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Stadia Games & Entertainment presents: Keys to a great game pitch (Google Games Dev Summit)


[MUSIC PLAYING] ALEX HUTCHINSON: Hi, everyone My name's Alex Hutchinson, our brand new creative director here at Google Stadia

We're here to talk to you today about pitching Over the last 20 years, from starting off in a strip mall in smalltown Melbourne, Australia making handheld games for the Gameboy Advance, all the way through EA to Ubisoft directing games, like "Assassin's Creed 3," "Far Cry 4," or designing games like "Spore" and the "Sims 2," I've been pitching continually and often throughout the entire development process REID SCHNEIDER: My name is Reid Schneider I'm a new exec producer here at Stadia I've been in the games industry over 20 years

So today, we're here to talk to you about pitching And what I'm going to focus on is the production side of the equation, and the important elements as you're thinking about how you can structure the production side in order to get great results as you're making your pitch Over the years, I've had the opportunity to work on a number of games from multiple different genres Everything from back, years ago, working on the original "Splinter Cell," to "Battlefield Vietnam," to "Army of Two," to most recently, "Arkham Origins," "Arkham Knight" And then we just shipped "Journey of the Savage Planet" as part of Typhoon Studios

And now we're super excited to be part of that the Google Stadia Team ALEX HUTCHINSON: To start with, I want to talk a little bit about the origin of the term "to pitch" So during the 15th century, a guy called Torquemada was in charge of the Spanish Inquisition And so the story goes, he would ask playwrights that he'd imprisoned somewhere in Spain to pitch him an idea for a play they wanted to write And if the play was entertaining enough, he would actually allow them to make it, or allow them to live long enough to make it

Or else, he would put them back in the boiling oil where we get the word "to pitch" from Is it true? To be honest, I'm not necessarily sure But ever since I heard this story, it stuck in my head like a little mind worm, which I think is one of the keys to any great pitch So as a creative director, pitching is integral to my job At the very start, you're pitching to yourself, trying to figure out what a good game would entail

Then you're pitching to your team to try and get them excited about the project that you want to make Then you're usually pitching to the exec staff to convince them that it's something that they want to fund And then, if you're lucky enough to make it, you're pitching to the press to get them to buy into it And finally, you're pitching to players to get them to spend their hard-earned cash on the game that you've just made So in a sense, there's nothing more important than understanding how a good pitch is put together, why it's important, and how you can deliver it to your audience

For us, there are four key elements to any good pitch The first and most obvious is a good pitch needs a vision You need to be able to express your idea clearly and efficiently to your audience The second is it needs to be believable No one is going to buy into your pitch– even if it's internal and all they're spending is time, or worse, if it's an external publisher and they're investing money– if they don't believe you can actually make the idea that you're pitching

Third, it's all about people Any pitch is going to be made by your team, not just yourself So they need to understand who's going to do what, and believe that it's actually achievable in the time and under the budget that you've proposed And finally, you need a pretty clear plan Lots of people think it's just a high concept

But we've found, over the years, that having a plan right at the start allows people to buy in from day one I also want us to remember that games are inherently a luxury item People are never buying your game because they think it will solve a problem They're not buying it because it's a cheaper version of a problem they already have solved They're buying it because they want it, which means that the thing we're really selling is emotions

So the key to any good pitch is to arrive at the emotional core of what you're trying to sell If you have a shooter, then you want intensity You want action You want drama Or if you have a romance game, you want the key to the relationships that you're building up

Finding and identifying the key emotion that you're trying to sell, then articulating how you're going to sell it and how you're going to deliver it to the audience is the primary focus of any good pitch When we began "Journey to the Savage Planet," we had a few specific goals for the game We wanted it to be bright, optimistic We wanted it to be funny We wanted it to be cooperative so you could go on this journey with your best friend or child or partner

We wanted it to be in the action adventure space And we wanted it to be set in a crazy alien world But if you boil it down, the core emotions that we were trying to hit were basically bright, optimistic, and funny And throughout development, every time we came back to a question of whether we would include a feature, or whether we would double down on an element that was working, or whether we would try to fix something that wasn't working, it had to hit one of those three points If it was something that was going to make the player laugh, then we continued with it

