We’ve given a lot of attention to self-publishing and start-up game companies recently, but licensing a design to an established publisher still remains an attractive option for many inventors. To help address that, Ron Weingartner, game designer, former Vice President for Product Acquisition at Hasbro, and coauthor of The Toy and Game Inventor’s Handbook, graciously agreed to share with us some advice on how to pitch a game to a potential licensee.

The confident inventor has a new game idea. There is biased certainty that a significantly large targeted demographic in the game-playing world wants this creation. After hours and hours of design work, the kernel of the unique idea has been converted into an appealing and attractive playable model that exudes an invitation to “play me”!

The idea no longer exists on a sketchpad or the back of an envelope but in highly finished 3-D form. The inventor has what the industry calls a “looks-like, works-like, plays-like” model. And play the inventor has! The model has been through numerous game play sessions with known (and lesser known) friends. Repeated play has lead to tweaks making the game flawless in a whole range of play situations. Explanations and observations lead to fully vetted, concise rules detailing pre-play setup, player moves, and how to win. Group play sessions have been captured digitally for use on CDs to leave with potential licensees or for use in future YouTube demos.

But despite all this effort, the inventor is only partially to the desired goal; that being to find a company who will partner in taking the idea to market. As licensor of the proprietary idea, the inventor is now in the hunt for a licensee who under legal agreement will convert the idea into a commercially marketable game. The desired relationship will be one of mutual dreams; for the licensor $$$ from royalties, for the licensee $$$ from huge sales.

Any hunt for licensees begins with an initial meeting where the inventor discloses the idea to a company rep. The inventor should have done considerable homework on the company viewing the idea. That prep work includes knowing about the overall market, knowing the viewers current and past product lines, and knowing hot buttons on why the idea fits with the marketer’s future product needs.

Everything the inventor has done to this point to hone the idea will likely apply in the lead-up to demonstration of the game. This is pitch time and the pitch should be rehearsed against any and all anticipated questions from the viewer. For all the creativity and talent the inventor possesses, this is the crucial time to become seller and play to an audience that is the buyer. Despite all the inventor’s sensitivities and investment in the idea, part of selling is overcoming objections. The inventor will likely hear some during the demo, but must remain enthusiastic, positive, and ever hopeful throughout the viewer’s reactions. I know an experienced inventor that has a list of twenty-five reasons viewers give for rejecting ideas. For our purposes, however, let’s assume the viewer uttered none, sees the game’s potential, and agrees to hold the model for further company review.

That viewer now becomes a critical inventor ally as the concept is taken in-house. In the inventor’s absence, the internal ally is now the game’s product champion at every twist and turn as the company completes a full financial, marketing, and sales review to reach a licensing decision. High scores in game play and an attractive design remain positive features, but a licensee’s go/no-go decision will be based on marketing factors not merely product features like play and design.

Some of any licensee’s marketing factors include:

  • The target profit based on a projected retail price attractive to game consumers and the resulting net selling price to the trade.
  • Any use of a mass-market media character that may strengthen a game’s appeal to the target audience.
  • The potential for an eye-catching package so the game stands out at point-of-sale. (Merchandising packaged games became a bigger factor as retailers began to dictate specific spatial footprints for games and after retailers witnessed the tremendous success for an ordinary word game packaged to look like a fruit.)
  • Whether the game has a memorable point of difference or wow factor that can be captured in media campaigns or PR venues. (Capturing consumer eyeballs and word-of -mouth are essential to making a game successful in today’s highly competitive market for entertainment dollars.)

While the licensee is deliberating over these factors, the inventor can do several things:

  • Pitch the same game to other marketers—possibly digitally or with a duplicate model,
  • Seek a fee as an option for more time after the initial viewer has had a month or so to determine if the game fits product plans, or
  • Move onto other creations and let the fate of that great game rest in the hands of the game gods.

Much of what happens at this point is a judgment call by the inventor on how to proceed based on the desired current and future relationship with the initial viewer. It is essential for an inventor to keep doors open with marketers. How each party handles a rejection or how the relationship unfolds while working toward a license will determine the business climate for this game and future creations. In a world of game invention where nine out of ten ideas are rejected, it is best that the licensor and licensee both come away from each encounter with positive experiences. In a business where there is a saying that “product is king”, there can’t be success in the kingdom for either the licensor or licensee for one without the other.