If you’re more into hobby classics like Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, and so on, you already know about a lot of the big conventions / shows to attend – Gen Con and Origins in the US, the UK Games Expo in England, Essen in Germany, Cannes in France… This is my world, and definitely my jam.

At the same time, I’ve become quite intrigued about the mass market side of games I’ve seen popping up on the fringes of the hobby world. While this side continues to be dominated by a few huge companies and a few well-known IP’s (intellectual properties), there’s still quite a few opportunities to explore here. Combine this with the thought that some of my games are just a bit too light for the hobby market, and it’s off to the mass market I go…!

I first came across The Snakes & Ladders Of Creative Thinking – written by Deej and Billy – years ago. Their expertise came from inventing and running this event, and I was eventually drawn to the Mojo Nation website full of even more expertise from the people they interviewed. They knew what they were talking about – but more interestingly, they saw the toy and game industry from a completely different perspective than I had.

Fast forward to earlier this year as the website started focusing more on the Play Creators Conference and the Mojo Pitch event. They would be back to meeting in the real world (after a couple years of virtual meetings), and there was clearly a lot of excitement about it all. Enthusiasm is infectious, it turns out. I learn the event will be held at a rugby stadium in southwest London, and realize it would be pretty simple to get there from Birmingham. Kind of an odd place for a professional industry meet-up…? I thought. Turns out it’s actually a perfect place – after all, plenty of room to meet, lots of smaller rooms to break off into, and to be honest the where of it all just blended into the background after a few minutes.

it turns out it’s possible to just sign up for the pitching event (£149, which includes a chance to pitch live and virtually to a total of dozens of different companies),  attend the conference (£99), the awards ceremony (£79) or just enjoy the Monday meet up (£25)… or you can pick up an all-in ticket for £299. It’s an expensive sort of ticket, but looking back I think it was worth it.

But first, a chat…

Getting invited to purchase a ticket means submitting a request to attend on their website. I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first, except a guess that their aim was to ensure the designers / inventors would be appropriate for the publishers invited. After submitting the form and sharing a bit about me, I had a short Zoom call with one of the organizers. I was kind of expecting it to be either a sales pitch or a few more questions to ensure I was a fit for the event… and it turns out it was a bit of both. Anytime you learn about something new, there’s always that question of ‘is it right for me?’ and ‘Am I right for it?’.

In any case, I learned some more details and got a better understanding of what to expect – specifically, the note that the organizers handle setting up the meetings and organizing your schedule for you. The call really confirmed it for me: this would be a thing worth attending and preparing for.

Preparing

Here’s where I came to a crossroads of sorts. On one level, I know how to prepare for an Essen or a UK Games Expo:

  • Research the companies attending
  • Make sure your games are well-playtested
  • Have the game ready to show
  • Have sell sheets, rulebooks, and videos ready to go
  • Practice your pitch
  • Know what makes your game stand out / unique

For the most part, these were my base assumptions going into the Mojo Pitch event. I learned I would be better served by ‘sizzle videos’ for mass market games – typically 30-60 seconds long, not the 2-5 minutes found when pitching hobby publishers. I knew some of my games wouldn’t be a great fit for the publishers coming to this event, so I set out to resurrect some simpler ideas from years past.

Part of the pitching process was access to the wishlists – an assembled document sent via email to let designers / inventors know what the publishers were looking for. These were incomplete at first, but were enough to get started on (and as these were deemed confidential information, I won’t be able to discuss specifics). The expectation was that you would review the wishlists, then reply with a list of the companies you wanted to meet. There was no point scheduling a meeting with a toy company if you only brought games to pitch, for example.

I pored over these. As each new version came in, I took notes. Some companies had their own document instead of a section in a larger one. I tried to pick out the top 3 games to pitch each game company. A few more companies were added, and the wishlist often included a link to an interview they had done with someone from the company. Each update got progressively bigger (I think there were three updates to the original wishlist in the end), and a couple of companies had their own process for pre-submitting things before the festival.

Scrambling

It’s now the week before the event, and I’m scrambling. On one level there are now about 30 games able to be pitched, and many of them needed a sell sheet… and a physical prototype… and a video… and a bit of practice on the best way to present it. If you’re thinking of attending this event with a handful of games, this part probably won’t apply to you, since it reflects my particular brand of insanity.

