Articles

A collection of things I’ve written.

How To Improve Your Video Game Pitch

4 min read

I’ve seen my game pitches in my time, and I’ve made quite a few myself but I’m continually amazed and just what some people think they’re doing.  Think about all those poor saps who’ve been sent to the slaughter on “X Factor” for our amusement when they totally and utterly fail to deliver anything that a mother wouldn’t love.  Think about all those sorry ideas you’ve seen on Dragon’s Den that are just pitiful. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

When I’ve been on the receiving end, it often feels like “X Factor”, the person pitching stands up, stumbles to introduce themselves and then proceeds to claim they’ve got the best thing you’ve ever seen, all their friends and colleagues have seen it and they’re passionate about it. It’s the next GTA, or God Of War, or Forza…and then….sitting on the edge of my seat I wait…out comes the pitch and the presentation to go with it. I finally get to see something and oh dear, oh dear, it rarely lives up to the hype and expectations that the person pitching sets.

The sad part is, some of the games are actually fundamentally good and it’s just that pitch itself and / or the person pitching is bad. Both of these are fixable or at least made a little bit easier.

Here’s a few pointers to get you started

  1. X Statement. Produce a concise statement that sums up your game succinctly. It should capture the essence of what you’re game is about and set realistic expectations. It’s difficult to do, and even harder to do well, but the thought behind it will cause you to explore what you’re really pitching.
  2. Who Am I? What Am I doing? Why do I care? These are things I want to know as a gamer, to check if this is something I want to play. Ask yourself these questions to ensure that you’ve covered these key topics in your pitch.
  3. Would your mother understand it? When you’ve written your pitch, ask yourself if your mother would understand what you’re saying or showing. This may seem silly but remember that the people you’re pitching to have to understand your proposition in 15-20 minutes. They haven’t lived with every nuance of the design for months and know everything you’re implying.
  4. It’s all about you. There are many case studies that show that a large part of someone accepting the pitch is whether they like the person (and team) pitching the idea. If you come across as unsure, incompetent, uncaring then why would you care should you get the work? This can be a tough one to crack when you’ve taken the same idea around lots of people but it’s very important to get right. Stay fresh or go home.
  5. Make every word and image count. Optimise the life out of your presentation when it’s ready to make sure you’re maximising your presentation time, communicating efficiently and clearly, not repeating key statements and getting everything you want to say in there.
  6. Keep it simple This is a little different to point 3, I’m referring to the content itself. Your objective is to hook the person and start a conversation about your pitch. Shy away from going into uber detail that would scare someone off, keep numbers to a minimum, keep the text light on each page.
  7. Practise, practise, practice. I mean this. Really practice your pitch, think about every word. The reason is that when it comes to presentation time you’ll know what you’re going to say, remember everything you want to get across and also, critically, be more confident about what you’re doing.

I would say that I have a pet hate, which is that the most common phrase I hear has to be  ”Pixar Style Animation” and it fills me with dread.

There are 2 reasons:

  1. Pixar communicates a style and ethos all of it’s own that goes deeper than just it’s animation, it’s about how it makes you feel. There’s an emotion they’re you just can’t put into words, but it’s there and it’s what makes it so good.
  2. More importantly you’ve set my expectations very high and I’m more likely to be thinking “Prove It” or “I bet it isn’t” before I’ve seen anything. I’m instantly on the back foot and expecting failure. What is the person trying to say in the 1st place?I’m all for setting aspiration goals but you need to be able to prove them. Above all, do what you say you’re going to do.

There are many similar phrases that you just simply have to be able to back up. Think about what expectations your setting and if they exist in the real world before promising them. Would you fall for it?

Summary

So, there it is, a few pointers on mostly what to avoid when preparing your pitch and doing the presentation itself. Take your time, make sure you’re ready, don’t rush and remember.

To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail

If you’re business depends on it, it’s worth the time and effort to get it right and get a professional to run through it with you! Shameless self plug. ;)

As always, if there’s something more you’d like to know, post a comment or contact me directly.

### UPDATE:

I’ve followed up with more information in ‘How To Improve Your Pitch – Part 2

Further Reading

Why you should use Minimum Viable Product game production

5 min read

The term Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has recently come to be used in the world of video game production but what does it mean and how can it benefit our games and the gamers themselves, including how to get the feedback you need.

