Xsolla Funding Club shares the best practices to ensure a successful pitch.
Finding the right publisher or investor is essential for independent game developers. With so many games being released every day (25 on Steam alone!), it is more important than ever to have access to the funding, resources, and expertise they can offer. Publishers and investors can also provide connections and experience that can help developers navigate the complex gaming industry and reach a wider audience.
Jónas Antonsson, CEO of indie game publisher Raw Fury, noted that 80% of the almost 6,000 indie games released in the first half of 2022 made less than $5,000. However, three out of four indie games that made it to the top 10 were released with the help of a publisher. In today's market, it is more important than ever for indie developers to find a publisher. But finding a publisher or investor is not as easy as picking up the phone.
Publishers receive dozens of pitches each month. Pitching to potential investors can be a challenging and complex process, and many developers face a lot of rejection at first. Don't be discouraged if your first few calls are ignored or turned down. Instead, use these rejections as an opportunity to revise your pitches and ideas, and learn more about what publishers and investors are looking for.
In the following sections, we will discuss what you need to do to prepare for a successful pitch. This includes the documents you need to create, the steps you need to take, and the tips you need to follow. We will also discuss how to practice your pitch so that you can deliver it in a clear and concise way.
How to Prepare for a Successful Pitch
Before your meeting with investors and publishers, you will need to send them a variety of materials. Keep in mind that many publishers and investors have outlines or guides on their websites - like Chucklefish does - that detail what they are looking for in an investor-facing pitch deck. Providing exactly what they are looking for not only saves time, but it also shows that you are attentive and understand their side of the business.
Factors typically included in an investor-facing pitch deck
- Budget breakdown: What you’re currently spending money on
- Milestone schedules: What goals you plan on hitting and when
- Use-of-funds: What you’ll do with the money
- Comparable titles: Showcasing success within your genre and a formula to follow
- Pricing strategies: How you’ll price your game, DLC, and in-game items
- Marketing strategies: How you plan on showcasing your game
- Monetization strategies: How you plan on making money before, during, and after launch
- Team history and experience: Showcasing what your team brings to the table
- Final vision of the product: Your “best case scenario” for your game’s launch
- Ideal partner: What you’re looking for in a publisher or investor
- Target demographic: Who you plan to market to
- Some form of forecast: What you expect to happen within the coming development cycle
It is important to understand your team's strengths and weaknesses, and what you need support for most from an investor or publisher. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, so it is important to make your studio seem as competent and prepared as possible.
Let's take a closer look at some of the key points that you should provide before your pitch.
Much like a job application, a cover letter is one of the first things you will need to send in before your call. They will likely need a brief summary of your game, your studio and business model, and why you want to work with this particular publisher. The cover letter gives the publisher time and information to learn about your studio and its needs, and gives you the chance to answer any upfront questions before you begin your formal pitch.
Some key tips for a good cover letter:
- Start with a strong introduction. Your introduction should grab the publisher's attention and make them want to read more.
- Why do you want to work with this particular publisher? What do you like about their company and their track record?
- Keep it concise. A cover letter should be no more than one page long.
- Proofread carefully. Typos and grammatical errors will make you look unprofessional.
A slide from the original pitch for Diablo (1994), now a worldwide hit published by Activision Blizzard
A pitch deck is a presentation that outlines your game and business plan to potential investors or publishers. It should be concise and to the point, and it should take no more than 5 minutes to deliver.
Here are some key aspects that should be included in a pitch deck:
- Title Page: The title page should include your game's name, logo, your studio's name, and contact information.
- Game Overview: Provide a brief overview of your game, including the genre, the target audience, the gameplay, and the story.
- Unique Selling Points: What’s your core game loop? What art style are you going for? What mechanics are unique, or are you putting a spin on classics? Anything that makes your game stand out should go here, along with eye-catching visuals.
- Target Audience: Who your game is for and why they would be interested in playing it?
- Team: Your team slide should introduce your team and be sure to highlight their skills, experience, and notable projects. Show that you know your turf and how to run it.
