developers

How To Pitch to Game Developers

Are you wondering how to pitch to game developers?

In 2009, twenty-nine year old Markus “Notch” Persson started work on RubyDung, a procedurally generated construction sim that was a mash-up of Dwarf Fortress, Dungeon Keeper, and Roller Coaster Tycoon. By the time he had reached Alpha with his game, Notch had changed the game’s name to MineCraft and decided that he needed to monetize his efforts.

In June of 2009, he sold over 1,000 copies at 10.00 € apiece. As the game gained over 20,000 registered players, Notch was able to cut his day-job’s hours back and dedicate his time to finishing the game. By 2010, MineCraft had won game of the year, and Notch had quit his day job. By 2014, he sold his company to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars.

But Notch’s story is an unusual one. Most game developers will have to pitch their game to someone – be it a publisher, a developer, or a crowdfunding audience – before it reaches market.

What is a pitch? A pitch is a presentation created by a game developer in order to obtain a publishing contract or financing. Pitches contain information about your game, how it plays, what it is about, what is special about it, what platform is it for, who is its audience, and more.

While there is no hard and fast rule to the format of your pitch presentation, (you can find a pitch presentation outline in my book Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design) there are several guidelines you can follow to make sure your pitch goes as smoothly as possible.

Set the tone from the beginning; you are entertaining, not just selling.

A pitch is an opportunity to make a publisher excited about your game. This means showing your game in the best possible light. Showcase whatever is most exciting about your game using images and examples. A little humor doesn’t hurt either. However, a pitch is not a talent show. Save extreme activities like singing, impersonations, and jokes for the talent show.

A powerpoint presentation is the most common method of pitching. However, be aware that your audience can lose interest quickly – never linger too long on one slide and never show a slide that only shows words. Have at least one compelling image per slide and make sure that image is related to whatever you are talking about. Use concept art, screenshots, or even inspirational images from other games. If an image looks good and gets your point across – show it!

How you present yourself is just as important as what you are presenting. Treat a pitch presentation as if it were a job interview. Dress nicely. Make eye contact while speaking. Speak clearly and not too fast. Be mindful of your body language – avoid crossing your arms and alternate who you are looking at as you give your presentation.

If public speaking isn’t your strongest trait, consider pitching with a partner. Recruit another member of your team to help you out with the pitch. Take turns describing the game, the story, the features, and gameplay. You’ll feel much more confident with a backup.

Know your USPs

USP stands for Unique Selling Propositions. These are the most unique and exciting features of your game. It’s what makes your game stand apart from all of the others. There should be three to five USPs in your pitch presentation. Even if your game has more, try to limit it down to no more than five or six – otherwise you start to “muddy the waters”.

USPs are the backbone of your marketing plan. If you need ideas to generate USPs, try looking at the back of a videogame box. USPs are almost always used to sell a game to a consumer. However, many amateur game developers don’t use the right USPs in their presentation.

Often “beautiful art” and “engaging storylines” are mentioned as USPs. Don’t use these. EVERY GAME should have beautiful art and an engaging storyline. Focus on what makes your game unique. Is it a novel control system? Is it a brand-new style of gameplay? Is it a powerful engine that can handle a lot of detail? Is a famous artist creating your characters? These are the type of USPs you will want to include in your presentation.

Know who you are pitching to

Everyone in the pitch meeting is there for a different reason. The head of production wants to know if your team has “what it takes” to make a game. The marketing director wants to know what the “X” and the “Y” of your game – what makes your game “X-citing” and “Y” should I care? The technologist wants to know how you are going to make your game. The project manager wants to know how much your game costs. The creative type wants to know what is cool about your game and how it will play.

Make sure your pitch addresses at least a little bit about all of these issues. When entering a pitch meeting, try to meet everyone at the table and find out a little bit about what they do, then cater your pitch accordingly. A good tip is to collect business cards and then lay them out on a table in relation to everyone in the room. That way, you can address everyone by name and have a reminder of what job position they hold.

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas

While you are presenting, don’t be afraid to go “off-script”, especially if someone in your audience asks questions. Questions will arise during your pitch and often they will be questions that you don’t know the answers to. Instead of making something up, it’s ok to say “I don’t know” or “we are still considering that” and move on.

Publishers know that things change over the course of a game’s production, so it’s ok to have a few issues that you haven’t addressed yet. That said, it’s always better to have firm answers than incomplete ones.

