A while back, I attended an event that was hosted by the STL IGDA (St. Louis International Gaming Association) called Brutally Honest Feedback. It was a great experience. Stuart Keating of Dioxin Dump Games gave an awesome speech on how to give and accept 'brutally honest' feedback with grace. While accepting feedback is an important topic (we'll probably hit that topic on a later blog post), I'd like to talk about another topic that I heard quite a few of yesterday. Elevator pitches.
I heard a lot of game pitches at the event. Some were better than others. Being an avid gamer and game designer myself, it's interesting to see how other designers approach the task of creating an elevator pitch. But what makes a pitch interesting and engaging? Below is a list of of some pointers of what I believe makes a great elevator speech.
The first sentence is what gives the listener a brief understanding of what the game is and the mechanics that make it unique. Ideally, this can be contained within one sentence, but if it's a larger or more complicated game, two sentences may be necessary to touch upon all the information you see as necessary. When you stretch the intro to your game too long, you run the risk of boring your listener... which is probably the worst thing to do right off the bat. Try to get through each section of your pitch as quickly as possible without leaving out pertinent information. This way, you're constantly throwing the listener new information to stimulate them. That's the ral point of making the elevator pitch in the first place. Give the listener enough information to keep them interested, but not enough to bore him into a coma. Below is an example of how we start off most of our pitches with Space Gypsies.
"Space Gyspies is a space-themed worker placement that features hexed-based exploration, variable players powers, and a dynamic map."
It's a simple, one sentence explanation that hits the theme, game type, and the major mechanics that drive the game. Listeners instantly know exactly what the game is about and an inkling into how it plays. It also sets the field for the rest of the pitch.
While not all games have a huge hook, if you are able to find one, it can help draw interest in your game tremendously. Ne it a novel theme, a unique mechanic, or something else entirely, figure out what sets it apart. Mention it early in the pitch to keep the listener interested. Somethingwe always do with Space Gypsies is to mention two of the main influences, Firefly and Cowboy Bebop. Sometimes before we even finish the sentence, it's like a switch flips in the listeners' brains. The level of engagement increases dramatically; the mention of an intriguing hook can turn your game pitch from 'interesting' to 'AWESOME.'
The very fact that an elevator speech is named as such should be an indication into how much time the pitch should take. Seriously, keep the pitch short. One to two minutes tops. When I'm at a convention and I approach a table with a prototype, I will usually ask for a quick pitch of the game. When they proceed to give me a ten minute explanation of how the game works, I am instantly turned off. I mean think about it... you're pitching to a gamer that is in a board game utopia. They are literally surrounded by hundreds of options of games to play, and I'm standing around listening to how a round of play evolves in your game for longer than it takes to play a late round of Risk. Instead of doing that, give your 30-60 second elevator pitch, THEN can go into a longer explanation if the interest is there. This takes some practice. as you generally have to be able to decipher social cues, but this greatly improves your chances of getting an interested listener.
People can tell when you're excited about your project, and sometimes it can really raise their level of engagement. People feed off of enthusiasm, and that's what you want as a designer. You want gamers to chat up your game and become excited about when it releases. You don't have to shout and do flips in order to convey the excitement (in fact, please don't), but enthusiastically pitching your game can help dramatically.
Mystic Ape was very against this practice early on. We thought that making comparisons to already existing games was going to take away from what made the game we were currently developing special or unique. We'd stumble around trying to explain how our hook mechanics worked together and how the finished product feels. We quickly realized how wrong that was.
Gamers like to know what they're getting into before they even playtest a game. It's also useful to narrow your targeted demographics when searching for playtesters. Comparing to existing games is a quick, efficient way to let people know what they're in for, and to gauge if a particular tester may be predisposed to either loving or hating your game.
For instance, saying your game is like a blend between Cosmic Encounter and Galaxy Trucker instantly gives the listener a base for what to expect when they sit down to play. Maybe a tester hates both of them... why subject them to a two-hour long playtest of a game that they will probably never enjoy or consider purchasing? You're going to get skewed data from the playtest, and you might generate bad word-of-mouth about you, your company, your game, or all three.
It takes time and practice in order to successfully pitch a game. If you're struggling to remember all of the bullet points of your game pitch, there's no shame in writing the bullet points down and making a cheat sheet. Even the act of writing down the information will help you remember everything you need to remember. If you get to the point where you're pitching to publishers, you'll probably want to keep the cheat sheet at home, but it's still a great way to memorize the information you need.