Just in time for devs looking to perfect their pitch before Interface tomorrow, independent developer and former head of strategic content at SCEE Shahid Ahmad reveals the best ways to secure that vital deal
You’re an independent developer and you want to pitch your game to a potential funding partner. I can’t help you increase your chances of a successful pitch – only you can do that. I can help you decrease your chances of an unsuccessful pitch, and that I think is all anyone can offer.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been pitched to over a thousand times and have delivered countless pitches of my own. At PlayStation, I commissioned over a hundred games in the most radical engagement programme ever undertaken by a platform with independent developers. I had to pitch this programme to the executive management team in the first place, and getting that plan approved was one of the best pitches I ever gave.
There are no rules, there are no guidelines, but there are some rules of thumb – a grab bag of approaches that help in some cases, and are useless in others. You will have to develop the discernment to know when to use some approaches and reject others, and the good news is that, although it takes time, it’s not rocket science.
Remember, these are not hard and fast. I could probably give you examples of pitches that violated each and every one of these rules of thumb, but we’re talking about probabilities here and you should work on reducing your odds of failure while you line up the other factors that are going to be vital to your success. These are some of the ideas that worked for me, and as the kids say these days, your mileage may vary. The list is not comprehensive by any stretch, I’m saving that for my book!
1. Don’t be late. If you have a meeting, arrive slightly early, but not too early. You need time to compose yourself, gather your thoughts, visualise how you want the meeting to go.
2. Keep your promises. If you have said you’ll have material ready in time for the meeting, or promise something after the meeting by a certain date, make sure you deliver on time. It’s always better to start a communication with “as promised” as opposed to “sorry this is late” or, worse, wing it and assume that the other party won’t remember your promise. Sometimes they won’t remember and it won’t have made a difference, but why take the chance?
3. Prove your reputation. When there is so much out there vying for our attention, how do you stand out from the crowd? If you have a good reputation amongst your peers or with former clients, or if you’ve got a track record of having made successful games (we’ll leave the definition of success for another time) then this is something you need to establish very early on, as it builds trust.
4. Establish rapport. People like to do business with people they like. Be clear, open and as confident as you can manage. You don’t have to be an extrovert to establish rapport. I’m an introvert and it’s never been an obstacle.
5. Show a prototype, or a video and avoid decks. I know this flies against the advice other people might give, but that’s fine. You don’t have to listen to me. You should know that I signed over a hundred games and not a single one was signed on the basis of a PowerPoint or Keynote deck. I did, however, sign many games on the basis of a simple prototype or video. No Man’s Sky was signed on the basis of a video, but bear in mind that I knew Sean and Hello Games having brought them into the PlayStation fold, so there was a relationship, rapport and reputation already in place. Can you imagine an A&R person signing a new band on the basis of a slide deck?
"I signed over a hundred games and not one was signed on the basis of a PowerPoint or Keynote deck. I did, however, sign many games on the basis of a simple prototype or video. No Man’s Sky was signed on the basis of a video."
6. Convey your idea in a sentence. If you can’t do this, then you probably don’t know what you’re trying to make and your prospective partner will pick up on the confusion. Make this sentence cover the essence of the game without conveying everything about it, which is, of course, impossible. The purpose of this sentence is to pique the interest of the prospective partner. That’s it.
7. Avoid bumf. I will never read it, but feel free to send follow-up materials digitally, or show them during the meeting, after you’ve demonstrated your prototype.
8. Get to the point. Don’t wander, don’t say things you don’t believe in totally, respect your prospective partner’s time, it’s the most valuable resource any of us have.
"Sometimes it’s good just to start a relationship. Maybe this partner is not for you. Maybe you’re not for them, but maybe that’s temporary and in the future, you might well end up working together."
9. Reduce friction. Make everything easy. Make the next steps easy. Make things clear. If you’ve got something intriguing, then explain it immediately.
10. Show a short video if you have one. No Man’s Sky had an exceptional video, but for many other games, videos are too long, or focus on the wrong aspects. You’re not trying to show all of your game. You’re trying to convey the key points of the game. A video should be short, no longer than a minute, shorter ideally and it should entice the viewer.
11. Know what you want out of the meeting. The best you can ask for is an expression of interest, but sometimes it’s good just to start a relationship. Maybe this partner is not for you. Maybe you’re not for them, but maybe that’s temporary and in the future, you might well end up working together. So don’t worry if you don’t get a magical outcome.
"There is nothing as valuable as your reputation. Treasure your reputation above everything else."
12. Don’t bullshit. You will get caught out at some point and it will have a negative effect on your reputation. There is nothing as valuable as your reputation. Treasure your reputation above everything else.
13. Don’t be defensive. If you get some criticism, nothing is more attractive to a potential partner than your ability to absorb, reflect and come back with something positive and nothing is more frustrating for a prospective partner than somebody who doesn’t show respect for their view. Criticism is just feedback and even if you don’t agree with it, showing respect and intelligence is good for you and for the relationship.
14. Solve a problem. If you know in advance what your prospective partner is trying to achieve in their business and can offer a solution, you are golden. Nothing will get you success faster than your ability to solve problems for people.
If you have any other questions about pitching, feel free to ask me on Twitter @shahidkamal.