The pitch for BioShock changed radically after receiving feedback from publishers. If audience members start to offer ideas, it means that they are interested in your game. That’s a good thing! Make sure to write them down, as they will often be good suggestions. However, if someone offers an idea or suggestion that just doesn’t align with your game, don’t argue or tell the person that it is a bad idea – instead thank them for their idea and move past it. There’s no need to be rude or disrespectful during the pitch.

Be prepared for the worst

No matter how prepared you are for your pitch, problems can arise. When problems happen (and they will happen) try not to sweat it too hard. Try not to make excuses or downplay your game when it does. Instead, try your best to resolve the issue and continue with your pitch.

Technical issues will happen. I have experienced many pitches where the game didn’t work, the camera was broken, the controls were unstable, or the AI didn’t function properly. But that’s OK. You are pitching to people who experience technical issues in prototypes and games in development all of the time. If something doesn’t go right with your demo, just remind them that you are showing off a work-in-progress. Your audience will generally understand and be patient with you.

Try to resolve your technical issues quickly, but even if the situation is unsalvageable, don’t give up hope. The best pitch I ever experienced was for the game that became Evolve. The Turtle Rock team brought in their playable demo and of course, it didn’t work. Their Powerpoint presentation wouldn’t load. But they didn’t let that phase them and because they were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their game, they managed convince THQ’s management to sign the game!

Just remember to be prepared, be flexible, and remember to have fun. With some practice, you too will soon be pitching like a pro! Good luck with all your pitches!

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How Developers Won Gamers Over With Story DLC

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There’s been plenty of discussion over downloadable content ever since it became the norm during the last console generation. Older gamers didn’t like the idea of paying more than the $60 price tag for extra content, especially when they grew up unlocking new stuff by completing tasks or entering a cheat code.

Some gamers also began accusing developers of intentionally holding back content in the main game so they could later sell it as DLC. It certainly didn’t help when content was being placed on the main discs but kept restricted in order to be made available later for extra cash.

But despite all the arguments against it, DLC has proven to be a huge moneymaker for developers. When gamers enjoy a title, they’re willing to pay a few more bucks to squeeze more entertainment out of it— but only if the DLC is good.

The following are examples of story-driven expansions that proved to be well worth the hard-earned cash of loyal fans.

  1. A Completely Different Scenario

We love getting a new chapter that fits into the main storyline, whether it was before or after. The Last of Us: Left Behind was a neat story campaign that let us learn more about Ellie before we met her as Joel in the game. But sometimes developers go a completely different route, and it works.

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There’s no better example of this than the Undead Nightmare content for Red Dead Redemption. The original storyline was known for its serious tone, which made the idea of venturing through a zombie-infested Wild West ridiculous to imagine. Of course, Rockstar made it work and Undead Nightmare is considered one of the best DLC offerings of all time.

  1. New Mechanics

Adding new mechanics to a game can be difficult from a technical standpoint. Ever since Blizzard introduced flying mounts to World of Warcraft via their “The Burning Crusade” expansion, fans wanted use those same mounts in the original areas that weren’t designed to support it. It wouldn’t be until several years later that Blizzard would make it possible via another expansion.

Of course,the extra work can pay off immensely since gamers love seeing something new in a game they consider to have already mastered. A fantastic example is the Dragonborn add-on for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Among many other awesome things, it introduced the ability to tame and ride Dragons.

  1. A Look Into The Past

The best part about DLC is that developers often have more freedom. This is because the content they produce doesn’t necessarily have to tie directly to the main storyline in terms of chronological order. Instead, we can experience prequel story DLC that takes us back to an important event that happened before the beginning of the main storyline.

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There are many excellent examples of this. “RAAM’s Shadow” for Gears of War 3 let us see what it was like as soon as the infamous Emergence Day occurred. Perhaps one of the best prequel DLC of all time was Bioshock Infinite’s “Burial at Sea,” a two-part expansion that linked Infinite’s story with the beloved original BioShock title.

  1. Locations Worth Visiting

Creating captivating areas is a bigger challenge than most people realize. This applies even more to DLC since buyers may feel cheated if you give them more of what they already saw in the main game, even if it’s great. That is why many developers put extra effort into creating new locations for their DLC that feels fresh and satisfying.

FromSoftware accomplished this with their expansion to Dark Souls, Artorias of the Abyss. Players can explore a unique environment where they will meet new enemies, bosses, and NPC characters. There was also a ton of lore to discover within the long-lost land of Oolacile, allowing players to learn why it was swallowed by the Abyss long ago.