The phrase Minimum Viable Product is a product development and release methodology pioneered by Eric Ries as part of a long series about Lean Startup companies. Its main tenet is the development and early release of only the core of your product, allowing the marketplace to vet and feedback on its pros and cons. While the developer still has a roadmap of their own, risk is mitigated as feature feature has an already receptive audience and the product offering more tightly focused when the core is released early and iterated upon often, in response to real customer feedback.

[caption id=”attachment_54” align=”aligncenter” width=”300” caption=”Minimum Viable Product”][/caption]

Rapid Iteration

The Minimum Viable Product is dependant on rapid feedback loops and is quicker these are the more successful the iterations will be.

This approach is wide spread on web-sites and browser games where the game is effectively re-downloaded every time the game is launched, it’s been used to great effect on games for iPhone to produce some great experiences.

While it is possible to take on this approach for traditional console games, their closed nature and long approval and release cycles can make the feedback loop a very long process and therefore seem disconnected from the community.

Get Feedback

Of course, connecting and interacting with the community around your game is absolutely essential and is likely to require specific community management staff to be successful. I have been fortunate to work with a great community manager and I have witnessed what a real difference this can make, this is a skill that is not to be under-estimated.

You will need to offer simple opportunities for your audience to feedback. It has to be trivial and caught at key moments to gain the most valuable information. The closer the feedback loop is to the game, the easier it is for the player.

As a minimum consider simple 5 star systems in the game, like iTunes or eBay as they’re easy and trivial for players to give you a rating. Maybe even some pre-defined phrases that help them communicate feelings such as “Happy”, “Great”, “Slow”, “Dull”, “Exciting” or “More!”. Try and give the player an opportunity for extended feedback via a short text box and maybe hook them up with a backend web-site if possible.

When to get feedback

Consider collecting feedback at key points in the game such as when a player has finished all of the levels, tried a new character, tried a new download pack, experienced some user generated content or even uninstalled the game.

Social Media – connect outside the game

Connecting with your audience via social media warrants an article in itself but I’ll cover some basics here.

The old style way of interacting with “consumers” was to wait for them to discover some forums you had lurking around somewhere, on a discretely hosted web-site hoping they stumbled across them. Such forums still have a valuable role and can gain some feedback that you really need to know. A certain amount of “know how” is required to use the forums and they typically contain dedicated gamers used to giving feedback in this area.

The more modern way is to go to your audience on social media sites and connect there. Good examples include [blippr]Facebook[/blippr] Fan pages and [blippr]Twitter[/blippr] streams where people are likely to be sharing feedback about your game anyway and you need to be there, especially if you’re doing Minimum Viable Product production and need to iterate your game.

Metrics

You can take advantage of a connected game by collecting hidden metrics within your game and reporting them back to a central repository, either in real-time or caching them to be sent when it’s convenient.

Collect data from areas such as level start, level completion, game mode selection, use of the abort/quit game, lives lost, time played, etc. etc.

Analysis of global system metrics such as Achievements, Trophies or similar can be used to discover how successful some areas of your game have been. How many people have finished the game in under 5hrs? How many people have collected all of the cars? How many people have played level 1? How many people have booted your game (includes rentals and re-sales)?

It’s possible and advisable to engineer some of your achievements / trophies to bring this information to you automatically without the need to write your own systems.

All of this is valuable information you can gain without asking the player specifically for it.

Use It!

Of course you need to use the information from you’ve worked so hard to collect or the whole process is pointless!

Quit Early

A Minimum Viable Product also allows for game ideas to be released into the market to see how it responds, truly weak ideas can be abandoned early and the developer can move onto something likely to be more successful. It’s better to remove these failed attempts rather than leave them hanging around unattended.

Of course, this isn’t an excuse for releasing poorly thought out and dull games with a “throw enough mud at the wall and see what sticks” approach as your reputation is attached to each connection you make with your audience. The last thing you want is to be known for releasing a stream of half-baked ideas.

Rapid Prototyping

I would say that the Minimum Viable Product concept has been used by many game developers for internal concepts and prototypes under the banner “Rapid Prototyping”  where ideas are taken far enough to demonstrate before a decision is made to change or abandon games at review meetings during its lifetime,

Summary

The development approach of rapidly incorporating feedback from your audience is here to stay and the Minimum Viable Product concept suits this well. Consider using it where possible in your game life cycle for maximum success.

