This issue of my fledgling Industry Insights series I will have a look at a highly controversial 2017 talk from Brian Upton from Game on the Rails who is going to go over what he believes are some key mistakes and counterproductive things that trip up people who are trying to pitch to a publisher that he learned over his decades of experience. While many might view this advice as highly anachronistic, given today’s market where reductions in software prices and different distribution methods have transformed the landscape – freeing many from the dreaded publisher chains – there is still a lot to be learned from this. It is harsh and aggressive advice that is not for the faint of heart or those of a particularly delicate disposition.
Keeping with the spirit of this series, I will do my best to be as brief and concise as possible, hard as that may be for me.
As a disclaimer – I will inject some of my own interpretation and expansion of the ideas, as this is unavoidable. For the full picture, always refer to the sources, listed at the end.
This talk was mostly delivered as a very rapid fire series of 30 “common mistakes” and some additional tips on what NOT to do when pitching to a publisher.
I encourage even novice developers to look into, even if they are far from the pitching stage with a larger publisher (or perhaps discounting the idea in general) – as there is a lot to learn about synthesizing your vision.
As always, take everything with a grain of salt – this is advice and should be treated as such, not gospel. The text is taken straight from the talk, so expect some controversial wording and aggressive phrasing. Without further adieu:
- I don’t give a crap about your backstory
- Very important. Don’t present 100 pages of lore before the core concept is defined
- I don’t give a crap about your inventory system either
- Don’t go into needless details. Focus on the core.
- I’m not going to design your game for you
- Be expected to answer questions and fill in gaps. Don’t leave open ended questions and uncertainties.
- Pillars are not hooks!
- They are the essence of the game but won’t necessarily pull the player in
- You never explained what the player does
- Don’t focus only on the story or other auxiliary elements. Games are interactive. You play them. Focus on that first and foremost.
- Don’t use realism to excuse bad design
- Just. Don’t. For an example look at the dreadful design decisions behind the ill-fated Bravo Team
- You don’t need a framing device if it’s not necessary
- Stick to the core
- Is it really a game, or just a knockoff
- Originality isn’t the most important but don’t just ape existing things
- You never mentioned your glaringly obvious tech risk
- Don’t forget games are technical products with their own unique challenges
- Your proof of concept does not prove your concept
- Self-explanatory 😛
- Having lots of shitty art doesn’t make it less shitty
- If you can’t make good art, don’t have any or hire someone. DO NOT use programmer art. That’s the first impression of your product and it just might be the last.
- I can’t tell what’s placeholder and what’s not
- Explicitly state this
- You polished too early
- Again, focus your effort on things that matter
- Your sample dialogues suck
- Again, first impressions are crucial
- You’re pandering to the latest tech craze
- You just pitched a phone game to a console publisher
- This is more common than you’d think
- You’re making a Gone Home/Minecraft/PUBG ripoff
- “Insert latest fad here”
- You want us to negotiate a risky IP deal for you
- You should be the one negotiating
- I know more about your monetization than your mechanics
- Games are a business like any other but this is not a business pitch
- You have no idea how much money/people/time you need to make this thing
- This is notoriously hard to answer and prepare for, comes with time
- You don’t have a team
- This is crucial, don’t expect the publisher to handle this for you
- Your business plan is based on outliers
- Again, plan as best you can
- You seem like you’d be a huge pain in the ass to work with
- This might seem silly but you deal with people, not robots and that relationship is crucial, especially when projects hit crucial stages
- You expect me to know who you are
- Have a proper intro and be humble
- You’re annoyed that I’m asking questions
- This is the publisher’s job
- We’re trying to watch the pitch on your phone
- Come prepared, don’t ruin a great idea at the presentation stage
- You brought a laptop but no headphones
- Pitching often happens in loud, public venues so come prepared for this
- You’re hungover/drunk/high
- Don’t trash other games/companies/developers
- Very important, respect is crucial in this industry, so is humility
- You need to take a shower
- Again, harsh but something that sadly needs to be said way too often
The Root Questions:
A) Is this game worth making?
B) Can this team make the game?
And for a little sprinkle of positivity, several Do’s:
- Be enthusiastic
- Be honest
- Sell your hook
- Know your scope