One of the earliest games I played when transitioning into the game design world was called Flash Point: Fire Rescue, designed by Kevin Lanzing. Kevin, like myself, is local to Atlanta, and I reached out to him for advice on getting my first game published nearly four years ago. I’ve included his response below, as it gives a solid overview of the different channels one might go through to get published. It’s designers like Kevin that have made my efforts towards publication and success as a designer easier and more meaningful, as the accessibility and encouragement I’ve received from otherwise total strangers has been substantial and significant.
It sounds like you are well on your way already! I have had two games published. Flash Point is by far the most successful, but I had an earlier game called “Tako Judo: The Timeless Sport of Octopus Wrestling” that was published by Blue Panther.
Both times, getting published was a stroke of luck… but I had to put in the effort to get lucky! Tako Judo was the winning entry in a game design contest. Originally the prize was only my game produced with Blue Panther’s laser wood-etching technology, but they decided it was worth publishing and I signed a contract. Flash Point: Fire Rescue was published by Indie Boards and Cards after Travis (the head of the company) contacted me out of the blue. I had not heard of him or his company prior, but apparently one of my games had made it to the Gathering of Friends in New York (Alan Moon’s annual game shindig) and several publishers had expressed an interest in it. As to how that came to be: I had been self-publishing through The Game Crafter for about five months. Only 20 games had been ordered by that point, but one came to be in the right place at the right time.
What I am saying is, I have not followed a conventional process to get from prototype to publishing contract. I have little patience for sending out letters and emails to all the publishers, preferring to tinker, self-publish, and let my games speak for themselves. Which is not to dissuade you at all! Most publishers are human beings, and will at least respond to a letter. I’m not very good at self-promotion, is what I am saying. If I had any advice, it would be: by all means reach out to publishers, but don’t limit yourself to letters and emails. Visit game conventions, and line up interviews! Enter every game design contest you can find! Self-publish with any of the services available! The goal is to make as many good impressions as you can, and one of the best ways to break through a wall is to try the path least traveled.
I don’t know if you are a Gwinnett native, but there are several gaming groups and even game-design groups in the area. Try them all on for size. For playtesting especially, it is important to have as many different people play your game. One thing I have started to do is to make a list of all the people who have played my prototypes, and ask them to provide an email. If you ever get published (or especially, if you self-publish) these are the people you will want to contact to ask for their support. Most people will agree to this, and the few that don’t never act offended.