How to Pitch Your Game to Publishers and Investors
A comprehensive guide that’s especially useful for indie developers
I originally wrote this piece in September of 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing and the world was still figuring out how to operate in the new normal. Gamesindustry.biz presented its annual Investment Summit Online event, bringing together independent game developers with publishers and investors. The aim of the summit was to help devs pitch their games and get them funded, a process that had always taken place in person at various industry events such as GDC, PAX, and the like. With COVID-19 completely shutting down those events, online meetings took on huge importance. The advice presented in the summit, and the video described in this piece, had a heavy bent in that direction, but the fundamentals are evergreen.
Online or in person, the tips from industry expert Jason Della Rocca in this video are timeless best practices for developers who want to pitch their games. For a large number of our readers and subscribers working in the development side of the industry, and those who wish to be, this is invaluable information to learn and practice.
Della Rocca began his presentation with a few absolutes for pitching your game, regardless of the type of game you have or where the pitch is happening. First, it is vital to remember that your pitch should be tailored to who you are pitching to, be that an investor, venture capitalist, or publisher. In his words, this means having empathy, understanding their needs, and placing them at the forefront. Thus it is vital to do research on the companies you may be pitching and adjust your angle accordingly.
Remember that your pitch should not be about how to solve your problem (getting money to make your game) but rather how to create an opportunity for the company, and how to solve its problem. You should always be pitching an opportunity for them because honestly, they don’t want to solve your problems, they want to create profit and value for their stakeholders.
This is how your research comes into play so that you can pick out companies whose opportunities and needs match what you have to offer. Say for example that a publisher just announced one of their games has been pushed back due to development delays. If you have a late-stage game that fits their style, you can pitch them on being ready in their other game’s initial release window, filling a hole in their calendar. Their problem could be filled with your opportunity. Every negotiation in business starts with showing how you can fill the needs of someone who is in a position to fill your needs. Both sides must benefit, and the better job you do showing the publisher or investor how they benefit, the easier you make it for them to say ‘yes’ to you.
Della Rocca then dove into the meat of his talk, specifying that he would focus on a ‘Premium Publisher Pitch’, where your game would be on PC or console(s) at retail for a full price, instead of a Free to Play or mobile app style game. This type of pitch focuses on showing the publisher what is special about your game and demonstrating that it matches their audience and existing portfolio. An example of finding that match would be a publisher like Devolver Digital, which has an edgy vibe to their style and the games they publish, as contrasted with a publisher like Activision which follows a more traditional model. The type of game you are making will determine what type of publisher you want to pitch.
You also want to show that your game has the potential to sell, and can find an audience organically, where the publisher can put their marketing power into boosting the game’s profile. And of course, you must create confidence with the publisher that you can deliver the game on time and on budget.
As with most presentations in the gaming world, this is using a PowerPoint-style slide model. Della Rocca organizes his ideal pitch into 10 slides, so we will follow the same pattern here. He describes this as his ‘Performance Pitch’, where you have 5 minutes to go through 10 slides, delivering a concise and succinct look at your game.
GRAB THEIR ATTENTION
The initial slide should be the attention grabber, with beautiful cover art for the game, or your company’s logo, something to get them interested. Once you have that attention, you want to establish what vibe you’re going after, and this will be the first step to matching your game with the publisher you are pitching.
WHAT IS YOUR GAME ABOUT?
The second slide is where you establish what your game is and what it does. You need to be succinct here, clearly stating the basic concept and core of the game without getting buried in details. The term you hear thrown around these days is ‘elevator pitch’ and that’s exactly what you will do here by hitting the high points and getting the idea across. The publisher needs to know exactly what your game does and what the player will be doing from this slide.
SHOW OFF YOUR GAME
The next slide will usually be a video clip, and this one varies a bit depending on if this is a physical show or a Zoom call virtual show. If you’re on stage or actually sitting in a room with the publisher, you’ll just play the video clip. This could be a full teaser trailer if your game is far enough along, or just raw gameplay footage. Even if your game is very early stage and you just have mock gameplay that’s fine, as the point of the video is to show that the game is real, not just an idea in your head. If this is a virtual meeting or Zoom call, the best practice is to email out your video clip ahead of time, avoiding the possibility of lagged calls and low resolution often present in that environment. If that is your situation, it’s a good idea to use this third slide for a sequence of screenshots highlighting what the publisher watched in the video.
WHAT MAKES YOUR GAME UNIQUE?
Slide four will contain what is called Unique Selling Points (USPs), which are essentially bullet points telling what makes your game special and unique. The key here is to be explicit about the compelling elements of your game, don’t make them guess or infer what you want them to know. The person you are pitching to will already be thinking about how they will market the game based on your video and core gameplay explanation, so the USPs should validate that thought process for them. If you’ve got a Battle Royale game, you must highlight what makes it different from the glut of other similar titles and help the publisher form that mental marketing plan that will make yours stand out from the crowd.