I get a lot of it done. I didn’t have the time to update my website to show all the new games / stuff, but that probably won’t be as necessary during an in-person meeting, I reason. I get 14 games printed, labeled, assembled, and so on – and they all just barely fit into my carry-on. Sweet – now a backpack for some clothes and essentials, and off we go.

Attending

I jump on a Birmingham-to-London bus Monday morning, packed and prepared, ready to stay at a friend’s house for a couple of nights. The pitching event isn’t until Wednesday, and I fully plan to enjoy the other events as best as I can.

The afternoon is pretty casual, hanging out and setting up in my host’s spare bedroom, playtesting one of their games, and catching up. Eventually, I change into my con shirt (dark blue polo shirt with my name on it, for anyone that hasn’t seen it), and head out. Monday night’s a casual meetup, not a place to pitch as far as I can tell, so I leave the games at home. I bring my sell sheets and my notebook just in case, along with a set of business cards.

The main event, it turns out, is drinks and finger foods amidst a music trivia night. After lots of chatting, we eventually sort ourselves into teams and take on an audio challenge that stumps many of us. We’re gamers, inventors, and designers, after all, not music aficionados…! Still, lots of fun even for a team that came middle of the pack. Events like these help you remember publishers are humans that love games – they’re not scary or intimidating.

Learning

Tuesday is the Play Creators Conference – a jam-packed day of speakers to learn from. One conference-sized room with about 100 chairs facing a stage big enough to hold a four-person panel later, and the stage is set. I take some notes and settle in to learn more about a very different world / way of thinking.

A slide from one of the earlier presentations about Cantaloop, a board game adaptation of the old-school point-and-click adventures – think of all the different ways to use a hammer beyond the obvious one, for example.

It’s worth noting here that there’s just one ‘track’ of presentations, regardless of whether you’re more into ‘games’ or ‘toys’. Initially I was OK with this – learning across the industry is part of my interest in attending, and I’ve been meaning to play more in the toyetic side of games. At the same time, there are quite a few signs this world is not mine. I’m intrigued by some of the toys and games talked about, though they’re only ever seen on a screen.

In fact, it occurs to me (after the 8th or 9th presentation) that here we have a room of 100+ talented people in the industry, and not once in the entire day have we actually played a game, physically touched a toy, or engaged in some sort of play together. It was perhaps most obvious during a presentation promoting an invention program, telling us of all the interesting things people will make when you bring a diverse group of people together, as the program endeavors to do.

I’m rather exhausted after the last talk finishes – it’s a sustained amount of mental effort to carefully listen and take notes, and there’s an odd two-hour gap between this event and the awards ceremony to come. Perhaps this is time for people to sort out their dinner plans or return to their hotel to change into their eveningwear. The friend I’m staying with is 15 kilometers away (back in north-central London), and it’s an hour and a half on public transportation to return to them. I opt to skip the awards ceremony to relax a bit, hang out with my host, and actually, y’know, play some games.

Pitching!

Wednesday welcomes the Mojo Pitch event, and everything’s been leading to this moment for months now.

The other half of the companies to pitch were the other way, as you might guess. This was still a fair bit of running around, but there is a ‘green room’ to store your stuff and get a drink before heading off to the next appointment. After a night of socializing and a day of learning, today was the polite and professional ‘let’s get down to business’ you might expect. Having a 20 minute slot to show games means you want to make the most of the time.

In all, I had 11 meetings with 11 different publishers, pitching a total of 36 times. A 12th meeting had been scheduled with a publisher, but the person tested positive for COVID and was unable to make it. I suspect we’ll connect during the virtual pitch (the second half of the pitching event) next month. Many went alright – there’s always things you think you could do better in retrospect – though having the video to watch would have made some pitches go smoother (yes, multiple publishers asked to see the video during the pitch, even with a copy of the game right there).

Overall

I’m glad I went. In more than one case, a decision that sounded odd to me (a rugby stadium?) turned out to be a fine choice (plenty of space). This is very much the sort of event where I think planning, research, and being proactive about meeting people will make it worthwhile for you. Assuming it’s held in London next year and I’m close by, I’ll be headed there again.