On the second day of Level Up KL 2022, Vladyslav Tsypljak, the co-founder of Taiwanese developer Neon Doctrine took to the stage to speak about how game developers can pitch their projects to publishers.
His company Neon Doctrine has launched over 20 games across the world which in turn have sold millions making them a well-known presence across Asia. If that’s not enough they’ve also worked with larger publishers for whom they’ve acted as a support dev, helping with games like Monster Hunter, Resident Evil Village, and Death Stranding.
According to Vlad, they facilitate cross-cultural communication by telling stories from communities through the medium of games. A good example of their work is one of their latest titles The Legend Of Tianding, a game that they co-developed alongside Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation, a game about a Robin Hood-like a vigilante in Taiwan during the Japanese Occupation.
Fix Your Pitch
Needless to say, he certainly knows a thing or two about working with and pitching to publishers. Vlad’s first key advice to developers is that they need to “fix their pitch” meaning that fully organize how they pitch their game by asking the following questions:
- What are your Needs? What specific needs and goals are looking for the publishers to help you with?
- Do you need funding? If so, how much? What for? And how do you estimate you’ll recoup your spending?
- What platforms do you wish to port the game to and what sort of support will you need in porting the game? Some studios prefer to do the ports themselves while others wish for external help. It’s up to you to decide what is best for your project.
- Finally, you also want to think about localization. How many regions do you want this game to launch in and will it involve translating the game into different languages? Localization can be expensive so it’s best to start with your specific region and then expand into other potentially viable markets.
He also recommends that you try to find a publisher that offers the exact services that you are looking for to develop your game.
- Need help polishing your art? Help find a studio or publisher to help you with that.
- If you need Quality Assurance (QA), look to professional QA testers to find any bugs within your game. If the game launches broken, it will get negative reviews which will be bad for PR.
- There is also potential showcasing. Showing off your game at events to bring attention to it. This is a big thing for SEA. It’s difficult since everything (traveling, setting the game up at booths) can be expensive so publishers can help you to settle this problem.
The Elevator Pitch
When describing your game to publishers, Vlad says you should be mindful of a technique called an “elevator pitch”. To put it simply, publishers are pitched hundreds, if not thousands of games and often do not have time to read a long detailed synopsis of what your game is about. As such, the description for your title should be short enough to be explained in the time it takes to ride an elevator.
It should be one or two sentences long telling what you do in the game without using other games as examples as you want to sound unique and not derivative of someone else’s work.
Where to reach publishers?
The publisher can be reached through a number of different means including Twitter, Discord, Other Social Media, and Email, as well as both In Person, or at Online Events if they are attending them.
This brings us to the most important part of pitching a game, the pitch itself. Vlad delivers a full breakdown of everything that should be in that initial email that you send to publishers about why they should fund your game.
- Definitely have a gameplay video, you need to show them what it looks like, with 4-5 seconds to show mechanics.
- Introduce yourselves with a Team/Studio description. Prove that your team can do well and show structure and chemistry
- For the game description, Talk about your game and include a good hook. What is this game’s unique selling point?
- What exactly do you need? What support are you looking for to develop the game and what will it roughly cost?
- Ideally, you already have an early build to showcase.
- Reason to invest your money and time, explain why you want them to invest using easy-to-understand bar charts.
- Publishers will pay cash to keep the studio intact (pay for salary and equipment). No need to include localization and marketing in the pitch. That’s handled by the publisher.
- Don’t copy-paste paste the pitch and CC everyone. You want to tailor-make the pitch for the publisher with their tastes and business practices in mind.
- If you have a demo for your game, make a Steam branch for it. It is best not to use Windows since they can more easily get a virus. It is also easier for the developer to maintain.
Do Your Research
According to Vlad, there are a lot of sketchy publishers so be careful. Make sure you research the company you’re pitching to. Who are they, where are they, what are their goals, and why do they want your game? A Lot of this kind of info is gatekept, so be careful.
Try to speak to other developers that worked with them (both successful and unsuccessful). Make sure you also know your main point of contact. You don’t want to be thrown around by different people, since you’ll have to manage said different people instead of focusing on your game.
You also shouldn’t just believe the hype train. When you pitch, make sure you look at a recent title to see how they did. Look at the general community concerns and what they praise/complain about.
When looking at sales figures, make sure they are adequate. The numbers tend to be inflated and some of them come from bundles and discounts (meaning they’re not earning the full revenue). When a publisher comes to you and says your game will sell, don’t believe that. They are just lying or scamming. Don’t believe their data. Be realistic and cautiously optimistic.
Reach out to the community
It’s small but networking is important. Make friends with the people in the gaming community, both players and other developers. Ask for advice, especially now that the gaming community is opening up a bit more, so people are talking about a wider range of topics. With networking comes power, and shared experiences are important.
Once You Get The Contract, Check And Ask A Lawyer
The pitch doesn’t stop once you get a contract either. Check the contract several times and if you can, ask a lawyer to check it (make sure that the contract is legalized). You should know the minimum guarantee (money that the publisher asks for in advance) and the value of recouping.
Some publishers ask for 100% recoup which is brutal. When your games come out, you get no money till everything is paid back.
Protect your rights and the value of your games. Who sets the discount and who has the final say? You don’t want to throw your game out just like that so make sure you have control over your product. Have a discussion beforehand about the terms of the contract, don’t just give everything to the publisher.
Vlad ended his talk with a few further tips on pitching your game.
Don’t spend 5 or 6 years developing the pitch and initial builds since it’s not going to remain relevant. For a first-timer, make it 1-2 years max. Start by making something small in the beginning, and from there you can grow your portfolio.
Please join gaming conferences and events. F2F is amazing, and networking is good. That being said, it’s harder for SEA devs but online events now can make it easier and more accessible for people to meet rather than spending thousands of dollars
Finally, you should start self-promoting early. Don’t be afraid to post about the game including everything from development to planning. It’s fine if it’s not the best quality or doesn’t have a lot of followers since the community will grow and be important to the people who were around from day one. Those are the kinds of bonds you want to keep.
With all of this, you should have some ideas on how to pitch a game to publishers. It’s certainly sound advice and worth taking to heart if you’re a new indie dev looking to bring your game out into the world.
We wish Vladyslav Tsypljak and the rest of Neon Doctrine the best of luck, as do we to all game devs out there working to bring their games to life.