I'm out

When I'm not making games, one of my other loves is talking to people about how to make games. In fact, sometimes I think I like the act of enthusing about game design more than the actual act of making the game itself. It gives my eyes a chance to get really wide and the potential for me to inflict some serious damage due to flailing arms increases exponentially.

This somewhat evangelistic approach has landed me a series of gigs where I get to stand up on stage and preach to a crowd about the virtues of game design or waffle on with some choice industry anecdotes. These events are usually followed by copious quantities of alcohol and, occasionally, dancing - two other things that I enjoy enormously...

Fun In Norway

It's also fair to say that I have a soft spot for Norway. The reasons for this are many, but were I to recommend a country to visit, our Scandinavian friends would probably top the list. Obviously, when I was asked to come and do a talk in Bergen, I threw on my custom Converse, dusted off the phrase book, cleaned out a space in the Smash cupboard and jumped at the chance.

The event was called Konsoll and the topic of my talk was to be on Indie games development. It was being hosted by Linn and my friend Bjarne, who was someone I used to work with at Bullfrog and responsible for my initial love of all things Norwegian. Nowadays he runs his own company in his lovely home town of Voss.

Dragon's Den

That's my "serious point making" face
As well as doing the final talk of the day, I was also asked to be on a Dragon's Den style panel. There were four of us - James Portnow (better known as one of the Extra Credits guys), two investor types and myself - and we'd listen to pitches from people with game ideas. We'd then have the chance to invest a fictional sum of money into the ideas that we liked whilst all the time offering a critique of the pitch, design and business model. Suffice to say that this was a lot of fun.

Well, certainly for me anyway - the guys getting up to do the pitching may well have got the rough end of the stick on this one. Either way, if this is something you find yourself doing, there are several things to take away.

Confidence

Firstly, these people were not really used to standing up in front of people and delivering a pitch. A bit of nerves is perfectly understandable, especially if this is your potential livelihood we're talking about. All the more reason to project an aura of confidence. Even if your stomach is trying to stage it's own version of Cirque du Soleil and cartwheel off the stage.

A projection of confidence will make the people you're pitching to feel happier and give them the impression that you actually believe in the project as well as know what you're doing. This is crucial, seeing as how you're putting yourself forward as someone they can happily leave their money with.

Actually, as an aside, I was part of a pitch competition for prototype funding a while back. There were 2 prizes on offer in our category with about 8 pitches being heard. The two winners were us (natch...) and the only other team that had someone who was comfortable speaking in public. The other teams, whilst having some good ideas, just didn't have the social skills to pull it off.

Do Your Homework

How many Dragon's Den pitches have you seen that have seemed great but have fallen down as soon as they get down to the numbers bit? Firstly, you should be able to anticipate a lot of the questions you're going to be asked - "How much will this cost?", "How long will it take?", "How many people do you need?", "What's the target demographic?", etc. You should have answers to all of these and they should be as unambiguous as possible.

In the process of finding out these answers, you'll have a much better idea of whether or not this project of yours is actually viable. Going back to the event in Bergen and one of the projects had a fantastic video showing the game itself in action. It was very polished and impressive but, because of the costs involved, it would have to shift a record-breaking number of units on the target platform it was designed for to break even. In short, the numbers just didn't add up and, for that reason, I'm was out. In an ideal world, of course, the idea would be enough. Sadly, the practicalities have a habit of jumping up and biting us in the arse.

Show - Don't Tell

Of course, the bit that they did right was actually have something to show. Showing is always better than Telling. Take a look at any number of Kickstarter projects - the ones that actually have a demo or prototype running are much more appealing than the ones that are just some fancy concept art and a logo.

As a creative type, I like to think of myself as someone who can see the potential in these things and extrapolate my own version in my head. The thing is, you're rarely pitching to people like me. The people you will be pitching too have no imagination - at least, no imagination that you can rely on. It's far better to do their imagining for them. It also shows that you've at least got some systems in place to be able to pull this thing off.

The simplest way of looking at it is that it's a lot easier to get someone that to believe you can do something by, well, actually doing it rather than just trying to persuade them that you could if you wanted to.

It looks like a shrug. It isn't a shrug. This is hand-waving!

Enthusiasm

When I started at Bullfrog, Peter said to me "I can teach anyone to program in two weeks. What I can't teach is enthusiasm." It's true that he says a lot of things are going to happen in two weeks, but the second part of that statement is the most important part.

Enthusiasm is your friend. A passionate pitcher can sweep others along on a wave of euphoria. It can do a great job of demonstrating your belief in the project as well as making it harder for all but the most experienced Dragon to pick holes in your pitch. Don't be standing there, reading from a script - act the part! Look each of them in the eye so they can see the passion there. Give them a show! 

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