[EDITOR'S NOTE: Continuing their "Schadenfreudian Slips" columns for Gamasutra, notable, and more than a little eccentric German game company Schadenfreude Interactive presents this guide on how to pitch your game to a publisher, or more specifically - how to pitch your game to Schadenfreude Interactive, if it involves renegade beekeepers.]
Since Schadenfreude Interactive, GmbH is a publisher as well as a developer, we do accept game ideas from the public (anything to save us a bit of work). Once a month we hold an “Open Haus” and welcome in game designers to present their ideas. We have not yet produced a game from any of these pitches, but as they say, you must kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your Peter Molyneux.1) Present your design, and yourself, in a professional manner.
One young game designer had such unpleasant personal hygiene that we had to bring our office goat, Ziggy, into the conference room in order to freshen the air! Although I have never met the man, I can reasonably assure you that Sid Meier does not smell like a barrel of unwashed socks (please do not tell me if this is otherwise, as it would crush all of my dreams). Also, if you have a prototype to show us, have it up and running on your laptop. Please do not expect us to provide any hardware, like a monitor, speakers or cables, especially if you have brought some freakish computer like a Macintosh.
You should also have several neatly printed copies of your game design -- I cannot stress how important this is. Once a designer brought in a game design scrawled on a napkin. We could make neither head nor tails of it, as it looked like a jumble of interconnected triangles and mathematical formulae. From what I could figure, it was either the “Schrodinger's Cat” thought experiment in quantum theory or a QBert clone.
In the midst of this pitch, Otto arrived late (as usual) and, in his haste to be seated, knocked over my coffee cup. I grabbed the nearest thing available to mop the spill, which was, unfortunately, the young man's game design/napkin. We apologized profusely, but he said it was no problem as he had brought a backup copy. He then rummaged through various pockets and finally brought out a crumpled Niederegger Marzipan wrapper. There, on the back, were the tiny interconnected triangles...
...and a little leftover chunk of marzipan, which the game designer promptly removed and ate while we watched in amazement.
Otto got very annoyed (as usual) and threw the “game designer” out of the office. He never did come back to claim the wrapper. I apologize if this infringes on anyone's intellectual property, but I think there is no fear of anyone actually using his design:
2) Have an original idea.
Shakespeare said “there is nothing new under the sun”. Mein Gott, I am so very, very tired of that quote. But it is true...I cannot tell you how many times we have heard these very same pitches:
...it's like The Oregon Trail, but with zombies.
...it's like Ninja Gaiden, but with pirates.
...it's like Pirates!, but with ninjas.
...it's like Chubby Gristle for the Amiga, but with zombies, pirates, and ninjas.
We are tired of games about zombies, pirates and ninjas. What would be refreshing? Games about bicycle repairmen, beekeepers, and Morris dancers, just off the top of my head.
3) Think it all the way through.
In 1912, Franz Reichelt jumped from the Eiffel Tower wearing an overcoat-parachute that was his very own remarkable, though, sadly, final invention. Clearly this was a case of not thinking things through and imagining all possible outcomes. Amateur game designers do not risk quite as much bodily harm as amateur parachute designers, but both can be expected to produce horribly messy flops. Before you present your game idea, there are questions you need to ask yourself, as we are going to ask them of you:
Why does your main character have amnesia?
Why are there commercial shipping crates on a prehistoric island?
Where did these robot frogs come from?
You do realize, don't you, that the Star Trek “holodeck” is a fictional conceit?
Do you have permission to use the Batman and Wolverine characters you've used here?
You really think Batman would beat Wolverine in a fight?
Yes, but what if he didn't have his stupid Bat-belt?
Are you serious? Don't you know he's made of adamantium, for crying out loud?
Make sure you are prepared with answers, as it will save us all a lot of time and trouble.
4) Don't be overprotective of your idea. There are millions of ideas out there, what really matters is the implementation.
Here in our offices, we come up with many excellent game ideas each day (at least two before lunch) but we rarely implement any of them. And we are a game company! Think how far you will get, you who do not even know how to empty your browser cache. Game ideas are like baby photos – lots of people carry them around everywhere and whip them out at the drop of a hat, but 99.9% of the time they really aren't anything special.
Except my little nephew Klaus, isn't he adorable?
One designer came in with a manila folder actually entitled “The Greatest Game Design Ever”. He would not, however, show us the contents of the folder. Apparently he was afraid we would steal his incredible idea. In fact, he would tell us nothing about the game at all, despite our repeated questions. I ended up bringing everyone from the office into the conference room and turning the interview into a game of charades or Pictionary:
Is it bigger than a breadbox?
Can you use a driving wheel with it?
Can you use a dance pad with it?
Can you use a Hello Kitty waffle iron with it?
Is it anything like Resident Evil?
Is it anything like A-10 Tank Killer?
Is it anything like Leather Goddesses Of Phobos?
Is it set in a post-apocalyptic universe?
Is it set in a pre-apocalyptic universe?
Is the main character a renegade hitman with amnesia?
Is the main character a beekeeper?
Is the main character a renegade beekeeper with amnesia?
After he left, the conference room whiteboard looked like this:
In the end, we still didn't know much about "The Greatest Game Ever", but we hadn't had such a good time since that Christmas party in 1998 when Otto drove his new Porsche 911 into our marketing VP's swimming pool.
Being a game designer is a tough business... if these stories are making you think twice, perhaps it is not the business for you. You might want to take up something less challenging, such as bicycle repair. I have also heard that beekeeping can be a rewarding profession. I would not, however, recommend Morris dancing, as it does not pay very well and you also look very silly.