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  • What Publishers Look For In Games

    [07.09.19]
    - David Logan
  • Publishing 101 | Publishing 102 | Publishing 103


    This is David Logan, CEO of Akupara Games, and I'm back with the final part of my game publishing trilogy! For those of you who have stumbled across this series for the first time, let me direct you to the original article that aims to guide you to making the decision to self-publish or partner with another studio to publish your game. After that, you can learn how to find the best game publisher for you in the follow up article. Take your time; I'll be here for you when you're ready!

    All caught up? Great! By now, you've decided that a publisher route is exactly the way you want to go, found some great potential publisher fits, and know what you might want to talk to them about once you've got your foot in the door. Now what? Well, it's time for you to craft your pitch and materials, get noticed, and actually get your foot in the door!

    The Basics

    These are the primary materials that you will want to prepare as you begin reaching out to publishers. It may seem like a lot, but you really want to be prepared and confident in your own idea and to leave the best impression possible. With the following materials you are telling the publishers that you are a serious studio, and have already poured a ton of time, sweat, and thought into your game.

    Trailer

    • A good trailer will pique the interest of publishers before anything else

    • Be clear about what the game is all about - concept, plot, genre, gameplay, etc

      • The most effective way for your pitch to be dismissed is if there are too many unanswered questions about basic things after watching your trailer

      • Your game's content should be clear to the viewer

    • A trailer is a really powerful asset because it provides a good peek at how all the aspects of the world you're creating come together - audio, art, design, etc.

      • This will be one of the few opportunities for them to see your game come to life during your pitch, as most other material will be text and still images

      • Be careful that you aren't hiding something vital through the trailer; in which case, a publisher may just prefer concept art and a prototype

    • Make sure that your trailer does your creation justice and accurately represents what you want to showcase at that moment

    • Let your trailer shine and show what makes it unique

      • What will make people talk about your game?

      • How are they going to talk about it after watching it?

    • Check out "How To Make an Indie Game Trailer | Game Maker's Toolkit" on YouTube

    Subnautica was developed and self-published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. The focus of their trailer is creating a cinematic experience, like something you'd see before the latest superhero movie. It tells a clear story, starting with an immediate hook, transitioning to the studio's logo, gameplay footage, voice over detailing the player experience that feels congruent with the game's theme, and then ramping up in intensity until it hits a chilling button to finish out the trailer. It even sprinkles in pull quotes from Youtube influencers rather than traditional media outlets.

    Team Cherry's Hollow Knight has a more simplified trailer whose primary focus is gameplay. By showcasing the game's mechanics and aesthetics, it allows the viewer insight to a game that has multiple areas, enemies, bosses, skills, and much more. A trap that this trailer did not fall into was overlaying music over each scene; rather, it kept the scenes intact with sound effects as music accompanied these scenes. Without those sound effects, your game doesn't feel as alive or realized - it just feels flat. It's important to note that this trailer also features on screen text to fill in the gaps of viewer's knowledge. A two minute trailer is never going to be enough to show everyone the fine details, so don't be afraid to drop in with some text to make sure everyone's on the same page.

    Demo/Build

    • Having something working and playable will help tremendously in your pitch

      • Ensure your demo plays well, has been playtested, and free of major bugs/glitches that prevent the demo from being fully experienced

        • If your game involves puzzles or sections where the player has to input information, make sure that people outside of your circle of development are able to also progress with ease

      • Including a document with your demo that outlines how to play the game and controls will be greatly appreciated

    • Demos show how ideas have turned into something realized

      • It should provide a player both excitement for and expectations of what's to come

        • Of course, it's not out of the realm for a demo to not be completely representative of the final product in visual assets or complex mechanics

    • Use your demo as an opportunity to focus on the uniqueness and difficulties of the game, i.e. proof of concept

      • Prioritize fun gameplay over graphics

    • Use your demo as a chance to show off excellent writing skills if dialogue is a big part of your game

    • It's understood that the build of your game will not have finalized assets, so don't be afraid of having placeholders

      • Be sure it's easy to tell if something is a placeholder

        • It can mislead or misrepresent your design if a placeholder looks like it belongs, but does not look great

    • Know whether you want to work towards a Vertical Slice of your game versus an Alpha or Beta

      • A Vertical Slice gives the best impression of what the final product will be in a short bite-sized piece

        • It is like a single slice of a dressed up cake with all the layers, frosting, decorations, and candles

        • Mechanic-based or multiplayer games may be better presented as vertical slices, so publishers can see the final quality of the product

      • An Alpha isn't as polished of an experience, but shows the entire game from start to finish

        • This is the entire cake, baked and frosted, but it doesn't have all the sprinkles and decorations on it

        • Story-based games or games with a strong single player may be better presented as alphas, so the publisher can see the full intended experience

      • A Beta is a more polished Alpha build, that has everything the final game would, except may need final tweaks in design and bug-fixing

        • This is the best of both worlds - high fidelity and polish, and nearly final content

        • Betas take the most time though, so although they present best, they also would have cost the most to get here

    • Above all, make sure your demo is fun to play

      • Leave the people playing your demo grasping for more by the end of it

      • Focus on the fun and stray away from anything that might be frustrating and keeping people from finishing your demo

    Indie developer EggNut made excellent use of the Steam store by providing a free demo of their film-noir inspired adventure game. The demo provides a great example of what a Vertical Slice looks like. By offering a free demo, users were able to experience what feels like full and realized game and the opportunity to provide their feedback to further improve it. By being on Steam it helps generate Steam Wishlists, which are vital to getting sales on the game's launch. It also has an excellent button on the ending to really get you hooked. Check it out on Steam!

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