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  • 07/07/19 11:50 AM

    Publishing 103 - What Publishers Look For in Games

    Business and Law

    Akupara Games

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    Publishing 101 | Publishing 102 | Publishing 103

     

    This is David Logan, CEO of Akupara Games, and I’m back with the final part of my game publishing trilogy! For those of you who have stumbled across this series for the first time, let me direct you to the original article that aims to guide you to making the decision to self-publish or partner with another studio to publish your game. After that, you can learn how to find the best game publisher for you in the follow-up article. Take your time; I’ll be here for you when you’re ready!

    All caught up? Great! By now, you’ve decided that a publisher route is exactly the way you want to go, found some great potential publisher fits, and know what you might want to talk to them about once you’ve got your foot in the door. Now what? Well, it’s time for you to craft your pitch and materials, get noticed, and actually get your foot in the door!

     

    The Basics

    These are the primary materials that you will want to prepare as you begin reaching out to publishers. It may seem like a lot, but you really want to be prepared and confident in your own idea and to leave the best impression possible. With the following materials, you are telling the publishers that you are a serious studio, and have already poured a ton of time, sweat, and thought into your game.

     

    Trailer

    • A good trailer will pique the interest of publishers before anything else
    • Be clear about what the game is all about – concept, plot, genre, gameplay, etc
      • The most effective way for your pitch to be dismissed is if there are too many unanswered questions about basic things after watching your trailer
      • Your game’s content should be clear to the viewer
    • A trailer is a really powerful asset because it provides a good peek at how all the aspects of the world you’re creating come together – audio, art, design, etc.
      • This will be one of the few opportunities for them to see your game come to life during your pitch, as most other material will be text and still images
      • Be careful that you aren’t hiding something vital through the trailer; in which case, a publisher may just prefer concept art and a prototype
    • Make sure that your trailer does your creation justice and accurately represents what you want to showcase at that moment
    • Let your trailer shine and show what makes it unique
      • What will make people talk about your game?
      • How are they going to talk about it after watching it?
    • Check out “How To Make an Indie Game Trailer | Game Maker’s Toolkit” on YouTube

     

    Subnautica was developed and self-published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. The focus of their trailer is creating a cinematic experience, like something you’d see before the latest superhero movie. It tells a clear story, starting with an immediate hook, transitioning to the studio’s logo, gameplay footage, voice-over detailing the player experience that feels congruent with the game’s theme, and then ramping up in intensity until it hits a chilling button to finish out the trailer. It even sprinkles in pull quotes from Youtube influencers rather than traditional media outlets.

     

    Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight has a more simplified trailer whose primary focus is gameplay. By showcasing the game’s mechanics and aesthetics, it allows the viewer insight to a game that has multiple areas, enemies, bosses, skills, and much more. A trap that this trailer did not fall into was overlaying music over each scene; rather, it kept the scenes intact with sound effects as music accompanied these scenes. Without those sound effects, your game doesn’t feel as alive or realized – it just feels flat. It’s important to note that this trailer also features on-screen text to fill in the gaps of viewer’s knowledge. A two-minute trailer is never going to be enough to show everyone the fine details, so don’t be afraid to drop in with some text to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

     

