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So You Want to Be a Game Inventor?

21 September 2009


Periodically I get an email, a comment, a Facebook or LinkedIn message asking me if I can help a someone get a meeting with Hasbro’s inventor relations department.  Typically I say, “Sorry no, I would be seriously damaging my relationship with Hasbro if I did that” (which is the truth) and politely point them in the direction of the TIA’s (Toy Industry Association) website which talks about agents and other options.

What most beginning game inventors don’t realized is that there is a large group of professional inventors out there, commonly referred to as the “inventor community,” and it’s very difficult to break into.  How did I get in?  I worked for a well-know invention firm and I met the right people when I was there.   So how then does a regular Joe (or Jane) become apart of this?  Well they really can’t – at least not until they’ve had a successful item but even then it’s tough.  So how can you get your product seen?  One way is to get an agent.  Do some research here – poke around on the interenet, ask for references.  It’s industry standard for an agent to take 50% of any royalties you get.  It sounds like a lot, but getting a game idea licensed is a big deal and takes a lot of hard work matching a game concept to a manufacturer.  I asked Mike Hirtle, back when he was one the inventor relations guys at Hasbro, about how many items he saw a year from the “inventor community” (professional inventors) and of those how many actually make it to market in a typical year.  Here’s what he said:

  • 1600 Concepts reviewed from professional inventors (including agents) each year **
  • 400 Brought in for further evaluation
  • 30-40 Optioned or licensed
  • 20-25 Make it to market

**Note that he also adds that for each concept presented to him, there are at least 10 ideas that the inventors have come up with and done at least some work on.  That makes the first number closer to something like 16,000 ideas for the 20 products that make it to market.

Looks pretty bleak, right?  Well that is why it’s important to have an industry veteran on your side – like an agent.

The other route is to self-publish/manufacture your game.  Then organizations like Discover Games run by Mary Couzin can help you out.  She will show your concept all over the country to buyers and inventor relations people with the hopes of either selling product or licensing the concept.  With this method you pay a much smaller royalty (20%) but you still get Mary’s seasoned advice and expertise — and of course the advantage of her giant Rolodex of worldwide contacts.

Whichever route you choose to go, the best place to start is the Toy & Game Inventor Conference (T&G Con) in Chicago which is always held the Thursday and Friday before the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG) which is the weekend right before Thanksgiving.  You’ll meet tons of industry experts including buyers, inventors (including me) and inventor relations people, like the guys from Hasbro — and it’s the only time they’re available to meet with people outside the “inventor community.”

The conference covers topics from how to get started, to how to publish your game, and what to do once you sell your idea.  It’s an amazing resource and unbelievable that one event was able to get all of these experts and industry gurus in the same place at the same time.  It’s run by Mary Couzin and I asked her what compelled her to start it.  She said:

“I started T&GCon to help toy and game inventors. It is a natural extension of DiscoverGames.com, which is the largest co-op of Indie Board Game Inventors in the World.  I wish it had been around when I started as a board game designer; it would have saved me a lot of time and money.”

Even if you want to go the agent route, Mary has put together a must-see event for any person who has a game idea and wants to grow it.  Hope to see you all there!

  • More T&G Con information can be found at TandGcon.com
  • For more information on Discover Games look here: DiscoverGames.com (check out “Inventor Help: Inventor Wannabes”)
  • For the TIA’s page on agents, look here: ToyAssociation.org
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  • http://www.elementonestudio.com Kim Walz

    Almost the whole time I was growing up my mom had been coming up with toy, game, and candy ideas. She was always building prototypes out of random materials and staying up late brain storming. She tried to figure out how to get her games out there and had some success with getting them shown, but it became too overwhelming. Now, over ten years later, I helped her dig up the old drawings and prototypes. We will be on our way to TAGIE next week, and very excited to meet you. Your profile story is awesome, and this article really shows me why we need to come to this expo! The numbers were a little discouraging, but I know that we need to start somewhere!

  • Patrick L

    Reminds me of the film industry! EVERYONE’S got a great idea for a movie, you need to know the right people (best to have an agent who does), and always grab the opportunity when it presents itself. But I suppose it’s a proven system, since EVERYONE has a great idea for a game, the industry has got to weed out the sub-par games, and put out the highly marketable games for profit.

    For those that want to achieve, and if they believe in their product(s), they’ve got to stay determined. Thanks for writing this post!

  • http://www.KimVandenbroucke.com Kim Vandenbroucke

    I should also mention that there are a small handful of companies out there who will see inventions from ANYONE – one of which is Out of the Box. Look ‘em up.

  • http://twitter.com/zipplockbag Tony Pires

    Great blog! How many people show up at these inventor events? Thanks.

  • http://www.TheGameAisle.com Kim Vandenbroucke

    If you are asking how many inventors show up at T&GCon? Between new and professional inventors I’d say 100+ but there are just as many — if not more — industry folks to network with. It’s a great mix and it’s not too many people so that it feels overwhelming. I HIGHLY recommend it!

  • http://twitter.com/zipplockbag Tony Pires

    Thanks for the info. I’m close to booking a flight to T&G.