As part of my job I have the courtesy of seeing a lot of game devs pitching their game for investment.
For me, this is easily one of the most rewarding and exciting responsibilities of my role at Creative England – it really is a privilege to meet passionate indie developers who are excited about demonstrating their project for the first time, and there's nothing quite like seeing that first gameplay or concept art that successfully showcases their vision.
The problem, however, is that for every pitch that makes my inner 10-year-old squeal with delight, there's another that lands a crushing blow that knocks all of the creative wind out of me. What makes this particularly tedious is that often a "bad pitch" is not necessarily down to the game or even the person pitching – it's repeatedly down to the bad decisions made before and during the actual pitch. Let me explain...
I'm a big believer in marginal gains: the concept that little improvements in several areas adds up to a huge benefit overall. On the other side of the spectrum, there are also marginal losses and for me that’s often what ultimately loses developers their investment. To be more specific, a series of apparently minor decisions that the presenter has made can lead to a collective failure overall. Independently, those decisions might seem incredibly small and unimportant, dull even. But it is the accumulative impact of those individual decisions that makes each one echo more loudly than it otherwise would have.
Here are what I consider to be seven things you need to avoid during a pitch for Investment. These are all based on real examples that have happened during live pitches on multiple occasions.
1. Why is your laptop off?
For over a decade now, laptops have had the ability to go into 'sleep' mode. It's really simple. You close the lid on your laptop, and when you're ready to start working again, you lift it up again. Everything you had open is right there where you left it and instantly ready to get going. Best of all, this hardly impacts battery life – especially on newer hardware.
Yet despite the often short amount of time presenters have to pitch their game, an alarmingly large number of them will sit down and awkwardly try to fill the time with small talk whilst their laptop takes two minutes to boot up. Then another minute to launch some software and perhaps another whilst they try to find the right version of a PowerPoint deck or assets folder on a desktop flooded with several hundred icons.
This process, on occasion, has cost the presenter more than half of their allocated time.
There is simply no need to be this unprepared when walking into a pitch. Your presentation should be ready to go, and your folders clearly marked and/or rehearsed so you can quickly and succinctly point to art work, code etc without hesitation. And keep in mind, this is the most fundamental of decisions you can make – chances are you have arrived early anyway, so take that time to get your files ready and in order.
2. Who is he/she and why are they in the pitch?
Everyone who is part of the pitch needs to have a role.
For example, if your pitch involves a live VR demo or anything else that requires the setup of equipment, then one person should begin the presentation/pitch whilst another sets up in the background. Those are their defined roles.
There's simply no benefit at all to making a panel of investors watch you awkwardly and hurriedly arrange equipment before you start presenting. It's just a bad decision. By specifying roles one person can start engaging with the panel, whilst the other can set up necessary hardware without the stony gaze of four or five strangers on them. Again, a very small but impactful decision.
Conversely, there's no point at all in bringing along somebody when they don't have anything to add, say or do during your pitch. Are they going to answer financial questions? Technical queries? Business model interrogation? Or are they going to stand in the back and look at the main presenter when asked a direct question?
Anyone who is part of the pitch should have a clearly defined role.
There is simply no need to be this unprepared when walking into a pitch. Your presentation should be ready to go, and your folders clearly marked and/or rehearsed so you can quickly and succinctly point to art work, code etc without hesitation.
3. Just show me the game
Often, you'll be given 10 to 15 minutes to present your pitch. Do you chose to dazzle the panel with details of your illustrious career in the video game industry? Or do you start pitching the game for which you’re seeking investment?
Here's my brutally honest advice. Nobody cares about you unless your game piques their interest. I know it sounds harsh and there's probably some that would disagree, but consider this: if your game catches the eye of the panel, it's inevitable that they will want to know more about you and your background. Generally speaking, when an investor or panelist starts asking questions about you it's a good sign they're interested in the game.
On the other hand, if you've spent nine of your ten minutes talking about you and only just touched upon the game you're pitching for, it's unlikely that a round of questioning will help the panel understand your game, route to market or revenue potential.
Always lead with the game pitch, and provide brief summary of your background at the end of your pitch. If the investment panel want to know more, I guarantee they will ask.
4. Video, video, video.
Let's start with a universal acknowledgement. As wonderful and magical as IT is, it will most likely fail you when you need it to work. No matter how good your code, or how reliable your laptop, or how many times "it's worked before", IT will fail when you need it to work.
