How to Pitch a Game to Publishers
EVP of Modus Games guides you through finding, evaluating, and pitching your game to publishers.
If you’re reading this, you probably have a game that you’re working on that you really care about. To you, it’s the bright shining star in a vast universe. Sure, there might be other stars in your view, but you pay them little concern, and your game remains the center of your solar system.
What you might not realize is that when you travel outside of your solar system and view the larger galaxy that surrounds it, your star is just one of countless others. Each of these stars has its own gravity, and they’re all pulling for people’s attention – not to mention black holes like AAA titles that will suck the life out of anything nearby. Zoom out beyond your galaxy to the larger universe, and the picture starts to become even more daunting. It’s not just games competing for attention, it’s literally every other product, service, or cat picture in the universe.
Now zoom back in for a moment and let’s focus on the games industry. According to Polygon, the number of games on Steam nearly doubled annually from 2014 to 2017, and while 6,000 of them had been released in 2018 at the time of the article’s writing, most of them had sold fewer than 500 copies (source). The PC market has become so saturated that Steam is beginning to look like a mobile app store. The console market, soon, will follow suit.
Due to this increasing market saturation, most AAA games, let alone indie games, are having a difficult time getting noticed. This is where a publisher’s expertise and valuable network comes in to play. A good publisher can play a critical role in helping you navigate the vast universe and ensure commercial success, while allowing you to stay focused on what you care about most: making the best game possible.
So you’ve decided you want to work with a publisher. What now? Here are some helpful tips on how to find a publisher, determine if their services fit your needs, and pitch your game.
How to Find a Publisher
What’s the best way to locate a potential publisher or list of publishers?
First, seek out other games of a similar genre to yours and figure out who published them. Steam is a great resource for this. If your publisher doesn’t have a website where you can find contact information and a portfolio of released or upcoming games, that’s a red flag and you probably don’t want to work with them. With that said, many of the larger publishers don’t want to get spammed with new game submissions. In this case, you’ll want to do some stalking on LinkedIn and find the right person or specific department, like business development.
Other good options are industry events or trade shows. There are also game brokers you can work with, who have existing relationships with different publishing companies (but know that they will take a cut of whatever deal you wind up negotiating).
Be scrappy, be resourceful, and be persistent. Or just submit your game here: https://modusgames.com/publishing/#submit
Understanding Publisher Services and Your Needs
Every publisher has a different capability set and present different opportunities for your game. Some are specialists in specific things like production and release management, while others are experts in marketing and PR. Still others, like Modus, offer 360-degree publishing (i.e. we can do everything a major AAA game company does). It’s helpful to know what you’re looking for so that you can canvas the right publishers when you’re ready to make your next move.
Here are some examples of what a publisher can help you with:
Funding: The most obvious benefit that big publishers can provide is money up front such as a minimum guarantee. This influx of cash can help increase the scope of your game and streamline the flow of its creation. Many smaller publishers can’t provide any development funding.
Release Management: Most digital publishers offer some form of release management, which includes running the entire funnel of game submissions to platforms including QA, ratings, and localizations. It’s important for you to do your due diligence to understand how many people the publisher has employed to perform release management, and what kind of annual load they’re up against in terms of number of games released. It’s a big blind spot for a lot of publishers and can get messy fast if they have too many games to support with too few staff or too little experience, leading to things like delayed launches and inefficiencies in the production pipeline.
Marketing: Most publishers provide some form of marketing, but some are limited in the scope of what they can do for you. You’ll want to research whether they only provide, say, PR and community support, or if they run the full gamut of website creation, CMS/CRM, paid media, event management, trailer capabilities, art and content creation, and so forth. It’s also important to research their global marketing reach, as many smaller publishers only specialize in one or two territories. Ask the publisher what marketing departments they have, how many people they have on their marketing team (not including contractors or agencies), what an example of their marketing calendar looks like, and an example of their marketing reporting.