If it was going to make sure that we had a world that was bright and upbeat and optimistic, then we'd continue with it Anything else, if it wasn't working straight off the bat, we would cut and move aside pretty quickly And then, another part of any good pitch is even when you're in the process of talking to people about it, you're actually continually getting feedback, either from their expression or from the questions they ask or from how they talk about your game later on So it was important for us, when we look back on the project to see if it was successful, to see if the audience or if the press actually keyed in on the key elements that we wanted REID SCHNEIDER: So Alex talked about all the creative elements of the pitch, and those are core

You need to hook people from the start with the creative elements But as important as the creative elements are, your pitch has to be achievable It has to be realistic So now, we're going to talk about the production areas of the pitch, which hopefully will give you some tools in order to make your pitch more believable and give you a better chance of success So as an example, on "Journey to the Savage Planet," the pitch was all about focusing on great content

It wasn't about creating lots of crazy new tech, because we knew with the time that we had and the team we were building, it really had to be an exercise in making awesome content that would really appeal to gamers So as part of thinking about how you can craft a great pitch, I want to introduce you to some creative leaders who have really been able to hone their craft The first I want to introduce you to is a person named Ed Catmull Ed Catmull was one of the founders of Pixar Pixar, obviously, is known for making incredible content

And in his book, "Creativity, Inc", he talks about lots of really good lessons for teams, especially game teams But there's two that I want to point out today The first one that he talks about is that if you give a great idea to an average team, it's probably going to come out kind of average But if you give an average idea to a great team, they're going to make it shine, or they're going to come up with a better idea, which is going to make that idea even better

The second idea that Ed talks about a lot in "Creativity, Inc" is this idea of team chemistry And in game development, it is such a huge factor with what we do Chemistry is really everything So as you're thinking about building your team, and as you're thinking about who those team members, which are going to be part of your pitch, you really need to be thinking about how is that team going to work together, because ultimately, that's what's going to get you great results

So in "Journey to the Savage Planet," we had a team of 25 people And one of the reasons that the game came together in the way that it did was because we put people together who had really, really strong team chemistry Now, that's not to say that, over the whole course of the production, everything was always roses It's development There's ups and downs

It's not always going to be that way But what's important to remember is the chemistry of the team, overall, worked really well And I think, as you think about what you're pitching to other people, that chemistry is uber, uber important The next person I want to introduce you to is a scientist named Douglas Hofstadter Now, if you haven't started already building your game, Douglas Hofstadter knows a hell of a lot more about your game than you do

What does that really mean? Well, as an example, something that we hear about a lot is what's called Hofstadter's law So to boil it down, what that really means, in terms of Hofstadter's law, is things are always going to take way longer than you think they're going to take But as developers, sometimes we're prone to thinking that the best-case scenario is what it's going to be And we need to get into the habit of being realistic with our expectations And the more realistic you can be with your expectations, the better your pitch is going to be

So this slide's a bit of an exaggeration, and it's highly anecdotal, but what it shows you is that sometimes, as we're thinking about our pitch, we're prone to thinking about what's the best-case scenario, and everything's going to work well Again, in game development, there's ups and downs So really be realistic about how long things are going to take So for example, there's the best-case scenario Then there's the average estimate

There's the worst-case scenario Then there's the worst-case scenario where you apply Hofstadter's law to it, and then there's the actual time something might take And again, thinking about how long something's realistically going to take as you construct your pitch is going to help you to do a better job, and also to create an environment for your team where they can really succeed So again, as developers, we are prone to thinking, obviously, everything's going to be the best-case scenario But something that also is really interesting is to be aware of that ultimate cognitive bias

And as we think of that ultimate cognitive bias, I want to talk to you guys a little bit about two scientists So some of you might have heard this already, but I think it's an interesting reminder So to start, let's meet David Dunning and Justin Kruger Now, David Dunning and Justin Kruger are the creators of what's called the Dunning-Kruger Principle So the Dunning-Kruger Principle essentially maps out your wisdom on one axis and your confidence and your skill in another

So when we start a pitch, what we're thinking about– or as we start talking about how we're going to build a game, there's what they've affectionately termed the "Peak of Mount Stupid" So this is where you think you know everything and you think everything is going to go perfectly And this is actually a really, really dangerous place to be because this is really the point when you're just starting to pitch your game This is, unfortunately, where all of us generally are But then you get into what they have also then termed "The Valley of Despair

