Lessons Learned: Pitching your game to a publisher

Hi everybody! In this first post in our lessons learned series I’ll talk about some hopefully helpful tips on how to pitch your game to a publisher and specifically what we are looking for and what questions we ask ourselves when evaluating a pitch.

Being able to pitch your game in a way that not only shows your vision, but also catches the attention of the addressee is incredibly important and you should take some time to try and figure out what it is you want to convey. This is not only true for publisher pitches, but basically your entire marketing strategy as well.

Before I start let me also say this: these are just some things that we learned during our time of pitching, things that we found worked best or got the best feedback or things that we see in pitches we get ourselves. It might be different for your specific project and you might decide to do something completely different and still be successful with it. There’s no one true way of pitching. But there are some guidelines I would say make your pitch better in almost all cases.

The basics you probably all have heard hundreds of times in either school or online and are the same for basically all types of presentations: stick to the important bits, include visual aids and have a clear structure. Most times publishers won’t have much time on their hands to look at pitch decks in-depth and will only skip through it. Ensure that even when just having a few seconds per slide, the core idea still comes across and the reader/listener doesn’t get confused by too much detail. Remember: the sole aim of the initial pitch is to pique curiosity, not explain everything in detail.
At this point, the important question publishers will ask themselves is: is this worth my time? Make sure the answer to that is a solid “of freaking course” on first glance.

An important thing to consider at this stage is also the publisher’s approach on publishing games. Most publishers will have one or more niches, genres or other defining elements of games they’d like to publish. For Mooneye Indies, for example, that is a focus on narrative and wholesome games. We are looking for games with a focus on emotional storytelling, a captivating atmosphere or games that just make your heart melt away. If you’re developing the greatest racing game the world has ever seen, we would likely not be the perfect publisher and thus a pitch that starts with “this is the greatest racing game the world has ever seen” won’t get our full attention. If you still think there’s elements of the game that make it ideal for us, start with those.

What makes you special?
The ideal pitch immediately makes it clear what your USP (=unique selling point) is and what sets it apart from similar games. This doesn’t have to be a huge, never-before-seen game mechanic. It can be anything that you think will ultimately make players think “yes, I have to get this game!”. Focus on that element in your pitch. All other game mechanics that are “the usual stuff” can just be briefly explained, because we all know how skill trees and crafting works. Unless you have a completely new twist on these mechanics and it’s an important element to your game’s USP, don’t spend too much time explaining the basics. As so often in life: less is more.

What are you looking for?
It is always important to mention what exactly it is you are looking for. What budget do you need? What do you already have? What services like localization, QA or console ports are you looking for? When do you plan to release? These can be rough estimations with a short budget-breakdown in the initial pitch and can of course be discussed in more detail later, but these are important key facts for any publisher to know when deciding .

Do you know what you’re doing?
A very important question publishers will ask themselves when getting your pitch is: can these people actually deliver on their ideas? Especially when the game is still in an early stage you will have to convince the publisher that you actually know what you’re talking about and can polish the final game to a commercially acceptable stage.
Include anything that you think can help answer this question, be it a short (!) CV of the core team members, a track record of released games or (if you haven’t released anything yet) some hobby projects you have worked on. Really anything that you think could help build trust in your abilities. Try and keep this section brief, though.

This building of trust very much goes hand in hand with the next question: do you know who your audience is? Although (in most cases) it will be the publisher’s job to actually market the game, it’s important to know your audience and what they like and dislike when you are developing your game. A clear idea of your audience makes it so much easier to make the right game design decisions and decide where to put your time and energy when it comes to polish.
And when I’m talking about your audience, I actually mean who are the people who will enjoy your game? We’ve seen people include things like “our target audience are PC core gamers. Last year the PC game market made so and so many billion dollars”. That’s not just not helpful (we all know that the overall games market is big), it also tells us that you haven’t put much thought in your audience and just want to throw big numbers around. We’d much rather prefer seeing smaller, but realistic numbers of actually similar games than just unspecific numbers and big bags of money. We will do our own due diligence anyway, but seeing where you see your game in the market and what you think your target audience and main “competitors” are gives us a much better idea of not only your game, but also of whether or not you have a clear idea to follow. (I put “competitors” in quotes because the way we see it most indie games are not actually competing against each other, but rather help building new audiences.)

Nice to have
Some additional things that are always nice but can not always be provided are of course gameplay videos or even playable builds. If you have something like that, you can include that at the end of your presentation.

Practice creates masters
When pitching face-to-face or via video call make sure to practice your presentation. Not only does this help to make you more confident and clear in your final presentation, but you also can make sure you meet the timeframe. If you have booked a 30 minute appointment, the other side of the table might actually have to be somewhere else in 30 minutes, so going over the time might not always be possible. Make sure all necessary questions can be answered in those 30 minutes, which also includes allowing some time for questions after your presentation. Nothing is more frustrating than having to interrupt your presentation and have the publisher run off to another meeting.

After the pitch
And another point for non-written pitches: make sure the publisher remembers you. Especially during conventions or other events where publishers might see multiple pitches a day it’s important you are the one they’ll remember. A great and simple way of doing this is to just write a follow-up email the next day with a short pitch document and maybe answering some of the points you talked about in a bit more detail. That way you can at least make sure they will see your name again at least once, hopefully remember the interesting project you pitched and they can easily forward it to colleagues to share across the team without having to come up with their own explanation that maybe misses half the points.

Pitch document example
Below I attached an actual pitch document we used to pitch Lost Ember to publishers after our Kickstarter campaign. Now I wouldn’t say it’s perfect and we certainly learned a lot during the last couple of years that we would do differently today, but we did get quite a lot of positive feedback from publishers and got a couple of good offers. There are other reasons why we didn’t end up going with a publisher in the end and I will go into more details about that in another blog post some day.

Our focus in the pitch document was to not only show some visuals, which definitely was important, but to also answer the most common question we got from publishers and players alike: what makes the game fun? We added a page about the main features and included a section just to answer this question.
I would say after reading that pitch document you had a pretty good idea of what we were going for and not only saw what the game had to offer, but also what it wouldn’t offer. It’s not meant to be a fast-paced action-adventure with combat and difficult puzzles, which some people saw in it. And making this clear is just as important. Otherwise you waste not only the publishers time, but also your own (and much likely a lot more of your own, since you will be the one preparing every call and every e-mail and getting nervous about everything you saw).

Alright, I think that’s all I can think of at the moment and I hope it helps you prepare your perfect pitch! If you have additional questions about this topic, feel free to reach out or leave a comment, otherwise I wish you the best of luck with your pitches and your projects! And of course I’d be more than happy to see some of you following these tips in pitches you send our way! 🙂

Have a great day!

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