Delivering the Perfect Project Pitch: The Recipe for Empathy

Ever wondered if there is such a thing as delivering a perfect pitch? Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the idea of empathy is most often overlooked by project developers, even though taking into account precisely what the person you're pitching to is looking for, is the first step towards success. 

When you pitch your project, the goal is NOT to convince someone you have the most bestest awesomest coolest product ever. First, that's just too subjective and impossible to actually claim with any certainty. Second, no one cares.

The goal of pitching should be to help the other person understand what you are creating, and why it is an opportunity for THEM. Many creators are frustrated by the pitching process because they don’t realize, or accept, that it is an intense exercise of empathy. Who are you pitching to? What matters most to them? What do their economics and business drivers look like? How does your project fit into their portfolio? And so on.

A pitch is not the cosmic proof to the universe that what you are doing is worthy. Get over it.

Each potential partner is looking for different things, and your pitch is what they use to make that initial yes/no filtering. A mobile game publisher is looking for strong soft launch retention numbers. An arts granting agency is looking at how potent your expression is. A venture capital fund is looking to back founders that have the grit to build the next billion dollar company.

Do your research before getting on stage or chasing publishers. Understand when publishers like to invest, or what stage different investors operate at. Check their portfolios. Do similar genre/tag searching via SteamSpy. Build a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.

The Performance Pitch

A common scenario is pitching your game project in a “performance” situation. Meaning, when you have an initial meeting (face-to-face or via Zoom) with a publisher and you are presenting your game for the first time, or when you’ve been given the opportunity to get on stage for a pitch competition.

The initial performance pitch is the starting point for pitching your project, and it is more important than ever to get it right. This is not meant to be your complete game design doc, or the 50-page story script. The key is that you are “performing” your pitch live and speaking over your slides. As such, the slides should be heavily visual in nature, mainly to support what you are saying. Text should be kept to a minimum as no one wants to read a wall of text as they are trying to listen to you speak.

Each chance to perform your pitch is an opportunity you do not want to squander. So, let’s cover a “recipe” to assist in best structuring your info so others can clearly understand what you are doing and if it is an opportunity for them.


The Project Performance Pitch Recipe

While this recipe is not officially sanctioned by the Pitch Template Federation, it will serve you well in most project pitch performance situations. The ordering of the slides is not as critical as covering the various elements. This  recipe is optimized for premium games (any platform) seeking project based funding from publishers, royalty-based investors, platforms, and other sources of project specific financing.

The ideal performance pitch deck is only 10 slides and should be delivered in ~5 minutes. The 10 slides are as follows:

  1. Awesome cover art and logos
  2. Game overview
  3. Video clip
  4. USPs
  5. Traction
  6. Business model + competitive analysis
  7. Production timeline
  8. Team, pedigree, awards
  9. The Ask
  10. Contact info and socials

The Recipe in Detail

Now, let’s look at the main goal of each slide in more detail.

Slide 1: Awesome cover art and logos

Goal: Catch viewers attention right from the start.

Grab your most awesome piece of concept art, or character key art, or amazingly juicy screenshot and put that on the cover of your pitch deck. This helps grab the attention of the viewer/audience, and helps to establish the brand vibe right from the start. And, include the logo of the game (larger) and the studio logo (smaller).

Slide 2: Game overview

Goal: Articulate core essence of the game, succinctly.

Here’s where you briefly tell the viewer what the game is about and what the core gameplay is. If the game is very narrative focused, then set up the world/story context. If the game is very systems based, explain the core mechanics. Critically, do not waste time explaining combo mechanics for 20 minutes, or the backstory for every NPC. Key is being succinct. 

Slide 3: Video clip

Goal: Show off how cool the game is, and that it is (mostly) real.

This video should only be around 30 seconds (or if longer, just make sure total pitch is still in the 5minutes range). It could be your teaser trailer, or raw gameplay footage, or even mock gameplay if the project is very early stage. Of note, if you are doing the pitch over Zoom, just make sure that the video replay is of decent quality (or send a link to the video in advance).