Sales: Launching your game on any digital platform will require management of its full lifecycle of digital sales and promotions. This includes featuring and merchandising on each platform, and includes things like pre-order listings, ongoing sales promotions, discounts on a seasonal cadence, off-platform marketing like social media advertising and events, and opportunities for trials and demos. Existing relationships with these platform partners are critical, so make sure your publisher has connections. For example, at Modus we have weekly calls with our account managers from each platform, where we discuss production and marketing calendars, platform marketing opportunities, etc.
The unfortunate reality is that many publishers don’t offer this kind of support or have good platform relationships, and assume that when your game goes live, their work is complete. Before you sign any kind of contract, make sure that your publisher is signing up to do frequent tracking of your game sales and has a good platform marketing pipeline for pre- and post-release, without requiring additional work on your part.
Physical Retail: A much smaller number of publishers offer the capability to do a physical launch, ranging from regional to global distribution. The benefits of retail include more potential revenue, a larger reach for your game, additional marketing support from retailers, and the ability to create physical collector’s editions with action figures, artbooks, or whatever add-ons you think will enhance the sales of your game. Since Modus is a division of Maximum Games, we can distribute physical product worldwide (excluding China, but that’s for a different article).
Game Evals: Product evaluations can offer a massive benefit to your game, yet only a small number of publishers are able to offer this service. At Modus Games, for example, we’ve built an internal infrastructure that’s solely dedicated to gathering player feedback. This infrastructure consists of weekly playtests, monthly focus groups, professional game journalist evaluations, mock reviews, Discord playtests, and regular milestone evaluations.
If you’re working on a game with multiplayer features or live services, we can’t stress enough the importance of community testing with alphas, betas, early access, and so on. A publisher that can handle all of this for you will allow you to focus on making the game and not managing things like game evals.
After researching your list of publishers and evaluating their capabilities against the needs of your game and team, you’ll be ready to put together your pitch.
How to Pitch Your Game
There are three bases that you’ll want to cover in preparing to pitch your game to your list of potential publishers: an elevator pitch, a milestone calendar, and a prototype.
Elevator Pitch: The first step in presenting your game to potential publishers is to create a good one-sheeter, which you’ll want to keep short and simple. It should include:
- The past experience of your leadership team, even if that’s just you
- A one-sentence description of your game that includes the “hook” or unique selling proposition (USP). What makes your game unique beyond one of its features or its tech?
- A brief synopsis of the game story
- A clear description of the gameplay loop
- A short list of key features
- A short list of comparative titles, and competitive titles
- General information like intended platforms, projected timing, and cost
- Lastly, don’t forget to add what type of publishing services you need
Think of this pitch as a one-pager that includes all the top-level information about your game. It’ll show that you’re prepared and have thought through all these necessary pieces before presenting it to a publisher.
Milestone Calendar: Come prepared with detailed production and post-launch schedules. What’s your timeline for all of your game’s milestones from vertical slice through release, including the costs incurred and cash flow needed at each stage? If you’ve planned for DLC, what’s the schedule for that? Your publisher will need to have all this information in hand to ensure that your game’s schedule will work for their own timelines and cash flow.
Prototype: Last, but not least, you’ll need to prepare a prototype of your game to show off to publishers. If you don’t have a prototype that you’re confident of putting on display, you’re probably not ready to talk to a publisher. There are very few publishers that will be willing to sign a game based on a GDD or concept alone. Additionally, you’ll want to be prepared to send it to a publisher for their own evaluation. The prototype should stand on its own without you demoing it.
Making a game is not easy, let alone trying to bring it to market in a super saturated universe. Working with a publisher can help relieve some of the burdens of publishing so that you can focus on building your game. We hope this article provides some insight on the process and empowers you to ask the right questions when considering pitching your game to potential publishers.
Shane Bierwith serves as the EVP of Global Marketing at Modus Games and brings 15 years of video game marketing experience to the company. Before joining Modus Games, he worked as the Director of Product Marketing at TinyCo on mobile game brands like Marvel Avengers and Harry Potter, and for seven years prior, he worked in Brand Marketing on some of the largest games at Ubisoft, winning over 30 Marketing Awards.