    Demo/Build

    • Having something working and playable will help tremendously in your pitch
      • Ensure your demo plays well, has been playtested, and free of major bugs/glitches that prevent the demo from being fully experienced
        • If your game involves puzzles or sections where the player has to input information, make sure that people outside of your circle of development are able to also progress with ease
      • Including a document with your demo that outlines how to play the game and controls will be greatly appreciated
    • Demos show how ideas have turned into something realized
      • It should provide a player both excitement for and expectations of what’s to come
        • Of course, it’s not out of the realm for a demo to not be completely representative of the final product in visual assets or complex mechanics
    • Use your demo as an opportunity to focus on the uniqueness and difficulties of the game, i.e. proof of concept
      • Prioritize fun gameplay over graphics
    • Use your demo as a chance to show off excellent writing skills if dialogue is a big part of your game
    • It’s understood that the build of your game will not have finalized assets, so don’t be afraid of having placeholders
      • Be sure it’s easy to tell if something is a placeholder
        • It can mislead or misrepresent your design if a placeholder looks like it belongs, but does not look great
    • Know whether you want to work towards a Vertical Slice of your game versus an Alpha or Beta
      • A Vertical Slice gives the best impression of what the final product will be in a short bite-sized piece
        • It is like a single slice of a dressed up cake with all the layers, frosting, decorations, and candles
        • Mechanic-based or multiplayer games may be better presented as vertical slices, so publishers can see the final quality of the product
      • An Alpha isn’t as polished of an experience, but shows the entire game from start to finish
        • This is the entire cake, baked and frosted, but it doesn’t have all the sprinkles and decorations on it
        • Story-based games or games with a strong single-player may be better presented as alphas, so the publisher can see the full intended experience
      • A Beta is a more polished Alpha build, that has everything the final game would, except may need final tweaks in design and bug-fixing
        • This is the best of both worlds – high fidelity and polish, and nearly final content
        • Betas take the most time though, so although they present best, they also would have cost the most to get here
    • Above all, make sure your demo is fun to play
      • Leave the people playing your demo grasping for more by the end of it
      • Focus on the fun and stray away from anything that might be frustrating and keeping people from finishing your demo

    backbone.jpg

    Indie developer EggNut made excellent use of the Steam store by providing a free demo of their film-noir inspired adventure game. The demo provides a great example of what a Vertical Slice looks like. By offering a free demo, users were able to experience what feels like full and realized game and the opportunity to provide their feedback to further improve it. By being on Steam it helps generate Steam Wishlists, which are vital to getting sales on the game’s launch. It also has an excellent button on the ending to really get you hooked. Check it out on Steam!

     

    Pitch Deck

    • The pitch deck allows you to show potential publishers what your game can become
      • While the trailer and build shows where the game is, utilize the pitch deck to show how you foresee the full experience working, such as highlighting a variety of enemies, bosses, or late game mechanics
    • After you gather your assets and put them all together, there are two main questions that need to be answered with your pitch deck:
      • Is this game worth making?
        • Think about what makes it different/fun/unique/something people will want to buy
      • Can this team make the game?
        • Point out any obvious technical risks or challenges that you honestly foresee upfront and prove that you have the people/resources/knowledge to address them
        • As an encouragement and reassurance that your team can make the game, include your track record of success and mention previously released games
    • Be sure to include the core loop, mechanics, and the player experience
      • If pitching to publishers, prioritize your game mechanics over your game’s monetization model, no matter how good you foresee the monetization
    • When it comes to art, it’s quality over quantity
      • Focus on one or two top-quality pieces of that really represent your game, rather than a lot of mediocre art
    • Take some time to sell yourselves as a company and as individuals
      • Keep this to 1 or 2 slides though, as your actual pitch is the most important part
        • With a limited amount of real estate to sell your team and members, show proof of why you are the best team to make the game so it focuses less on general skills and leans on why your team is the best fit in comparison to anyone else
      • Though your game may not be the right fit for the publisher(s) you approach, they may remember you and contact you for other projects/purposes
    • Overall, don’t forget about the power of the classic elevator pitch
      • Know how to quickly and succinctly describe your game for others to understand and digest it
        • It’s completely okay to say it’s a cross between two well-known games or a mix of genres; people will understand this easily

     

    Plasticity.jpg

    Plasticity is a short experience that was brought to us by students of the USC Games Program. Check it out for free on Steam, currently with about 20-40 minutes of content and multiple endings! Taking a look at the pitch deck they submitted, let’s point out some really good points when it comes to preparing a deck for your game.

     

    blog_061819_body3_752x423_plasticity2.jpg

    Calling attention to this slide for its use of in-game assets, as it keeps the viewer grounded in the idea of the game they’re looking at. Additionally, it’s great material to help separate the game from other titles in the genre. It is telling how the game is being innovative.

