Recap: GameDev Talks 6 – Pitching Your Game
The game of your dreams (or at least, a working prototype) is at your fingertips, thanks to your amazing team and supportive community and fanbase. There are a lot of people telling you they’d love to play your game when it comes out - so your next task would be making sure a publisher wants your project to come to life as much as you do. And its lifeblood? Money and other kinds of support!
The next step is the exciting pitching stage - a process loved and hated, feared and hyped. But what really goes on in this stage, especially for newbie game developers?
Our distinguished panel of speakers includes Kris Antoni (Toge Productions), Vladislav Tsopljak (Neon Doctrine), Johan Torreson (Raw Fury), and Gwen Foster (Robot Teddy). In a conversation led by Niccolo Manahan (Anino Inc), Project PIGI’s sixth talk covers the path to success in pitching your game: how to attract and approach publishers or crowdfunders to help you make your dream project hit digital and physical platforms.
What are the most essential things that you look for in a pitch?
Gwen: I build a lot of pitch decks on a daily basis. The list goes:
Team (current or planning to build),
Video of the gameplay
Those are the immediate requirements, rather than a 40+ page pitch deck that people don’t have time to read. I make sure to be considerate of people’s time when they review pitches. I know that they see thousands of pitches, so I tend to keep it short and have all the relevant information in them so that when we pass it to the review it will all be there rather than having a back-and-forth.
Johan: I 100% agree with Gwen especially when it comes to key info. Don’t make me email you for the budget. Put all the numbers in there, put everything I need to know. Some people send a pitch thinking it’s an opening to the pitch meeting where the actual pitch happens, but no, if I take a meeting, in my head I’m already signing this. You’re not more likely to get signed just because it’s a live setting. In the end, I’m gonna have to take it back home and check with everyone.
I’m a big fan of adding anything that can help me understand you and your team better. It can be concept art or lore documents - I might not have time to read everything, but if I get interested and start digging, the pitch kind of turns around and I start pitching it internally as well. The more ammunition, the more useful and the faster things can turn around.
I broke down the quick, lazy version of “How to Pitch the Raw Fury”.
Kris: I’ll just add that if the developers can communicate their vision and direction for the game clearly, that would be very convincing. Usually, when I get pitched and I see the document, I sometimes don’t really see a clear direction for their game. They can show off their game design pillars, and why they’re making this game, they can add that in their pitch as well.
I put together a game pitch template available online. But what I hate the most is that some devs use it as is. You should put everything in your own words.
Vlad: Add your timeline, your budget, your burn rate, or how much you spend a month running your studio. It gives a nice overview of what you need the money for, how long it will last you, and how you will need to make the game, which (these figures) will obviously be wrong, but at least it gives us an estimate of how long you’re going to go.
One thing I do like in a pitch deck is when you have a really good and concise elevator pitch, like two or three sentences about your game. I like it when developers describe the game and its unique selling points without using other games as a reference. It shows a deeper understanding of what they’re making.
Old completed projects also show us that your team is capable of shipping a product - doesn’t really matter if it did well or did bad, it at least gives us a little more confidence that you know what you’re doing. Some developers who are asking for crazy amounts of money but have never made or shipped a game is a red flag and quite risky.
How or where can developers best catch your attention?
Gwen: Today there’s #ScreenshotSaturday and #PitchYaGame. If I’m going to be honest, all the games that I’ve and as Robot Teddy helped get funding have come to us, reach out, and sent all information through sending us an email or DM’ed us on Twitter. I know the teams or have experience working with via an event or something else.
It actually depends a lot on the mood - there are so many factors related to who you are pitching to. It’s really a matter of sending the email or the DM. The network also helps - like hey, this person knows this dev that has a really cool project.
Johan: What Gwen said was pretty much true. What annoyed me to no end when I was on the other side of the table is the reliance on knowing someone that knew someone, which is hard as shit when you’ve come from nowhere and no one knows what you’re doing and you don’t know the right people.
So the best way to catch my attention is to use the magic@RawFury.com email and send a nice pitch with everything in it because that way it gets logged properly in the system.
I also like to troll on Twitter and look around in places where there are less retweets and such. I’m a sneaky Swedish person, I go looking at the medium to small numbers. Norco, for example, was something I saw pop by and I really wanted it, then forgot about it, then Greg from ShedWorks messaged me on Slack asking “did you see this?”, a message along the lines of I should have signed that already. That’s how we got it touch. My attention span is really short so email and making your game very public is the way to go.
Even if you don’t have a publisher, building a community is a great way to gain visibility. If a community manager isn’t in your plan/budget yet, you’re already f*cking over yourself and you don’t even know it yet!
