You’ve got your game in development, and decided you need a partner to help make it bigger. That’s a smart idea - you want to focus on the game itself and have an experienced partner help you get your creation in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
This article is meant to help you effectively pitch your game to publishers, journalists, you tubers, streamers, or anyone you meet.
(I don’t like to use the word "publisher", but let’s just use it instead of a partner that helps you make your game more successful — it’s shorter).
You’re in an elevator. I’m standing there in a stupid orange hat. We have 6 seconds before the floor is hit. I ask you about what game you’re working on. Practice that reply.
Being as cheesy as “Mario Kart As a 2D Platformer” works. It gives me an idea of what the game is, and spawns a conversation. “Does it work online?” I’d ask, and if you tell me it’s a competitive online platformer — we might just have a SpeedRunners.
Think about what makes your game interesting. Sometimes being generic and referencing other games works. “Have you ever had loud neighbors?” (everyone will nod or say yes), “Did you ever want to stab them? That’s the game” and you might have a Party Hard.
Notice how the pitch is very similar to what is in the final game pitch to the public and journalists. It needs to have context. “Fishing with Machine Guns” for Ridiculous Fishing, A Math Puzzler About Slicing Sheep in Half for Divide By Sheep.
Make sure to practice this in front of the mirror, say it loud and clear. Don’t go deep into explaining the mechanics, just get people interested. Be memorable. It helps if you’re memorable as well. If it’s e-mail, just add something personal to it - a gif of you doing something, or even better a good gif of the game.
Let’s assume you got me interested. At this point it doesn’t matter if I’m a publisher, or a journalist, a platform holder — whatever. Show me good visuals. In an e-mail, make a stunning (and under 2mb) gif of the game. Just drop it into the body of the mail.
Do not think it’s rude to make e-mails short and spot-on. Same with personal meetings. Everyone’s time is valuable, and if you feel like writing a novel works better than a short, spot-on message, you need to understand that people’s time is very limited. So is the attention span of potential users. If it catches my eyes within a crowded environment when you are showing live visuals, odds are it will catch attention of users, Youtubers, streamers, and the press.
If you’re sending an e-mail, include a “naked” Youtube link to the trailer and/or gameplay montage. Make sure the interesting things are visible within 5 seconds of the video (yes, you will lose people at that long splash screen!). Most e-mail clients now preview video links to Youtube, and it’s effortless to click on a link to watch a quick video. Especially if I had already seen a cool gif in the body of the mail. All of this applies to press/media/users too.
Don’t go deep into the story behind the game, and especially don’t write a novel-sized text. Use short, easy to scan bulletpoints why you think your game is great. Do something to stand out there. Be clear, spot-on.
Notice how I’m writing this article? Short sentences. Nothing complex. It’s easy to read because I don’t use long sentences, where the structure gets complex, because I write very easy, and also in the beginning of the article I mention your pitch should be great and short, but this sentence is already getting too complicated and dumb and at this point the reader will just drop off. Stop doing what I just did here in this paragraph. Actually do this instead
Keep it simple. If I like what I’ve seen so far, including the gif and trailer, and the brief description that I’ll spend about 10 seconds scanning, we will get on a call to talk about what you actually need, your ideas on how to release it, etc.
If you need funding, explain why and what it’ll be used for.
If you released games before, that’s a huge encouragement - we know you can complete projects.
Make a build that has a vertical slice of gameplay. Something that shows off why your game can be fun. Think of it like this — if this build was at a convention, where thousands of people walk by, how can you make them interested in picking up the controller, to easily understand the mechanics, and to continue playing?
Getting this done properly is best achieved with just going to any kind of public gaming showcase. Search for anything in your area, it doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Get something together, get a laptop, and see how people react. The first time we showcased SpeedRunners at PAX we were literally squatting at a convention with a laptop strapped to Luke’s neck, and 4 controllers hanging on velcro. We realized people like very specific things, and focused on them.
Look for what makes people smile. And for fucks sake, do not try to explain to people how to play it — see what they naturally try to do vs explaining it. You have the option to present visual, interactive information on the screen. Don’t detract the player with talking about the game, just lean back and observe what he’s trying to do based on what he sees. Take notes on what he doesn’t understand, and improve your build based on that.
Get that build to a publisher and we’ll squeal, thinking about how great it’d work at a showcase, how easy it is to get into.
We signed Party Hard on a napkin at a showcase. Right there I got a napkin out, wrote down deal terms and what we could do, and signed it as a commitment to publishing. It’s because I saw exactly how we could sell the game to hundreds of thousands of people by showing it at shows, and talked with the dev about specifics of where they’re going, what they want to do, etc.
You got your build, great. Send it over as a dropbox link. Seriously, jus use Dropbox -- we are often traveling and have crappy wifi, doing a "save to my dropbox" works perfectly because the file will eventually download.
If you had Lets Plays of your build, that’s fantastic! Even if they’re not great or from huge players, send them over. It’s important to see how the ever-changing and evolving landscape of “new media” (you tubers, streamers, and who knows what’s next) reacts to your game.
Congratulations! You have just increased your chances of getting published, featured by the media, or getting a great platform deal. Even better, people will recognize your game now!
Now even if you decide to go alone, the groundwork you did will help your game become more successful.
This is a tough one! We’re all game devs here, we’re mostly socially awkward. I can’t stand crowds. I get anxiety attacks when surrounded by people I don’t know. It’s difficult to talk to new people. What will they thin of me? What if they think I’m dumb? I went through all of that. Don’t worry, and don’t be afraid to come on in and start a conversation.
Fake it till you make it is the best advice I have here. Just walk around with an iPad or a large phone if you get to a networking event, and just present it in front of a group of people that are talking. Ask for feedback. The game dev community is generally very supportive and warm.
Being memorable is something you should think about. Something as simple as wearing a stupid orange hat goes a long way. I have horrible memory for faces, but if you have a distinctive feature about your look — that stands out, just be consistent about it.
Practice talking loud and clear. Take out your phone right now, and get the voice recorder opened — and tell your pitch out loud. Listen back to it. Can you understand it clearly? Try again. Practice in front of a mirror. I have a thick accent, and often a lisp. It’s important that people understand me, so practice is key. This will help you in any kind of social interaction in general. Ask your friends if you usually talk loud enough. In a crowded space, it’s very important to talk loud enough so that everyone can hear you.
You never know if the other party will be interested, so might as well try and see what happens than be shy and not try at all.