Almost every week I receive an e-mail from a hopeful designer asking me how to go about publishing a game they've invented. (I assume they've stumbled across my e-mail address after doing a cursory Internet search.) The vast majority of these queries go straight into the wastebasket, for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don't have the expertise to answer authoritatively even if I had the time. The second is that it's sort of like having someone ask you how to build a house. Even if you know exactly how to do it, it's hardly a simple matter and I'm not sure I want to hand hold someone through the entire process. Fortunately Brian Tinsman has written a book that I can quickly recommend to anyone making such a request. (Publishing a game that is, not building a house.)
The Game Inventor's Guidebook is organized into several sections such as "How the Industry Works" and "Selling a Game Step by Step" and addresses the major questions an inventor is likely to face. The bulk of the book deals with how to go about getting a game published by an existing company but also includes a section on self-publishing. There are short interviews with manufacturers and successful designers throughout and these contain some excellent (if occasionally contradictory) advice. Either way, they're quite useful in providing insight as to how the industry works and thinks.
The final section, "Resources & Examples", is a goldmine that lists publishers, distributors and brokers among other things. It also includes sample query letters, disclosure forms, licensing and option agreements. This section alone is worth the price of admission.
One of the problems with this type of book is impressing upon people just how difficult it will be in getting your game published. While I rather enjoyed Steve Peek's Gameplan: The Game Inventor's Handbook, it really hammered home a message its audience simply did not want to hear—publishing a game was, generally speaking, a dangerous proposition. That this was (and is) true is beside the point. I think Mr. Tinsman does a better job of encouraging the reader while also making clear the harsh realities of the business. The interviews go a long way in this regard and I think it's helpful for a hopeful inventor to have confidence as well as knowledge.
The book is very easy to read and rather accessible, the individual chapters are short and to the point. The general feel of the book is of someone giving friendly advice rather than a clinical text book detailing the industry. For this reason I think The Game Inventor's Guidebook will also be of interest to those merely curious about how games are made but with no aspiration to invent one themselves. There are a couple of factual errors in places but nothing too serious—the connection between Axis & Allies and Avalon Hill is the only one likely to draw a protest from anyone.
Even though I have very little desire to design myself, I really enjoyed The Game Inventor's Guidebook and I think others with an interest in the hobby will as well. For those who do possess a desire to see their name "up in cardboard", the book is an essential read.
- Greg Aleknevicus