     

    blog_061819_body4_752x423_plasticity3.jpg

    Continuing the world building within the pitch, this is telling how the game is original and unique.

     

    blog_061819_body5_752x423_plasticity4.jpg

    As mentioned above, the pitch deck is the developer’s opportunity to show where the game can go past what is present in the trailer and build. By being transparent, you are building rapport with your potential publisher and they will be able to make a more informed decision on how to approach your game.

     

    blog_061819_body6_752x423_plasticity5.jpg

    Show how serious you are in your intentions with an educated and informed production timeline. Depending on how/when you expect to be getting paid during development, this will be very helpful to a publisher in proposing a budget. Having a project budget is mandatory for a publisher to know the scope of what’s needed in terms of funding. Include each team members’ monthly cost, facility costs (if any), hardware, software, and stuff such as marketing expenses.

     

    What You Need from Them

    • When in the talks with a publisher, be transparent on your expectations and needs from them, such as:
      • How much financing you need
      • Whether you need porting assistance
      • What forms of marketing support you need
      • Anything else from my Publishing 101 article
    • Before you submit your pitch, have estimates of:
      • Budget to make your game
        • Be transparent and explain why and how funding will be used
      • Your timeline
        • Be prepared to show the task breakdown per month for each person
      • What additional talent you need to complete your game
    • As a publisher knows what they are able and willing to provide, it is important for your time and theirs that you are open and honest about your needs early on

    blog_061819_gif1_456x256_help.gif

     

    Advice for a Great Pitch

    General

    • Avoid bandwagoning to a current craze/gimmick – unless your game really calls for it or the publisher is looking for it
    • Don’t pitch a game for an IP without already having the licensing deal, hoping the publisher could help you secure that deal for you
      • The exception here is if the publisher owns the rights to the IP, and you’re making a pitch at hopes of getting approval from them
    • Make sure your business plan is realistic
      • Don’t be afraid to dream big, but also be prepared to admit to the challenges you will face and how you plan to address them
    • Tailor your pitches to the publisher you are approaching
      • Be mindful of your time and theirs and show them something they want to look at
        • Don’t show a mobile-only publisher your console-only game, or don’t show your horror game to a publisher that typically is known for lighter and friendlier genres
    • Think about your pitch from a mutually beneficial perspective
      • Be upfront about what you need from the publisher, but also outline what it is that you are providing for them as well
    • Be passionate about your game, your company, and your brand

    blog_061819_body7_550x440_elevator.jpg

     

    In-Person

    • Be professional
    • Dress well
    • Be prepared for many different situations when it comes to pitching your game
      • Prepare physical materials in the event there are some tech issues
      • Think about potential questions and how to answer them
      • Have a fact/breakdown sheets that can be passed around for latecomers
      • Come with your own devices, in case of incompatibility, or prepare for all types
    • Choose the right team and people
      • Not everyone can hype up the room and push your game in the right direction, so figure out who on your team is the best for this
        • Be enthusiastic, honest, sell your hook, know your audience, and know your direction
      • Don’t waste time by starting only once all your technical setup is ready
        • Have team members prepare the tech, while others are socializing and getting a read of the room
        • Break out any literature you may have prepared, in the event setup is taking longer than expected
    • Leave time for questions and clarification
      • Don’t get annoyed or worried when asked questions
        • Questions are a means of getting clarity based on your pitch, and different people are going to have different questions
    • Be sure to exchange business cards if you haven’t previously done so

    blog_061819_gif2_453x256_team.gif

     

    Email

    • Keep your pitch short, clear, and interesting
    • Toss in a cool visual GIF that is low in size
      • High-quality image that represents your game works well, too
    • Include an easily accessible link to a compelling YouTube trailer
    • Preferably using bullet points, cleanly lay out the details of your game
      • Brief and graspable description of your game’s plot and gameplay
      • Target platforms and audience
      • The needs of your project
    • Include a link to where someone can access a playable build of your game
    • Make sure your format is actually email friendly
      • It’s easy for your formatting to get a little awry when you copy/paste from somewhere else or after dropping in any images/GIFs
      • Extra points for you if you can even make it mobile friendly for those who may be reading your email pitch on their phones

