Countdown to GDC 2016: How to win over publishers

Countdown to GDC 2016: How to win over publishers

By Garry Williams, Sold Out

February 25th 2016 at 11:42AM

With just over two weeks to go, Sold Out's Garry Williams offers advice for those all important pitches and meetings

As a person who has both bought and pitched games worldwide, I wanted to offer a few and hopefully helpful suggestions to those who are taking on the expense of a trip to GDC, to demonstrate you are serious about driving your business and partnering with publishers. By attending, you are showing you are pro-active – try and keep that mindset in all you discuss.

Preparation is important; think about who you can work with. Why do you want them? Where do you think they can best help you? And don’t be afraid to ask around your industry contacts. A history of slow or no payments are clues you need to heed as you prioritise your meeting schedule. There really is a development community out there, so don’t be afraid to use it.

A lot of experienced developers understand your issues and most will actually help where they can, so seek out development forums like tigsource.com, go to game jams to network, and even being active on twitter and joining in developer discussions will help.

Being more connected to the development community will make you more aware of design trends too. You want to be aware of what your peers are creating and when they are seeking to release their games. Identify who your competition is and what makes your game stand out compared to these titles. When is your perfect window?

A simple “Thank you for your time” at the end of a meeting really does go a long way in creating an impression.

You are pitching to people, so be aware that opinions and first impressions count. Hard and fast rules are important, too. Don’t be late. Be sure of the venue and practice your pitch. Politeness really does work. Whatever the characteristics of the publisher, it should not affect your professionalism. A simple “Thank you for your time” at the end of a meeting really does go a long way in creating an impression.

One of the key points is to be able to explain your game in a sentence. Your game may have tons of features, but ask yourself: what your game’s USP is? Develop and memorise an elevator pitch that focuses on this. These days, your pitch is going to struggle without running code or active visuals of the look and feel. If you have a lot of code completed, think about having the best bits pre-loaded to demo. What segments of the game are the most impactful? If you know, focus on these parts.

Not every good game gets discovered, and wanting it to happen is just not enough. You need to demonstrate you are the developer to make it happen, and what you can add to make it happen. A publisher can help with discovery and finance, so you really do have to demonstrate why your game is worth their support.

Planning is everything. The more you can show you have thought this through, the greater the interest from a publishing partner is likely to be. Please make a business plan at the same time you are making your game design document. Business models and marketing should not be an afterthought; they should be planned in from the very beginning of a project. You are making a game, but it needs to be commercially viable, so a solid business plan is as important as the games’ quality.

Not every good game gets discovered, and wanting it to happen is just not enough. You need to demonstrate you are the developer to make it happen.

You are now not just a games creator, but a business. If you require outside help, you need a plan, forecasts and costings. Even if you don't require external financial help, you need to know what timings and costs will impact your cash flow. Remember: cash flow really can kill.

In short, if you don’t know what you need and want, then how will the person on the other side of the desk be able to help? It sounds basic, but you should have an amount as a goal know what you are aiming for and at the very least what you are willing to accept. Otherwise you may have miscalculated your timing and costs which at best may leave you scouting for work for hire, but it can also wipe you out.

Be pragmatic rather than emotional. Your game is important to you, but don’t think it is worth you betting your house on. Do not ever offer your IP or shares of your company as part of any deal to get to market. You make the IP; you should own it exclusively. Surrender this point at your peril.

You need to create and to verbalise your plan. Then your publicity heartbeats and communication with your target audience need to be set, or they just won’t happen. Lately on the digital side, format holders are pushing to have follow-on DLC at launch. Can you handle this? What is the timeline and cost? Could you add it to your initial pitch as an option?

Extra DLC is also really important in the USA for the boxed market. Here the system is basically to offer 'extra' so you’re able drive pre-orders. Pre-orders dictate your day one ship, meaning you need a plan, including timing for the main game, and also to know what extra can be delivered towards the end of the main game concept. Plan for success.

If you are thinking about extras for the game, it shows you are thinking about profit maximisation and driving sales. Extra content beyond release helps maintain price points and to drive product lifecycle planning with the publisher.

Do not ever offer your IP or shares of your company as part of any deal to get to market. You make the IP; you should own it exclusively. Surrender this point at your peril.

When it comes to revenues, an agnostic approach to cash is often a great help. Boxed is not the enemy – it is just a further route to revenue. Even the most digital focused publisher would find the highly engaged self-directing boxed consumer a great set of eyeballs to target. With the benefit of the correct partner in the sector, a boxed release does not have to be problematic. Take all revenue possible when that opportunity is there. Plus, boxed copies of your game on shelves will further increase the discovery of your digital offering.

Finally, remember we are all in the games industry - entertainment is part of our mind-set. So however keyed in you are, or no matter how driven, leave in a little time for some fun and a look around San Francisco. 

The Develop team will be in attendence at GDC 2016, and we're keen to meet with developers and service providers helping to bring games development forwards.

If you'd like to meet with editorial, email our editor James Batchelor via jbatchelor@nbmedia.com or content director Andrew Wooden via awooden@nbmedia.com.

Senior staff writer Matt Jarvis will be holding the fort back in the UK – send any news and announcements to him via mjarvis@nbmedia.com.

For sales meetings, contact Jennie Lane via jlane@nbmedia.com or Charlotte Nangle via cnangle@nbmedia.com.

Also in attendance at GDC will be sales director Mark Rankine and events director Caroline Hicks.