So let me make this decision for you: please have a pre-downloaded video of your prototype running and play that before anything else. Even if you insist on having a live gameplay demo, or any live demonstration, always lead with the video first.
Why? Because an investment panel will be far more forgiving and understanding of an IT meltdown if they already have an idea of the concept. Without a video or other pre-recoded material, they have nothing to visualise at all.
Furthermore, there's another benefit to video and that is that you have the collective attention of the panel focused on a single screen. When you start offering live demos, it divides the panel’s attention. Somebody's attention might be on the demo, whilst another may start to ask questions which nobody else is listening to because they're watching the other panelist play the demo. Again, this all sounds very marginal, but that's the point! Controlling the attention of the panel is something you can influence through your flow of information. Handing out multiple devices for "everyone to have a go" is also a sure fire way to divide that attention.
As wonderful and magical as IT is, it will most likely fail you when you need it to work. No matter how good your code, or how reliable your laptop, or how many times "it's worked before", IT will fail when you need it to work.
5. What's your Plan B?
Sometimes it might be an IT issue, other times it could be a case of nerves. What do you do if something goes wrong? Preparation is key.
In the event of an IT meltdown, redirect the investors’ attention to something physical and continue with your pitch. Have backup material ready and with you in the form of extra video and visuals. One of the better pitches I have seen in recent months came prepared with a full printed 'brochure' of their game along with key facts and concept art. The company pitching were never going to refer to this in their original pitch, but a subsequent IT failure prompted them to produce it and continue with their pitch. That level of preparation gives confidence to potential investors that you're able to cope with challenges, small and large, that will inevitably arise.
This same tactic works if nerves get the better of you. Pitching can be intimidating and having material, especially video, is a great way to buy you an extra minute or two where you can compose your thoughts whilst an investment panel are still engaged in your pitch.
6. Talk money, honestly
Anytime you're asking for investment, whether it's public or private, be prepared to talk money. Investment panels will always want to know figures: company turnover, projections, downloads - practically anything that has a number attached to it will be discussed. On your part, if you're unable to provide that information, it's unlikely you'll see an investment.
If you're a new company and you're providing estimates and projections, please base these in reality. Projecting a £100m turnover in Year 2 because "that's what Candy Crush did" is not going to do you any favours. Conversely, investors also want to see that you've considered the true potential of your project. Ultimately, any investment is intended to make your company grow and generate income, so don't sell yourself short either. Projections need to be grounded in reality but demonstrate the potential based on available data.
If your company has been trading for a couple of years, be prepared to talk about your turnover, profit and, if relevant, your losses. Trying to hide financial data will only reflect poorly on you when an investor starts their due diligence. Similarly, if asked about sales of previous projects, just be honest, warts and all! Declining to answer questions pertaining to sales, revenue, projections or generally being cagey on these areas can immediately undo any positive traction you have made with your game pitch.
If you're a new company and you're providing estimates and projections, please base these in reality. Projecting a £100m turnover in Year 2 because "that's what Candy Crush did" is not going to do you any favours.
7. People invest in people
How many times have you heard the adage "people invest in people"? In the case of your game investment pitch, it really isn't any different.
The way you conduct yourself during your pitch can have a huge impact on the final outcome. In many cases, a decidedly average game concept can be successful in winning investment based on the genuine confidence, passion and enthusiasm of the presenter. If an investor feels the team behind the project can bring out the best in it, then they might be prepared to overlook some of the minor issues they might have otherwise prevented investment.
So what is the right attitude? Well, for starters, there's absolutely no reason showing up to pitch if you can't get excited about your own project. If you're unable to look or sound interested in your own game, why should an investor. You may have a very compelling gameplay video and intriguing concept art, but without enthusiastic communication, it's only one half of your pitch. Investors can instantly recognise when a team are genuinely passionate about a project and that can really help to put them at ease too.
However, don't mistake enthusiasm with showmanship. Some people are just naturally better presenters, and are able to express themselves with more flair and panache during a pitch. But enthusiasm for a project doesn't mean you're screaming and shouting about it. In fact, trying too hard to sell, rather than pitch, can come off as rude and abrasive. It's great to have confidence in your ability, but bear in mind you're asking for investment. It’s a fine balancing act to master.
So there you have it: seven marginal losses that can be easily avoided with a bit of preparation. Have your laptop powered up and ready to go, define your roles, lead with your game, show video, have a backup plan, talk honestly about money and be excited about your game!