Further Reading

Minimum Viable Product – Wikipedia definition

Eric Ries – Eric’s website with lots of great information

5 Top Tips from a Freelance Game Programmer

I recently reconnected with an old friend who’s been a Freelance Game Programmer for many years, I asked him what advice he could give to someone just starting out and here’s his top tips:

I particularly like his ethos: “value-for-money & minimum hassle”, because contractors/freelancers have a general reputation for being otherwise (Expensive & demanding)

Rhys Twelves, 12 Code Monkeys Ltd, UK http://uk.linkedin.com/in/rhystwelves Here’s Rhys’ reply:

The only real tips I have are:-

1. If you can, try to avoid VAT registration due to the overhead of quarterly returns, and the VAT man being able to audit you more readily.(unless you employ someone to sort this all out)

2. Get a good accountant, they are worth their weight in gold, as they know what you can/cannot claim for as a legitimate business expense, and give could advice as to where to invest your profits.

3. Make yourself as flexible as possible. Making games is still a black art (in terms of production especially) and so plans will almost cetainly change from milestone to milestone. For a contractor/freelancer it is important that you can adapt with the project (within reason). If 5 days/week becomes 6 or even 7, then you should already have plans afoot that can support the change. It’s a second-guessing game, but it’s worth it.

4. In my experience, being flexible can be more valuable to production than being fast/excellent at your work. If a producer knows they can rely on you to be in the office on any given Sunday, they’ll take that over having to find work for you from somewhere because you finished your milestones early.

5. To be honest Simeon, I’m still learning as I go along, and different companies have different needs & expectations, but my ethos (if you can call it that) is to be “value-for-money & minimum hassle”, and only because contractors/freelancers have a general reputation for being otherwise (Expensive & demanding).

Rhys is a top bloke and I highly recommend him for any programming task you’ve got. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge Rhys has, how insightful his views are and just how quickly and well he solves problems. Rhys is worth his weight in gold.

Avoiding Game Development Contract Pitfalls - Royalties

6 min read

![](/assets/soundexchangeartist.jpg)

Here at @Gamelinchpin we like to clear some of the fog surrounding the more complex business of making games.

Negotiating contracts can be tough, and there’s a lot to think about but don’t let some of the most important elements slip you by. Getting these right can make the difference between scraping by and living well and it’s not easy if you lack experience but we’re here to help.

I’ll start by going through some common elements of royalty clauses.

  ** ** I’d like to start out by saying always take professional legal advice before signing a contract, the information below is my opinion only based on experience.

Is it worth it?

YES! There’s a myth that it’s pretty much impossible to achieve royalties on anything but the killer AAA multi-million selling items but I’ve seen many cases where the route to success is often in being aware of what options you have, and what to avoid too.

Common Pitfalls

When thinking about royalties it’s important to really think about all of the different facets of the deal piece together as even the smallest, seemingly irrelevant clause, can mean the difference between making money and losing out completely. Keeping all the different elements balanced is something that comes with experience.

There are a few things to think about but mainly always think about the rate you’re going to recoup the advance at and what you are recouping against as misunderstanding these 2 elements alone can be the ultimate killer.

Recoup Rate

In this section I’m assuming that we’re talking about a typical model where the cash you’re given to make the game (Advance) is recovered, along with other costs, before you start getting any royalties on the profit. This Advance Against Royalties is a common scenario but it can be improved. Think of it as a debt you have to repay.

Now, this bit involves a bit of maths to understand the implications of so I’ll go slowly for you all. :)

Now, typical royalty schemes employ 1 rate that applies through your agreement. In it’s simplest form the publisher takes the money it gets and allocates a portion of that cash to repay the loan they gave you to make the game (Advance). When it’s paid back you get the remainder as royalties.

Lets look at a work example where the royalty rate is 10%, but this obviously varies in real life.

The thing to watch here is the portion of the cash they use to repay your debt (Advance), if this were your royalty rate of 10%, they would need to make 10 times that amount (100% divided by your royalty rate) before your advance is fully repaid and you get royalties.

Now, there’s no reason why the recoup rate cannot be different to the royalty rate. Lets imagine that you now have a recoup rate of 25% and a royalty rate of 10%. Now the publisher only needs to recoup 4 times your Advance before you start seeing royalties at 10%. This is a big difference and really compounds over time.