     

    blog_061819_body8_752x1432-538x1024.jpg

    Paper Cut Mansion of indie developer Space Lizard Studio put together their pitch in a great looking email (even on mobile!) with good readability and succinct bullets. Everything is quick and to the point. Hyperlinks helped to highlight and draw the eye to the important things they want their reader to see; plus, it makes attaching assets like videos and builds really clean. With just a glance, a publisher already knows key points about the game – core concept, platforms, and needs. Check out ongoing development of the game on Facebook!

     

    The Right Fit

    The first step and a crucial key to a successful pitch, and hopefully a signing, is ensuring that you are pitching to the right audience. This means really understanding your brand and what it is exactly you’re trying to sell. This also entails you doing research and shopping around for publishers who are likely to be interested in you and your game. If you’re lucky, you can be like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor and be approached without even pitching. The secret to this is having main publisher targets and stay in the shadows – appear at events that they will be at, appeal to their target signings, and be ready to showcase your game to them when they are ready and looking. In most cases, however, you might not be as lucky. This just means perfecting your materials to the best of your capabilities and trusting in your team and game.

     

    blog_061819_body9_752x423_diaries.jpg

    An “anti-adventure” game, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor had the experience of actually never being pitched to anyone, according to developer Sundae Month. Instead, indie publisher tinyBuild approached Sundae Month to partner up after seeing an article on Killscreen (linked above). “We had a call with them where we talked about what the game was, and if I recall correctly, we showed them a build. It was something close to a horizontal slice though, with most of the environment at a moderately finished state. With Diaries that’s kind of the key selling point.”

     

    What Akupara Looks For

    As Akupara Games is a game publisher, we are always on the lookout for games to partner with. We believe in and support the indie developer – being uninhibited by many external factors, they are free to create truly unique and meaningful works. As a team, we choose to work on projects that we are passionate about, due to a combination of the project itself and the development studio’s drive. We actively look out for and approach projects that we see or hear about across different events and avenues. Cold pitches are welcome, as we are always interested to hear about those hidden gems. Listed below are some things we consider while we are evaluating bids for projects to work on.

    • Premium titles
    • PC and console focused
    • No AR and VR
    • Game design that has not been explored before
      • New playing mechanics
      • New genre or unique hybrid
    • Teams that are easy to work with
      • Communication
      • Work ethic
      • Reliability
      • Fun to be around and interact with
    • Passionate teams
    • Willing to match our team in effort in preparing for release

     

    blog_061819_body10_854x267.png

     

    If interested in pitching to Akupara Games, you can email us at team [at] akuparagames [dot] com with a pitch deck, build, and trailer!

     

    Conclusion

    By now, you should have a good idea of what materials you will want to prepare before you start reaching out to those potential publishers. Perhaps you’ve already prepared these materials, and if so, hopefully, there were some insightful points that you can use to improve your materials to make them even better.

    Thank you for reading our short game publishing series. We really hope it proved to be useful in your growth in the indie gaming spacing. We love to share our experiences and knowledge!

    If you have any questions after reading this, feeling something is missing, or have another topic you want us to cover, let us know on social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord.

     

    ---

    Akupara Games is an indie game studio based in Los Angeles, California. Composed of veterans of the game industry, Akupara Games focuses their energy and resources as an "indie for indies" studio by providing premier support to other indie studios through development, publishing, porting, and advising. Their mission statement ensures that each project receives a unique experience and personalized support.

    Website | Discord

     

    Note: This article was originally posted on the Akupara Games website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.



