Creating a sell sheet
Suppose you made a fantastic game. All is well.. except you don't have the time nor the money to bring the game to the market yourself! A good option would be to try to publish the game through a publisher. (read more about choosing between publish a game yourself or through a publisher). Then now is the time to start making a sell sheet. In this article we explain what a sell sheet is and which elements you need to place on a sell sheet to sell your game.
In the header image you see a number of sell sheets (not our games), which we were able to find on the internet to feature as examples.In this article, we'll continue discussing sell sheets, based on how we constructed the sell sheet for our game in development: Tomb of Rasha.
What is a sell sheet?
A sell sheet is a short and concise document in which you pitch your game to the reader. This pitch should give a good representation of your game in as few words as possible and should generate interest. Think of a sell sheet as a resume as if you are going to apply for a job. A recruiter quickly scans through the document and immediately sees whether you as a candidate are a good fit for the job or if you will be rejected. Do you have too little work experience or perhaps not have the right training or certificates? Then you won't be invited for an interview. However, if you meet the minimum requirements, your motivation letter will be read and you may even be invited for an interview. This is a very similar proces to trying to poach a publisher for your game by using a sell sheet.
The publisher must be able to decipher what type of game yours is, just by glancing at the sell sheet. With this information, they'll be able to decide whether or not the game is a good fit for their brand. If you arrive with a heavy and complex strategy game at a publisher that focuses on a family audience.. well, you are simply pitching to the wrong publisher! It's also important for a publisher that they can see whether or not the game has a chance at commercial success.
Getting their attention
A sell sheet needs to attract attention. Publishers receive many requests and sometimes have to go through stacks of sell sheets just to see if they contain anything that is relevant to them. They will never read every written word of every sell sheet. A sell sheet is often just quickly scanned. You must therefore ensure that the most important information is visible as clearly as possible and that this information stimulates the reader to want to read further. Wether or not your board game is bloody fantastic or a real dud, no one will ever know if your sell sheet isn't readable or attention grabbing.
Which components does a sell sheet need to contain?
- Title and subtitle
- Pictures and/or Illustrations
- The essentials
- The hook
- The story
- Game parts (components)
- What makes the game special?
- Contact information
Title and subtitle
The title of your sell sheet is probably the first thing your reading will see. It is common to use the title of the game for this. Make sure your title is catchy and covers the gist as much as possible. The font in which the title is written must also match the game. This adds to the overall experience and atmosphere. For our sell sheet, we have chosen the title of our game:
'Tomb of Rasha'
The subtitle is a catchy phrase that is directly below the title. If the title is interesting enough, try to reinforce the vibe with the subtitle. You can highlight your theme or express the core of your game. For example, the unique thing about Tomb of Rasha is that it is a uniquely small dungeon crawler that can be played both solo and with two people cooperatively. This is emphasized in our subtitle:
'The pocket-sized solo & co-op dungeon crawler'
Pictures and/or Illustrations
In addition to the title, the imagery should be the most eye-catching content. Pictures are very helpful in getting the reader's attention. The whole sell sheet becomes much more attractive to look at and the reader is unconsciously guided through the content. An image says more than 1000 words, as they say! You can use images to provide insight into certain game mechanics or just to convey the theme, so that you ultimately need even less text.
Nobody wants to have to work their way through a wall of text. An image greatly increases your chances of succesfully getting a publishers' attention.
Some information needs to be immediately clear upon reading your sell sheet. These are basics that help a publisher segment your game in their mind: how many people can the game be played with, from what age and what is the expected duration of a played game? This is important information in order for the publisher to decide whether the game suits them and if the game can easily gain commercial success. As an example, an 18+ game that takes 4 hours to play is probably more difficult to market than your regular family game of 90 minutes.
Make the essentials clearly visible on your sell sheet, preferably somewhere in the corners.
The hook is essentially your elevator pitch. In this short text you have to tell in one or two sentences what your game entails in such a way that the reader is convinced to read the rest of the text. The publisher has seen your title and subtitle and looked briefly at the illustrations. He now has a vague idea of what the game is about. Now it is time to really reel them in!
So what do you need to say in a hook? Think about the following: what makes your game unique or interesting? Why should the publisher read your sell sheet instead of all those others? Describe briefly but powerfull the essence of the game without going into the details. You don't have to tell anything about game mechanics yet, but you'd be advised to use the hook to share about the expected game experience.
For Tomb of Rasha the hook is the following:
'Create a powerful team by building your characters, skills and gear in order to overcome six increasingly difficult encounters with unique and varied enemies.'
In the story part of the sell sheet, you can share what your game is really about and sell the atmosphere.
- In what setting does the game take place?
- What is the theme of your game?
- What is your role as a player in this story?
Keep it short. Make sure you can read this section in no more than 30 seconds. Your text must be structured in such a way that it describes the most important things in as few words possible. If you've written a great second line, but the first line is real snoozefest, your second line may never even get read.
For Tomb of Rasha we have chosen an introduction speech to the character that the player will play with:
‘Welcome heroes! The town is under attack by foul, underworld creatures. You've been tasked to explore the tomb and clear it from evil. Along the dark path, many nasty surprises await! Will you be able to defeat the Snake Queen Rasha?‘
Game mechanics are not a must in a sell sheet. They can help the reader to better understand the game, but it's also rather risky to put them on the sheet. For example, if you mention that your game has a deck builder game mechanic, the reader might immediately have 'Dominion' flashing through their mind, even though your game is nothing like that at all. It's simply how our associating brains work. Instead of putting the mechanics on the sheet, you can show the game mechanics in a playtest later. If you do use game mechanics in your sell sheet, try to present this as visually as possible.
Game parts (components)
A publisher wants to know if your game idea can be a commercial success. To do this, he must be able to estimate the production costs associated with your game. After all, a 54-card deck is a lot cheaper than a large board game with lots of different components and miniatures (since miniatures are very expensive to produce). Even if your game is not completely finished, it's a good idea to give an estimate of the amount of components you can expect.
Tomb of Rasha consists of only 54 cards, so we have clearly visualized this as well.
What makes the game special?
Also make sure to dedicate a section to what makes your game special. You've probably covered this in the rest of your sell sheet as well, but it's good to remind them with a quick enumeration.
Some examples to use:
- Variable setup
- Unique theme
- Challenging for all ages
- Asymmetrical characters
- Easy to learn
- Different playing styles possible
Name a few that apply to your game. These also help the publisher to estimate whether the game can sell well and fits within their range.
Lastly, include your contact information on your sell sheet. You might think: “I will send it by email, don't they already have my email address?”. But you'll never know where your sell sheet ends up. Sell sheets are often printed and put in a large stack. It would be a shame if you miss your chance, just because your contact details aren't clearly visible!
Ask for feedback
As you probably often do with your board game, you also want to ask for feedback for your sell sheet - from from anyone who would like to give it. Is all information clear? What kind of vibes does your sell sheet give off? Is the most important information also the most visible? Have you forgotten anything important? You can also ask your friends and family first, but there's also several Facebook groups that can help you out. For example, get your sell sheet critiqued in the Boardgame design lab group. Lots of sell sheet are presented in this group - we have also presented ours and gotten some great feedback!
Of course, it also helps to not only have your own sell sheet assessed, but see what is being said about someone else's sell sheet or even give feedback yourself.