Later this month at PAX, hundreds of game developers will be meeting publishers, investors and platform in an effort to get their next game signed and funded.
The morning will feature some top talks from the likes of Valve, Kickstarter and Xbox, but it's the afternoon where the real business is done.
Here, games studios will have 12 to 15 minutes to demonstrate and answer questions about their games to publishers and investors in a 1-to-1 situation.
The meetings are all pre-arranged. The attending investors and publishers will pick the studios they want to meet based on a form that is filled in before the event. It's a relaxed event, but even so, these meetings can be intimidating for people who are more at ease with coding than presenting.
That's where this guide comes in. We've spoken to Investment Summit alumni to give advice on how to approach the summit, what to do while you're there, and then what to do once the show is over.
Before The Investment Summit
Once a ticket has been purchased to the Investment Summit, indie developers will be sent a form to fill in so that they can explain a bit about their game and their studio.
"I go through all the essentials first," says Rob Crossley, Head of Development Partnerships at PlayStack. "A gameplay video is the ideal starting point as it's the easiest way to assess whether I should do any more research. Following that I usually look up the developers online -- where they're based, their experience, if they have presence on social media or Discord, things like that. I also look at the project timeline and monthly running costs.
He continues: "Put it this way, if I was for some reason forced to start cutting things out from developer pitches, the remaining elements would be a video, a timeline, and a budget. Other things are important, but I really can't progress the application without these three essentials."
"A gameplay video is the ideal starting point as it's the easiest way to assess whether I should do any more research"
Rob Crossley, PlayStack
Broadly, publishers and investors need to see information on platforms the game is being made on, what money is needed, whether it's equity or project financing, what the business model is, who the team are (and where they're based and what their track record is), information on existing investment or partners, plus any visuals. That will help the publisher or investor decide if the meeting is for them.
If you've secured some meetings, now is the time to do your research. Who are the publishers and investors you are speaking to? What are they looking for? What have they published in the past? And then plan accordingly.
In terms of what to have prepared for the day:
"Visuals - a demo is good, but only if we can get a feel for the game in the 15 minutes we have," says Jagex's Alex Cook. "If you can't deliver that, go with a short video. And they need to be clear on who they're making the game for and the size and accessibility of that market"
Team17 CEO Debbie Bestwick adds: "Research and planning are two of the most underrated areas of setting up a new business."
She continues by revealing that 90% of games pitched to Team17 are from developers who do not know the answers to the following questions:
"Do customers want my product? Do I have plans in place for distribution? Can I finance all of the associated costs to bring my product to market? If not, what do I need and what am I prepared to give for that finance? Marketing, PR, social media, customer support, operations, production plans, legal -- what do I need?"
However, it is okay not to know the answers to all of the questions.
"It would be wise for you to know how long your project will take and how much that's going to cost," Crossley says. "As long as you're genuine you'll be fine. If you don't know the answer to a question, just say you don't know -- it's a very attractive quality to be that open and honest.
"Speaking of being honest... I only watch PowerPoint presentations out of respect and politeness really. I mean, clearly developers work very hard on them, and I think it does help some people stay calm and focused, so that's cool and I'm happy to sit through them. Only thing is, I've never really found an ideal moment to kindly explain that they're not useful."
Velan Ventures' Guha Bala agrees that flashy presentations aren't necessary, and that it's far more important to understand the key questions about your project.
"Indies pitching games at a place like PAX, as opposed to a professional VC environment, these are people who are truly passionate about their projects," he says. "So it's about putting that together in a way that clarifies what's truly special about what they're making, who they're making it for, and why that audience will start playing their game over what else is out there. But also, why are they the right people to make this game? Can they actually pull it off?
"These are important questions not just for the investors, but also for the team to answer for themselves."
Some of the comments from publishers and investors are about the experience of your team. Can they deliver the project being pitched? This is an important thing for publishers and investors to evaluate, but if you are lacking in an experienced team, you do still have advantages.
"It's difficult to research everyone, but at the very least know what type of investments they do and see if you recognize any projects/teams they are supporting"
Keizac Lee, Kowloon Nights
"If I was in a student team, I could live on noodles, I could share a flat with my five best friends, and so my costs are super low," Bala says. "I can spend my time refining the core mechanics and finding the spark. My runway is really long and my costs are really low. Students don't need a lot of money to be able to offer total commitment. They don't have a mortgage, probably. They don't have big debts.
"That's an advantage. The obvious disadvantage is that you've not done this before. Each team background has different advantages and disadvantages, and it's about figuring out if there's a fit"
Of course, you'll want to consider questions for the publisher and/or investor, too. Find out: how does your game fit into their portfolio? Do they handle all the platforms you want to release on? What successes have they had already? Does the publisher have experience with your business model or release strategy (Early Access, for instance)? What are their mid-term strategies and does it align with your approach and attitude? That last one helps in establishing a long-term relationship. Of course, you can do some of this research in advance.
