People often seem surprised when I tell them how much of my time in industry was spent writing pitches. Yes, I would spend most of my week designing or testing new features or bits of content for our current project. But a big part of the role of a designer is in trying to articulate ideas for new games, so that a studio can have a project to get paid to do when the current one runs out.
Maybe design isn’t your main bag because you see yourself more as an art or tech person. But it’s still worth learning the fundamentals of pitching. Most of us are pitching things all the time, whether we’re conscious or not. Which game to play at a social event. Where to go for dinner. What colour to paint the bathroom. Pitching is really just describing something in a persuasive way, and for that reason, it’s a general life skill. Pitching is a descriptive “here’s what we’re gonna do” and a persuasive “and here’s why”.
Types of Pitch
I’m going to describe three different types of pitch, both in terms of the tangiable document being produced, and the content it would be used in. This is not meant to be authoritative or restrictive, but to get you thinking about why different types of pitches might be built for different audiences and contexts.
- The single-page pitch.
- The deck of slides.
- The video pitch.
The Single-Page Pitch
When I worked in industry, this was by far the most common pitch-type I would produce. Single-page pitches are helpful to quickly check an idea to see whether it’s worth developing into a full slide deck or video pitch. I’ll give two different examples of what a single-page pitch might look like.
All of the above approachers are valid; it really depends on the game being pitched, and on how it’s easier to represent it. Whether or not you bias more toward text or images, you do need images of some sort. Remember that your audience may be more “words people” or more “visual people” and will likely be a mix of the both, and you’re trying to appeal to both of those. Use of colour can be helpful, both to explain mechanics (danger = red, treasure = gold) and to add some sort of flavour to the game (magic = purple, blue and orange = science).
Remember you can also use stylised typography and other decorative elements to sell the setting and tone of your game; just make sure any larger bodies of text are in an easy-to-read, simple font.
When do we use a Single-Page Pitch? When we want to be quick because we’re not sure about our ideas yet, or when we have to submit multiple ideas to test the water.
The Deck of Slides
Making a slide deck is a bit more involved than a single-page pitch, but it also gives you a lot of opportunity to bring in colour and imagery, and to structure the pitch as a linear experience. The example above has the following elements:
- a title page with a single-sentence elevator pitch (“a match 3 game with a retro, musical twist”) and a stylised typographic logo.
- a top-level description of the game (“What is Vinyl Countdown?) which describes both the mechanics and the theme/setting in a few sentences.
- a visual mock-up of the game with a bullet-point list of gameplay features.
- moodboard explaining the intended graphical style.
- mood board explaining other visual references from pop music and fashon history.
- a “list of demands” slide; a statement on what the pitcher needs from the audience.
- a closing slide with an invitation to ask questions.
Not all of the above are necessary, but all are helpful. It’s a good idea to have a full-screen mock-up of the game at some point, even if it’s just put together with scribbles and PowerPoint shapes. It’s also a good idea to show some basic knowledge of art direction, and to be clear what you’re asking for. The latter is usually “some sort of help to make the game”, but it may vary depending on whether this pitch is to make a publisher help you, or to show to a potential collaborator to get them on your team.
Common problems to avoid in pitch decks:
- Make sure your pages have a border. Don’t put content all the way up to the edge.
- Slides are for presentations. They are not books. Don’t put more than a paragraph on a single slide.
- Understand how bullet-points work. Bulletpoint sentences should be short and should usually follow on from some sort of introductory sentence with a colon, as above.
- Legibility; use a plain serif or sans serif font, and sensible colour combinations, for most of it. Save fancy fonts for titles.
- Don’t vary font size too much between slides. Every time you make a reader squint at your work, you are subconsciously putting them off your idea.
When do we use a Pitch Deck? When we’ve got a sense that our idea “has legs” and is worth the effort of presenting this way. When we have a bit more visual material (research and/or concept art/sketches) to show off. When we’re able to actually present the material to someone in a more conversational setting.
The Video Pitch
A video pitch works in very much the same way as a deck of slides, in the sense that you are combining a verbal explanation with a set of visual materials.
One of the best resources for understanding video pitching comes in the form of Double Fine studio’s Amnesia Fortnight. You can see examples of DFAF pitches over on Youtube.
However, you also have a bunch of advantages. One is that you can simply show the video to someone over and over again, and it doesn’t require the presence of your team’s strongest presenter. You can approach the voice-over more as a performance, and even record bits of flavour using “character voice” with background music for mood.
It’s also a lot easier to show off lots of concept art or prototypes and animation than it might be in the other formats.
When do we use a Video Pitch? If that’s what’s asked for. If we’ve got moving image stuff to show under the voice-over – such as prototype gameplay footage, or moving-image reference like a clip from an old movie. When we want our presentation to be available even when we’re not available to present.
What Should All Pitches Do?
A pitch needs to describe your idea with a degree of accuracy; the audience should come away with the same idea in their head of the thing you want to make as you have.
It also needs to boil down the game to the core of the experience so that you’re not promising millions of features and systems which – with further testing – might not actually add to the game.
At the same time, your pitch needs to be persuasive and generate enthusiasm. To do this, you need to lean on the audience’s existing tastes and preferences, while also indicating why your game will offer something unique and novel. There is a bit of a see-saw here; you want to get a balance between familiarity and novelty.
What Are You Asking and Offering?
Your pitch doesn’t need an explicit “help me make this!” message, as this may be implicit, but it all depends on context. If you’re a games student pitching to other games students, the end of the pitch might be a perfect time to say “I can code it, but I need an artist” or vice versa. If you’re making claims about what you can do, make sure they’re backed up by the pitch content. No-one is going to buy a pitch from someone who says they can code and has not produced a prototype of this or any previous game. No-one is going to buy a pitch from someone who is saying they’ll be the lead artist if their pitch isn’t showing that skill off, either.
Pitch Language is Marketing Language
One of the things I try to remind my students is that there is a massive overlap between the language used to pitch a new idea to a funder or collaborator, and the language you would use to market the end product to the public.
One of the skills taught in marketing is the “call to action” sentence. This is a sentence which basically tells the reader what to do, often by starting with a verb (doing word)
Try Me! Buy One, Get One Free Notice the lack of conditionality. It’s not a polite “would you like to try me?” or a complex “if you buy one, you’ll get one free”. It’s a blunt instruction.
When you’re writing a game design document for use in the studio, you might use longer, more technical sentences that start off with “The player…”. “The player collects acorns in order to grow more trees and gain Forest Points”. In a pitch, however, we never use “The player”; because it’s boring and unnecessary. And we rarely use “You” either, because a good Call to Action sentence assumes that starting with a doing word is the best way of making the audience feel more involved.
So, whether the pitch you’re working on is a single-page one, or a longer-format video or slide presentation, try to follow the above principle for your gameplay descriptions. Aim for quality of writing over quantity, with sentences which describe several player actions leading into a goal. This will keep your descriptionss short and manageable, but also make your pitch-writing more persuastive.
I haven’t even begun to get into other elements a pitch might need; such as monetisation slides or business cases. Chances are, if you’re at the level where you need to know about those, you’ve already got a job, and don’t really need to be reading this website.