“So tell me your idea for the game.”
Dreadful words. Every designer knows them, every designer hates them, and every designer must overcome them. Frankly, they are the greatest barrier you will face in your career, because it is what follows next that defines your glass ceiling. Are you satisfied being a designer that executes on ideas not your own, or do you aspire for more?
If you envision more, then you must learn to pitch. It is not enough to simply be right; it is not enough to back up your design with facts, with figures, or with feeling, because you are facing very real barriers in your job that have nothing to do with being right. Some barriers are conscious, others unconscious, and even with all the planning in the world, there are times when you still get shut down. At the end of the day, the Art of the Pitch is just that: an art. It takes practice, it takes hard work, and it takes skill. The cards are stacked against you, and there is very little you can do to combat people’s unconscious bias, which is all the more reason to not make life harder. If you want to smash through that ceiling, then you must be be forceful, succinct, relatable and passionate.
Avoid soft language at all cost. No maybes. No buts. No could. You have your opinion, and you are going to share it. Don’t pussy foot around it. Nothing makes me want to roll my eyes harder than when I hear someone start with any of the following:
- “I dunno, but…”
- “I’m just saying…”
- “Maybe I’m wrong, but…”
- “I just think…”
Humming and hawing is the quickest way to shoot your pitch right in the foot. You fail before you begin, so if you, like me, struggle with this, it can be helpful to write your pitch down, and then read it aloud back to yourself. Seeing it in writing and hearing it aloud helps to elucidate the difference in power. Take the following example. Given that the Cyclops is not very fun to fight, which of the following is a stronger proposal:
“What do you think of the Cyclops?”
I dunno… it seems to me that like, I mean, if we did something to make him able to catch the player a little better maybe? I’m just saying it’s really easy to run away from him. I was playing this other game and they did something where he could sorta run at the player, I mean, I dunno if that would work here…
He should fucking run at the player and smash his fist into the ground.
Boom! If I want to know where the idea came from, or why it’s a good fit, I’ll ask. Start with the idea, and then justify. Don’t start justifying before you even start with the pitch. You will notice that in addition to being more forceful it is also shorter, and that is the second step in the pitch.
“Omit needless words.”
In a pitch, as in a document, you much strive to be concise. This is tied directly into the first step. To be forceful you must be succinct; to be succinct you must be forceful. It is hard to achieve one without the other, and they are both necessary. Being succinct means being prepared, and if you were interviewing for a job they would say to prepare your “2 Minute Drill”, but in this case it should be your “2 Sentence Drill”. If you cannot tell another designer why your idea is cool in as few as 2 sentences, then you probably won’t convince her.
This can be a hard one. I ramble. I say um, and like, and hmm. Many times I am still formulating my idea while I talk, and my brain is subconsciously trying to let me play catchup. It happens to all of us. Especially if you get caught unaware: walking through the halls, team meetings, or god forbid in the bathroom. The only solution, besides lots of practice, is to never be caught unprepared. If you feel you have good ideas, then you should be preparing your 2 sentence pitch.
I say it often, and I’ll say it again: know your audience. If the person you are pitching to has little experience in programming, then it makes no sense to frame it in that context. Likewise if they are programmers, then chances are they are more interested in the science behind the idea.
This isn’t to say that a programmer would ignore artistic justifications, or an artist would doze through the technological ramifications, far from it. Being relatable is less about giving a different pitch, and more about preparing for your justification. Let’s return to the question of the Cyclops, and how we should fix him.
“Why should we implement this running attack instead of an area affect ground pound?”
We currently lack the tech for only hitting the player if he is standing on the ground; additionally, part of the valid strategy against this class of enemy is to out maneuver him by getting behind him. An AOE attack would negate this advantage.
This is supposed to be one of the scariest monsters in the cast, and picture how imposing it would be to see this big ass dude running right at you; additionally, part of the valid strategy against this class of enemy is to out maneuver him by getting behind him. An AOE attack would negate this advantage.
In both cases we end with a strong reason why it is the weaker solution, but we open with something that speaks more directly to our audience. We prime the latter with the former, and this will go a long way, but is it enough? The delivery is strong, it’s succinct, and it’s relatable, but if you deliver in a lackluster manner, you completely negate all of that hard work.
If you are not excited for an idea, then you cannot expect anyone else to be excited. You gotta get pumped! This is the best god damn idea you’ve ever had, and we would be a fool to pass it up. You’d never see Ron Ponpeil on stage humming and hawing over his latest invention. No, he’s up there practically dying for you to try it.
Silly as it may seem, when I try and get pumped for an idea I try and remember what it was like to be a kid. I have written before about the importance of remembering your childlike wonder, and it can help you here as well. When you were younger everything was awesome. Everything. If you need a reminder, it was something like this.
Passion is contagious and powerful, and its power to draw the audience is matched, in equal measure, by the power of a lackluster delivery to push them away. Without passion it does not matter how forcibly or succinctly you deliver the message (I would even argue you can’t be forceful without passion). Without passion you cannot relate. It is the great lynch pin that makes or breaks your pitch.
But Wait, There’s More!
It is not every day that you get a chance to pitch an idea for the game. When that day comes you damn well better hope you are ready, and being ready means a lot of practice. Time to go to lunch? Pitch a restaurant to your coworkers. New movie came out? Pitch why you should all go see it. Someone ask for a game recommendation? Pitch why you think someone should play a certain game. You should be practicing how to pitch all the time. This is not a sometime thing; it’s an always thing. Pitch things you don’t even like.
You have to do this, because the burden is on you. As I said in the beginning the cards are stacked against you. There are so many unconscious barriers to the pitch (Attractiveness Bias, Baby-Face Bias, Expectation Effect, Not Invented Here, Performance vs Preference, etc), so why would you add more? Be forceful, be succinct, be relatable, be passionate, and hey, if all else fails, be your own boss.