Kris: The best way is just to email us straight. I’ll also speak from a different perspective since Toge Productions are also developers. When we started, we just focused on making a playable prototype, showing that to the public, and building a community. From there, if you can put a demo or at least a prototype on itch.io, you can already get some traffic from streamers and general indie game lovers. Those could snowball into attention from publishers.
You basically create a plan of attack from both sides: send the emails but also create some traction.
Another tip is don’t just send one email. It will obviously get buried or missed. Don’t get discouraged when you don’t get a reply as soon as you hoped. Try again in some days or weeks.
Vlad: I get pitches from all over the place. In our case, it doesn’t matter which channel you use to contact. As long as it’s not just a link to a Reddit post asking me to publish your game! Just make sure you have the documentation prepared and that it’s already a decent pitch.
In my case, if you go to our website, you can book a meeting with me or Ian (CEO) if you want to pitch a game or need consultancy.
What not to do: I’ve experienced getting a pitch deck for a really cool game, and then being pitched something completely different during the meeting - don’t waste my time.
What does a typical funding or publishing deal look like? Are there other funding opportunities outside a publisher deal?
But when it comes to funding, it depends on what you need the money for. If you just want the money, we’re not going to deal with you. This practice is actually very common in China so it’s always that different mentality. But if you need the money to actually finish the game, that’s a different conversation.
So when it comes to the breakdown, let’s say there’s a 70-30 split in favor of the developers. What we normally do is just reverse the percentage until we recoup the costs and it’s just 100%, not over. Let’s say we give you $300,000 and then once the game comes out and starts selling, it’s going to be a 70-30 split in our favor until the money is recouped. That’s us - but I’ve seen certain contracts when there’s 100% recoup so you don’t see any money until you’ve recouped everything, but it could also be double or triple. So if you were given $200,000 they will recoup $600,000 first so you won’t see any income until all of that is recouped. So it depends on which kind of publisher you work with.
You can pad your own budget so that you’ll be able to run your studio for next years, but with certain kinds of publishers, their contracts can be brutal. So they will recoup all the money, sometimes two or three times that amount, and recoup all the extra marketing and everything else that they add, which can be buffered or unlimited. Another thing is to see which is pretty shitty if you ask me, are they recoup the salaries of people who work on your game from the publisher’s perspective. So in the end, you got the money you asked for, but you have to pay back six or seven times that amount. It depends on who you sign because there are extremes that go one way or the other, so you need to decide for yourself: do you want the stability of a salary or do you want the money to finish the game, or get less money but end up in a more equal split (of the revenue).
Kris: We opened the Toge Game Fund Initiative last year because we want to support more developers in Southeast Asia and create their prototypes. A lot of developers from SEA don’t even get the chance to pitch because they can’t build a prototype. It’s more like a grant, so we give you the money and you don’t have to pay it back, we don’t own your IP or percentage or whatever. It’s basically a way to give them some safety net.
I believe there are a lot of these grants in the region, like government or university grants, but you can also find game funds like Kowloon Nights.
Johan: As mentioned, our contract is public. Being able to shop around and get a feel for these actual contracts and what is going on is really important. Contracts are one of the ways that publishers retain a kind of weird power imbalance and status quo. After that, you can decide if you’re going to make a deal on the rev split? Are you going to make a deal based on funding the studio for three years and figure something out? I’m not a fan of the multipliers that Vlad mentioned, which is what essentially killed off half of the Swedish double-A games industry in the early 2000s. At Raw Fury, we have a 50/50 split and 100% recoup but we also have a decent hit rate I would say in terms of making sure that games do get into the black and people do get paid.
I think what’s interesting about the way that we do it is that we don’t necessarily care if you’re a triple-I or a double-A or a one-man studio project. Last year I signed stuff that was between $75,000 and up to multi-million dollar deals, all within the same contract. It’s not for everyone but well worth it.
For funding, there are cultural grants that depend a lot on where you are. There are clever ways to use research grants for industries if you wanted to use game development tools to figure out an issue that the car industry has, for example, you might be able to fund part of your prototype by doing that.
Gwen: I don’t like publishing deals in general. Our approach has been getting platform funding first, especially now that PlayStation has an Indie Fund where you could ask for up to $250,000, like John Eternal (PlayStation Global Account Director) is looking for projects and can pay for localization, porting, part of the development. There’s also the ID@Xbox and Diversity Fund, which are non-recoup deals. That’s how we got Soup Pot funded.
There’s also Sony’s bigger budget deals that have a recoup model. Epic also has mega grants for up to $100,000 if you’re using Unreal. As a developer, I would go to a publisher if I need the money faster than a platform would give it to me. It has to be factored that publishing deals and platform deals take anywhere from 3-6 months, sometimes even years.
