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  • How To Pitch A Video Game

    [07.22.21]
    - Lukasz Hacura

  • When to pitch

    On the one hand, you want to pitch as soon as possible, to check if your idea has any chance to take off. On the other hand, there is this very fragile moment in the conception of the idea, that feedback can kill it too soon. The most common scenario is that you start pitching when you have things thought out.

    Sony published a blog recently that clearly stated you should have something visual to present the game, and a build or a prototype would be the best way to do it. You can find similar sentiment shared throughout the years both from publishers and platform holders.

    Most discussions I had with publishers indicated that they want to know about the possibility of cooperation as soon as possible, even a simple logline that includes a genre so that they can share with you if there is a possibility of a deal. Then they like to be updated regularly about the conception progress. Still, serious discussions about funding start with a full-blown pitch document and end with a prototype or a vertical slice. Of course, there are exceptions. Especially if you have a long track record or history of cooperation with that publisher or have zero experience and no track record, sometimes just a pitch is enough to get the funding for the first scenario, and you usually can't have any serious discussions without a vertical slice in the latter.

    Analysis of examples of loglines

    We covered many different ways you can pitch your game, but the most important one is still the logline - those couple of sentences that define your game fantasy. That is why I will now break down some examples to deepen the topic.

    Papers Please

    Let us start with a clean slate case study, an indie game made by Lucas Pope called Papers Please. We know the game won numerous awards, had massive critical acclaim, overwhelmingly positive user score, and sold well, so it should be easy to pitch, right? An example logline could go like this:

    Paper Please Promo Art 1

    Papers Please is a puzzle game where you need to match certain administrative rules with the actual state of papers of people that try to cross the border. The game becomes more complex and ramps up the difficulty as you continue, all in a unique pixel art setting.

    Sounds good, right? You add that promo art to it, and you are good. Well, wrong, that was a horrible pitch. Technically everything that was written there was correct, but I failed to build a compelling mental picture. There is no hook, no player fantasy, nothing. Let's try this again.

    Papers Please Promo Art 2In Papers Please, you are an immigrant inspector at a border checkpoint in the communist state of Arstotzka. Every day you make life and death decisions about the fate of people wanting to cross, and you weigh that against your family's survival and your moral compass. Glory to Arstotzka!

    Now that was a good pitch. From now on, this is how you pitch. There are still things to tweak here like for example, the game does not convey what camera the game will be in and how we will control the action. With Papers Please being a unique puzzle game, it is hard to do it with references, so maybe a mockup would be a good idea because adding another sentence with the word "puzzle" in it would not do the game justice, in my opinion.

    Let's go through a couple of Steam store descriptions. Those should be a good example of a logline because you need to convey in just a few sentences what the game is about. It is a bit easier because you have a game capsule above the description, and the description itself is shown alongside a trailer or a screenshot, but still, it should be really good.

    This War of Mine

    "In This War of Mine, you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city; struggling with lack of food, medicine and constant danger from snipers and hostile scavengers. The game provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle."

    SUPERHOT

    "SUPERHOT is the first-person shooter where time moves only when you move. No regenerating health bars. No conveniently placed ammo drops. It's just you, outnumbered and outgunned, grabbing weapons off fallen enemies to shoot, slice, and maneuver through a hurricane of slow-motion bullets."

    Both This War of Mine and SUPERHOT has a really good store description, in my opinion, while keeping in mind that you show that with a trailer and screenshots. This does not need to have a clear description of what the actual gameplay looks like.

    Empire of Sin

    "Empire of Sin is a new strategy game brought to you by Romero Games and Paradox Interactive that puts you at the heart of the ruthless criminal underworld of 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago."

    I do not like this description. First of all, Romer Games and Paradox Interactive are shown right below that description on the Steam page, so it is a waste to emphasize it. Empire of Sin fits nicely into a "tactical" game genre, and instead, in the description, the broader "strategy" genre is used. The setting description is nice, but I do not know who I play in this: A police officer? A mob boss? A grunt gangster?

    Gamedec

    "Gamedec is a single-player cyberpunk isometric RPG. You are a game detective who solves crimes inside virtual worlds. Use your wits to gather info from your witnesses and suspects, getting to the bottom of deceptive schemes. The game continually adapts to your decisions and never judges."