- Market: How do you plan to make money from your game? What’s your target final price? What plans do you have for DLC? What ideas do you have to generate interest?
- Budget: How much money will you need and what’s it for? Detail your plan like expanding the team, outsourcing, software, hardware, what your burn rate is and/or will be, and so on.
- Roadmap: Outline your goals, milestones, and timelines for achieving them. This is a high-level overview of your development plans that can be used to track progress, identify risks, and make adjustments as needed. It should be realistic and achievable.
And here is a pitch deck for Backbone, a hit indie title published by Raw Fury. Almost 30 years apart from Dibalo’s, it’s clear the format hasn’t changed much
Remember, that this enterprise is a risk both for you and your potential partners. At the end of the day, they’re really looking to invest in a successful business. When you are pitching your game, it is important to strike a balance between the features of your game and the business behind your studio. Strike an informative balance between your game’s features and the business behind your studio.
"Some publishers are more risk averse while others are more risk taking so while some may want to minimize risk as much as possible, others are more inclined to take on risky ventures as long as the upside potential is high. Knowing how your ideal funding partner approaches their selection process is extremely key," – Ernest Chung, Head Industry Analyst at Xsolla Funding
A game trailer is a valuable tool for developers. It can be used to quickly convey the main gameplay loop of your game and showcase your art style. Key screenshots and gifs from your trailer can also be used to show off your game in a quick and shareable format.
The most convenient way to share your trailer is to upload it to YouTube (unlisted if the project isn't announced yet) or share it via cloud services. Most publishers at this stage want to see a "raw" display of your game, without marketing copy or voiceovers getting in the way. They want to see your game's core loop in action.
Cinematics can be stunning, but they are expensive to produce and don't tell much about the actual game. If you're looking to get your game noticed by publishers, focus on creating a trailer that showcases your gameplay and art style.
This trailer for Hades showcases the game’s unique art style and high-paced gameplay
Having a good trailer is essential for a successful game release. Each year, thousands of indie games are released on Steam alone. To stand out from the crowd, you need to make a great first impression with your trailer. Alex Goodwin, creator of the indie game Selfloss, knows the importance of a good trailer. He says that having high-quality visuals, GIFs, and trailers as early as possible in the pitching process is crucial.
Firewatch’s trailer shows off the game’s humor and narrative, which is the game’s focus
Each of these game trailers is a great example of how to create a trailer that is tailored to its genre, themes, art, pacing, and target audience. When creating your own trailer, it is important to keep these factors in mind.
If you are unsure of how to create a trailer that meets all of these criteria, it may be worth it to consult with a professional trailer studio. There are many talented trailer studios out there who can help you create a trailer that is both effective and visually appealing.
A game trailer is a crucial marketing tool, but it's important to strike a balance between accuracy and excitement. You don't want to mislead potential customers with your trailer, but you also don't want to undersell your game. A good trailer will accurately represent your game, both its strengths and its weaknesses. It will highlight the best features of your game, but it will also be honest about any potential shortcomings.
As mentioned earlier, a high-quality game trailer is essential for a game's success. However, creating a high-quality trailer can be expensive. This is where Xsolla Funding Club comes in. They have created a Trailer Investment Program and partnered with top-tier trailer houses, including Pattern, Plastic Wax, VIVIX, TrailerFarm, Liquid+Arcade, and Unobtainium. Plus, the program can provide up to $250,000 in funding towards your trailer.
If you are at the stage where you have a playable build of your game, it is important to make sure that it is of the highest quality. The build should be bug-free, easy to install and set up, and optimized for performance. It should also accurately represent the core gameplay loop of your game and the quality that you expect from the final product.
Here are some tips for creating a high-quality playable build:
- Test your build thoroughly. Make sure that you have fixed all of the bugs that you can find.
- Make sure that your build is easy to install and set up. The publisher should be able to get your game up and running quickly and easily.
- Optimize your build for performance. Make sure that your game runs smoothly on a variety of systems.
- Make sure that your build looks its best. Use high-quality graphics and sound effects.
