Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

How to pitch your indie game to a VC / investor

I publish games by other indies (redshirt and big pharma so far, with an investment in duskers), and am always open to looking at proposals. I turn down more than I fund. Some pitches are awesome, some are dreadful. Here are some tips, whether you are pitching to me, or someone else.

Reality check:

Before you write a single word of a pitch, step back and remember what you are asking. Your whole pitch is basically ‘Will you take a $50-200,000 bet on me making a profitable indie game?’ This is a tough ask, a VERY tough ask. Unless you have, in your direct personal experience taken a bet of that magnitude where there is a chance you will lose every single penny of it, then you don’t really appreciate what you are asking. No investor *has* to invest their money. They can leave it in a bank earning nothing, but staying safe. They can stick it on the stock market and hope to make a relatively safe return. They can spread it across business crowd sourcing and probably make a safe 5%. Or they can gamble the whole lot on your game design… The reason they will choose the game is that sometimes (rarely), it’s a big big win.

What To Do:

  • Include a brief bio, so we know who you are and what you did. Even if you are just 18 years old and always been in school, still say it, tell us what you studied in this case, and how you did.
  • Get straight to the point with a very short elevator pitch description of your game. Don’t expect us to get to page eight to find out its a mobile platformer.
  • Include figures. They will be wrong, but we need to know you have thought about them. Be able to back them up to the best of your ability.
  • Include timescales, broken down into milestones. We want to know this is not an open ended thing.
  • Explain why you need the VC. Is it the money? or the expertise? If it’s just money, why haven’t you borrowed it from family, or a bank? or re-mortgaged your house? There are justifications for all of these, but we want to know yours.
  • Include flavor text. Games that are simply a list of bullet point features with no soul generally tank. We want to know the passion, the feelings and emotions you will put into this game. Concept art also helps. Even art from other games, movies, inspirations etc is fine, if it helps to conveys your vision.
  • Include an allowance for marketing the game in the budget.
  • Include any evidence that you can finish a project this big. Even if its not a game, if you wrote some software that manages a tractor factory, thats really worth knowing. Seriously.
  • Include allowances for stuff like software licenses and subscription stuff.

What Not To Do:

  • Don’t include a lot of crap about the size of the games industry, with huge numbers in, as some sort of ‘intro’. If I’m an investor in the games industry, I know this stuff anyway so you are boring me, and telling me what activisions profits were last year has fuck-all relevance to your indie game.
  • Make financial errors in any calculation, anywhere in your pitch
  • Compare yourself in any way to minecraft. It’s an outlier.
  • Pitch a three year project based on you sleeping in a tent eating noodles. This is not sustainable, and we can smell the desperation.
  • Pitch a three year game where you earn $80,000 a year salary because that’s ‘the going rate’. Thats the going rate for a job, not a partnership where you own a huge royalty stream at the end of it.
  • Wrap up the whole pitch in a single page. If you are serious about your project, then editing your enthusiasm down to a few pages will be hard.

What the investor/publisher will do:

We will tell you if your game is doomed from the start (our best guess, we can be wrong) due to business / financial choices. We will tell you how we think you can fix that. Don’t think that all of your pitch has to be the absolute right choices, there just has to be some spark there, combined with reliability and technical ability. If you pitch a mobile game aimed at kids, and we think the game design and art is fantastic but it would work better as a pc game aimed at the 30+ market, thats still something that can be funded. Investors are generally looking for people, more than ideas. We assume you are flexible.

So how to pitch?

You do *not* need friends in the industry (although tbh it does help). What you need is just email. You don’t need a glossy printed brochure about your game, unless your plan is to physically hand it to someone like me at a conference. (Thats totally acceptable btw). Nobody cares if your pitch is a slide ‘deck’ or a word document, or a PDF or whatever. Contrary to what some people think, it is totally fine to just email investors out of the blue to pitch your project. If I’m honest, you probably do slightly better to introduce yourself in person, because then an immediate two-way discussion takes place, but if you email me a decent pitch I will definitely read it. My email address is cliff AT positech dot co dot uk. I only invest in PC games. Strategy preferred, but not essential. I don’t do Free to play games. I’ll be at rezzed in London in March 2015 and on a panel at GDC 2015 too if you want to elevator pitch to me.

7 thoughts on How to pitch your indie game to a VC / investor

  1. I’ve read of many games being done where the would be/eventual publisher paid for the art assets. Some even got to decently size beta but then ended up being canned as the publisher supposedly thought there was no market. So the game is sort of ready but owner ship is split. I didn’t play it so hard to say if it was any good. Still kind of hard to figure out what sort of deal there was where it was better to not release it at all – looking at the stuff that’s come out in past few years it would have been quite competitive I think. (Back when it was first announced the bar seemed bit higher in some ways and it looked bit old school for then, now looking a bit old school might not be that horrible).

  2. eg. Some space strategy examples I know: The first MOO (gfx changes + name change after finding publisher) and the Stars! sequel.

    “The huge popularity of the original Stars! game convinced the developers that there would be a market for a sequel. They formed a company called Mare Crisium Studios and began development of Supernova Genesis. This was intended to be a much more advanced game, with significantly better graphics, and also to remove some of the irritations of the original (such as the level of micro-management).

    Unfortunately there was little interest from games publishers who by that time had become focussed exclusively on the video game console and high-end 3D games markets, and so the project was eventually abandoned. As rights to the ingame graphics remain with Empire, it is unlikely that the game will be brought back into production.”

  3. I’ve really avoided doing GUI programming because whenever I tried it, it turned very convoluted arithmetic spaghetti. I found some stuff recently that is a bit mind bending but shows things could be done more succintly if not also efficiently.

    1) dynamic drawing dialog method – this allows to create very complicated GUI’s that only draw updates where needed without double buffering etc usual tricks

    (the demo is for MFC but author says the technique is widely usable)

    2) using standard algos to simplify common operations in GUI and probably other things.
    (pdf slides in description)

  4. Cliff it would be really interesting if sometime you could do a post that de constructs one winning pitch and one pitch you turned down for comparison, and so that we can see what a real pitch looks like. With permission from the owners of the pitches of course!

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