How to pitch your game. Part 2: Game Content & Storytelling.
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Given the importance of this topic, a single post would not suffice to cover it well enough. Therefore, it has been split into four parts to ensure comprehensive coverage:
- Part 1: Description & Basics
- Part 2: Game Content & Storytelling
- Part 3: Budget & Timeline
- Part 4: Shapes & Pitch Deck
A video game pitch is, by essence, a snapshot of a game that is delivered in a short amount of time. Delivering this snapshot requires finding balance between two distinct styles.
On one side, there is the boring but surgical precision of a detailed description, meticulously dissecting every feature. On the other, the grandiose narrative, allowing the descriptions to flow organically, painting vivid pictures in the minds of the audience focusing on the aspect and losing the details. Finding a balance between these two stances is the secret to delivering informative and impactful pitches. This balance is all about explaining heavy concepts in such a natural way that the audience will want to know even more at the end.
So, gather around as we embark on a journey into the realm of storytelling – it is story time for your game pitch!
Show what you got
If a game is pitched on a written format (pitch deck, game concept…) it is important to show what it is now and what it will be in the future. Of course, game developers trying to convince publishers to follow them on their journey may want to enhance their chances by adding a prototype with the pitch. However, prototypes are often clunky and ugly, just here to show the game potential is not just theory. If the prototype can convince of the team’s capabilities to deliver the final game, it is not meant (even if sometimes it does the job) to help the audience building a mental image of the mood, the ambiance, the tone, and the whole aesthetic experience. To help this, it is essential to share all the resources available, and sometimes produce ones dedicated to this task. Sharing concept arts, teaser videos, music tracks, gifs, or even mood boards is mandatory to be sure the audience understands where this game is going. These assets show where the developers want to go, while the prototype proves they have what it takes to make it real. It is crucial to not let room for imagination.
Do not let room for imagination
When the goal is to convince someone that our game is the best, it is tempting to enumerate every aspect of game design to highlight all the revolutionary features we have planned. Listing everything might seem like a safe approach to be sure the audience grasps the big picture, but it often proves counterproductive. There are only a few limited cases where the audience has the time and inclination to hear or read every detail about a game they do not care about yet. For a pitch to be impactful, it must be concise and focus on depicting what makes the game the best in its genre.
However, as with everything else, a balance needs to be found. Even with a minimal number of features explained, it is essential to leave no room for imagination. Without guiding the audience’s thoughts, the mental construction they create will likely deviate from the game developer’s vision and actual game. Even a simple feature like ‘jumping’ can be understood in hundreds of diverse ways depending on the mood and the context.
To maintain control over the narrative, pitchers may want to include concrete examples of what they are discussing. Limiting the number of features gives room to elaborate on the important ones, while being mindful not to cover every detail. In the case of a list of core design mechanics, adding a gif or visual reference ensures that everyone understands the concept without requiring explicit expression. Sometimes, even a simple playlist to listen to while reading a pitch deck, or pitcher’s body language while explaining a game design, can influence the understanding of the content and guide the audience in the intended direction.
Control the questions
As explained before, a pitch is an exchange. Its success hinges on its ability to provoke and control the right questions from the audience.
When we try out our pitch on fellow developers, family, or friends, clarity in some areas becomes apparent, while others may linger in ambiguity. The effectiveness of our narrative becomes evident through the questions raised post-pitch. Refining the pitch to make sure the crucial elements are crystal clear then becomes easier. While Part 4 of this series will delve deeper into the pitch training process, being sure the message is correct and comprehensive can only emerge from numerous tests and iterations. Iterating and testing the pitch is the key to guiding the audience toward questions that developers expect and are well-prepared to address. As a bonus, while looking for predicted post-pitch questions, a narrative path will emerge ready to be used and reused for maximum comprehension.
These post-pitch questions are important. They are what a pitcher should aim for. Without them, there would be no discussion or exchange. The pitch would then be nothing more than a waste of time. This is why it is so important to try to control their nature and try to guide the audience to ask these specific questions.
If the audience has been correctly guided to ask questions we have prepared for, it is celebration time, because the pitch is a success! The exchange beginning right after will then be a matter of persuasion, confidence, and a bit of luck. Most of the pitches do not ever reach this stage, they often fail middle course, in the audience’s mind, because the narrative is fuzzy and lacks guidance. When it happens the audience does not know what to do with all these weird information that have been thrown into their brain. And if some questions arise, they are most likely to be off topic, proving the pitch was not practiced enough.
Understanding the nature of the questions that arise post-pitch provides a tremendous advantage. Inquiries being fresh and spontaneous from the audience’s perspective but answered at light speed with confidence by the pitcher, prove them to be someone mastering their topic and ready to answer quickly to anything coming their way. When executed correctly, the audience may remain unaware that they have been subtly guided throughout the entire pitching session to the conclusions and questions they believe to be entirely spontaneous.
Find your narrative
Yet another indication of the interactive dynamic involved in a pitch is that the audience not only receives guidance but also steers the pitcher. Through their questions and sometimes subconscious physical reactions, one can infer which parts of the pitch make an impact and which parts fall flat. Positive feedback during crucial moments that demand clarity and understanding from the audience should be duly noted and retained in following iterations of the pitch. On the other hand, if excitement or heightened interest arises during less crucial sections, it is a signal for a need of reevaluation and refinement.
After several rounds of refinement and iterations, pitchers should have discerned what is called a “narrative path.” This narrative path is a story that guides the audience through the mundane or boring yet crucial parts of the pitch. It injects elements of fun, mystery, and excitement, enticing the audience to stay focused on the content being presented. It acts as the lifeline, ensuring a seamless flow throughout the pitch.
These narrative paths are inherently diverse. While the game genre may offer some guidance in finding a narrative path, it remains a challenging component to assemble as it serves as the cohesive force binding all other elements together.
Despite the difference in game genre and the fact that all narrative paths are different, a common approach to defining one is to leverage the game story. Commencing with a touch of situational context that introduces the genre: the video game pitch version of the “once upon a time” introduction. Using the game story as an introductory element allows the pitch to be constructed upon it, with meticulous attention to ensuring that each following piece aligns seamlessly with the preceding ones. Alternating between game mechanics and game lore is a way to ensure the coherency of the whole pitch.
In this second part of the series, we explained that keeping control over the narrative and flow is crucial to successfully deliver an impactful pitch. It is only through testing, iterations, and repetitions that a successful pitch can be tailored. More than ever, pitches must be a discussion between the pitcher and their audience and how guiding the last can be a leverage in favor of the game developer.
Stay tuned for How to Pitch Your Game: Part 3 Budget & Timeline. We will delve into the art of mastering time and numbers, empowering indie game developers to overcome their natural apprehensions about big figures.
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A special thanks to: adngdb, Freyakyle, Damien Mayance for being a crucial part of this journey.