boo!) The boys from Copenhagen enjoyed some sun, In-and-Out Burgers and a BBQ today to send them off with some of our local designers and playtesters. New father John Clair came for playtesting and crashed here last night. We decided to let him sleep in.