How to (Speed) Pitch Your Game

While at Gen Con my business partners from Moon Yeti Games and I had a chance to be part of the Publisher Speed Dating event run by James Mathe of Minion Games. I will refrain from making any comments about the games themselves. However, I am writing this article because I was a little shocked at how poorly people were pitching their games.

A while back I wrote an article called How To Teach Games. I’m using a similar model for this article.

The Scenario:

You’ve got 5 minutes to pitch your game. It’s all set up, ready to go. A publisher walks up to your table. What do you do?

The Pitch:

When teaching games I like to work top down and start very vague and get more and more detailed. A pitch doesn’t really work that way. You’ve got to figure out a way to skip over a bunch of the basics of your game and dive deep into the selling points. Here is a graphic I made that should help:

PitchingPyramid

The sizes of the different portions of the pyramid represent the amount of time you should spend on that section. Let’s break it down:

INTRODUCTION:

This should be limited to your name and handshakes. Give a business card and sell sheet. Otherwise don’t waste time here.

GAME CONCEPT/THEME:

Limit this to 10-20 seconds. Basically just give the background of the game concept. There’s no reason to go into a back story of why you are designing it or how it may serve humanity. Be succinct and move on.

MECHANICS:

This part is more important and is where you should spend about 1-1.5 minutes. Publishers will need to know how a game is played. They understand that if a turn in a game requires you to work through 15 different phases, then perhaps the game isn’t as streamlined as it could be. Give a good overview of the rules and how a basic turn works. You don’t need to share every rule of the game nor do you need to share the “exception” rules that are slightly different than the norm. Just share the normal, standard rules for the game. Work through the whole thing and then come back to the selling points…

SELLING POINTS:

Here is where you make or break the deal. This should be the bulk of the pitch. Publishers want to know what makes your game special. There are a lot of games out there. There are a lot of designers out there. There are TONS of unpublished games out there. So what makes yours special?

I refer to it as the “hook.” Tell the publishers what the hook is. The hook refers to the thing that’s different than any other game.

  • Are you utilizing components in a new way?
  • Are you using a new mechanic?
  • Are you modifying an old mechanic in a new way?
  • Is your theme so amazing?

Hopefully there is something that sets your game apart. This is where you share that. This is where you emphasize how your game is special. This is where you make your case. Figure out what makes your game great and make sure the publishers understand!

LEAVE A LASTING IMPRESSION:

Hopefully your game will leave a lasting impression. It is wise to allow 20-30 seconds at the end for questions from the publisher. Answer their questions cordially and then thank them for their time.

Aftermath:

Congratulations! You just made the best sales pitch ever! Now what?

Publishers are different. Some may offer a contract on the spot (this is rare). If so, congratulations! Some may ask for a prototype. It’s a good idea to have an extra prototype on hand. Here’s where it gets a little sticky: what if two publishers ask for a prototype? (You should have a publisher priority list – meaning you’d rather work with pub A than pub B. Give the proto to pub A!) Sometimes publishers will love the game but will want to consider it before approaching the designer outside of the sales pitch. Often this is due to publishers needing time to discuss the prototype and the designer with their internal team.

Often the aftermath requires patience. Feel free to contact a publisher, but don’t be pushy. Publishers see a lot of games and often have a lot on their plates. Rest assured, though, knowing that you at least made a good sales pitch!

Horizontal Rule

Have you had a successful sales pitch? Do you have a different method? I’d love to hear about them. Also, let me know if you have any comments about this method. Thanks for reading.

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Posted on August 21, 2014, in Game Design, Pitching, The Boards and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Great write-up! I attended this event as a publisher (my third such event), and I have had a lot of games pitched to me in the last year. (I’m a super-tiny-micro publisher, and I would never have expected to have so many pitched to me at this point.) I have seen a very small number of great pitches. I will probably never forget the best pitch, which I saw at last year’s Gen Con event, because it was so drastically different than the other pitches before and after it. (I hope to publish that game in the future.)

    Two things I would say to go along with what you have said:

    1. I find myself asking designers questions like, “How long is a turn?” “How many turns does a typical game have?” “What are some typical final scores?” etc. In the “Mechanics” section of the pitch, I don’t need to know the minutiae of the mechanics, like how much different buildings cost or what all of them do. I want to know how the game *feels*, what it’s like to play it. If your game is about building a network of trains, I need to leave the pitch knowing if playing it will feel more like Ticket to Ride or like an 18XX game. Most of the time, at the end of a pitch, I really can’t tell.

    2. I get the feeling that a lot of designers don’t know why (or haven’t even considered if!) their game is special. It’s a ton of work to design a game that even *works*, yet alone one that is special. I’ve seen a handful of games that I knew were special right away. Sometimes the designer tells me why it’s special, and other times I have to see it for myself.

    It’s alright to design games that aren’t special: you’ll probably start with non-special games until you find your way around the process, but you probably don’t need to pitch them. The more you design games, the better you get at figuring out what makes a game special. I strongly encourage new designers to design two dissimilar games before pitching any. Creating your second game gives you such a different perspective on the whole process. (Also, don’t spend three years working only on that first game! Fail faster!)

  2. Randy, I really can’t agree more with that last bit you said. You really have to view the first couple of games as practice, not priceless.

  3. Your graphic says “what is your favorite part of the game”. Isn’t it much more important to say what the playtesters’ favorite part(s) of the game are? This is not only less dependent on your own opinion, it helps indicate to the publisher that the game has been playtested enough for you to know this.

    • Hi Lewis. Thanks for the comments. The reason I want to know the designer’s favorite part of the game is so that I can see how much passion they have for the design. Of course it would be great to hear what the playtester’s favorite part is, but that would be better asked directly of the playtesters. I want to know why the designer is passionate about their game.

      If the designer answers in the vain of, “I think it’s probably this blah blah blah.” That tells me perhaps there isn’t anything special about the game. On the other hand if the designer answers by saying, “It’s definitely this awesome, unique mechanic that I haven’t seen in any other design…” then it’s obvious that there might be something there.

      I use this question as a litmus test. As a publisher, you don’t just work with someone’s game design. You also work with the designer. So I would want to work with designers who feel strongly for their games.

      • That’s interesting, but I think you’re confusing passion with a certain kind of personality, or with inexperience. I wouldn’t gush “passionately” about any of my games, not even one as well-known as Britannia has been. And I’d think the more experienced the designer, the more he or she realizes there are flaws in every game, and that what matters is what the players think, not the designer. Experienced designers tend to design for other people, not for themselves.

        (Of course, anyone who uses the word “awesome” had better really mean it, but usually it’s merely a substitute for “good”. I suppose that’s my aged perspective talking.)

  4. Perhaps I should have added, for a few years before retiring I taught video game design. Virtually every student was passionate about their game ideas. Which were usually pretty mundane to an experienced person with a neutral perspective (me).

  5. This is a very helpful article as I am hoping to have my game ready to pitch to developers at next year’s GenCon. Thank you!

  6. Game Concept: like you said, 10 – 20 seconds, but I would structure it a bit more. It needs to be polished and should include main mechanic, overview, hook and finish with the title.

    Concept: This is an area-control game where each player tries to destroy human civilization through worldwide infection.

    Hook: Think reverse Pandemic.

    Title: Contagion

    Now you can move on to the mechanics.

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