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Pitching to Publishers

Pitching to Publishers. Straightforward advice to improve the chances of getting your game signed. Introduction

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Pitching to Publishers

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  1. Pitching to Publishers Straightforward advice to improve the chances of getting your game signed

  2. Introduction • This handout is designed as a simple guide for developers to improve the way they present their games to prospective publishers and thus increase their chance of getting projects signed up. It covers several areas, some of which are general and others of which are more specific – such as advice on attending trade shows and using Powerpoint presentations. • It was written by Caspar Gray, Product Acquisitions Coordinator for Eidos. He has worked in Product Acquisitions for SCi (now Eidos) since 2002. In that time, he has attended all the major trade shows, met developers from every continent, assessed over 2000 game pitches and signed more than a dozen titles. He is based at the Eidos head office in Wimbledon, London, UK.

  3. Selecting Publishers to Approach • First of all, decide how many projects you want to show - one or two presented carefully will have much more impact than five crammed into a thirty-minute meeting. • Then, go through your publisher list and decide who to target. Selecting the right publishers to speak to and contacting them to get the name(s) of the acquisitions staff can make a huge difference to your chances of success. • Use each publisher's website to assess their current portfolio and think about whether your game would fit with their existing titles - Do they concentrate on certain genres and platforms? Do they prefer licensed or original projects? Do they have a gap in a particular genre? Then contact them by email and follow up with phone calls if necessary. • If people do refuse you meetings, contact them by email or phone and try and find out why, so that you can narrow your focus next time around.

  4. Preparing a pitch • A lot of these points are common sense, but you'd be surprised how many of them people forget! • Do take notes in every meeting. You won't remember everything and without notes, all the meetings will blur into one another and you will have a hard time following up afterwards. If more than one of you is attending, have one person take notes while the other one speaks. • Don't wait until your meeting to ask publishers to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Many publishers will only sign NDAs that have been vetted by their legal department, so put one in place ahead of the meeting, otherwise the meeting may be wasted. You might want to consider having a cut-down version of your presentation suitable for people who haven't signed an NDA, to use if you get any "walk-in" meeting traffic at shows. • Do talk to other developers. Whilst you are nominally competing for the publishers' attention, in fact you are much more likely to be working on very different types of game. Make new friends and get useful recommendations, introductions and advice.

  5. Do get lots and lots of business cards. More than you think you'll need. You will get through them far faster than you expect and you don't want to run out. Keep some on you at all times at shows as you never know who you will end up talking to over lunch or at the social events in the evening. • Do decorate your booth at shows with beautiful concept art and striking posters. It will help you interest and intrigue people before you even begin your presentation. A big poster on the door of your booth helps people spot it from a distance too! • Don't play loud music in your booth. It's inconsiderate, unprofessional and not fair on your neighbours. No matter how good your trailer music is, everyone will be sick of it by the end of the show. • Do make sure you have an adequate supply of refreshments in your booth at shows. Meeting after meeting takes its toll and many of your contacts will be glad of a glass of water or soft drink and biscuit or sweet. • Do bring your best presenter and make sure they practice. The way in which your presentation is delivered is as important as what you are saying. A well-structured, professionally delivered presentation says to a publisher "This is a company that is well-run, efficient and does things right." - that may not always be true in reality, but a sloppy, muddled presentation will certainly put you on the back foot.

  6. Do check and double check all of your equipment before your meeting. Even if you checked it before you left the office - gremlins always seem to creep in when you transport things. This is particularly true for shows, where you will be taking more equipment. Make sure all consoles and PCs are functioning correctly and can output to your monitors correctly. Make sure your speaker system works. • Don’t forget to take appropriate plug adaptors if you’re traveling to another region of the world. Remember to charge your mobile phones and laptops. • Don't see any meeting as wasted. Even if the demo crashes, the publisher appears utterly disinterested or you lose your voice, you can learn something from every meeting. If you discover a publisher is not interested, you've saved yourself the trouble of pitching to them fruitlessly in future. Remember to question people on what they did and didn't like from your presentation, so that you can constantly improve it.