In a typical contract, the 2 rates are balanced based on how the negotiations with the 2 parties go. I have seen quite a wide variety of values such as:

  • 20% recoup and 30% royalty
  • 10% recoup and 10% royalty
  • 75% recoup and 30% royalty
  • 100% recoup and 5% royalty

I have even seen 1 extreme case where the Advance was written off and a low percentage royalty was paid. In this case the developer saw royalties from day 0.

It is also possible to gain an agreement on hard unit numbers too once you’ve worked out the nitty gritty of all of the parameters. E.g., instead of recouping your Advance at some rate, you start on royalties once your game has sold 100,000 units.

If you can work this out upfront and get the actual number of units down in your contract, then there’s no variance or disagreement later on and quibbling over what is/isn’t recoupable against your advance.

Net Receipts

Before I move on, I need to explain some of the core concepts. I’ll assume you know the difference between Gross and Net but there’s a key phrase typically used in contracts called “Net Receipts” that I’ll try and explain.

Net Receipts refers to actual bit of money left over after everything else has been taken out. This typically includes undefined, variable and uncapped expenses such as Marketing and Retention / Returns.

Marketing budgets are incredibly hard to nail down as they typical depend on prevailing conditions & rates, maybe there’s a competing titles that warrants more of a push for yours, maybe there’s some co-marketing deal being struck. The key here is to try and get as much of this known at the start, there’s should be some value attributed here but try and get this defined or at least try and cap the amount that goes against your royalties.

Retention or Returns These terms refer to the amount of cash the publisher retains to cope with unsold or returned stock. This figure is used to reduce the amount your royalties are calculated against. There’s not a lot you can do about this but be aware that it’s lurking in the background.

The rest of it should be self-explanatory but I’ll happily respond to feedback if I’ve missed a key component.

Currency

This is something that’s often over-looked in our world of global development and is something to consider if you deal with a publisher that holds it’s accounts outside of your territory. It’s worth noting here that some big international companies may not have treasuries in your native country so currency exchange will come into play.

Also, the time between you agreeing the contract and you eventually getting paid some royalties can be a very long time and the financial market changes rapidly.

There’s a couple of things to investigate here: negotiate the fees in the currency that gives you the best deal, in some cases it may not be the one held by the publisher or you.

Secondly, if the time frames and values are considerable then look into Forward Exchange Rates with your bank, where you can get them to agree on a future exchange rate.

What you Recoup against

I’ve explained some of the elements that can massively affect the amount you recoup against. Recouping against undefined Net Receipts is a dangerous game and one you should seek to nail down what the specifics are as above. Be aware of everything you’re getting yourself into.

I’d strongly advice always using a professional company like TC Associates to exercise your right to audit the royalty accounts as pretty much every audit exposes inaccuracies in your favour, sometimes a few thousand and have been known to be millions.

Other Areas to Consider

One other area to consider is how your royalties are recouped against items such as Bundle Deals and how they are affected by any potential retail discounts such as ‘Platinum’ packs.

How will your royalties be affected by different distribution models such as online or retail?

Will you be able to gain any royalties on sales of other items such as downloadable content,  t-shirts, merchandising, social network apps, etc?

What next?

Next Time

In this series I’ll be going exposing another common contract point such as Developer Technology and Intellectual Property.

If you’ve enjoyed this item, please join the conversation in the comments, share this item with friends and subscribe to get the next installment. I’m happy to answer any relevant questions you may have that are posted in the comments.

Further Reading

Entertainment Law Handbook - Sarassin LLP business affairs consultancy for the interactive entertainment industry.

Opinion - Video Game Developer Graduate Training is Poor

2 min read

I’m typically passionate about making sure our beloved games industry is well stocked with talented, passionate individuals and we’re not going to get them by just sitting back and waiting.

I’ve been actively involved in the promotion of graduate recruitment for years now and I spotted this post that I prompted me to comment, but my comments were removed! So, I thought I’d share them here.

Getting the most out of E3 Expo 2010

5 min read

Well, it’s almost here, E3 Expo 2010 and it will be followed by many other opportunities to get out there and network: Game Connection, Develop, Gamescom, and if you’re lucky, Tokyo Game Show, etc.

Over the years, I’ve attended my of these events as both someone pitching and someone listening to other peoples pitches and I have a few tips to share.

