What Publishers Look For In Games

By David Logan [07.09.19]

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

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

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!


Pitch Deck

Plasticity is a short experience that was brought to us by students of the USC Games Program. Check it out for free on Steam, currently with about 20-40 minutes of content and multiple endings! Taking a look at the pitch deck they submitted, let's point out some really good points when it comes to preparing a deck for your game.

Calling attention to this slide for its use of in-game assets, as it keeps the viewer grounded in the idea of the game they're looking at. Additionally, it's great material to help separate the game from other titles in the genre. It is telling how the game is being innovative.

 

Continuing the world building within the pitch, this is telling how the game is original and unique.

As mentioned above, the pitch deck is the developer's opportunity to show where the game can go past what is present in the trailer and build. By being transparent, you are building rapport with your potential publisher and they will be able to make a more informed decision on how to approach your game.

Show how serious you are in your intentions with an educated and informed production timeline. Depending on how/when you expect to be getting paid during development, this will be very helpful to a publisher in proposing a budget. Having a project budget is mandatory for a publisher to know the scope of what's needed in terms of funding. Include each team members' monthly cost, facility costs (if any), hardware, software, and stuff such as marketing expenses.


What You Need from Them

Advice for a Great Pitch

General

In-Person

Email

Paper Cut Mansion of indie developer Space Lizard Studio put together their pitch in a great looking email (even on mobile!) with good readability and succinct bullets. Everything is quick and to the point. Hyperlinks helped to highlight and draw the eye to the important things they want their reader to see; plus, it makes attaching assets like videos and builds really clean. With just a glance, a publisher already knows key points about the game - core concept, platforms, and needs. Check out ongoing development of the game on Facebook!​


The Right Fit

The first step and a crucial key to a successful pitch, and hopefully a signing, is ensuring that you are pitching to the right audience. This means really understanding your brand and what it is exactly you're trying to sell. This also entails you doing research and shopping around for publishers who are likely to be interested in you and your game. If you're lucky, you can be like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor and be approached without even pitching. The secret to this is having main publisher targets and stay in the shadows - appear at events that they will be at, appeal to their target signings, and be ready to showcase your game to them when they are ready and looking. In most cases, however, you might not be as lucky. This just means perfecting your materials to the best of your capabilities and trusting in your team and game.

An "anti-adventure" game, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor had the experience of actually never being pitched to anyone, according to developer Sundae Month. Instead, indie publisher tinyBuild approached Sundae Month to partner up after seeing an article on Killscreen (linked above). "We had a call with them where we talked about what the game was, and if I recall correctly, we showed them a build. It was something close to a horizontal slice though, with most of the environment at a moderately finished state. With Diaries that's kind of the key selling point."

What Akupara Looks For

As Akupara Games is a game publisher, we are always on the lookout for games to partner with. We believe in and support the indie developer - being uninhibited by many external factors, they are free to create truly unique and meaningful works. As a team, we choose to work on projects that we are passionate about, due to a combination of the project itself and the development studio's drive. We actively look out for and approach projects that we see or hear about across different events and avenues. Cold pitches are welcome, as we are always interested to hear about those hidden gems. Listed below are some things we consider while we are evaluating bids for projects to work on.

 

If interested in pitching to Akupara Games, you can email us at team [at] akuparagames [dot] com with a pitch deck, build, and trailer!

Conclusion

By now, you should have a good idea of what materials you will want to prepare before you start reaching out to those potential publishers. Perhaps you've already prepared these materials, and if so, hopefully there were some insightful points that you can use to improve your materials to make them even better.

Thank you for reading our short game publishing series. We really hope it proved to be useful in your growth in the indie gaming space. We love to share our experiences and knowledge!

If you have any questions after reading this, feeling something is missing, or have another topic you want us to cover, let us know on social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord.

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