  7. Creating a good early impression • You’re trying to convince the publisher to not only get behind the game concept but also convince them that your company can deliver the game on time and budget, while being a pleasure to do business with. Poor quality presenting can put you at a big disadvantage – especially since there are many other developers to compare you with! • I would say that the key perceptions to get across are: professionalism, openness, a clear vision for your project, confidence in the project (while having an understanding of potential risks) and an understanding of the publisher's needs. • At the start of the meeting, introduce yourself and hand over your business cards. This should get you the publisher representatives' ones in return. Knowing the role of the person who you are pitching to allows you to tailor your presentation depending on their background. For instance, you should make it less technical if they don’t come from a development background. Don't forget to use the correct method when exchanging cards with Japanese contacts – use both hands, read carefully and acknowledge (also don’t write on and place in your uppermost pocket if putting away.) • At shows, avoid letting your meeting space get too crowded. It makes for awkward meetings and can appear unprofessional. If the publisher brings more people than expected, get one of your team to take a break.

  8. Presenting an idea • Ask how long they've got for the meeting and alter your pitch accordingly. Prepare two or three lengths of presentation to use as necessary. If things do overrun, let your contacts go when they need to, rather than asking them to stay while you finish. That comes across as highly unprofessional and indicates poor planning (if your meeting overruns, will your project?) It's all about creating the right perception. There is always time to follow up later. • Speak slowly and clearly, especially if either you or the listener is not a native speaker of the language you are using. When presenting, always go slower than you think you need to (your perception of time gets warped - what seems to you like a huge pause will go unnoticed by your listener.) I recommend taking a presentation skills course if at all possible as it can be one of the most cost effective and worthwhile investments you can make to help your project. If the project could benefit from a new software package, you would learn how to use it, so consider taking the same care when it comes to selling the project. • Start with a punchy, one paragraph summary to get the core ideas of the project across. Cover the experience the player will have (what is the fantasy you are selling?) and outline what the market positioning of the game will be. Mention the strongest one or two key features / selling points, as well as the proposed platforms and the projected release date. I recommend you don't mention the cost of the project at this point – wait until later in the presentation when you've got them hooked! However, if they ask, do tell them or you will appear evasive.

  9. This is a good time to show a teaser video if you have one, before embarking on a short presentation and then moving onto a playable demo (if you have one) and wrapping up with questions. • While talking, watch the listener’s body language and match theirs. If they are getting excited about the game, you can be a bit more animated. If they are being more reserved, perhaps keep things a bit more formal. Bear in mind cultural differences. If they appear negative towards the project, ask them and find out why - negative feedback is just as useful as positive. • Crucially, ask lots of questions of each potential publisher. Don't forget to talk to other developers to get the low-down on publishers they have already worked with or pitched to. Different publishers have different needs and approaches that you will only discern by talking to them or people who have dealt with them. For instance, say the publisher has a big hit title and your title is similar. Some publishers will be keen to sign similar games to repeat their success, others will not want to step on their big hit's toes, and will not sign anything similar.

  10. The success of your project (and possibly the survival of your company) is going to depend on the company you chose, so gather as much information as possible. Which formats are they focusing on? Are there any genres they won’t consider? Do they have any specific gaps in their portfolio? How many projects do their producers handle at once? How often do they visit? How is their sales and marketing department set up? Do they focus on their main franchises only? Do they prefer to front or back-weight their development deals? Do they sign multi-product deals? Do they look to acquire developers at the end of successful projects? • If you're going to give out goodies, keep them simple and make sure they are good quality. A stylish pen is far more likely to get used regularly than a novelty mascot and will thus give your name better exposure. It’s worth having samples of previously shipped games to give out, as it shows a track record of completing projects and hopefully shows off the quality of work you are capable of.

  11. Powerpoint Advice • A Powerpoint slideshow can be a very powerful tool for presenting your game, but there are a couple of common pitfalls to avoid. By far the most common of these is reading out exactly what is on your slides! This makes for an incredibly dull presentation, means you are facing away from your audience most of the time and insults the audience’s intelligence (they can read you know!) But people still do it, generally because they are not confident presenting. • Instead, your slides should just be an outline to help you structure your oral presentation to the audience. Spend most of the time talking directly to the audience, only referring to the slides when necessary. • The second most common mistake is cramming the slides with too much information – paragraph after paragraph of text. A good piece of advice is to try and stick to the ‘rule of five’ when preparing slides – no more than five points per slide and no more than five words per point. This isn’t an absolute rule obviously, but if you try your utmost to keep to it your slides will be clear and concise. • In keeping with my earlier advice of having different versions of your presentation to cope with contacts who arrive late and have less time, design the Powerpoint to have some optional slides than can be omitted completely if necessary to save time.

