Building a game pitch
Pitching is a vital skill in game development: the ability to sell your ideas externally is critical to securing funding, getting team members on the same page and even marketing your game to players.
In this step, we’ll use the example of a developer pitching a game to a publisher for funding, but the principles you learn here can be adapted to many other forms of pitching as appropriate.
If you want to attract funding, you’ll need a strong concept. A game concept consists of:
- Broad genre (eg strategy, action etc)
- Setting (eg fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk etc)
- Gameplay hook (any original or defining element of your game’s mechanics)
- Visual style
You’ll need to think about how your concept will bring value to a player, rather than just why it may be something you personally want to make.
Many game designers discount the appeal of visuals, choosing to focus mostly on gameplay elements they think will be attractive to players. The truth of the matter is that graphics are critical in gaining attention for your game, and players generally can be very judgemental about them!
On smaller budgets, you’ll likely want to focus on stylisation rather than hyper-realistic visuals: think about how your art can stand out without relying on the latest rendering technology or expensive high-resolution assets. You’ll need to be honest with yourself about how your art stacks up against other titles in the same genre.
The type of gameplay that players favour tends to vary by platform. Mobile users, in general, want highly approachable games that then broaden out into a somewhat deeper experience; PC gamers, however, are willing to endure a higher barrier-to-entry if there is a promise of extreme depth and systemic complexity.
These are very broad statements, and obviously there is a huge array of different market segments who are looking for different experiences, however the common theme here is holding the audience’s attention: this is known as “retention”.
Think about how, once your visuals have grabbed a player’s interest, your gameplay will then keep them captivated. Players can pour hundreds of hours into successful PC and console games: will that be the case with your project?
Publishers will assess concepts based on their potential to attract and retain a specific, differentiated audience. They will often look to sales data for existing titles to benchmark how yours may perform, so understanding where to position your game in the market is vital.
Platforms like Steam which show external metrics for a game’s sales performance can be a useful source of market research for this purpose; for example, you can use the number of user reviews a game receives to estimate its sales.
Developing an audience for your game prior to pitching, such as by building up a community on Discord or another social platform, can be a great way to demonstrate the potential interest in your title.
Publishers will be evaluating the development team’s capabilities as well as simply the game being pitched. Having experienced team members or advisors who have shipped successful games in the past will be a major plus point here, especially if some members of your team are new to game development.
While many publishers will not ask for a full game design document upfront, a production schedule and budget are essential.
Funding from publishers is often based on milestones: key dates that you and your team will need to hit in order to unlock the next payment. Demonstrating that you have a strong awareness of when each phase of development will be completed will help to show that you understand how to put together a project.
There are plenty of resources on scheduling and budgeting available online if you decide to investigate this further. If you’re looking for a basic starting point, take a look at veteran developer Ron Gilbert’s budget for his game Thimbleweed Park.
Putting it All Together
Eventually, you’ll want to assemble your pitch materials into a deck which consists of:
- A brief introduction to the game
- Visuals and concept art (usually a link to a pitch video)
- Further details about the game’s design and scope
- An introduction to the team and their experience
- A budget and schedule
- A link to a relevant prototype build