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      Publishers will have or partner with teams who can help bring your title to additional platforms. This allows you as the developer to focus on developing the overall game, instead of splitting focus with porting. For Desert Child Akupara Games is currently working with the developer, Oscar Brittain, and while he focuses on the Steam version, we are porting it to Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. Oftentimes indie games will launch first on PC, with the intention to port to consoles if they’re successful. Even though it’s a more risky upfront cost, Akupara Games actually prefers all platforms to launch at once, as having multiple launches often means less press for each subsequent release, and combining them together helps create more noise, as there are then articles for every platform. Multiple releases also mean additional costs and efforts for marketing There are examples of the former working though, for example, Terraria launched successfully on PC, and then was picked up by publisher 505 Games who brought it to consoles.
       
      QA
      Publishers can provide QA testing for bugs, device testing on a multitude of low and high-end devices, and assist with the requirements your title needs to pass to get through certification. For example, publishers can provide extensive mobile testing across dozens of devices to find the minimum specs and platforms to release the game on Events can be a key way to discover bugs and issues. When you attend events, work with your publisher to monitor and track player interactions so that you can record where they get stuck.  

       
      Talent
      Publishers work with lots of indie developers, so they can assist you with finding the right talent to fill your team’s needs. Sometimes publishers will even dedicate resources from their internal team to assist with your game. Akupara Games used our composers for an original soundtrack, and programmer to help recreate Keep in Mind in Unity (originally Game Maker Studio), for the release of Keep in Mind: Remastered.
       
      Localization
      Localization isn’t just translating the words in a game, but can also mean tweaking details for various regions to be more culturally appropriate. For example, in certain regions of the world, like in China, talk of death is taboo. This could also mean changing up key landmarks, flags, or references to make more sense and become more accessible. In Stardew Valley not only did they localize the languages, but the artwork as well such as portraits, and the UI HUD. Publishers will have localization expertise to make your game translatable and fun for all languages and cultures


       
      Marketing
      Generally when developers think of needing a publisher, marketing and publicity are the first things that comes to mind. A good publisher will have a wide array of marketing and promotional tools at their disposal for bringing awareness and praise to your title.

       
      Media Outreach
      One of the more traditional ways to get exposure for your title is through media outreach. This includes reaching out to journalists, bloggers, and other game-related press outlets about your title. Publishers will have established networks of contacts who they’ve worked with over the years, making these outreach efforts more efficient and effective. The ideal goal with press outreach is to get interviews, reviews, and articles on your game; a publisher’s connections will make outreach easier and more successful.  
      Media Buying
      Another aspect of traditional marketing is media buying and ad placement. Publishers will often have teams that can plan social media and display ads to reach key audiences. Media Buying can be done with any level of budget and digital ads often have immediate measures of success whether you are looking to build awareness of your game or increase downloads or sales.  
      Influencer Outreach
      The goal is for influential Twitch streamers and YouTube content creators will talk about your game to their audiences. This is a major driver for sales, where a few large influencers can sway a product from “unknown” status to trending title. For example, One Hand Clapping is a game that was created by USC students which was then picked up by YouTubers PewDiePie, Markiplier, and JackSepticEye that received millions of views and have translated to over 75,000 downloads on itch.io Similar to media, publishers will have established relationships with influencers. Some publishers create exclusive influencer programs, where influencers can get special perks from that publisher. Akupara Games has recently started our influencer program – which allows us to thank these influencers with early access to our games, and opportunities for in-game avatars or voice-overs.
       
      Trailers
      A trailer is a great way to showcase the gameplay, or tease content of your game in a short and engaging video. Publishers often have video editors who can create top-notch trailers, or they can advise your team to create these materials. They know what makes a successful trailer and can guide steps like storyboarding and editing. There are articles based on the top game trailers that come out every year such as Gaming Trend’s Best Game Trailers of E3 2018. Akupara Games loves making buzzworthy trailers using everything from gameplay footage, to animation, and even live actors like in the trailer for The Metronomicon.  
      Community
      Social media and community management are important aspects of any successful game launch. A publisher can help you determine which social platforms your game studio and title should be present on and which kind of content you should be showcasing on each of the channels.
       
