What did we learn at Interface 2016?

Following MCV and Develop’s third Interface event, we round up the biggest learnings from our schedule of speakers and panels.

1. ‘A great Kickstarter is 50 per cent having a great idea and50 per cent being able to convince people you can finish it’

This year’s Interface kicked off with a panel on crowdfunding, with Revolution’s Charles Cecil, Playtonic’s Andy Robinson and Thomas Bidaux from ICO.

Partners comparing their experiences with Kickstarter.

The key to a successful Kickstarter, they agreed, was listening to your community, and keeping your fans in the loop.

Understand your community,” Robinson, whose studio raised 2.1m for Yooka-Laylee, said.
The biggest challenge for us has come after the funding. You shouldn’t promise things you can’t follow up on.”

He continued: A great Kickstarter is 50 per cent having a great idea and 50 per cent being able to convince people you can finish it. People will worry about whether a Kickstarter game is going to come out. You need to show the team, show who they are, show why they have the pedigree to bring this game out. And show the game.”

Meanwhile, Cecil remembered some problems Revolution ran into when launching Broken Sword 5 – but these were solved by being open with the fans.

When we announced the game, we said it was going to take six months,” he said. That was what would have happened if we had written the game we were originally going to (but it got bigger due to stretch goals). I really worried when that six months was up and people started asking where the game was, because it was going to take another six months.

I rewrote the release to reflect this and expected a negative reaction. But the response was either: ‘we didn’t believe you in the first place, take your time’ or: ‘we’ve been waiting for five years, we don’t mind waiting a little longer’. If you are as honest as can be, you’ll be okay. When dealing with a large community, don’t waiver. When you say something, be absolutely clear. Even if you are being harangued for a response, wait until you are clear about your position.”

Revolution also said that there was going to be a DRM-free PC edition – but this ran into trouble.

We were working with Koch who published the game at retail. There was a moment when we were in crunch and they said: ‘you have to get the DRM-free master copies now, otherwise the game will come out later for backers than it will for retail, which would have been a disaster’,” Cecil said. So we said why don’t we do a Steam version, and I knew it was the wrong thing to do. So when the game came out, a small number of people – quite reasonably – got really irate because they cared passionately. So we had to deliver what we said we would. The temptation was to reply straight away, but I spoke to the team and put out a tweet apologising and saying a DRM free version was on the way. That turned the whole thing back, people thought they were being listened to.”

Bidaux added: If things go well, your fans will be your biggest advocates. Funders have a sense of ownership. People want to be special. Backers need to be treated special.”

2. How to pitch your game to an investor or publisher

Our keynote for this year’s Interface was Team 17 boss and industry veteran Debbie Bestwick, who shared her tips on how to sell your game to an investor or publisher.

Bestwick advises developers to do their research when it comes to working with a third party.

Research and planning are the two most underrated areas of setting up a new a business and running an existing one,” she said.

No-one goes into business without doing research. 90 per cent of the games pitched to Team17 in the last few years haven’t had answers to our questions about their game such as ‘do customers want this product?’.”

Bestwick also said that developers need to treat their studios seriously, insisting that the moment it hires someone it is a business and should behave as such. Furthermore, developers need to know that any partners will want a return on investment, and that these companies aren’t here to fund games as a hobby – it needs to take it seriously.

In addition, she said that time is the most valuable asset that studios have.

Treat time as a cost,” Bestwick said. Use it wisely. Are you posting the right kind of things on social media? Take your average day and break it down, think about what you are doing. You’ll be amazed how much time fails to give you a return-on-investment. This will change the way you work.”

Developers need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, too. Bestwick advised the crowd at Interface: If you don’t have a skill, hire it. Know your strengths and employ your weaknesses.”

"If you don’t have a skill, hire it. Know your strengths and employ your weaknesses."

Debbie Bestwick, Team17

Studios also need to be mindful of what they want from a partner – distributors, publishers and labels offer wildly different things. Distibutors take a finished game and launch it (with minimal effort or services, Bestwick says). Publishers offer funding, marketing, PR, sales and protection support, while labels offer a variety of services.

To be most successful, developers need to make a list of preferred partners and approach them over time – Bestwick herself used to pitch to one a day for an entire week. Furthermore, studios need to do their research and know who they are emailing. And be sure to proof read any materials being sent.

It’s sloppy to see the same assets with typos and names,” she said. You’re not going to hurt my feelings by having the wrong partner on, but it indicates that you haven’t focused and shown attention to detail.”

When picking a partner, devs need to think about how they will work together. Bestwick said that studios need to consider where the game will fit within a publisher’s line-up. Bestwick herself once pitched a cute family game to a partner that only released 15-plus titles. And creators must ascertain how financially stable partners are. They can do this by checking accounts and financials.

When developers finally come to pitching, they should send something brief initially due to the sheer volume of pitches. A perfect pitch should have the USPs and the vision for the project.

The next stage is getting a Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement (MNDA) signed, and sharing a playable build of the games, any build notes and instructions, development plans, competitor and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analyses, as well as a full breakdown of what is desired in terms of funding.

Bestwick notes that any partner worth their salt will want to do a due dilligence of the developers, as well as look at their production, tech and dev plans and forecasts for sales.

And developers will be asked what they want from a deal.

Make sure you know the answers – it’s your game and your business,” Bestwick concluded.

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