On Pitching Ideas

I haven’t posted in a while, which is anathema to the purpose of having a blog – that is, to keep myself writing. But I have been writing/creating like mad here at work. I’m paying back my GDC free ticket by adapting for Tiburon Damion Schubert‘s awesome talk on writing game design documents. While the talk was full of great information, the presentation itself left a lot to be desired. (Text-heavy slides, etc.) I learned so much in adapting the talk that I feel less like someone regurgitating info for an audience and more like an expert on the material. I highly recommend Garr Reynoldsbook on presentation design for everyone that ever has to make a presentation. If I ever make a Designer’s Library post, that book will most certainly be included.

I’ve pitched about six projects in the last year, which must start to annoy the Executive Producers here, but if there’s one virtue worth pursuing in pitching, it is persistence.

One thing I was recently complimented on by a coworker I respect is that when I suggest ideas, I have a philosophy behind it. I sort of take that as a requirement to putting forth ideas, but since it involves a modicum of intellectual rigor a lot of folks (everyone’s a designer) don’t like to do it.

What I mean is this: Let’s say you are a designer on a racing game. You go to the producer and say “I need someone to make the cars more chrome.” You will probably get a “Huh?” at best or “We’ll put it on the wish list” at worst. But that is the sort of items that get brought up as design changes all the time. When pressed for an explanation, you usually get “I just think it would be cool/better/etc” as a response. And while that may be true, it is very tough to sell your idea that way. So now instead of going to the producer and demanding the cars get more chrome, what if you said “You know, the cars don’t feel as fast as they do in other racing games. I have some ideas on how we can make the cars look faster.” Then you can pitch giving the cars more chrome, lowering the camera, adding blur or whatever.

Walking through a problem with someone and giving them options (with your own commentary, naturally) gets people to look through your eyes and makes them feel like they are solving the problem too rather than being confronted with a demand which can often cause defensive reactions. I’ve found it to be a valuable technique.

Moving onto pitching whole projects. You have to know your material inside and out. That means knowing the sales and Metacritic of competing products, the amount of manpower one needs, and a reason why the product needs to be made. That last part, I think, is missing from many pitches and I always start with that first. The whole point of your pitch is to get people to agree that the product needs to be made. Starting from any other point or ignoring that issue entirely sows the seeds of a weak pitch.

Naturally, this is all contingent on to whom your pitches are directed. People have different priorities, so sales/Metacritic  or competing brands may be unimportant (imagine pitching Katamari Damacy!) but if there is one thing every pitch needs to share is a compelling central reason for the idea being pitched.

That’s all for today. Root for Pitt, folks.

2 Comments

  1. Re; the wordy presentation.

    I’m personally in favor of giving less wordy presentations, and I prefer those that have only a word or two with an image, so viewers focus more on the speaker. However, for this talk, I purposefully went with a ‘self-explainer’ format – a lot of people like to mail the presentation to co-workers, and I wanted to be sure that, for the most part, it didn’t need me to be delivering it to be useful.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the talk, though!

  2. Ah good, then we agree! When I have presentations I want to pass around, I either make two sets of slides or one set of slides I use for the presentation and then a handout (which is what I am doing for this one). I hope you didn’t think I was being unfair, but your talk was late in the week and I was pretty drained sp when I saw sixty text-heavy slides, my eyes rolled back in my head. 🙂

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