Week 6 — Practice pitch week

2021-07-06

During week 6, we get our practice pitch ready for our guest panel consisting of industry professionals. We’re going to pretend that we’re after funding for our product.

Core to the pitch is this:

And when you pitch your game, you are entering into a negotiation of power, where you are going to try to get what you want, while you convince someone else that your game is going to help them get what they want.

(Schell 2019)

Just to be clear:

  • what you want: money to make the game with
  • what they want: a return on investment, i.e. more money than they put in

I’ve worked on a few pitches of my own over the years:

  • as part of internal projects at companies I’ve worked at, to sell an idea to management
  • working with my cofounders on our startup pitches (luckily, I’ve been on tech duties, while the CEO did the pitching, but I learnt a lot)

Nail the vision and the logline

Before you start a pitch, you start with why (Sinek and Sinek 2015). You need to be able to articulate why you want to create a particular IP, and come up with (and agree on, as a team) a coherent vision (GDC n.d.).

Iterate on, and nail down the logline (a one-sentence 30-ish word summary or description of the game) (“Screenwriting Tips: How to Write a Logline - 2021” n.d.), as this will be the initial hook that sets your audience up for the rest of the presentation. (Loglines are also something I’ve had a bit of practice writing in a previous course.)

What goes in the pitch

The pitch document itself has to cover these facets (Schell 2019: 526), (Hacura 2021), (GDC n.d.):

  • state the platform, audience, and genre
  • don’t bore them with your game’s story (GDC n.d.), but instead convey the fantasy your game fullfills: who am I, where am I, what am I trying to do (“GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole - a Post on Tom Francis’ Blog” n.d.)?
  • state the “X for/with Y”, or give your game “handles”, e.g. DOOM but with geriatrics
  • show, don’t tell. Have the prototype ready. From highest to lowest importance (where available): video with greatest hits, a working prototype, screenshots, mockups. BTW, if you do show a prototype, don’t show the easy stuff, but show the USPs (e.g. your character can open a door) or show the stuff which is mitigating your risks (GDC n.d.).
  • make your pitch pitchable by them. Once someone in the room is hooked, they need to go an sell it to their superiors, and you won’t always be on hand.
  • know all the design details, like how many hours of gameplay, how long does it take to finish a level, etc
  • know the schedule, how long it will take to make (this will depend on where you are with the game, e.g. still in pre-production), and when each milestone will be hit (e.g. first playable, alpha, beta, launch, etc)
  • financials. How much will production cost? Break down how many people are on it, how many hours they’re on it. How much money will the game make? Base the answer on comparable titles, and give a reasonable range.
  • state the risks. Like technical, legal, etc. Also definitely state how we’re mitigating risks.
  • introduce the team. The investors are not just investing in the idea, but mostly the people. If it’s a large team, focus on the core team, the heavy hitters. If you don’t have a team, have a roadmap of how you’re going to use the funding to hire the right people. Have a team (GDC n.d.)!
  • when you show art, show great art. If not, show very obvious placeholder graphics, otherwise bad art might be mistaken for your vision or final art (GDC n.d.).
  • select the right/appropriate audience (e.g. don’t pitch a mobile game to a console publisher), and then know your audience (e.g. don’t pitch a walking sim to an FPS publisher, or if they’re already making a walking sim), and then know the individuals in the panel (don’t be a stalker, but it helps to win over individuals with carefully crafted content)

And very essential to the pitch are: is this game worth making, and can this team make it (GDC n.d.)?

Pitch tips

(Mostly from “30 things I hate about your pitch” (GDC n.d.).)

  • Be nice. The publisher/developer relationship is going to be a long one, so give them assurance they’re going to be working with someone nice
  • Be humble. Not everyone knows who you are, or may have played your previous games.
  • Don’t get annoyed when they ask questions. You should be happy, as they’re interested, and it gives you another opportunity to be clear and explain something.
  • Make the pitch accessible. Large projector, or if remote, have a clear high-res video. Speak clearly.
  • Bring headphones (if the pitch area is going to be noisy), because audio is important too. (Don’t bring earbuds - they won’t put it in their ears.)
  • Be sharp. Dress the part. Be clean, smell nice. Don’t be drunk, hungover, or high.
  • Be professional. Don’t trash other companies or games. (Be it competing developers, or publishers whom you’ve worked with or turned you down before.)

Convey these 4 things (“GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole - a Post on Tom Francis’ Blog” n.d.):

  • type of game, e.g. “3D underwater exploration game”
  • coolest thing about it, e.g. “you can reverse time”
  • give context/fantasy
  • give an example of how it plays, e.g. not “you possess NPCs” but rather “I can possess an enemy, throw him into a friend, and knock them both into a landmine before I switch back to my own body and watch them blow up”

Finally, be enthusiastic, honest. Sell your hook. Know your scope.