- Accurately represent your game. The publisher should be able to get a good sense of what your game is about from playing your build. Developer Raw Fury outlines the need for the build to, “Capture enough of the essence of what you want to build and convey that in a way that makes sense for people outside of your team.”
Prepare for Your Pitch
Once you’ve prepared your pitch deck and have done your research, you’re ready for the real thing. But, your work doesn’t end once you’ve landed a meeting, and your pitch deck won’t do all the work for you. Little things can make a huge difference in whether or not your pitch is successful.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Before you pitch your game to a publisher, it is important to practice your pitch as much as possible. This will help you to identify any areas where you need to improve, and it will also help you to feel more confident when you are actually pitching your game.
Here are some tips for practicing your pitch:
- Practice in front of a mirror. This will help you to see how you come across and to identify any areas where you need to improve your body language.
- Practice with friends or family members. Ask them to give you feedback on your pitch and to ask you questions.
- Record yourself and play it back. This will help you to identify any areas where you need to improve your delivery.
- Attend trade shows and meet publishers in person. This is a great way to practice your pitch and to get feedback from potential publishers.
Preparing for a Video Call
If your pitch meeting is a video call instead of an in-person meeting, take these tips into consideration:
Internet and Video Quality
A laggy internet connection and bad camera quality can make you seem unprofessional. Make sure you are hosting your call from a location with a fast internet connection so that you can answer questions without delay or choppy audio. You also want to make sure that your game trailer and pitch deck are clear and easy to see. If you are using a webcam, make sure that it is placed in a well-lit area so that your face is visible.
It is also important to be mindful of any distractions in the background. If you have children or pets, make sure that they are taken care of before you start your call. You don't want any unexpected noises or interruptions to disrupt your presentation.
Appearance and Background
It is also important to make a good impression with your appearance and background. Dress professionally and make sure that your background is clean and tidy. Proper lighting will also help you to look your best.
Backup Internet, Backup Presenters
It is always a good idea to have a backup plan in case of technical difficulties. Have a phone nearby that can be used as a hotspot in case your internet connection drops out. You should also have someone who knows your presentation in case you get sick or have to reschedule your call.
By following these tips, you can make a good impression on potential investors and publishers and increase your chances of getting your game funded and published.
Prepare for Unexpected Questions
It is important to be prepared for questions that are not covered in your pitch. Some investors and publishers may ask about the planned support of your game, especially after launch. If your game is the type that would benefit from ongoing support, you should be prepared to answer questions about your post-launch plans, such as how you will support your game with updates, bug fixes, and new content. You should also be prepared to answer questions about how you plan to maximize the lifecycle of your game.
If your game is planned for multiple platforms, you should also be prepared to answer questions about porting. This includes questions about your team's experience in porting games, your access to development kits, and whether you expect your ideal partner to help you with porting.
By being prepared for these questions, you can make a good impression on potential investors and publishers and increase your chances of getting your game funded and published.
After the Meeting
After your meeting with an investor or publisher, you may need to send them follow-up materials for further evaluation of your project. You don't want to overwhelm them with heavy figures and numbers during your pitch, but it's a good idea to have these documents prepared in case they ask for more information. One such follow-up document is a Profit and Loss (P&L) statement.
A P&L statement, also known as an income statement, is a financial document that summarizes a company's revenue, costs, and expenses over a certain period of time. It's used to track a studio's financial performance and show losses, gains, and fluctuations in operation. A P&L statement can help investors and publishers determine the economics of your studio, giving them insight into your current state and allowing them to adjust the deal or ask more questions if needed. The more detail you include, the better, as it shows good bookkeeping on your part and your understanding of the financial side of game development.
Here are some tips for creating a P&L statement for your game studio:
- Include all relevant revenue and expenses. This includes both direct and indirect costs, as well as one-time and recurring expenses.
- Break down your expenses by category. This will help investors and publishers understand where your money is going.
- Use clear and concise language. Avoid jargon and technical terms that your audience may not understand.