      Community Management
      A publisher can teach you how to properly engage with your community to retain users. Often this means promptly answering questions and providing regular updates about the game. A publisher is able to leverage their existing communities and introduce them to your title, which will further grow your audience. The more engagement there is about your game, the more visible it is to others outside of your community as well.  
      Social Media
      Social media can be a tough medium to navigate through. It is a valuable tool for digital marketing since you can reach hundreds if not thousands of people if a post goes viral, but it also can be a platform for negative sentiment that you have to manage. Proper knowledge of what is appropriate to post on each platform, valuable and engaging content, and responding can elevate the visibility of a game.
      Facebook prefers users to stay on their platforms and users tend to enjoy video and photo over text content. This is where big announcements should be made. Instagram is a large hub for photos and great to show off concept art, development, and screenshots. Twitter is where updates big and small should be made. It is also the best platform to directly engage with users on. With social media, it is important to note that it should not be just about advertising your game for sales, but a big emphasis should be on building and engaging your audience and answering questions or comments to develop a better sense of community.

       
      Events
      Game trade shows, conventions, and events are a great way to bring awareness to your game, but you need a proper plan in place. Often the major takeaways of conventions are receiving player feedback, bringing press by to see the game in person, and building your mailing list. A good publisher will book you a solid press schedule, and set up ways to grow your mailing list – with easy signups and giveaways which will incentivize attendees. Events can be expensive if representing a single title, but often publishers will have pre-existing space that they will use to showcase your title A publisher can also take care of the booth set up, getting the swag manufactured, and arrange for the development team’s accommodations including flight, hotel, badges, and meals. Presentation is everything, and your publisher should try to find ways to best showcase your title, to be attractive to attendees walking by. Recently we showcased Desert Child on a custom-built arcade machine at E3. This allowed us with a relatively small budget to still create a unique presentation which stood out. The Walking Dead at E3 had zombie actors that effectively spooked a lot of people walking by, which was great for the awareness of the booth as well as social media buzz of people taking pictures and videos with the zombies.
       
      When a Publisher Isn’t the Right Fit
      Retaining full revenue, creative control, and IP ownership is a huge perk for not having a publisher. These are the most common reasons you wouldn’t want to use a publisher and would be better off yourself.
       
      Your Team has the Necessary Skills
      The point when you don’t need a publisher is when you’re able to accomplish what they can offer on your own. To successfully pull off self-publishing, you should be set up with the following:
      A large and engaged audience – which may come from conventions, past games you’ve developed, or even came naturally from social posts you make. You want to make sure you have a following already to make sure your game is as visible as possible. Social posts you create get picked up, shared, and talked about frequently. Established press and influencer connections, or large press and influencers that approach you on their own to write about your game. You will want to be able to reach out and follow up frequently. It is also a good idea to meet in person when possible to keep a strong relationship.  
      Your Team has the Necessary Financing
      An alternative would be if you have the financial backing to where you could partner with teams to fill in the gaps for the services you can’t provide. Common services you can partner with for would be:
      Marketing Porting Localization QA  
      Of course, if you go through the entire pitch process and do not find a publisher that is the right fit for you, that doesn’t mean your game won’t succeed. Often a game with a small release on one platform can gain momentum and become more attractive to publishers later.
       
      Stay tuned for our next article on game publishing – “How do You Find the Best Game Publisher for Yourself?”
      If you have any lingering questions, or feel I missed something, let us know on our social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord!
       
      ---
      Akupara Games is an indie game studio based in Los Angeles, California. Composed of veterans of the game industry, Akupara Games focuses their energy and resources as an "indie for indies" studio by providing premier support to other indie studios through development, publishing, porting, and advising. Their mission statement ensures that each project receives a unique experience and personalized support.
      Website | Discord
       
      Note: This article was originally posted on the Akupara Games website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
       
       
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