Opinion: Square Enix Collective’s Phil Elliott on pitching to publishers and investors

By now, we all know the importance of the indie development community to the future health of the videogames industry.

It’s undeniable and the funding routes offered by crowdfunding, plus a range of distribution platforms means – in theory – that anybody, (almost) anywhere can make a game and sell it to the world. The proliferation of free and cheap tools has helped this enormously.

This is incredibly exciting but also leads to a lot of challenges. Because with great opportunity comes a great number of games. The issue of discoverability and curation then looms.

Many teams will find success with self-publishing, but others prefer to work with partners. However, if pitching isn’t something you’ve taken part in before, how do you start? What’s important to plan for, what should you show, and how do you know when you’re ready?

In the past couple of years we’ve had hundreds of pitches come through Square Enix Collective – either via the web platform, or in face-to-face meetings. I want to try and demystify the process, and share what it is that we tend to look for from the other side of the table.

This Thursday at Rocket Jump: Guildford I’ll be sharing some of the areas in which teams can prepare in order to make best use of that chance to get the attention of publishers or investors – or even the wider gaming community. There are largely five broad areas of consideration:

Getting the Meeting – where do you start if you don’t have a direct line of communication to the people you want to speak to? You might feel isolated, but actually it’s not so hard. Think about your network – this may only be a few other developers you know in the local area. But who do they know? Maybe one of those teams has already been through the process, and can help with introductions – or maybe you’ve got a chance to get some advice at a local event?

Try to take all those opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that somebody says no… which really isn’t that bad.

Clarity – there are many things that you’d probably take for granted when listening to somebody trying to sell you something, but there’s a lot that goes into some of the basics. For example, can you describe your game to somebody who knows nothing about it in ten words or less? It’s harder than you might think.

In a meeting, of course you’re not restricted to ten words, but try to be concise and clear – and practise that description until it becomes second nature. And also test it on people, and see if they understand!

Transparency – because knowing who you are is as important as knowing what the game is. We want to see passion, and this is hard without knowing why you’re making the game. And why this particular game? We want to love the game as much as you do, so don’t be afraid to tell us what it means to you.

Assets – what should you bring with you, and what’s the best way to curate that in the meeting? The bottom line is that we need to understand what the game is, so bring anything that helps with that. It doesn’t necessarily require a working demo, or even vertical slice – but the more you can show, the less risky the decision for us.

Deals – there are lots of different structures for agreements, so what’s a good level of preparation in advance, and what questions should you be asking? Ultimately there are a lot of different variables, but normally it comes down to what you need versus what you are prepared to sacrifice. Generally this will be revenue; these days, unless somebody is putting in a serious amount of funding, they shouldn’t be asking about IP ownership…

There’s also some crossover between pitching and building community too, so it’s important to consider what to look for when approaching your future fanbase. Again, thinking about communication – make sure your lead image represents gameplay, because box art and logos are way less relevant unless you have an established brand. Gamers want to know about the game they’re going to play.

Phil Elliott will be speaking at Moov2’s Rocket Jump: Guildford this Thursday 12th May. The event is focussed on helping games studios and individuals achieve greater success.

The event organisers have provided a 100% discount code for MCV readers:mcvfriends. You can purchase tickets here.

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