"How do I successfully pitch my game for funding?" is an understandably popular question, and one we've covered from multiple angles over time across various talks and articles.
There's Chris Charla's tips specifically for pitching to ID@Xbox, TinyBuild's Alex Nichiporchik's advice to indie developers pitching games to anyone from investors to their cats, and Guha Bala's recommendations for what he'd like to see in pitches at an event like PAX East.
Yesterday, at the GamesIndustry.biz Investment Summit, we heard another round of distinct yet compatible advice from three expert panelists in the aptly-titled How to pitch your game panel. If you want to watch the full session, it's been archived here, and embedded at the end of this article, in which we'll cover the highlights of the advice given.
Here are the most important tips for pitching your game to investors from Humble Bundle portfolio director John Polson, Modus Games CEO Christina Seelye, and London Venture Partners analyst Harry Hamer.
Pitch with a purpose
With LVP, Hamer noted that its focus was more on investing in companies rather than individual products. For that reason, he said, it's important to show up to a pitch meeting with a strong sense of why you're the best person to do what you say you want to do.
"If you're willing to explain why you're the best person for that job, we'll have more confidence in your idea"
Harry Hamer, London Venture Partners
"Being a founder can be extremely rewarding, and there's an opportunity to affect millions of lives with your games, but at the same time, it's really stressful," he said. "And the expected probability is that you'll fail with your startup. But if you're willing to make that bet and explain why you're the best person for that job, we'll have more confidence in your idea.
"The caveat to that, as VC investors, is: is there an opportunity to return our fund with an investment into your company? With most companies at the early stage failing, we need the winners, and we need your company to return the money we invested into companies that fail."
Both Polson and Seelye had a slightly different perspective, as Modus and Humble fund on the project level rather than the company level, but agreed that having a strong sense of purpose and a clear focus was key.
"[We need to see] how your game's going to stand out in a super-crowded market," Polson said. "Creativity and innovation, sure, but also an understanding and some kind of business acumen to show me that you understand where your game will be positioned in the market X years from now when it launches."
Bring "first date energy"
Along with having a strong sense of purpose, the panelists said that it was important to approach pitch meetings with excitement and passion. But excitement alone doesn't sell it -- you also need to make sure your pitch has a clear hook that can grab an audience quickly and get them on your side.
"We want to feel the time slip away while we're talking to you and keep wondering whether we'll ever meet you again"
Harry Hamer, London Venture Partners
"It's really important for us to see that not only does the studio has a real passion for the game itself, but that someone internally [with our company] has a passion for the game," Seelye said. "We're looking for that match of passion by someone internally who it really resonates with. There are a lot of games that are fun, but there are games that move you and you have an emotional reaction to for whatever reason -- because it's something interesting and new, or because the graphics are beautiful, or because the story is really compelling."
Hamer added that the idea is to get the person you're pitching to chase you after the meeting -- not the other way around.
"It's a clear and compelling pitch exposing a big opportunity in the sector that leaves us wanting more," he said. "There are elements of passion that come in, but it's more apt to compare it to...dating. I think it was Brad Feld, who's the co-author of Venture Deals, who talked about 'first date energy.' We want to feel the time slip away while we're talking to you and keep wondering whether we'll ever meet you again. It's FOMO, it's wanting, it's driving us to contact you rather than the other way around, and keep us wanting more."
Don't stress over the vertical slice
Even though the three panelists represent companies funding different kinds of projects at different levels, all three agreed that in most cases, a vertical slice is not necessary at a pitch meeting.
"We're not necessarily looking for a full vertical slice," Polson said. "It could be something that's more a pre-alpha, prototype level, where we can at least experience and feel what the game is like to play at a basic level, experience a few core gameplay loops and maybe a progression loop. I'm not expecting to try every power-up or every mechanic that there is before we invest."
Seelye said Modus never requires a vertical slice either, as it's too far along in the development process for most of the games that it's funding.
"Stay away from any kind of character building in a pitch. We don't want to hear the backstories of all the NPCs"
Christina Seelye, Modus
"Our expectations for a vertical slice are pretty high, so we don't make anybody deliver that before we decide funding," she added. "We want the vertical slice to be very game-representative and, even if it's small, we want it to be pretty clean.
"It's an expensive proposal for a studio to get all the way to vertical slice without funding. We're more looking for prototype so we can get a feel for the game... And we usually do not fund prior to prototype."
Seelye said that she would consider pitches without prototypes in cases where a game is a sequel and she was already familiar with the studio's capabilities.
Keep it concise
Along similar lines, the panel was in agreement that it's best to keep pitches concise, especially if you're running up against a time limit.
"Stay away from any kind of character building in a pitch," Seelye said. "We don't want to hear the backstories of all the different NPCs in your game. We don't need that level of detail. We do need: How long is the game going to be? If it's narrative-based, how many chapters, how many stories?
"And what is the key differentiator? What is the spark? All of us are looking at games all day, every week, so frame it up for us so we know what genre it's in, then tell us about the differentiators."
Polson added: "If you know your meeting is 30 minutes, don't plan a 30-minute pitch. It's a conversation we should have -- especially if you excite me, I'm going to have questions. Maybe plan at most half of the time being the pitch.
"If you know your meeting is 30 minutes, don't plan a 30-minute pitch"
John Polson, Humble Bundle
"The more time you have to actually talk with the person you're pitching to, the more chances you have to engage with them, to tailor it on the fly and figure out each other's needs and what it's going to be like to work together. We won't have any indication of our interactions if I spend the whole time watching your pitch and you spend it regurgitating."
Seelye also said that with COVID-19 relegating most pitch meetings to digital conference calls, it's vital to have a video strategy nailed down before the meeting occurs. Whether you're letting them watch your demo on their own computer, or doing a Discord stream where you talk over gameplay, make sure you know what you're doing beforehand and communicate it to the person you're pitching. And don't forget to send links beforehand.
You're also pitching yourself
Hamer emphasized that, especially as a person investing in companies rather than projects, it's extremely important that he gets to know the people pitching him, so he can gauge whether they have integrity and that he wants to work with them long-term.
"We're going to be with this company for a long time -- potentially eight to ten years, if you look at some of the data on exits -- and that means it can be longer than some marriages," he said. "Therefore, you've got to understand who the person you're investing into really is, and whether they're going to be with you through the lows as well as the highs."
Seelye added that getting to know the people behind the pitch was important even for project-level investments.
"The relationship that's established both during the pitch and during the negotiations, and before any agreement is signed, is really a key indicator of the success of the game," she said. "If the beginning part is rough and we have a hard time getting through a negotiation, the likelihood that game is going to be successful is low. Game development is very complex, and it's going to go sideways [in a lot of different ways] over the course of development, and we need to work together."
She added that it's also important for developers to be honest about not just what and who they have on their teams, but what and who they're lacking.
"What have you already identified that are going to be gaps in your existing team that you'll need help from us or someone else? It's super important for us to see that someone has the self-awareness to know what their team can and can't do in the beginning, because it helps us be more of a benefit to that team. If someone comes in and says they've got it covered... [but] they've only allowed two weeks for QA, then we can tell they don't have the self-awareness of what they can and can't do."