"It's difficult to research everyone, but at the very least check out their website, know what type of investments they do and see if you recognise any projects/teams they are supporting," says Kowloon Nights partner Keizac Lee. "It might even be the case where you personally know some of the developers the publisher/investors are working with and that can be a nice icebreaker, or even asking those developers for a warm introduction to the investor prior to the event."
During The Investment Summit
Game developers dress in all manner of different ways, and there's no need to dress radically different for the Investment Summit -- a suit and tie is not mandatory.
"There's never been a case where we signed a game because a person was well-dressed at the pitch," says Xbox's Chris Charla. "And there's also never been a case where we didn't sign a game because the person was dressed as a slob."
Upon saying that, do have a shower, brush your teeth and wear clothes you are confident in. In fact, clothes that make you feel confident are far better than those that make you feel comfortable.
In terms of the meetings themselves, you only have 15 minutes to make an impact. So how do you make the most of that time?
"You should be able to explain the top concept of your game in 30 seconds"
Chris Charla, Xbox
"Showcase the game, either with video or a vertical slice," Crossley says. "Try to avoid striking a conversation with me, or continuing with your presentation, while I'm trying to absorb your trailer. Let your game do some of the talking. I've had hundreds of meetings and genuinely not a single developer has done this yet, which is kinda shocking but probably because people tend to find silence awkward. Also try to provide a month-by-month breakdown of costs, and show me your team and what they've worked on."
Chris Charla says that demos are preferred to video, which is preferred to words on a page. He also says to practice your pitch over and over.
"Pitch to everybody. Pitch to your roommates, your dog, your cat, your mom. The reason you do that is not so that when you come into a pitch you say the exact same words every time. It's so that you know your game inside and out. You know the pitch, you know the concepts inside and out. And when you come in, you're super passionate about your concept. You can just have a conversation about it. You can feel really natural and relaxed."
Kowloon Nights' Lee says a "simple intro or one-liner that describes the game" is ideal. A good elevator pitch is key.
"You should be able to explain the top concept of your game in 30 seconds," Charla says. "Last night I was trying to think of counter-examples where you couldn't explain the concept of a great game in 30 seconds, and I can't think of one."
But what shouldn't you do during the talks? Bestwick says that "too much information" is a common issue, and it's a view shared by the other investors and publishers, too.
"It's not that we don't want to hear the backstory or what happened 10,000 years ago when Kraytor was first unearthed and all that kind of stuff," Charla begins. "That stuff is really important. I'm not trying to dismiss it. I'm just saying most of the people you're going to talk to in a lot of pitch situations are hearing 20 pitches a day... You will start to lose them [with backstory], and they're going to be like, 'Get to the meat of the gameplay.'"
"However good a meeting was, don't assume one direction is any more likely than another."
Alex Cook, Jagex
Crossley agrees: "The story behind your studio and the story behind the game are definitely useful considerations -- but both of these belong at the back of the queue."
Of course, at the end of the pitch there should be time for a few questions from publishers and investors.
"If developers pitch properly, all follow up questions can be expected to be about the game itself, in which it becomes highly contextual," says Lee. "It might be a deep dive into gameplay mechanics or why the developer decides to do something a certain way or a bit casual chat about the team's passion for certain titles. It can be also a chat about your publishing plan. Do you wish to self-publish or pair up with a publisher? Do you already have a small following or community for the game setup?
"But standard questions such as production stage, how long the devs have been working on the project, if there is a need to ramp up the team, production and budget questions can be expected as well."
Crossley says: "I usually ask questions based on the project and data in front of me. I suppose the most common questions outside of the game are: where is your team based, what are their roles, who else do you need, how much time do you need, what are your running costs, and why do you want to work with a publisher."
After The Investment Summit
So the event is over, you've had your meetings, and you've returned to the bar to discuss how you think it all went. What now?
"Do follow up in an efficient manner with a Dropbox with all the necessary materials that publishers/investors need to formally review," Lee says. "Don't take too long to compile the necessary materials publishers/investors need to review. If you manage to leave a good impression during the meeting, try to capitalize on that goodwill by following up in a timely manner."
Crossley says that, if a publisher is interested in your game, you won't have to wait long to hear from them. From there, more meetings will follow, likely with producers in tow to evaluate the project and to establish an internal champion for the game.
If you're unsuccessful, publishers may or may not give you feedback. The reality is that, sometimes, the game is just not the right fit for the investor or publisher.
"It's difficult to get critical or detailed feedback from a 15 minute pitch," says Lee. "However, most of the time it can come down to either, one, not expressing the game in a convincing/passionate manner or, two, the game is still too rough to approach publishers/investors. If developers can figure out which problem is holding them back, they can effectively concentrate their efforts on improving that particular aspect."
Even if you've had a successful meeting, that doesn't mean you should stop seeking partners or continuing conversations. Bestwick says that "no deal is done until it is signed," and Jagex's Cook insists developers should look down every avenue: "However good a meeting was, don't assume one direction is any more likely than another."
For more information on the Investment Summit and how to take part, click here.