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A Good Pitch

Why is getting a pitch right so difficult for many game developers? It's because they believe they're supposed to pitch a game when in reality, they're not. Let me explain.

Rami Ismail
Rami Ismail
6 min read
A Good Pitch
Photo by Headway / Unsplash

In my game development consultancy practice, the only specialised call you can book is called "Pitch Practice" - and it is by far of the most popular options. While every game is unique, and requires specific ways of approaching how you pitch your game - there are some things that are always useful to consider. In today's Levelling The Playing Field, we're going to talk about what a pitch is, and what it is not, and how understanding it can help you not only get your game funded, but also make your game better.

I think one of the most common mistakes about pitching is the notion that it is about presenting certain information in a certain structure, and that what you really need to pitch a game well is a specific formula of information and assets that will help you sign your deal. That is not how a pitch works: a pitch is an offer to trade.

Your goal is to convince the people you're pitching to that your game has potential, and to clearly explain the way you're mitigating risks that could lose them their investment or limit their returns. Their goal is to make you an offer that allows them to support your work while making a profit, expanding their portfolio, growing their customer base, supporting their brand, or advancing their mission (in the case of grants or diversity funding).

This means that to make a good pitch, you're going to want to do two things:

  1. Identify and communicate the way you can maximize the potential of your proposal.
  2. Identify and communicate the way you can minimize the risks of your proposal.

Note that I write proposal - not game. I can't stress this enough: you are never pitching a game. The sooner you get that idea out of your mind, the better you'll do. The people you're pitching your project to probably love games (because why else would they spend their days listening to game pitches - it's not the salary, believe me) but they're not signing games. They absolutely want to know about your game, what is special about it, why you think it is worth their time, and why you think it is worth the audience's time. They want to know why your game stands out.

But in the end they're signing a proposal, and a memorable and interesting game is just one way to evaluate one part of the offer you're making.

The proposal -the thing they actually have to sign- includes far more than that: it is your studio, your team, your existing work, your timeline, your budget, their budget, your existing audience, their existing audience, your reputation, the likelihood that you will ship, the state of the market and the industry, and many more variables on both your end and their end. All of this information is mentally sorted into opportunities and risks, and based on that, an evaluation is made as to whether your proposal is a good fit for the publisher.

I can't stress this enough: you are never pitching a game. The sooner you get that idea out of your mind, the better you'll do.

So when you are pitching, what you're trying to do is inform them as to what goes into which column - and you're trying to do that in a way that shows confidence in the opportunities, and that shows that you are aware of (or capable of minimizing) the risks - or de-risking.

For example: one common situation I come across is first-time indie developers working on a game. They are pitching their project, but are not getting results. One potential risk that could be blocking their pitch is the likelihood to ship. To de-risk the worry that they might not ship, they could take several approaches: a clear and realistic budget and timeline with milestones would help show that despite their lack of experience, they have researched and gained a good sense of how to get the game out the door. An advanced prototype or vertical slice could prove that they have tested their pipeline, and are capable of delivering. Or, they could bring aboard a veteran producer with a wide range of shipped titles - proving that they have convinced someone experienced that the project is worthwhile - that, too, would alleviate any fears the publisher might have about the game shipping.

That means that depending on your game and circumstances, the structure of a pitch that would work for one game would not work for another. I have routinely practiced with teams with pitches that were simply a stack of impressive resumes and an early idea - no prototype or vertical slice - and they were good pitches. I have also listened to pitches that were an inexperienced team with a budget, a timeline, and an incredible vertical slide - and that was a good pitch too.

There is no good structure for a pitch: it depends on the proposal and context what you want to include, what you skip over, what you emphasize, and what you explain. When you start thinking of pitches in this way, you might also start seeing common mistakes:

  • A budget that is too low, indicating a lack of experience with money or -worse- potentially creating a situation in which the publisher invests money, but the game can never be finished properly. Think about how you feel when you see a cool product or crowdfunding campaign, but the price is just far too low: you stop believing it is a good quality, or that it's not a scam. It is often preferable to ask for too much money rather than too little: anybody funding a project is more likely to want to negotiate down than up.
  • Being vague. If your pitch is full of uncertainties or vague descriptors, you communicate that this project is risky. But if you simply avoid talking about what isn't done yet, you sound unaware of obvious risks. The trick of a good pitch is to be honest, and to offer confident clarity on what you do and do not know yet. If you don't know how many levels your game has, it is much better to say "based on how long it took us to make the vertical slice, we expect to be able to create four to six levels, and we'll adjust based on available resources as we go" than it is to say "we hope to make as many levels as possible" (which suggests you haven't actually looked into this at all), or "we will have four to six levels" (which can raise questions about how you arrived at that number, or about the available budget).
  • Focusing on "what" too much, and not on "why". Every pitch structure example you come across will have headers, like "Game Summary", "Team", "Core Loop", "Target Demographic", "Budget", and others. The biggest mistake is to answer these question by trying to answer the question of "What is ...". Instead, answer these questions with by mentally suffixing "... and why would you or the audience care?".

In the end, the purpose of a good pitch is not to sell: it is to figure out whether you can create a mutually beneficial deal, whether you can align your proposal with the goals of the people that you're talking to, and to communicate clearly what you can offer and what you would need. Nobody has written a secret formula of how a good pitch works, because nobody is trying to communicate the specific mix of opportunities and risks that applies to you and your game. As always when it comes to business or design, the answer is whatever works to communicate your specific situation.

Actionables

  1. If you're currently working on a pitch, go through every slide and figure out what question you're answering on that slide. Is it "What is the team?" or "What is the budget?" or "What is the game?". Read the slide by imagining that question ends in "...and why would you or the audience care?" If you're describing that your game has 15 levels, why is that important? Update your slides in such a way that they're answering the question of why it matters, instead of just what it is.
  2. Publisher Raw Fury has shown a tremendous level of transparency, and have made a rough pitch deck and their scouting form available online. Take a look at both, but spend extra time familiarizing yourself with the scouting form. The people you're pitching to are likely getting pitched 20 to 40 games in any week - but they likely only have the resources to sign a handful a year. They have to quickly understand the opportunities of your project, and have their worries about it assuaged - see if your pitch is helping them fill out that form.
  3. Take some time browsing through GLITCH's collection of pitches, and pick one that is somewhat similar to a project that you might be interested in. Try to imagine that you are a publisher, and that you have room to fund three times the budget that they're asking for. Consider who they are pitching to and what their relationship is. What might the publisher be looking for? How is the pitch making sure the proposal stands out? How are they showcasing the opportunities of the proposal? How is the pitch alleviating worries about budget, team, experience, marketability, and profits?

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Rami Ismail

Gamedev. Exec.Director of gamedev.world & creator of presskit(). Speaker, consultant, helps devs globally. 33% of the The Habibis podcast. Traveler. Was 50% of Vlambeer. He/Him. Muslim. Dutch/Egyptian

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