Superhot Presents, which is a game fund, is one of the friendliest deals out there. We essentially take 25% of the sales for three years per platform. Don’t go to a publisher if they’ll go “we’ll do the marketing for your game but we will get 10-20% of your game forever”, but they won’t help you with porting and localization. There are a lot of those kinds of publishers out there.
What are the things a developer should not do when pitching their games?
Gwen: Devs should not explain to people how to do their jobs. I’ve experienced where developers would tell me that I should be doing something for them. Some devs go, “Oh, we can change the game to what you want!” I don’t like that, because sometimes it means that they’re not making the game for themselves.
Johan: I could get really petty here: Don’t have an unskippable intro that’s two to three minutes long.
If you have a tutorial, please have a save state so I can skip it. Because if I want to show the game to someone, I don’t want them to sit through a 20-minute long tutorial. In pitch builds, having all sorts of ways to move between the different states is great.
Do your homework, make sure that you get legal counsel. If you get someone on the hook that’s interested, please don’t sign the contract before you have talked to a lawyer.
Always pitch to multiple partners at one time. Do not pitch to one person and wait, get an answer and pitch the next.
If you have text make it skippable.
If it’s a live setting, do not pitch the entirety of that meeting. If you spend 20 minutes talking to me super fast about something I don’t know, I would much rather you send me the PDF beforehand, so that I could look it up on my phone five minutes before the show, read about it and we can talk about it.
It’s easy to think that a pitch meeting is a monologue session. It’s not - the best thing you can get out of a pitch session, worst-case scenario, is you get feedback. Maybe I’m interested, maybe we can figure out and work out a deal. But that will never happen if you pitch for the entirety of the meeting.
99% of the projects I see are in USD. If you don’t want to force me to do the math, please put everything in USD so I know what I’m looking at.
And please, no more monochrome 2D puzzle platformers.
Kris: They should at least research about their publisher. I’ve gotten mobile game pitches, but I’m not a mobile game publisher. Make sure you know who you are pitching to, and make sure that their portfolio fits your game, because as a publisher we tend to have our preferences.
You should know your game’s target audience, and know if the publisher has a similar fanbase. That would create a better fit.
When you pitch your game, they should at least let them know why you are making this game. Some developers don’t even know the market they’re getting into. Just because one game is super popular now, and they’re just creating a clone - have a better understanding of the genre and why you’re making the game. Are you tapping into a niche market, or is there an unfulfilled demand in the market for this type of game, or is it as simple as the desire to tell your story?
Answer why this game should exist, and why people would buy it.
Vlad: Do your research, make sure that your game aligns with the publishers you’re talking to, and not that you’re just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.
Talk to the developers that have worked with said publishers you’re pitching to so you can see how it goes. If you try to talk to these developers and they say that can’t say anything because they’re under NDA, that’s a red flag.
Don’t chase trends - by the time your game is done, people have moved on.
What is your opinion on publishing games that have already been announced and already have a Steam page?
Kris: I don’t think that’s true because one of our games got a publisher after we put the Steam page online. Some publishers might prefer to have the game veiled so they can do the announcement as a bullet for marketing. If you are an indie developer with no track record, having a game with a Steam page, you can show your wishlist rate as data during your pitches.
This is data that’s much better having than not having anything.
Vlad: It’s a “yes or no” thing from our end because you can see the wishlists, you can see the community, etcetera. However, when we’re talking about porting and publishing on other consoles, it increases your chances to get exclusivity deals with PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, or Epic if your game isn’t announced on any other platform.
If your game is unannounced, you have a higher chance to get promotional monetary support for those platforms, and that’s something to think about. It depends on your plans and your game’s scope.
Johan: Counterpoint to that, if everyone is losing their minds on how cool your game is, you have a ton of leverage going to platforms. If you can show “We got 200,000 wishlists in the first 6 months, you ought to give us $2M for one year of exclusivity, random platform owner!” then there’s a discussion to be had. But, as Vlad said, it depends.
Is it true that publishers look for certain themes/genres of games?
Gwen: Don’t ever make a game just to fit a publisher. Always make the game that you want to make. Once you do your research, you will find a perfect partner just for you.
Does the pitch need to have playtest results?
Johan: The only time I’ve ever signed a game that’s gotten playtesting done, I didn’t even read the results until three months after I signed. It’s useful from a marketing perspective, but I wouldn’t sign anything based on performing super well in a focus group.
As we wrap our series of game development talks, aspiring Filipino game developers can look back on Project PIGI to help jumpstart their careers and passion. You can view the full session on how to pitch your game here.
Written by: Kenzie Du Games reviewer and journalist at VirtualSEA.