Pitching Your Game
I frequently either get folks asking me how to pitch a game, or watch people do it in ways that are extreme turn-offs. So today, I’ll break down the wisdom others have shared with me.
(Note: this is about pitching a game in person. A couple years back, I wrote about dealing with a book’s back cover text.)
First, 25 words
Pitching is like an onion — there are layers to it, and it’s best if you don’t put the entire thing in your mouth right away, because it’s too big. The first layer follows Robin Laws’ rule of “25 words or less” — you have no more than 25 words to get me interested in listening to you.
This is the equivalent of shouting “SEX-FIRE! Now that I have your attention…” It’s just enough to get someone who will give you, if you’re lucky, a few unsolicited seconds to stop and listen to more. I like making this an interrogative, because people will at least unconsciously react to that, even if they don’t stop to talk to you further. (Mythender’s is “Do you want to stab Thor in the face?”)
You don’t pack everything your game is in those 25 words. I don’t bring up apotheosis or the struggle of mortality or that you can sunder concepts in the world. That’s for later.
Then, 30 seconds
If someone’s given you their attention after hearing those few words, then you have 30 seconds to give them a bigger pitch, to talk about elements of the game that you’re personally excited about. When I talk about Mythender, after the first layer, I’ll talk briefly about how it’s inspired by dramatic fights in cinema, batshit-crazy stuff in anime, 300, the God of War series, etc. I also mention that it’s a story about apotheosis and deicide, and that the real trick in Mythender isn’t to End a god, but is to do so without becoming a god yourself — and that being why Mythenders travel together, to make sure that if one’s about to fall, the others End him.
If they are still interested in that point, and are talking to you about your game (rather than something else), then make a connection: run a little demo, hand them a card with your info or your game’s info, schedule a time, whatever. At this point, you’ve got someone who at least seems interested in your story, vision, delivery, whatever, and you can have a conversation. Importantly, I said “conversation” and not “monologue” — find out what they’re interested in and actually connect, even if only for a couple minutes. That connection will help them feel like your game or whatever will hold some meaning in their lives if they actually play it.
What not to do
There are a few don’t that, these days, I visibly wince at when they happen:
- Do not shit on another game, whether by name of obliquely. You never know if you’re talking to a fan of that game that could also like yours simultaneously, or someone who worked on that game. Worse, it says that you made a game because you have a axe to grind rather than because of joy.
- Do not define your game in the negative, like “this game doesn’t have classes!” You know what else doesn’t have classes? Poker. Jogging. Watching Fight Club. Such statements say nothing, except that you made this game because of said axe grinding.
- Don’t sell your game as being “for everything.” That says (a) you have no idea what your game really is about, (b) you don’t understand game design if you think that your game fits everything, and (c) you aren’t trying to infuse me with any sort of passion. Now, maybe you have a system that can work for many things, like Fate or whatever, but just saying that doesn’t engage in any passion.
The latter is hard to do if what you built is a more universal system, and in those cases I recommend doing the tried and true method of getting people interested in your universal system: make a setting to showcase it, and later if people stay interested, they’ll click on how it’s expandable and adaptable.
Those of you who have successfully pitched games to people at conventions, what advice would you give to those new to it? How do you pitch your games?