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. I decline as I would be damaging my relationship with Hasbro if I did that and politely point them in the direction of the TIA’s (Toy Industry Association) website, which talks about agents and other options, and the T&GCon website.
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 internet, and 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.
Another 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.
Some people are now turning to Kickstarter or other crowd-funding sites to get money to self-manufacture their games. I highly advise someone to do a lot of research before you spend a lot of time/money going that direction. There are tons of pitfalls that newbies don’t consider. A great resources is the Funding The Dream podcast done by Richard Bliss.
Whichever route you choose to go, I personally think 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, licensing, working with distributers and buyers — and the list goes on. It’s an amazing resource and unbelievable that one event is 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 (and there are some there you can meet with), 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!