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Polishing Your Pitch

With GDC only 2 weeks away, this primer on effective game and company pitching is both relevant and timely. The advice within draws from our 38 years experience in the industry.

Ed Dille, Blogger

February 15, 2017

6 Min Read

We’ve all heard the question.

What’s your game about?

After all, that’s why you asked for the meeting in the first place, to be able to answer that question. But if you need to set up a laptop, queue up the dancing bears, or perform any other gyrations before you answer the question, then you already come off as unprepared. Don’t get me wrong, visual aids are important, but only after you have established a mindset where the potential buyer wants to see them. So, ideally, you are answering that question clearly and concisely in one minute or less, and thirty seconds is even better. You cannot get there without practicing with others and refining your message.

Try it right now, and time yourself. How did it sound to you? Pretty good? Now ask yourself the following question, since you are intimately familiar with your game and have likely been working on it for months, how much of your evaluation of your own pitch is biased because you can mentally fill in the gaps in your presentation?

Now go to someone, anyone, who knows nothing about your game and is also not pre-disposed to tell you what you want to hear, and do the same exercise. Typically, you will find that your presentation time will have doubled or tripled, because you have to give them more information to get that look of comprehension on their face. You will also, without them saying a word, recognize gaps or flaws in your presentation that you need to correct. Don’t worry, that is to be expected and part of the whole point of practicing.

Next, before going deeper into any of your follow-on material, ask them to recap to you what they understand about the game so far. This accomplishes two things. First it helps you determine how much of the message you want to convey is getting through. Second, their answers will naturally be even briefer and to the point than your presentation, and those answers will give you great clues about how to further tighten your messaging. You may even stumble upon the perfect one-line response to the question of what your game is about.

Lots of folks in our industry poke fun at the Hollywood method of pitching movie ideas, ala “well it’s like Bambi meets Godzilla.” Even if you haven’t seen the animated clip of that mash up idea, it immediately conjures visuals and sets an expectation in the mind of the listener. Taking that same line of thinking into the game space, how would you describe the original Puzzle Quest, from our client Infinity Plus 2? In 2006, when we began pitching what would eventually become the 2008 Mobile Game of the Year, there was nothing like it on the market. We distilled the essence of the game to this: “Puzzle Quest is a fantasy RPG battler that uses match-3 gameplay as the primary combat mechanic.” Short, to the point, and the listener knows what to expect next even though they have never seen anything like it before because you gave them points of reference to things that are familiar to them. Keep refining and distilling the opening of your pitch until you can reach a similar level of clarity, and this will also give you a consistency of presentation thereafter.

The same approach applies to how you present your company or your services. There are tons of developers and outsource providers in the world, so your opening statement needs to go beyond the simple facts of who you are to answer the unspoken question they really want answered, which is, “why should I pay attention to you?” Describing the special sauce of your company needs brevity as well, but less than distilling a game down to its core. Give yourself a paragraph rather than one to two sentences. Be sure to highlight what sets you apart from your competitors without saying anything negative about them in the process.

If you are struggling to come up with those points, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the highest profile titles your team has worked on?

  • What is my longest term or highest volume customer relationship?

  • How did that become a successful repeat business relationship?

  • How many of my customers come back more than once, and why is that in general?

  • What kind of references can these partners give me to use in my presentation?

  • How flexible are we in terms of work hours/overlap with global partners?

  • How do we typically communicate/provide transparency to our partners?

  • How does our pricing compare to market expectations for these services?

  • Why should someone be willing to pay more, or LESS than the norm?

  • What creativity do you bring to the process?

  • What awards or critical acclaim have you received?

  • What success stories can you share later in your presentation? Can you tease them in your opener?

Which do you think is the stronger of the two openers below:

Joe Blow Studios is a game developer based in San Francisco whose mission is to create great games for PC and Console. We make the games that we want to play, so it’s all about fun. We published our first title, Super Fun Guy, in 2011 with Publisher X, but they really didn’t promote it well so it never took off. So we started doing work for hire to keep the doors open and get enough money together to make this demo for Super Fun Guy 2, which is what we want to show you today.

Please understand that this is a real opener pitched to us, but obviously the names and locations were changed for this article. After interviewing this developer further, we learned the following relevant points.

  • Their fifteen person team was 80% veterans, with an average of over ten years experience working at other firms

  • The main reason it was four years from their first game to their second publishing attempt was because they were so in demand as code fire-fighters for other people’s projects, and they had almost an 80% repeat business rate once people worked with them the first time.

  • The first title wasn’t ever really shopped to publishers, it had been placed with a friend of one of the founders, and when that friend left the publisher during development, it lost its internal champion and was relegated to filler status in an otherwise crowded publisher line up.

So here is the opener they should have given.

Joe Blow Studios is an in demand veteran game development studio with an average of 10+ years experience. Our team comes from a console background, having worked on over fifty console games between us, including 6 of the top 20 gaming franchises of all time. Since we were founded in 2010, we have worked as external developers on major releases for EA, 2K, Activision, and Microsoft, primarily on UE4 programing, networked multiplayer and level design and building. 80% of our customers are repeat business customers and the primary reasons they tell us that they keep coming back are our quality and impeccable communication/customer service. We aren’t happy unless they are happy. Today, we would like to show you the game we want to make next, Super Fun Guy.

See the difference? Go find your difference and polish it until it flows smoothly from your lips time after time. Good Hunting!

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