How to pitch your game. Part 3: Budget & Timeline.
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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
If the primary goal of a pitch is to attract the audience and convince them that the game concept is unique and worthy of their attention, some less-known aspects are nonetheless mandatory. Depicting a brilliant game concept is one thing; however, proving mastery over the cost and schedule has the potential to transform a compelling story into something tangible with a real chance of materializing. Mastering both time and cost not only demonstrates that the developers have their feet firmly on the ground but also underscores their understanding of their own project.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money
If game developers are typically enthusiastic about discussing their games non-stop, emphasizing their fantastic concepts, plot twists, and unique mechanics, there’s one aspect of development that often scares them: the money. Creating a video game inevitably requires funding. Even for a solo developer tinkering away in a tiny and cold bedroom, financial considerations are a reality. What about food? What about the bills to pay? What about the computer to build for making the game? What about keeping the human operator functional enough and long enough to make this game a reality? All these concerns are direct costs in game production. And, in the case of a game developed by a team, whether small or large, in a dedicated workspace with dedicated workstations, dev kits, proper furniture, then finances become an even more critical topic.
All stakeholders in the video game industry know that creating a video game incurs expenses. One common misstep often made by new developers is attempting to minimize their game’s budget, thinking that presenting a lower cost will make it more attractive for a publisher or an investor. However, the reality is that, more often than not, this raises red flags for these potential partners. These industry professionals are accustomed to negotiating deals with video game developers and are well-versed in the costs associated with production.
A team seeking to fund their game at an unusually low price poses a risk for potential investors and publishers. It signals that the team may end up lacking the necessary resources to deliver the project they are marketing, or worse, it might indicate a team willing to exploit and push their employees and colleagues to crunch on the path to project completion—a significant red flag for most of the partners.
Defining the appropriate budget in the early stages of development presents a considerable challenge. As a precautionary measure, it is often advisable to lean towards a slightly larger budget than strictly necessary, incorporating a buffer of around 10 to 20% to address potential contingencies. Mastering budget planning is close to an art form or even a scientific discipline.
Even if this post does not aim to delve into the specifics of budget planning, what is crucial to understand about this process is that achieving pinpoint accuracy is nearly impossible. The larger the production, the more challenging it becomes to precisely estimate the budget. Consequently, being cautious and requesting a slightly higher budget is a common yet prudent approach. Then, refinement of the budget can be done after initial discussions with potential partners have started, allowing for a more informed and tailored financial plan.
Share the big plans
In game development, one metric often stands out as more crucial than the others: time. The delivery schedule of a project can significantly influence how a potential partner perceives the game. When it comes to budget considerations, it is imperative not to underestimate (or overestimate) the project’s duration. Publishers and investors, accustomed to funding games, may express concerns if the estimated duration is not aligned.
A longer timeline generally corresponds to a larger budget, prompting questions from stakeholders. This, however, can be advantageous as it provides developers with an opportunity to thoroughly explain their project needs, and potentially refine them during the discussion. However, the discussion can only occur if the initial duration seems reasonable and is not completely off compared with what could be expected by the potential partners. On the other hand, presenting a shorter timeline carries risks and may be perceived as a sign of amateurism.
This is why it is so important that game developers invest the necessary time and effort into planning ahead. Questions like, “How long will it take to develop this crucial core feature?” and “How many team members will be dedicated to addressing this pivotal aspect?” are essential at this stage. Accuracy is challenging and impossible so early, especially considering the volatility of ideas in the early stages of development. However, this extra effort will make a significant difference for both the game pitch and the development process, as developing a timeline and production backbone early on greatly aids in designing and outlining the trajectory of the game’s production. While it may be difficult to predict every part and cost, having a well-prepared plan in place from the outset draws the beginning of a reliable plan.
Sharing transparent monthly or milestone-based production plan and timeline is often appreciated as it underscores how well-prepared the developers are. It demonstrates their understanding and comprehensive planning, even on a macro scale, of the production process, including the time and human effort involved. Such transparency may also show the developers’ readiness to adapt to unexpected challenges during production. In general, having an overview of the production plan greatly aids potential partners in understanding the game’s priorities and what aspects are considered critical. Sometimes, presenting the macro plan early in the process can even prompt partners to offer assistance on specific crucial points years ahead.
Beware of what you wish for
As explained before, it is essential to request the required funding for a project, but equally important is understanding who the potential partners in deals are. A publisher recognized for their short narrative game catalogue is unlikely to be interested in signing a $3 million budget deal for a grandiose 4X game. Knowing the activity and track record of the audience not only saves energy but also ensures a more focused approach to addressing specific needs. If developers are solely seeking a distribution partner, it is logically unnecessary to reach out to funding partners. This kind of preliminary work and research are necessary, and this effort can easily be transformed into an asset for refining the pitch content to better adapt it to the targeted audience.
Sometimes, game developers even seek a publisher without assessing the reasons behind it. They do it because it appears to be the norm for their fellow indie game developers. If a team is looking for a publisher, investor, or any kind of partner, they must have a good reason and know them. It is crucial to be well-prepared with actual needs and plans in mind to avoid appearing to be amateurs. Typically, publishers will inquire about delivery timelines and associated costs. However, they are also interested in developers’ plans for localization, marketing, DLCs, and platforms. Presenting a pitch that is ready to address these questions can make a significant difference.
In this third part of the series, we’ve underscored the importance of planning the financial aspects and highlighted the impact of presenting an open and transparent production timeline. Recognizing that both funding and meticulous planning are indispensable for game development.
Stay tuned for How to Pitch Your Game. Part 4: Shapes & Pitch Deck. We will delve into the various shapes a pitch can take and focus a bit more on how to produce an impactful Pitch Deck.
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