- Get someone else to review your statement. This will help you catch any errors or omissions.
It is possible that a publisher will ask for additional information, such as a more detailed development plan or an updated build. Do your best to provide what they need in a timely manner and be helpful throughout the process. You don't want to make it seem like working with you will be a slow and difficult process. Be as fast and accurate as you can, and prepare more detailed documents in case they have follow-up questions based on your pitch.
But remember, this journey will not be easy. You may have caught the initial interest of a potential partner, but that doesn't mean you have the deal yet.
Ernest Chung adds, “Once you have set up a call to discuss the opportunity, these investors/publishers are looking to see how well your team and their portfolio fit together. They want to see how you can contribute to their company.”
“Many times, there will be a first right of refusal for sequels and future titles in the terms of the contract. This means that investors/publishers are looking for teams that they believe in for multiple titles in the future, not just this one opportunity.”
Tips for a Good Pitch
We’ve covered what every pitch needs to succeed, but you should strive to stand out and make a good first impression with the following tips.
- Provide contact information. Clear and constant communication with your prospective investors is one way to help you succeed.
- Memorize your pitch. Don't read off the slides or a script. Make sure you make eye contact or look at the camera when speaking, speak with confidence, and show that you know what your own game is about.
- Be proud of your achievements. It's important not to over-inflate your accomplishments or brag, but publishers and investors want to know you have what it takes to deliver a successful game. Bring up awards, accolades, reviews, and other success stories in order to sell yourself and your studio.
Chung provides some additional insight here, “Know your worth. This means knowing how much money you need to make your game, as well as the value of your team's time and expertise. This all becomes important when it comes to setting deal terms and expectations with the potential investor/publisher.”
Xsolla Accelerator is a 16-week program that provides networking, pitch assistance, and resources to teach studios business acumen. It is important to prepare the materials described in the article in the right way, as it will affect the investors' and publishers' first impression and further decisions. Xsolla Accelerator can help with this, as it offers developers two main forms of support: funding and education.
Over the course of the program, participants will have access to a range of resources, including lectures from Edvice, regular Progress Checks, test Demo Days, and Demo Days, where they can showcase their projects to potential investors and publishers. More than that, the Accelerator team offers personalized assistance to developers throughout the program. Funding-wise, Xsolla offers acceleration bridge funding from $30k to $100k per project up-front.
Here are some of the benefits of participating in Xsolla Accelerator:
- Funding: Xsolla offers acceleration bridge funding from $30k to $100k per project up-front.
- Education: Participants will have access to a range of resources, including lectures from Edvice, regular progress checks, test demo days, and demo days, where they can showcase their projects to potential investors and publishers.
- Networking: Participants will have the opportunity to network with other game developers, investors, and publishers.
- Personalized assistance: The Accelerator team offers personalized assistance to developers throughout the program.
Ready for Your Pitch?
Giving a successful game pitch is a complex process. Not every publisher or investor is right for your studio, so it is important to do your research and ensure that they are a good fit for you. Pay attention to who they have worked with in the past, and what types of games/studios they tend to work with.
Prepare all the necessary materials such as your cover letter, pitch deck, financial details, and more, in order to have a seamless and smooth first call. Remember to work with your potential partner by supplying them with any additional information they may need as you work towards a deal.
We also recommend checking out these materials, as they can provide additional insight when preparing a pitch:
- Guide for Pitching to Publishers (Chucklefish)
- Top 14+ Video Game Pitch Deck Examples
- How To Pitch Your Indie Game (tinyBuild)
- 30 Things I Hate About Your Game Pitch
- How to Pitch to Raw Fury
- How to Prepare for a Call with VC?
- Two Dozen Things that Affect my Investment Decisions
- You don't have their curiosity, but you want their attention - How To Pitch a Video Game
Xsolla's Accelerator program helps game studios prepare their pitch strategies for investors. The program is currently looking for new participants, so if you have an unpublished game and need funding and guidance, and want to participate in the Xsolla Accelerator program, please visit the website to learn more and apply.