Today I got to be judge, jury and executioner to a bunch of local gamedev students. What fun. It was a slaughter.
The longer story starts a few months back: a program at Belfast’s Northern RegionalCollege has put together a programme called Aim High, which selects a small group of very promising students studying games and puts them in front of local industry “experts” like myself to be moulded into rude and amusing shapes before sending them out into the world. The students formed into four groups, where they were to develop concepts through prototypes of games of their own making.
I dropped in back in November to tell them all I knew about narrative and characterisation; two hours later and I had barely scratched the surface, but then I’m a very deep individual with buckets of knowledge, ask anyone. Today, I was invited back for pitch day.
The pitch day panel of judges were the two course leaders, myself, Donal from NI Screen and Jonny from Iglu Media. The pitches ended up somewhere between a midterm progress report and a concept pitch to publishers, so us outside experts had to bridge the gap between assessing student progress and assessing their project’s appeal and marketability.
The morning kicked off with a quick word about How To Pitch (by me), followed by the student pitches, followed by a much more targeted How Not To Pitch (the whole panel) to finish off. I like to think we all learned something. And you can too!
Here’s my best How To Pitch advice:
1) Be prepared to pitch unprepared. By this, I mean be ready to pitch your idea at a random time of day to a random person, with no help from slides and a brass band playing in the background. Nailing an impromptu pitch with a chance encounter is one of the most common way deals are made. If you can sell someone your idea with no visual aids and no script, they’ll be much more impressed than with a planned presentation.
2) Every sentence should make them want to hear the next sentence. If the “punchline” to your pitch comes at the end of 20 minutes of preamble, it’s too late. You should have a 3 word pitch (I’m listening), then a 10 word pitch (hmm interesting), then a sentence (still with you), then a paragraph (I like what I hear), then a page (go on please continue), then a document (email me, let’s meet at my office). It’s true that a publisher/agent is always looking for a reason to bin a script, but not because they don’t like you; it’s because they have such a pile of stuff to filter through that any reason to get rid of something is a good one. If you’re boring at the start, don’t expect them to wait around for the good part.
3) Pitches are not onenightstands; they’re the first step toward marriage. A lot of people look at “nailing the pitch” like the pitch is the end goal. It isn’t, and the publisher knows this far better than you do because they’ve done it many more times than you have.
Asking publisher to look at your pitch or game (unsolicited) is the equivalent to stumbling up to the hot girl at the bar and asking if they want to sleep with you and possibly get married one day. Don’t be offended if they’re not ready to take that next step with you, because you probably didn’t even realise that’s what you were asking.
And after seeing the students’ pitches, here’s the best How Not To Pitch advice that came out of it:
1) Never start with an apology, or “hope this doesn’t bore you.”
2) Never read off your slides. If you put a slide up there with the text you plan on saying, I’ll have read it faster than you can say it, and I’ll be waiting for you to catch up.
3) Never justify your decisions, unless asked. The assumption is that you made a choice because it was right. If I think you’re wrong, I’ll say so and you can tell me why you already thought of my idea and dismissed it due to other factors. But if you say “we were gonna do this but then we decided not to” I may like the other way better. Or worse, not care about the process, only the result.
And one other useful piece of advice: if the twist at the end is your only hook, what’s my motivation to stick with it until then? The journey needs to be as interesting as the destination. The premise should hook me and keep me hooked until the twist. If you think the only thing that will hook me/a publisher is the twist at the end, how do you expect anyone to play the first 9 hours of your boring game to care about the twist in the 10th hour?
That oughta tide you over until Final Project Day.