Slide 4: Unique Selling Points (USPs)

Goal: Prove your game has unique/innovative elements that are compelling.

What are the true unique selling points of your game? What differentiates it from competitors in the same genre? This should NOT be generic statements like “fun to play”, “indie style”, or “more than 20 levels”.

Slide 5: Traction

Goal: Prove that others think the game is cool and worthy.

How you demonstrate traction depends on how far along in development you are… Did your teaser trailer get millions of views? Are you already running a closed beta program with thousands of players? Have you already gotten press coverage or festival nominations? Is your Discord super active? This type of social/external validation of the game is hard to deny.

Slide 6: Business model + competitive analysis 

Goal: Demonstrate there is a market for your game.
This should include how you plan to price and monetize your game, and on which platforms. As for competition, pick 3-4 games in the same genre/style that have had success, and research their sales (eg, via SteamSpy, or check this more detailed lecture on market analysis). Ideally, pick games that came out within the past 12 months -- not Limbo and Braid! Show the potential range of success that is possible for your genre/style of game. The most likely outcome needs to be way better than break-even!

Slide 7: Production timeline

Goal: Demonstrate the state of the game and work left until launch.

Draw out an actual timeline with markers for key production dates (alpha, beta, launch, DLC), and any critical event, showcase, or marketing beats. This should be your ideal timeline with the assumption that you have the budget you need (since that’s what a partner is buying into).

Slide 8: Team, pedigree, awards

Goal: Convince you are the team to make this amazing game.

You don’t need to give the details on everyone. Show the team, mention key roles. Show logos of past successes or big projects, awards, etc. If you have notable production partners, include their logos.

Slide 9: The Ask

Goal: Clearly ask for what you need/expect from the publisher/investor.

Yes, include a specific funding amount. Include the total budget, and how much has already been covered. Quickly mention where the new funds will be allocated. Also, cover expectations around roles and functions (PR, trailer, loc, QA, porting, etc). And, stuff like help with product/genre specific expertise, or even access to certain platforms or geographies. They are not a bank… so you should expect a deeper partnership on the game’s success than just writing a check.

Slide 10: Contact info and socials

Goal: Leave on a strong final note.

This is the wrap up slide, for a concluding remark… should include some more awesome art, and logos. And, have your contact info and social media handles on screen. Especially handy to have this up as the backdrop to leave on screen during any Q&A.


Delivery and Timing

You should be able to deliver the above 10 slides in 5 minutes. If you can’t, then you’ve got too much info packed in. The goal of this kind of initial pitch is not to close a deal on the spot. Rather, it is to provide all the essential info to hook the partner and move on the next step. If you are in a 30 minute MeetToMatch style meeting, then you want to deliver the pitch in 5mins and move on to questions and discussion. If you are performing at an event like GDC Pitch, then you will have a strict time limit anyway.

Also, practice a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

Meta Pitch Elements

There are all kinds of other elements that can affect your pitch, especially when many pitches are being delivered online. You can expect that your LinkedIn profile will be looked up, with quick additional jumps to your Twitter, and studio website, and Steam coming soon page, etc. If any of those are out of date/dormant, or has your dog as a profile pic, or drunken party photos, it may raise red flags. So, just be mindful that your pitch does not exist in a vacuum.

Pitch Perfect

The initial project performance pitch is one of the most important, and frequent, styles of pitching you’ll need to perfect as you seek out the right partners for success. Done well, publishers, platforms, and project investors will realize your game is the perfect opportunity for them.

Jason Della Rocca
Jason Della Rocca is a game industry entrepreneur, funding advisor, and cluster expert. As the cofounder of Executions Labs, he was a hands-on early stage investor in over 20 independent game studios in North America and Europe. Between 2000- and 2009, he served as the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). As a sought-after expert on the game industry, Jason has lectured at conferences and universities worldwide.
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