  12. Before you start, tell your audience that you are going to give them a copy of the presentation so they don't need to copy it out. This will mean they can pay more attention to what you’re saying but don't get annoyed if they do take some notes - they are probably getting down a few key figures, comparing your proposal to others or making notes on your approach & attitude. • The key thing with Powerpoint is not to use it as a crutch or as a substitute for having someone who understands the game and is confident presenting it. Use it as an outline and an introduction to the project. Don’t forget to proof read it and check for spelling mistakes! Also, remember to update it if crucial facts and figures (such as budget, timeline and expected platforms) change!

  13. Demo Advice • Another important facet of your presentation is letting the publisher try a hands-on demo of the game. This can be the most persuasive part of the presentation and anything you can do to make it a user-friendly experience will help things go smoothly. • When showing a demo or letting the publisher play it, explain what features the demo is showing off - the listener may not spot them (especially if they are from a non-technical background) and they can only judge/be wowed by things they know about. Encourage them to get "hands on" and play the game for themselves – this is the best way of convincing someone that the gameplay works and is fun! • I suggest making the demo as much as possible a mini-level. Give it a beginning, a middle and an end (a nice movie or even just a screen saying “well done for finishing the demo” and giving some bullet points). A sandbox tech demo is fine for technical people, but non-technical people, especially from marketing, need to see something that looks like a game rather than a test-bed.

  14. Include a help screen showing the control layout and make it easily accessible (one button press) as it is often easier to pick up the controls for a new game by seeing a picture of the controller than by someone telling you them verbally (I certainly find this to be the case personally). Also, don’t make your debug mode too easy to access, as you don’t want the player blundering into it by mistake. • Try and signpost interesting features in the demo as much as possible – remember that the audience may not pick up on things on their own. • And finally, practise the demo! Some publisher representatives may not want to try the demo and others may not be accomplished gamers so be prepared to take the reins yourself if necessary.

  15. Following up & post presentation tips • You’ve finished your meeting and traveled safely home. How do you ensure that all your hard work doesn’t go to waste? By following up your meetings promptly, politely and determinedly, that’s how. • First of all, try to go over your notes as soon as possible after the meeting, to make sure everything is clear in your mind. You might want to consider typing them up; especially if you are someone like me whose handwriting is so bad you can’t work out what you wrote a week ago! • Rank the publisher meetings you had in order of level of interest expressed, grouping them into ‘strong interest’, ‘possibly interested’ and ‘not interested’. This will help you focus on those contacts that are most likely to lead to a deal and also identify back up options if things don’t work out with your preferred choice. • However, I recommend following up by email with all the contacts within a week of your meeting, even to those with no interest, to say thank you for the meeting and cement the contact for the long term. Obviously, you’ll write longer emails to those publishers who are more interested, but try and send some form of email, no matter how short, to every contact.

  16. Now, how to follow up your hottest leads? The best asset you can have is an eloquent advocate for your project inside the publisher, so maintaining a good relationship with your acquisitions contact is essential. • Once again, showing professionalism is the key. If you promised to send materials to them after the meeting, give them a firm timetable for when the materials will be available and deliver them on time. Ask your contact what their preferred methods of communication and transfer of materials are. Some people prefer email, others telephone. Some will be happy to use FTP to receive materials whereas others may want everything sent on disc. • Don’t hassle your contact constantly. They almost certainly have other people to follow up with and nothing is more unprofessional than bombarding someone with unwanted calls or emails. Ask your contact what the process is for assessing a potential signing at their company and how long they expect it to take. Who will be making the decisions at each point in the process? What sort of supporting materials will your contact need to argue the case for your game? When will the publisher want to visit your offices? Once you know the timetable, you will know how often to speak to your contact to check on progress.

  17. Be wary of publishers asking for large amounts of unpaid work before any deal is signed. Decide in advance how much you are prepared to provide before they put pen to paper and stick to your guns when necessary. Obviously, the more interested parties you have, the stronger your position. Hopefully you will successfully place your game with a publisher, but for any publisher that turns the game down, do not be afraid to ask for the reasons behind the decision. If you have acted professionally and courteously, they really owe it to you to explain their reasoning. • In the long term, I suggest emailing or calling each contact every three months or so to find out what that publisher’s current needs are (and to make sure your contact is still at that company and their details are the same.) Always contact a publisher if you think their preferences may have changed – for example if they have undergone a merger, received an injection of funding or have announced games on new platforms.

  18. Thank you for reading! • If you have any questions or feedback regarding this presentation or if you would like to pitch a game to me, please contact me by email: casparg@eidos.co.uk • Feel free to pass this handout on to anyone who could benefit from it, but please don’t edit or reproduce it for personal gain without my permission. • All content © Caspar Gray 2006-2007

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