"If you can't pitch your game in seven seconds, you've lost your pitch," warns Jeff Hilbert of development studio rep agency DDM.
"Tell us what it is and tell us what it does and that's it," says Namco Bandai business development senior director Zack Karlsson.
Says Capcom production director Adam Boyes, "Don't tell us it'll take just one week to port your game to PS3."
Foundation 9 biz dev director Chris Charla contributes a developer's perspective, saying, "Don't start with the story ever, because they don't give a shit."
Charla, Boyes and Karlsson were talking as part of a recent GC Developer Connection session intended to give developers practical advice on pitching their games to publishers -- as well as examples of what not to do.
Be Professional -- And Persistent
"Call and email a lot," says Charla. "Even if you're not getting a response, if you keep it up they'll think, 'If I just give them a meeting eventually they'll go away.' That doesn't sound like a great meeting to go into, but it's a good position to start from because you have to prove yourself no matter what."
Still Charla notes that persistence should not include skirting the publisher's existing hierarchy and trying to go over the head of the original point of contact -- burned bridges aren't good for future publishing prospects.
Even if a pitch doesn't work out, or the publisher doesn't seem like the right fit, the panelists said developers should always be as professional and dedicated as possible; after all, word gets around.
"All the acquisition people know each other," says Hilbert. "If you're bad and you are dishing on people, they'll know. They swap notes on developers."
Says Karlsson, "We don't mind sending great games to other people, but I'm not going to send you over if you're bad and you're going to waste their time, because in that case it's my credibility on the line."
Though all the panelists spoke on the importance of tailoring a presentation to the specific publisher in question, Boyes said that the team's quality is paramount: "Have top line talent in place in every discipline. Be professional, engaging, impactful, not a fanboy."
Specialize, Specialize, Specialize
"People who are specialists find the best jobs in the games industry, and it's the same thing with studios," says Karlsson. "If you're looking to be a jack of all trades, you will be the master of none."
The specialist mentality can apply even to niche genres, as long as publishers are aware that you dominate that niche. "If you are a specialist in handheld games in a particular genre, when a publisher wants one of those, they will come to you," says Hilbert, "as long as you keep reminding them you exist."
Publishers also say they see little value in spending time and money developing new engines when successful middleware is already available on the market.
"Don't tell us that your homebrew engine is the best thing since Unreal," says Boyes. "If technology isn't a problem, then there's no problem in licensing one."
What Developers Say -- And What Publishers Hear
Developers and publishers often have different ideas about the publishing process. In an entertaining series of comparisons, Boyes illustrated examples of pitches developers might make -- and how publishers hear them.
The developer says: "We have an organic development process." The publisher hears: "We just bobble along and hope a game gets made."
The developer says: "We have a great team ready to jump to the studio as soon as we have funding." The publisher hears: "We got tired of our jobs and wanted to do our own thing but we don't really have a team and our office is Frank's garage." (Boyes notes that while this is not inherently bad, it often reflects insufficient planning.)
The developer says: "We have a niche product that just needs some marketing support. "The publisher hears: "We'd like to pitch you a steampunk MMO based on the French wine industry." ("This is a real pitch that one of us received!" says Boyes.)
In the end, the panelists agreed that one of the most consistently useful resources is the development community at large -- not to mention a good lawyer. "It's amazing to what extent other developers will help you," says Hilbert.
"It's about being humble," Charla says. "If you just ask your friends who to talk to, they can probably steer you in the right direction."