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The Wind Up and the Pitch in Game Development

Some expert information on managing pitching a game project to a publisher or investor.

The Wind Up and the Pitch in Game Development

Over the past 30 plus years as a game developer I’ve been to many product pitch sessions to publishers, dealing with early game concepts, full game designs, half-finished games to fully finished products.

During this time I’ve experienced my fair share of do’s and don’ts that I thought I would share.

Doing a product pitch to a game publisher is never easy, for no matter how many times you’ve done it in the past there is always that feeling of anxiety.

This anxiety can lead some to make some really foolish comments during a presentation, or even act out in way that will sabotage their efforts.

In one presentation where I was asked to sit in for a pitch to SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment America), the owner of a developer I was working with was asked by a rep at Sony, “How did you come up with the name for your studio?”

A fairly simple question and one often asked by publishers as an opening to get the conversation rolling. But the answer he gave shock me, and it takes a lot to shock me after so many years in the field.

He said, “We were just throwing names around and this one came up. I’ve always hated it, but it stuck!”

I was saying to myself, Wow, Really! That’s your answer!

One of the most important decisions you can ever make in starting a new business, is coming up with the company’s name and what it stands for and what it means to you.

Well, that was just one of a list of forced errors made that day and I wasn’t surprised when Sony didn’t call back.

In another story, I was working for Namco as a product manager and as such was often asked to sit in on meetings to evaluate new products to publish.

In one such meeting we had a group of 3 guys come up from a development studio to pitch their new game product. The only problem was the Producer and Lead Designer couldn’t even agree during the meeting on what the game was about, and they actually started arguing with one another right in front of us.

In another meeting there with a different development team, the guys use of profanity throughout the whole presentation sunk their pitch.

And for my last pitch gone wrong stories, we had to show off a product to a publisher in San Francisco, but the owners of the studio thought it would be a good idea to bring a Play Tester with us to demo the game.

Now normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but unfortunately this particular Play Tester was so excited about showing off all of the ways he could crash the game, during our presentation.

In presenting your studio, products or game concept for review by a publisher or an investor it really comes down to preparation.

Make sure you’re ready to not only sell your product, but your studio and its staff.

Often when I’ve been asked to evaluate a developer for a publisher, I’m asked to evaluate the staff first.

This means digging through the initial sales pitch that developers will come up with, just to sell the publisher on them and get down to the facts.

Always remember these 3-Greats when it comes to game development:

1: Great Talent equals Great Games!

2: Great Games equals Great Studios!

3: Great Studios equals Great Publishers!

 

So, here’s the Wind Up…

During the Wind Up phase to your pitch you want to make sure to create the following materials, for most publishers and or venture capital companies will want these.

1: Full bios on your development team and studio management staff.

Providing a full resume to a publisher is not only overkill it can also be unwise, for some publishers can use such information to recruit away your staff at a later date. So just focus on areas of their strengths that support the game development project your pitching.

2: A bio on your studio and or your development group and its past product successes.

While you might think this is a no-brainer to go into any product pitch meeting talking about only the positives aspects of your studio, some developers miss the small details that publishers won’t.

As an example, I was working with a game developer once whose studio portfolio document started off with a picture of the outside of the studio, which is not uncommon, but when it’s taken on a dark and cloudy day with an almost empty parking lot it becomes one.

As the old expression goes, never pass up the opportunity to make a great first impression.  So I don’t know about you, but a depressing picture of a studio with few people at work doesn’t exactly make me excited about working with them.

So always take a look at all of your presentation documents as if you’re on the other side of the table and look for anything that you might see as a red flag, if this developer was coming to you and not the other way around.

3: Draft a financial statement on your studio.

As an example, if you’re an established game developer then most of the times a publisher will want to know how stable financially you are.

Why?

Because historically game publishers who are funding the development of a game can be held hostage by a developer who is not financially stable, when they tell the publisher they can’t pay their staff during production.

This sometimes forces a publisher to infuse a studio with money, beyond their agreement or risk losing the capital investment that currently have in a game projects. So publishers really want to make sure that the studios they are dealing with are not holding lots of unsecured debit.

4: A financial forecast of the P&L (Profit and Loss) for your game.

When a game publisher and or investor finance a game development project they will always want to know when they will be paid back on their initial development cost and profits beyond the recoup.

In the world of game development, the developer doesn’t see a profit from his game until the development cost have been recouped by the publisher or investor, which can take some time, depending on the sales of your product. So, it’s important for you as the game developer to take this into consideration and plan accordingly to have another funded game project kicking off by the time your initial game project wraps up.

Often game developers will go out of business when they haven’t adhered to this overlapping planning process.

 

Variables to think about for your game are:

1: Staff Cost, including any and all benefits, staff relocation and recruiting cost.

2: Equipment and Development Software costs.

3: Studio overheard cost, such as building lease, utilities, building maintenance cost and liability insurance.

Note that these building costs can be divided across all of the on-going funded game projects, so the more projects you have on going, the less overhead cost each project must bear.

4: Advertising costs.

In the new world of casual game development, many game developers will have to maintain a marketing program of their own. This will mean the employment of an ad company, the employment of an advertising manager and or the cost of placing ads in magazines and on the web.

All of these costs will have to be calculated into your P&L for each game.

There are the primary cost to work out, but also don’t forget to maintain a financial buffer, just in case something goes wrong. Such as when computers need to be replaced, you need to staff up one or two more people, or you have a key staff member quit on you.

Don’t assume that just because you’re excited about your project that everyone else is and will stick around to cross the finish line with you. That type of thinking will get you in trouble.

 

Now some tips for the Pitch…

1: Be punctual to all meeting.

If you’re flying out for a meeting and there is any chance at all that there might be flight delays then its better off that you arrive a day before and stay at a hotel, just so you’re on time and feeling totally fresh for the meeting.

2: Limit the size of your pitch team to between (3-5) people.

Swamping a publisher or investor meeting with lots of your own people will only slow down the talks.

Remember that these are extremely busy people, so always show respect for the time they have set aside for you for this conversation.

Also remember that not all great game developers are great people to have at stressful pitch meetings, regardless of their importance on a project. So if they seem socially uncomfortable in such meetings, their communication skills aren’t the best or tend to say what’s on their minds before thinking it out, then it’s best to leave them out of such meetings.

Lastly, smile and joke around a bit, if it so fits your personality.

Just because it’s a pitch meeting, it doesn’t mean you have to restrict your conversations to business.

It also helps lift the stress level from you, those you’ll be meeting with and it lets them know you’re fun people to work with.

3: Buffer your time schedule between pitch meetings.

Sometimes game developers like to line up one meeting after another with publishers or investors during the same day. This can become a big problem if one meeting runs over, causing you to stress out, or worse, feel like you have to leave a meeting with a publisher or investor too soon, and you never want to make a publisher or investor to feel rushed.

4: Don’t expect a quick answer.

You will find that different publishers and or investors approach initial pitch meetings totally differently, this is something I learn when I worked with Japanese publishers.

Often the initial meetings with a Japanese publisher is more of a meet-and-greet, than a meeting where real business well get done, for they are keen to get to know the people they might be working with from a character and personality standpoint. Then during the second or third meeting is when they will focus on working out deals.

Understanding this can really help you make better deal, for some cultures are really turned off by our more American style of wanting quick decisions.

5: Never leave without making sure they have your full contact information and you have theirs.

After a meeting you’ll need to know who will be your primary contact person for follow-up questions, and who they need to contact at your company if they have more questions, which more often than not they will have.

Well, that’s it for now and if I think of other points to cover on this subject then I’ll update this article later.

Hope you find it useful :-)

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