" So things are down It's hard to understand exactly where you are And are things going to work out? But then slowly but surely, you climb and what they've called "The Slope of Enlightenment" Now, of course, these are all exaggerations The truth of the matter, there is a normal mastery curve that flows throughout this whole process

But again, as we think about how you're going to create this pitch that ultimately is successful, think about these things in terms of how long it's really going to take you to get the results you want and how to get the best results for your team And also, probably most importantly, is how to create a sustainable environment for your team where you're not burning anyone out and you can get the best results So as game developers, let's talk about what were the old-school, traditional production timelines So maybe you'd have three months in a conception period, another three months in a pre-production period You might have nine months in the full production period

And then, what unfortunately would tend to happen a lot is that your alpha, beta, and shipping would be squeezed down to a short amount of time Let's assume that for three months The problem with this model is that you really get all of your points in post-production, post-production meaning that alpha-to-beta period So that's really where things come together, and you can refine And you can make smart choices, in terms of how to get the best results for your project and how to create an awesome game experience for your players

So what I'd like you to think about now is trying to take that old model out of your head But Reid, what should we do about this? Like, how can we think about this? Well, to start, as an example, throwing lots of people at a specific problem all at once is not going to get you the results you want An analogy we like to think about is imagine trying to have tons of people trying to cram through one door at one time It's messy You end up with a lot of collisions

People don't necessarily know where they're trying to get to And it doesn't give you the best results So how should we do that? Well, from our perspective, we think it's really about thinking about your schedule in a realistic and sustainable way So what does that mean exactly? Well, what that means is let's take "Savage Planet" as an example So as you're building your pitch, one of the things that would be really, really helpful for you– again, thinking about something that's achievable and realistic, and something that's going to make a model that your team can actually believe in and is sustainable– is thinking about your development in, essentially, three buckets

Your bucket one being conception and pre-production; bucket two meaning your production; and bucket three meaning post-production So for us, post-production was the time period where we had had a full alpha of the game Now, the alpha was what we called– it was dirty I mean, there was bugs It was hard to understand

But what it allowed us to do is to take a step back and look at everything we had, and then decide what was good, what to invest in, where to double down, and where to cut things and where to remove things So the end of the production period, for us, resulted in that full alpha ALEX HUTCHINSON: Looking back over the years at the various pitches, and trying to identify those that have worked the most, I think the key is to find as focused a niche as you can, and then attack it directly The way that boils down in practice is each of the games that I've worked on has essentially come with three big bets of new features, or elements that we want the players to focus on, that have then allowed us to focus all of our development and to really double down on what we think is going to make this game unique and important and interesting to the player So we talked a little bit before about "Journey to the Savage Planet

" The things that were important there were bright, colorful, optimistic, and exploration, really, as the three big elements that we pursued And even though it's a small game, and even though various elements we cut or moved away from that core, I think those three elements are still trying very hard to be top of class With "Assassins Creed III," the three elements we were targeting were a brand new setting in the American Revolution and a brand new hero for players It was Naval exploration and Naval combat, and it was natural free running, so allowing the player to explore wilderness environments, as well as cities And I think if you look back on the game and how it was received, those three elements come up in every review

Those three elements come up in every piece of player feedback And I think they were key to bringing a huge new audience to the franchise So I hope that gives you a little bit of an insight into how we structure our pitches– the idea of focusing on some key ingredients that build emotions, building a team around it that can execute it, and giving yourself a believable schedule But I wanted to finish with something a little more personal A Post-It Note that's been stuck on my desk now for 20 years or thereabouts, which is WSAGAF

And it's not very Googley, but what it stands for is "why should anyone give a [BEEP]?"?" And it's something I use as a razor, as a filter, to think about every decision that I pitch to someone, every time I ask someone to do work on a feature or the game It needs to be building an emotion in, not only the player eventually, but in the person working on that feature If we're not getting a reaction from people, then it's probably something that's not worth your time But either way, I really hope this short and sharp video has given you an insight into how we work, and I wish you the best of luck in your future pitches [MUSIC PLAYING]

Source: Youtube

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