The fifth slide is about traction, or social proof showing that others in the industry think your game is worthy of getting attention from a publisher. If you’ve got a built-in community of fans, if the game is already getting press or if you’re scheduled to show the game at festivals, this is the place to mention all that. If your game is in the very early stages and there’s nothing to put here then you can skip this slide, but you really should be trying to get this kind of material. Gaining traction in the market only helps your product stand out from the rest. Publishers and investors want to maximize gain and minimize risk, so demonstrating that your game is already being talked about goes a long way to showing it will sell and be worth their investment.
BY THE NUMBERS
The slide is where you will discuss your business model and give a competitive analysis of your situation. The goal is to demonstrate that there is a market for your game and that it can sell, plain and simple. This is where you will detail what platform your game will appear on and what market segments it will hit using genre tags. If you need inspiration on genre tags, just fire up Steam and see how games similar to yours are tagged, as this information will help situate the game in the publisher’s mind and help them see the fit with their catalog. It’s best not to attempt to forecast sales in a presentation like this, but rather to find comparable games that have been released in the previous year to show what yours could do.
WHERE YOU ARE NOW, WHERE YOU ARE GOING
Slide seven is a big one, as it details your production timeline and spells out where you are in the game’s progress and how long you still have to go in building it. Here is where you will show deliverables like trailers, alpha and beta builds, Early Access if that is part of your plan, events you will attend and any marketing pushes. Your research on the publisher will come back into play here too, as you can match your timeline with the publisher’s release window to highlight what a great fit your game will be. This all assumes you have a budget and production schedule, but if you don’t have all that you still need to build this slide as if you already do. The publisher wants to know what you will deliver if they give you the money, so show them what that would look like if they do invest in you.
YOU’RE THE A-TEAM
The next slide is all about convincing prospective investors or publishers that you are the best team to make the game a huge success. This is where you show off your team’s pedigree, highlighting any members who have worked for big studios or on successful projects in the past. If you’ve already formed partnerships with prominent partners for parts of the game, this is where you talk about it. Basically, you’re selling yourselves and convincing whoever is watching that your team has the skill and experience to pull off this project the way you say you can. Make sure to put logos for any of the big stuff you mention on the slide, people are visual and will remember that!
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
Della Rocca says that the ninth slide is the one that is most often completely missing from a developer’s pitch. This is ‘The Ask’, where you state in no uncertain terms what you need from the investor or publisher. Be clear and specific, giving exact funding dollar requirements and what the money will be used for. This also goes a long way to show that you’ve done the budgeting, know what the game will cost, and will be smart with the money.
This is also where you want to be clear about what you need and expect from the partner as far as roles and functional needs. It's important to set expectations of who will handle tasks such as PR, porting, marketing, and the like. If your intended publisher is known for a particular genre, you can mention that you want their help and expertise in polishing the game to be everything it can become. You also want to make sure that your needs match up with the publisher’s expertise, for example on something like local markets. If you want to get your game into the Chinese market, you want to target a publisher that already works there.
FINISH WITH A BANG
You’ve made it to the final slide! The most important thing you have to accomplish with this one is to leave a great last impression. More game artwork, screenshots, whatever it takes to keep your game stuck in your target’s brain long after they have moved on to other presentations. This is also the place for you to put your contact info, social media handles, and the rest, as you want them to be able to contact you for the next steps!
The last thing Della Rocca covers is an ideal flow for meetings that are taking place over Zoom. The average time frame for these calls is about 30 minutes, and it is important to carefully manage that time to get in everything you want to accomplish. The first 5 minutes should be for small talk, asking them about their COVID experiences, what things are like where they are, that sort of thing. You then want to take another 5 minutes to ask about whoever it is you are pitching to, see what they are predicting for the market, and what trends they see. You can never have too much expert information and it lets your target know you’re interested in what they do, not just their money.
The next 5 minutes is for your pitch and you want to cover all 10 slides in that amount of time. This leaves the final 15 minutes for questions and answers, both answering theirs and asking your own for clarity. The ‘next steps’ are extremely important, so you know what the deliverables from the meeting will be and what your immediate steps will look like.
In a call like this, you will almost never walk away with a contract or handshake agreement, you are just getting past the first level of filtering out the chaff. You want to make sure you set up the next meeting, be sure of who you are sending any required documents and information to, what you will be doing, and what they will do as well. This is a great time for feedback as well, so listen to what is being said and use it to make your product better. If every meeting mentions the same few aspects of your product, you’ll know exactly what you need to be working on as you move forward.
Pitching your product will never be easy, but following this plan will give you a great start. Work hard on making your pitch the best it can be in the slides, what you show from the games as well as the actual talking parts. Talking in front of others can be the toughest part for many people, so always practice it even if that means talking to yourself in the mirror. The more you practice, the better you will get, just as is the case in making your game. Good luck with your next pitch, and check back here soon for more coverage like this.
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