By now, you’ve obviously spent a lot of time, effort and money carefully preparing your pitch and polished your presentation. You’ve no doubt booked a flight, hotel, got some spending money and need to feed yourself and probably some clients too. Your team have packed you off with some good wishes and are waiting for you to let them know how it went. You may have family waiting on you too. All of this is a massive commitment and you’ve got a lot riding on it.

Start with the least important

When scheduling your meetings, try an schedule your least important ones first; maybe even with some people that you’re not interested in.

The reason is that it will give you some real-life experience of pitching in the environment and enable you to debug you’re pitch and tweak if before you get to the big boys. This can be a good way of weeding out problems with your demo, powerpoint deck, laptop, pointer, screen brightness too.

You’ll also get feedback that you can incorporate into your pitch, maybe these are in the form of questions that you are asked that you can then think about a really good answer for.

Pick your slot

Be aware of the typical fluctuations in a persons attention span and likely state.

I’d hedge my bets on the best time being late morning, just before lunch.

Early mornings can fall foul of preceding heavy nights out partying or jetlag. Try and avoid these is possible. If you get time, take a peek at the party schedule and avoid the day after.

Afternoons are usually toughest, as people grow weary through the draining aspect of running back-to-back meetings in hot, brightly lit environments, battling against a lack of sleep and the onset of jetlag.

Take Ownership

You’ll be meeting lots of people and have a lot to remember, but, so will the people you’re meeting and you need to make sure you’re at the top of their pile when it comes to getting your game signed.

Firstly, be clear and concise in what you say. Make everything count and don’t expect anyone to remember everything you said.

Assuming you’re pitch went well, you need to secure 2 things:

  1. Get Their Contact details. Make sure these are for the right person who you’ll be dealing with, who may be different to the person you’re presenting to, which leads on to…

2. How, when, where for you to follow up. Try and get things pre-defined, “lets have a catchup call next Wednesday at 3pm” is better than “I’ll call you soon”. Aim to secure meeting dates too don’t let these slip.

Miss these two and you’ve just wasted your time, don’t rely on the listener to chase you, you can bet your last dollar that there will be other people shouting louder than you and getting some attention.

If you find that the listener won’t commit, then you can probably take it as a sign they’re not interested and it’s time to move on.

the squeaky wheel gets the grease

Dealing with rejection

Well, dealing with someone not being interested in your pitch can sometimes be hard but don’t take it personal. Try and find out why, the listener will often be able to give you a good indication of what you need to change before the next pitch. Take this as an opportunity to adapt your presentation for the next person you meet.

There’s a lot of reasons they make not take up you’re offer and here’s a couple of non-obvious ones.

  1. Pitch Went Bad. Maybe you fluffed it, maybe you’re laptop battery expired, maybe the listener got distracted with what they’re having for lunch. There’s no real answer here, sometimes it just doesn’t go the way you wanted it.

2. “we have similar titles in our portfolio” is a typical push off from a listener and most of the time it’s genuinely down to something that already exists or something they have in development elsewhere. There are rare occasions when they want to take your idea and make it themselves, claiming this is something they had in production already. This can be something as big as the game, or something as small as a game mechanic. There’s nothing you can do about this except to expect it on rare occasions. I’ve only seen this happen a handful of times across a 20yr career and it’s always heart wrenching to see.

Do You Homework

You can be in a much strong position by doing your homework on the company and person you’re meeting beforehand. This will not only expose any likely competition for your game but also enable you to come across as interested in them. All it takes is a bit of Google action to take care of it for the most part. People can be harder to find but I’d try [blippr]LinkedIn[/blippr] and MobyGames as a starting point.

What next?

I’ll repeat this here because it’s REALLY IMPORTANT!

Always get confirmation on next steps, try and arrange a follow up call / meeting, GET THEIR CONTACT DETAILS

Perpetual Impression

As a little aside, remember that every interaction will persist through your career as everyone moves around and over time the associate producer you dismissed at a small publisher could end up being in charge of acquisitions for a large international publisher later in your career when you really need them.

A buyer never forgets

WARNING: Don’t pitch if you’re unsure. It’s not worth it in the long run.

Summary

Attending one of these huge conventions is an exciting and important time, everyone always enjoys it and always has good stories to tell. Although some of those stories should never be repeated back home. ;)