"You don't need to be a gifted speaker. You need to work out what you need to say, and refine how you say it."
Rami Ismail of Dutch game studio Vlambeer has pitched many games over the last several years, and at GDC Europe today, he urged developers to condense down their pitches as much as possible, whether it's pitching at publishers, platform holders or the press.
"Pitching is not just making sure you get the first three sentences right," he noted "It's getting those sentences right so that person will have a conversation with you."
Ismail believes that there are a number of important questions you should ask yourself before making a pitch:
"Who am I?"
: "Knowing who you are is important for a number of reasons," he said. Are you established? Does the person you're pitching at already know who you are? What sort of personalities are you and your team?
For example, when Vlambeer pitched Dinosaur Zookeeper
to a publisher, they sent an MS Paint mock-up for the game, as they knew the publisher thought of them as an unconventional studio.
"What am I pitching?"
: "A lot of people try to come up with extensive descriptions," Ismail notes. "I'd suggest coming up with a sentence that starts 'The thing I'm pitching is...' and then finish the sentence. If you need more than one sentence, you're probably doing it wrong."
"Why am I pitching that?"
: You should be asking yourself, "What is the value proposition that you're offering?" because that is what the person you're pitching to will be asking.
Ismail notes, "Sometimes it's not about sales -- it's about awareness. It can be about all sorts of things." So you want to work out what the person you're pitching to is after. Publishers want value for money, while a journalist will want a story of value that they can write about.
"Why am I pitching that to you?"
: "It feels very disrespectful" when people don't know who they are pitching at," says Ismail. You wouldn't pitch an iOS game at Rock Paper Shotgun, so make sure you've at least researched the person you're talking to.
"What would you gain from what I'm pitching?"
: Ask yourself, how is your game going to affect the recipient?
"For press, the answer is readers who is appreciate this story," notes the devs. "For publishers, it's to make money. For platform holders, it could be platform exclusivity."
"For Nuclear Throne
we asked ourselves, how do you convince people it's worth buying the game on Early Access? How do you convince players to buy a game that isn't done?"
Adds Ismail, "We found it a hard question to answer. How do you convince people it's worth their money? What we did was make the game more expensive during Early Access." This was done through live streams and extra bits and pieces, in a bid to add extra value to those people who are following along with the development.
"What do you need to make this happen?"
: "For the press, how much time does it take to write an article?" says Ismail. For publishers it's money once again, while for players it's whatever the game costs.
"The lower you can make that cost, the more likely the recipient will respond." And he adds, "A game doesn't necessarily cost its price tag. A lot of people wait for a sale."
Indeed, Vlambeer is constantly asked when their game is going to be in a Steam sale, and they have to tell people that this isn't going to happen until after the game has been properly released.
Now that you've asked yourself these questions, you can turn to structuring your pitch.
"It comes down to: don't waste people's time," says Ismail simply. "A good pitch structure allows you to start pitching, and allows you to decide whether to keep pitching."
Now, find as small a piece of information as possible that explains as much of your game, and try to whittle that down to as small a sentence as possible.
"Think of it as a mathematical function," he says. "If there's a word in there that doesn't need to be there, get rid of it."
Once you've got this down to a sentence or two, practice pitching your game as other people before you do it properly, as you'll always be able to cut it down even once.
And Ismail has a tip for starting your pitch -- immediately hand over your business card, as business cards are regularly used as a "get out of pitch" card for the person you're pitching at. If you've already given them your card, they can't escape so easily.
Other thoughts on pitching from Ismail include:
"Is pitching your game like it's like other games a good idea? It can be. Sometimes I say Nuclear Throne
is Hotline Miami
meets Binding of Isaac
. What is already there is really easy to communicate."
"If you promise people something, you should make sure that you can deliver. That means it's sometimes a good idea to not pitch everything. If they ask about something, that means they are interested in it - so just be honest."
"The easiest way to get a big 'don't work with this developer' stamp is to consistently not deliver. It's a very common thing, and most people see through it."