Pitching to publishers, investors and other potential partners has become even more challenging in 2020 with widespread cancellation of events and other business opportunities.
While the ability for developers to physically meet with these people have essentially dried up, there have been a series of digital events to help fill the void. This week's GamesIndustry.biz Investment Summit Online, for instance.
The inherent restrictions of pitching over a Zoom call, or whatever your video conferencing tool of choice may be, means that it's more important than ever to maximise your pitching opportunities and ensure you can win over the people who can help them realise the ambitions for your game and business.
Bradley Crooks, chief operating officer at Peter Molyneux's studio 22cans, has spent months improving his team's pitching processes and shared advice with GamesIndustry.biz Academy on how to pitch remotely just as effectively as you would in person.
He notes that many of these tips may -- and indeed should -- be part of your pitching process already, but with conversations shifting from physical events to digital, it's vital to be even more rigorous about how you prepare.
Clarity is key
At the centre of everything you do when preparing a pitch is ensuring that publishers and investors understand your message, the key elements that you want them to understand.
That's easier to do when you're face-to-face as you're all sharing a screen, developers are able to point things out on said screen more easily, and you can quickly develop a one-on-one rapport. Over a video call, this is a little more complicated.
"When you're doing it online, you need to fill in the gaps and make sure those messages are landing," explains Crooks. "There's a lot of work that goes around the setup of the demonstration and the materials that go with the demos.
"Whereas normally you turn up to a conference, sit down at a table in a noisy room and show the game live, obviously we haven't been able to do that over the last few months. So it's about thinking about the other things you need to do to make sure people coming away from that demo come away with the right understanding of the game."
In recent months, he notes that there have been times 22cans didn't necessarily get the reaction it expected when showing off upcoming industrialist sim Legacy. When they have pressed further, the studio has learned that certain aspects were misunderstood or that they "made assumptions that people had understood but they didn't."
Spend more time on supporting materials - and send them over early
A crucial part of a remote pitch -- or indeed any pitch -- is not what you say during, but what you say before. Crooks recommends spending as much time as possible preparing supporting materials that can not only be used alongside your live demo, but submitted to the publisher or partner ahead of the meeting.
"We've spent a lot of time getting materials across and making sure they're sent to the relevant people before we the live demo"
"We've spent quite long periods of time getting those materials across, making sure people understood those materials, that they had been sent to the relevant people before we got to the point where we could arrange a live demo," he says.
"Because what can easily happen is people don't send stuff on, or it's difficult to coordinate diaries... stuff happens and you end up going into the demo with people who don't understand enough to get the most out of the demo itself."
In addition to product decks that spell out what the game's about, 22cans also used this opportunity to give an introduction to key features of the game. The team also prepared a monetisation deck to clarify the free-to-play model, the core loops and the motivation behind the monetisation decisions taken.
"A lot of this stuff you might do anyway, but we've gone overboard in the amount of stuff we've done sending stuff ahead of time," says Crooks. "We did a gameplay trailer ahead of time to give people an idea of the game before we did a [deeper] demo."
Find out who you're pitching to
During the conversations ahead of the pitch meeting, it's important to gather feedback and comments early, so you can better tailor your presentation. It's also important to find out who you will be presenting to.
Typically, when arranging a meeting, you're speaking to the person at the publisher or partner who handles new business, but if you find out who will be present at the meeting, you can learn more about what it is they're looking for, and therefore which aspects of your game or business you should be focusing on.
"Some of these people you're only going to get for half an hour, so it's important to prep as much as possible," says Crooks.
Send them a build
Sending out playable builds ahead of the live demo can give your potential publisher or investor a chance to better acquaint themselves with your game ahead of time. If your game relies on online multiplayer, you'll need to set up a server with a variety of people playing to demonstrate the social aspects.
22cans actually uses analytics to track how people play -- and publishers and investors are informed of this when issued a build. This enables them to see how long they have played, how far they progressed, and give a better idea of how familiar they are with the game before the big pitch.
"If they've only played three minutes, they might have only done some of the onboarding," says Crooks. "If they've played for a couple of hours, we know they may have had a good experience and at least seen various aspects of the game. That information is really quite useful when you come to do your live demo and have your face-to-face chat."
"Some of these people you're only going to get for half an hour, so it's important to prep as much as possible"
Crooks notes that reactions to distributed builds can vary. Some people will dive straight in and come to the live demo with questions based on their experience. Others will struggle to make the time -- "And it's often the people you really want to see the game," he adds.
He continues: "Part of the problem is, like us, a lot of publishers and partners have their own IT and comms issues, because they're all at home as well. So if you send a build out, certain people won't struggle with it at all but maybe a head of publishing will struggle to get something up and running. So try to make sure they've got everything they need and enough time so they can be helped with people at their organisation. That's important."
Make sure the live demo is ready to go
Ensuring everything is prepared for the live demo is especially important if your pitch involves the publisher or investor playing with you at any stage. While it may be simple enough to set up a server on your own back-end, if you require another company's platform you need to make sure this is prepared well ahead of the meeting.
"If you're demoing live demos for mobile games, you need to set up a server and you have to go through approval with Apple," Crooks explains. "It doesn't take that long because you're essentially just setting up a test server, but you still need to figure that into your equations. If you make a submission and things aren't too busy, it can often go through in 24 hours but it might take a couple of days. That's something you need to be aware of."
You might even find you need to do this for each presentation you make, so be sure to spend the time needed preparing to guarantee everything runs as smoothly as possible on the big day.
Practice your pitch
After pouring time into all the supporting materials, playable builds and other related aspects, it's vital to ensure that the central pitch smooths all this out into one digestible message.
"It's very easy to say 'Well, we'll just throw everything in there,' take the kitchen sink approach, but people either don't read it or they become a bit lost in the details," says Crooks. "That balance between making sure it's as succinct as possible but gives the key information is really important."
"You've got to follow through on what the action points are, make sure you know how to move things forward"
Crooks recommends iterating on your pitch several times, and doing mock presentations to the internal team -- or even family and friends -- to get feedback on what's coming across. This also helps you practice your timing, so you can ensure you deliver everything in your allotted time slot.
Thinking about your script is key here. You need to ensure it covers all the main details of your game, because a virtual meeting may be less flexible and dynamic than a face-to-face one.
"When you meet someone face-to-face, there's much more of an opportunity to play off what they're saying, you can answer questions more easily as you go," says Crooks. "You can switch quite quickly if they say, 'No, I've seen this, can I see more of that?' -- that's much easier to do in person than if you're on Zoom with multiple people watching.
"So having a well thought through sequence to ensure you're covering off the key things is really important."
Don't pitch alone
Crooks recommends having multiple people from your studio on pitching calls if possible, if only because a second person will be on hand to answer questions while you are delivering the demonstration.
Having multiple people from the team also improves your chances of making sure all the key points are covered, given the limited time publishers have to spend in Zoom sessions.
Don't leave a meeting without agreed action points
Finally, it's essential to ensure there are plans to follow-up after your pitch.
"You've probably got one shot at this, and that's probably true if you were meeting at GDC or their office or whatever, but you need to almost over communicate," says Crooks.
Make sure everyone on the call agrees on what the next steps might be, and then as soon as the pitch meeting is over, confirm these via email. Make it clear what was agreed, and whether further action or information is required either from your studio or from the publisher or investor you were talking to.
"It's very easy -- especially when it's done over Zoom or whatever -- for them to walk away from those calls, thinking 'I've done my half an hour, I've given them my time' and assume that's it," says Crooks. "You've got to follow through on what the action points are, make sure you know how to move things forward."