ECGC Keynote: Game Pitches (and Business Pitches) with Ken Rolston

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The Keynote Speaker at the East Coast Gaming Conference on Wednesday, April 23rd was Ken Rolston, narrative designer, roleplaying designer, and all-around nice guy. His talk was almost entirely about setting up ways to pitch your game ideas, but it also nicely meshed with ideas for promoting business pitches. I’ll chime in along with his notes with leadership or business ideas as I related them.

To prepare us for the talk, Ken setup the following roadmap for his talk:

  1. Game pitches
  2. Premise
  3. Powerpoint
    ——-  Then a brief break  ———–
  4. Discovery
  5. Models
  6. Closet dramas

In setting us up for this journey, Ken notes that he always writes in his margins, and in fact he had the word “Landmarks” outside of the staging area of his powerpoint slides. The point of this, he noted, was that in any presentation, you should talk off the slides, not directly from them. Get the idea across, always imply MORE than what the screens say, and always communicate the full information, even if you have to create only small amount of information in your slides.

At this point, I’d like to highlight the fact that we’ve almost all been in a presentation where the teacher or businessman reads directly off the slide, as though we ourselves were incapable of doing so. What a waste of everyone’s time. Why take notes or even pay attention when you can skim or scan the information in a heartbeat? Show your skill and knowledge by using the  slide as a starting point, not as the entire journey.
Game ideas are the pitch that makes money. It tells us what will happen, what we need to do, the character and the environment’s relationship with users. The ideal approach is that when making your plan and your pitch, it should remain as useful to the end user as when it gets to the publishers.

In looking for new video game ideas for the first time, Ken noted that his ideas followed an original (also reads very naive) plan:

  1. Call for pitches from anyone interested on staff
  2. Receive a premise submission, and allow draft revisions
  3. Short list of operators would be allowed to create a powerpoint if their ideas didn’t suck
  4. Each selected operator would give their presentation
  5. The team would review and decide upon a few select (or just one) winner(s)
  6. Project(s) selected would receive pre-production comments

This did not happen in any way as expected. They were flooded with multiple ideas from staff members, many contributing more than one each. Word got out, and the public started contributing in wild numbers. There was simply no way to approach this in a refined format. Instead, with sooo many powerpoints selected, and so many different forms of premise submission, they were forced to do something fun. They created a “brown bag screening” in which company employees and anyone who submitted content could come and gauge all the submissions. It was an instant success! It has been a plan he’s followed several times after as well.

Premise Submission

What is a premise? Well, a premise is a 2-page executive summary and formal design checklist for your video game idea. When pitching a video game, the premise will be instrumental in getting your idea in front of the best people to get it made.

The premise document is so vitally important, that everyone interested needs to create a perfectly well-formed document. Isn’t it surprising that there is still no accepted format to make a premise document? Ken Rolston outlined the following items to include in your premise document.

What to include in your video game premise document when pitching a video game:

  1. Title of the game
  2. Describe an imaginative entry
  3. High concept of the game
  4. Who are you and what you are doing
  5. What kind of interface will there be/how will the interface be used
  6. Explanation of gameplay
  7. What the mood of the game will be like
  8. Target audience & suggested platform
  9. Finance model (how will it make money- its best if you know how this would be done)
  10. Emulation target (what other game is this like?)

I’d like at this point to note how closely this resembles a business pitch for a large business venture, a new business endeavour, or a new program at your college.

Your PowerPoint

Your PowerPoint document is a major step in getting your game published. You’ll be presenting your video game idea in its clearest, most visual format ever. Do your best to make this a fantastic affair.

What to consider before creating your video game powerpoint presentation

  1. Industry standard information
  2. Define your game by providing example imagery (doesn’t matter where you get it) that provides the mood
  3. Study existing PowerPoint presentations (find them online)
  4. Ken Rolston provided a starter template at the session- if you’re interested in finding it, please visit the ECGC website and watch the presentation. It should be available in November 2014
  5. Share evolving models between ideas
  6. Steal styles and tricks from others and existing powerpoints
  7. Thrive on art director love (learn to do things that aren’t about the words, like designing your own documents, layouts and graphics)
  8. Creating a powerpoint is easier than creating the premise document


A Practical Template for creating your video game powerpoint presentation

  1. Game title & evocative logo
  2. What is it? (what is your game about)
  3. Why should the viewer care (about the game, about the land, about the character)
  4. Who is the video game for (who is the main audience)
  5. List of game features (list these in bullet points)
  6. Fiction flow or progression (What happens in the opening, mid-game, and end game)
  7. Pictures including art and tone (suggest the tone of the game in every shot)


Discoveries on the Path to Enlightenment

When Ken went on to talk about developing a game, he pointed out an important lesson, or set of lessons found on the way to completion. The main lesson to take away is this: Make everything you feel is important into the game. Not everything will survive until the final cut, but starting with the most ideas will ensure that the best will bubble to the top.

Ken’s Suggestions for building the best gaming experience possible:

  • build 400%
  • archive 350%
  • develop all remaining into 100% awesome!!!

In short, build 4 times as much material, 4 times as much story, 4 times as much environments, 4 times as many items, etc. From this, trim out any extranneous material, any slow-moving materials, and unneeded storylines. When only the best of the best is left, expand, expound, improve, and increase this remaining 50% into 100% awesome materials.

unanticipated lessons and benefits: like surviving in the wilderness

Brown bag festival

  1. Test pitch on gamers- By inviting all the gamers, we were able to test the pitches on actual gamers
  2. Gauge trends- See how many game types are re-occuring trends in the minds of gamers
  3. Share process with studio- the whole staff gets to be involved and excited about the games
  4. Celebrate creativity- everyone presenting feels important
  5. Reward initiative and commitment- Those who are active staff members are rewarded for their efforts
  6. Public display of studio mission- the public gets to see your level of excitement and interest in fames

Literature is the sum of the text and the response of the reader!


Final Word: Presenting to the money men

In the end, its all about the premise and powerpoint. But, having our materials presented to the entire staff generated the FAQ- questions which would be about what the executive WANTS to hear. And then you can answer those things. If you could promote to friends, and answer all FAQ they have in an effort to prepare the FAQ for executives, you’ll be gold. If you can answer 3 questions in a row, they know you’re smart, you’ve thought about the product and the process, and you’re a good bet..

The visionary genious must answer each and every question when presenting the materials. The presentation is a way to get executive and user questions, they are different even with studio folks. Have those 3 great answers to win

Last word: Ron Kelton suggests you always use the word “freshness” instead of innovation.