    Clearly stated genre, who you are, and the two USPs - being a game detective, and that the game is about choices and consequences with no right answers. The jury is still out if we need the third sentence here because it is more fluff than distilled information.

    Diablo

    We can even go back to the last century and see the original pitch for Diablo. The logline looks like this:

    Diablo 1 LoglineWhile it aged quite well, you have the USP and a clear focus on an audience, what is deeply missing is: "Who am I? What am I doing? Why is it cool?" But the next paragraph looks like this:

    Diablo 1 Game Design Fragment

    Now I am good.

    Distrust

    Except for Gamedec, one of the games made by my company, every example here was of a fairly big, well know the game or from some big names. Let try the same approach with a less know game to prove a point.

    At the time of me writing this, the Steam store description for DISTRUST was:

    "DISTRUST is an isometric survival adventure with procedural generation on an Arctic research station lost in the endless dark of a polar night. A story-rich fiction with multiple endings that suits both single-player fans and co-op enthusiasts."

    Alongside a promo art that looks like this:

    Distrust Promo Art

    The title, setting, and facial expression, clearly points toward a horror aspect of the game. The game genre builds a pretty nice picture of the game except, I still don't know, "Who am I? What do I do? And partially - why is it cool?" Let's try to tweak it a bit:

    • While procedural generation is a big feature, I do not think it's a main selling point of DISTRUST, and if it was, I would point to re-playability, not the tech
    • There is a nice description of the setting, but the player fantasy is missing
    • Game goal or antagonist would be nice to setup
    • Mentioning coop is important; it should stay

    "DISTRUST is an isometric survival adventure on an Arctic research station, where you play as a scientist sent on a rescue op, where you quickly find out that weather is the least of your problems. A story-rich fiction with multiple endings that suits both single-player fans and co-op enthusiasts."

    I like this one better, but we could iterate on it more. If I knew more about the game, I could probably point to some important pillars that I am missing as a player, that I would know as a developer. For example, one of the first things I would iterate is the nature of the problems. Maybe it would be good to hint here that they are paranormal?

    It's only a couple of sentences, but you can tweak them and iterate on them a lot and for a long time. And you should. Because when time on development passes, your understanding of the game grows and shifts, and that allows you to refine your logline.

    Recap

    That is all I have for you. If you do the following, you should be able to pitch your idea clearly and concisely, which will greatly increase your probability of being successful:

    • Start with the "why;" you need to be able to clearly communicate why you want to create this particular game. Watch Jason VandenBerghe's talk on this
    • Create, iterate, and practice your logline; this is the most important part of your pitch
    • Create a good pitch document; this is the most important piece of documentation you will create from a pitching perspective. Use the structure described in this article, but adjust it to the specifics of your idea
    • Do not only pitch the idea, but the probability of you pulling it off as well. The team behind the execution is a crucial part of the pitch.
    • Practice. Your. Pitch.

    Good luck!

    Resources

    For reference, I listed some of the things that influenced me heavily. You might like to research the topic more and come to your own conclusions.

    Videos:

    Pitching to Publishers: How to Impress and What to Avoid, 2012, Pete Smith

    Thirty Things I Hate About Your Game Pitch, 2017, Bran Upton

    Forging Honor: Providing a Coherent Vision for a New IP, 2017, Jason VandenBerghe

    Classic Game Postmorem: Deus X, 2017, Warren Spector

    Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action, 2009, Simon Sinek

    Looper clip-o-matic trailer, 2013

    Articles:

    How to Pitch your Game to PlayStation, 2021

    How To Pitch the Perfect Video Game Idea (with Sample Game Pitches That Defined Genres), 2021

    How to explain your game to an asshole, 2012

    Books:

    Save The Cat!, 2005, Blake Snyder (just "Chapter 01: What is it?" is highly relevant to pitching)

    I would also like to include my own speech I gave a while back:

    How to pitch your game (when you're a nobody)

    I would update a lot in that speech, but I still think it is valuable. I did it again in a new format with new insights, but it is only available in Polish:

    Skuteczny pith

    When we are done with the pandemic, maybe I will do a new one in English!

    Contact info

    If you ever want to reach out, you can find me on Twitter: @LukaszHacura

    My DMs are always open.

    Special thanks

    Agata Hacura, Marek Panczyk and Kacper Szymczak for constructive feedback on this article.

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