Pitch mistakes

(Mostly from “how to explain your game to an asshole” (“GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole - a Post on Tom Francis’ Blog” n.d.).)

  • relying on game footage or screenshots and not explaining the game. You have no idea how others think or how they interpret things, so spell it out.
  • thinking that to explain your game, you should explain your artistic intent, e.g. if you say “it’s a game about loss”. DOOM might be a game about loss, right? Your message/theme/artistic intent won’t tell them anything about how to play the game or what makes it different.
  • (mentioned earlier) Thinking your story explains the game. It doesn’t.
  • saying it’s innovative. You: “my game is innovative”. Them: “wow, that sounds really innovative”. Unlikely, right?

Technical research

The UX sub-team have done a bunch of their own user research, and it’s looking good. The insights which are particularly important to me are that the users we researched all own a mobile device, which is what we’re targeting for our experience.

Also, more of them listen than read (although the vast majority of them watch, i.e. film and TV), but the fact that they are listeners of podcasts and music is good for us as we’re delivering an audio-first experience.

As for play-testing, I conducted some very light conceptual testing with friends and family who are already audio-book and podcast consumers, showing them the Twine demo on my mobile device, and getting them to listen and interact with it.

All of them liked the demo. The biggest feature request was for the game to select a random path after a timeout, just in case they’re listening to the experience whilst driving or doing the laundry.

I did not implement this feature in the Twine demo, but I will push for the Unity team (aka Oli) to implement this in our Unity-based final product.

Week development log

2021-07-05 Monday

We had the team supervisor catch-up, and I’m happy to be acknowledged for keeping the project on track by playing devil’s advocate on new feature suggestions. This stems from acquiring many battle scars in the early years of my career, seeing projects overrun, or get shut down because of spiraling costs. I’ve been lucky lately to be in more mature teams who know how to say No, and focus on the essentials. I am myself a big fan of essentialism, having devoured McKeown’s book (2014).

2021-07-06 Tuesday

I started catching up on the recording of the first 5 pitches to gather some tips for our own pitch on Thursday. Glad we’re going last!

2021-07-07 Wednesday

I continued catching up on the recording and making notes for the team. I also drew up a doc for a naming system for our creative writing passages, as the creative writing will start in a shared doc, and end up in Twine and Unity, so we need a way to key passages to scenes in the game.

We had a catch-up in the evening to go over the pitch. It was good we had done so, in the end, as there was lots to cover, and we made a TODO list of who’s doing what for the slide deck.

2021-07-08 Thursday

It was a bit of a frantic day to get the deck ready in time for the evening’s presentation. Unfortunately, we were all very late getting the deck ready for 3PM so I could make a video from it. I think the last edit was made at 5h40PM, at which point I’m already into my personal evening routine (2 small kids, that need to get bathed, fed, etc, are quite tired and very loud that time of day), so there was no way I was going to squeeze in a video between 6 and 8PM when we were due. Josh, bless him, volunteered and created us a video in the nick of time.

I made a list of all the feedback points.

2021-07-09 Friday

I asked the team for all their feedback, so I can collate, set up a meeting, and come up with a new TODO list for the next sprint. I also set up a week 6 pitch port-mortem retro.

Bibliography

  1. “Screenwriting Tips: How to Write a Logline - 2021.” n.d. MasterClass. Available at: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/screenwriting-tips-how-to-write-a-logline [accessed 28 Jul 2021].
  2. “GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole - a Post on Tom Francis’ Blog.” n.d. Available at: https://www.pentadact.com/2012-03-17-gdc-talk-how-to-explain-your-game-to-an-asshole/ [accessed 28 Jul 2021].
  3. HACURA, Lukasz. 2021. “How To Pitch A Video Game- GameCareerGuide.com.” gamecareerguide. Available at: https://gamecareerguide.com/features/2028/how_to_pitch_a_video_.php [accessed 28 Jul 2021].
  4. MCKEOWN, Greg. 2014. Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
  5. SCHELL, Jesse. 2019. The Art of Game Design: a Book of Lenses. Third edition. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis, a CRC title, part of the Taylor & Francis imprint, a member of the Taylor & Francis Group, the academic division of T&F Informa, plc.
  6. SINEK, Simon and Simon SINEK. 2015. Commencer Par Pourquoi. Available at: http://banq.pretnumerique.ca/accueil/isbn/9782924412701 [accessed 2 Jul 2021].
  7. GDC. n.d. “Forging Honor: Providing a Coherent Vision for a New IP.” Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN8RjXYjJe4 [accessed 28 Jul 2021].
  8. GDC. n.d. “30 Things I Hate About Your Game Pitch.” Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LTtr45y7P0 [accessed 28 Jul 2021].

This post is part of my critical reflective journal and was written during week 6 of the module co-creative development.

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