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Guru Games is a small studio from Skövde, Sweden. We are a part of a game-collective called Sweden Game Arena and started our journey on the winding path of game development about two years ago. We recently launched our first game Magnetic: Cage Closed on Steam. The game will also be out on the Xbox One next week. Before even coming close to a launch however, we spent about a year pitching the game to different publishers at various events. Since December we are working together with Gambitious Digital Entertainment on the game, after a series of negotiations. We learned a lot from pitching Magnetic, and we have used those lessons while working on Medusa’s Labyrinth, which was the reason we went to Gamescom a few weeks back: to find a publishing and funding partner for our next big title.
Post-GamesCom pitch contemplations
This year we attended Gamescom together with other neighboring indies, joint together by and at the Sweden Game Arena booth. The event itself is huge and it was chaos, as usual, but after getting back home, it’s really important to take some time and reflect over what went well, what did not and how to move forward. Gamescom gave us a lot of things to think about, but one of the first things we realized was how many compliments we got on our pitch and how tired the publishers we met seemed to be. Almost all of them commented on the same things too, so that got us thinking about how their other meetings must have been. After asking around a little it seems clear that very few developers have spent enough time on their pitch, and those that had still had trouble answering the publisher’s questions regarding financial matters, marketing strategy, competition etc.
It seems that many indies who talk to publishers only have an idea or a prototype of a game that they themselves want to play. We did that too. Having a prototype is always great, and you should mention that you have one early on, but you need more if you want to get a publishing deal, especially if you are asking for money. Below we are going to break down how we at Guru structured our pitch for Medusa’s Labyrinth before Gamescom and Game Connection, and what we have found to resonate well with publishers.
Your job when pitching a game is not to get someone to throw money at your feet and sign a contract there on the spot at the show. Your job is being memorable enough that the person you talked to will actually remember you in a positive light, and not throwing away your business card because they can’t remember who gave it to them. Being funny while also asking someone for half a million dollars or more is not an easy thing to pull off. You want to give the impression of being serious, but at the same time you do not want to be forgettable and boring. We at Guru tackle this problem in two different ways:
As an example of this, when we went to San Francisco for Game Connection & GDC this spring we commented on that so many horror games are set in small-town America, and jokingly said “We are not sure what is so scary about small-town America, but for some reason horror games use them very frequently.” Surprisingly often that generated either a chuckle or an “Well, I am from a small town and let me tell you, it’s one scary place.” The publishers felt happy, everyone smiled and we moved on with the presentation. So that joke stayed in the pitch, and I told it maybe 20-25 times in two days.
Maybe I am focusing too much on the funny part, but the most important thing about a pitch is that you leave them with a positive and lasting impression. Making someone chuckle will get you further down that road than wearing a nice suit or having a detailed budget.
Medusa’s Labyrinth pitch, dissected
Alright time to break this down in more detail. Here is a list of things we say during a pitch, in the order of appearance:
You can see our entire pitch here, you can follow along if you want .
Slide 1: Critical Artware Hit
BOOM! Splash art. We used this picture to capture their attention and give that one sentence that hooks them on the concept of the game. For GamesCom it was a lot more about Louise fantastic art than anything I said, but as we showed this picture I said: “Medusa’s Labyrinth is mythological first person horror game, set in ancient Greece. We take stories and legends that has stayed with us for over 2000 years and give them new life in a modern medium: A game.”
Slide 2: Apply More Art to lure out the genre
Still focusing on selling the concept we give a few examples about the environments in the game, such as temples and catacombs and briefly touch on the fact that we have a unique combination of horror and stealth, something rare in the genre.
Slide 3: Gameplay Time!
Again, not going into great detail, here we focus on player experience and action. Immersion, vulnerability and the ability for the players to find their own playstyle has resonated well with publishers and so it is what we have boiled it down to. Giving very short examples of how this will manifest in the game is crucial, but if you don’t you will get questions on it.
Slide 4: Genre and positioning
This is probably the slide that resonated most with publishers during Gamescom and something that many developers lack: showing an awareness and understanding of the competition. They want and need to know that you know about other similar titles, and have taken steps to stand out in the crowd.
Slide 5: Target audience
Who will buy your game? How many? How well (or poorly) has similar games sold (preferable the same games that you showed on the previous slide). This can be a bit tricky and is always speculative, but just showing that you have done your research tells them that you are not only thinking about your cool mechanics, but have an idea about how your game will actually make money, and whom it will make that money from.
Slide 6: Genre popularity
We used this slide to explain/show how popular horror games are amongst YouTubers. This is basically a continuation of the previous slides: an affirmation that not only is your game great, but so is the market segment that you want a piece off. Plus everyone loves a bit of free marketing, so YouTubers are popular amongst publishers.
Slide 7: Funding and development time.
Now that they know how great the game will be and how ripe the market is, we dive into how much it will cost to get us there. We also state how far we have come, what material has already been created and what we can send them after the show (That playable I mentioned earlier, a video, high concept document, budget calculations, marketing plan, whatever you have prepared).
Slide 7: Our Own Sales Research
This was something new we tried, and it worked wonders. The week before we went to Gamescom, we showed our playable demo to the public for the first time at a Swedish Convention called Närcon. About 400 people or so played our game and we asked all of them a series of questions afterwards. “Would you buy this game? What did you like most? At what price point would you think the finished game was worth paying for?” 400 people is not a lot if you are doing scientific research but that still gives you something all publishers want: numbers. Their job, most of the time, is to pick-up projects that seem interesting and then pitch that internally at their own company. To do so, having numbers on how many of those 400 who would be willing to pay $40 or more is gold, and if you make their job easier they will like you a lot more.
Slide 9: The team
We used to begin with presenting our team, but after a few shows you realize that people who have been listening to game pitches all day are not very patient listeners. Get to the juicy stuff first and, once they are hooked, follow up with research. This slide is also to help them pitch internally. It shows our track record as a studio, any awards we might have won and anything else that makes us sound as a stellar development team.
Slide 10: Conclusion
The last slide is our wrap up. By now some listeners may have forgotten all about the game, and reminding them of what you said about it before you focused on numbers and research is a good idea. For Medusa we conclude the pitch with the following statement:
“In conclusion we have an opportunity to ride the horror wave that is going through games right now. We have a unique, mythological setting, an exciting combination of stealth and horror and most importantly: Something these players have never seen before.”
The pitch meetings
Phew! That is a lot to go through, and you have about 20 minutes to do so, probably less. The fastest pitch-meeting we had was probably 3 minutes, we were late as hell and they had another person waiting. We still got an email back two weeks later requesting more material so it can be done, but it was not our best pitch.
We do recommend at least 15 minutes of material. You will get interrupted almost every slide, so prepare yourself to have a conversation about what you are pitching, not giving a speech and waiting for applause.
We would like to go into more detail and also talk about how to prepare before a show like Gamescom, but we would like your feedback first. How do you prepare? Tips are welcomed! And if you have any insights or experience you would like to share on the subject, just let us know. We hope that one day we all get funded, and for the right reasons. It just really sucks that great games are being dismissed because of poor presentations, which we have seen happen more than once, which is why we wrote this piece. (Special thanks to Laura Bularca at Sweden Game Arena and Vernon Vrolijk at Gambitious for your editing expertise and wise council)