Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

By Billy Thomson

November 3rd 2009 at 9:00AM

Pitching, demos and presentations under the microscope

In the early years of my career the presentation of my work had always been a fairly small part of my job.
When I started off as a level designer, I simply had to do my job to the desired level of quality and in a timely fashion – there was very little call for us to actually present our work or deal with the press.

Over time I gained more experience which led to the occasional low-key presentation of my work – usually a small part of a much larger game – to a subsection of the team.

Soon after, I had a few minor interviews with the press and some basic input into a couple of pitches to a publisher. For the best part of ten years that was about it, nice and simple and very little pressure.
Then, just before we released Crackdown, that all started to change. Over the course of around four months I had to present our entire team’s work through a large number of gameplay demos, as well as written, audio and video interviews with the press to get the gaming world interested in the title.

Since the game was released I’ve had to do numerous pitches, full team presentations and a lot of press interviews, which is looking likely to turn into a lot more in the coming months as everyone seems to want to know more about Crackdown 2. It’s all been really exciting but, I won’t lie to you, at times it’s nearly been a case of ‘new pants please’.

Pitches
It all starts with the pitch. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve pitched an idea to a publisher in the last year, but while I can’t remember the exact number I can vividly remember the anxiety it can bring on when you have to sit down in front of some of the most important people in your industry and sell them your idea.

If I’m honest I think I was rubbish in my first pitch: I had too much information on the slides which I practically read verbatim, and then when asked a question I rambled on for too long about features that I now believe were less important than others. I’m probably being a bit harsh on myself but that’s the way I see it now.

Thankfully, I work with some great guys who helped me fine tune the technique to the point that my last pitch had a single line per slide that I talked around rather than read; I applied all my focus on the key areas, answering questions easily and in short time. I’m a long way from mastering the art of the pitch, but I am far more confident in my ability now than I was a year ago.

Demos and Interviews

Demos are generally pretty easy, providing you have a good, stable build to demo. Unfortunately, more often than not you don’t. In the past demos have always seemed to come at a time when the game was not really ready to show. This usually means that, rather than really showing off the highlights of your game, you’re actually doing your best to avoid the broken bits while you do the best with what you have.

Interviews on the other hand can be tricky buggers. For some reason I’m never that relaxed around the press, they bring me out in a cold sweat. Probably because I’ve got a tendency to be misquoted and end up sounding like a dick – at least that’s my excuse. Seriously, just say my name and then the words ‘Absolutely, definitely’ to anyone I’ve worked with and they’ll piss themselves laughing. The press also seem to love misspelling my surname – there’s no ‘P’ in ‘Thomson’ – much to my parents' annoyance and the joy of the team at Ruffian.

Team-wide Presentations

This is the one I’m probably most comfortable with. Team-wide presentations are still a little daunting, but I really enjoy having the chance to talk to the entire team and tell them about everything that’s planned for the game and for the company moving forward. It’s incredible how often people working on a game only know about the small section that they are responsible for. This peculiarity has been a real frustration to me over the years, and is thankfully something we at Ruffian have done our very best to eliminate through constant communication and transparency from the management team right down to the most junior team member.

I know how beneficial these presentations can be to the team, but I also realise that I don’t do enough of them due to the heavy workload we all seem to have these days. It’s definitely something I hope to address in the coming months.