Originally written: January, 2004. Latest update: January, 2013.
In article 21, I wrote about how to pitch your game concept to a game publisher. But as often happens, there were a couple of gaps in what I wrote. The purpose of this article, then, is to answer the two questions that some readers of article 21 still ask:
a. What should I put in my submission?
b. If by some miracle, a game company wanted to license my idea, what kind of remuneration is possible to get?
A. WHAT TO PUT IN A GAME SUBMISSION
1. DESCRIBE THE GAME. As described in article 13, the purpose of the document dictates what it should contain and how long it should be. The reason for submitting a treatment to a game publisher is to get them excited about your concept so they'll want to invest money in it. So you don't need to submit a full game design - you just have to describe it sufficiently to give them a good idea of what the game is about. Most likely, you can do that with a treatment that's no less than 10 pages long and no more than 20.
Story - If your game is an RPG or an adventure game, you should probably spend some of your pages describing the story (the characters, the world, the situation). If your game is a puzzle or card game concept, then of course story is not even a factor in describing your concept.
Genre - The reader of your treatment has to understand what genre your game is. Is it a real-time strategy game, a first-person shooter, or an arcade-style action game? A mention of the point of view might well be in order (not to mention a screen shot showing how the main game screen might look).
Get'em EXCITED! - The first paragraph of your treatment should put the reader into your game. Make'em feel the emotional involvement.
Pictures - I once wrote a game submission without any pictures. That was dumb. A game submission has to include at least one picture. If you aren't artistic enough to make a really good illustration that at least conveys something about your game concept, then beg or hire an artist.
2. DISCUSS WHAT YOU BRING TO THE TABLE. Most likely, you weren't able to fully implement your idea into a completed electronic game - and you are hoping that the game publisher will be funding that part of the endeavor. Accordingly, your submission should also include some information about your capabilities in working with the publisher to get your game programmed. Do you have a development team at your disposal? If so, include the bios and resumes of each and every team member - and an indication of how much time and money you expect the project to take, and mention how much capital you'll be able to inject into the project yourself. If not, then who are you - a game industry professional, with contacts that will be useful for the publisher in this regard? See the grid in article 11 for more about the notion "who are you" in this regard.
3. AUDIENCE AND PLATFORM. Be specific as to who the target audience for your game is. If you are doing a game about a Saturday morning cartoon show that appeals to girls age 10-13, then be realistic - your game is going to appeal to the same audience (you are not going to expand the fan base of that cartoon show to include 20-year-old males just because there will be a videogame about that cartoon show).
And what game system is your game best suited for? In explaining your idea of the target system, be realistic - most game companies will want their new games to run on the most popular game system (at the time of this update, the most popular game systems are the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360) - but only if the game makes sense for the stated target platform, and the audience of that platform. Puzzle games work best on mobile phones and as free internet games. Adventure games work best on PC. First person shooters would primarily be PS3 or Xbox games.
So you probably have to do a little research on the demographics for the various game systems, and figure out which system is truly right for your game concept.
4. COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS. How does your idea stack up against competitive products in the marketplace? What other games will your game compete against? What does your game have that those games don't have? What do those games have that your game does not? Why will consumers buy your game instead of those competitive games? Have you done any research on what the other companies are doing along these lines - game companies always have to be two steps (not just one step) ahead of the competition.
5. THE PRESENTATION PACKAGE - Ideally (as described in article 21, you are presenting this concept in person to the submissions manager at the game publishing company. Mailing it in can reduce your chances of success, but sometimes it's your only realistic option.
Also, ideally (as described in article 11), you are including a demo or at least an animated video of what your game would look like. Submitting nothing more than a paper treatment reduces your chances of success significantly. Of course your pitch papers must look professional - no handwritten submissions - no amateurish scrawls - and you should have a copy of the presentation for your record of the pitch. And of course, you should have seen a lawyer about protecting your concept before submitting it as described in article 21.
You can also create a Powerpoint presentation. Make sure you adhere to Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule. A Powerpoint slide show is usually intended as an accompaniment to a verbal presentation, but it's perfectly okay to send it along as part of a mailed submission package. Putting your concept into Powerpoint form is an excellent way to force yourself to distill the concept down to its essentials.
And even if you won't be pitching your concept verbally, you should always distill the concept down to one short "elevator pitch" (sometimes called the "Hollywood pitch") of 45 seconds. Practice your elevator pitch even if you'll never ride in an elevator with Will Wright or Shigeru Miyamoto. It's excellent practice. You should probably include a written version of your elevator pitch in your written treatment (as for the Powerpoint, you'll only include it as bullet points).
For more about what to put in your presentation package, read Dan Marchant's "Obscure" articles on preparing a pitch and preparing a demo. www.obscure.co.uk
A videogame god like Shigeru Miyamoto or Sid Meier could walk into a game publisher with nothing more than a verbal pitch, and demand 25 or 30 percent of the royalties. But if you are reading this, you have to submit more than a verbal presentation, and you are going to get a lot less.
A lot of newbies ask me, "what can I expect to get," to which I must honestly respond, "a rejection slip." So ask me a different question - "what is it possible to get, on the wild chance that somebody decided to license my concept?" That's entirely different. You might get as much as 10%, if you are a really lucky novice submitter.
"10% OF WHAT," you might ask - Of the net proceeds of the game, of course. If you're unclear on any of the terms used in this discussion, see the Game Biz Glossary (article 28).
Let's assume that when the publishing company notifies you that they want to do a deal with you for your game concept, that you negotiate 10% of the net proceeds. They'll send you a contract, you'll hire a lawyer to read it through, and let's say you sign it. (For more about contracts see FAQ 39 and the website of author Mark Litwak.)
Let's say that you didn't bring a development team to the table, so the game publisher has to hire a developer to create your game. Let's say it costs them $1M. Let's say they put it on the PlayStation 3, and they make one million copies, and they all sell. Round numbers make for the easiest example, you see.
The above table probably needs explanation.
The above example is only for illustrative purposes. It shows how the finances of a game publishing deal might be figured. You would have to rework it according to the specifics of your case.
To reiterate - it's unlikely that a novice designer ("Street Corner Joe") will succeed in licensing his intellectual property to a big game company. But now you probably have a better idea of the answer to the question about game deal finances.
From: Carlos O
Subject: sales figures
>I would like to do a financial report to attach to one of our Game Proposals. But we don't have enough money to subscribe to something like NPD
Then maybe you don't have enough money to go into business, Carlos. Coincidentally, I just got an email today from another company that sells such marketing reports. http://www.researchandmarkets.com. They sell paper or electronic copies for EUR 2,943.
>so maybe you can help us:
>1- You know what is the expected sales figure for a launch title (as a ratio) for a platform (I'm thinking the PlayStation Portable)?
It depends. Many publishing companies will not want to release a title if they believe it will sell less than 30 or 40 thousand copies in the USA. But some companies might release a title in quantities of less than 20,000 units if the development costs were negligible. The PSP being a platform that isn't expected to release until a year from now, and nobody knowing for sure what kind of numbers a title will sell on it yet, all standard "expected" figures based on the past are moot.
>2- How much money does a publisher wish to make to decide to publish a game?
It depends. Some may have a profit margin they use as a decision breaker, but there are probably other factors they consider as well.
>3- How much on avergae a publisher spends on marketing and distribution for an avergae game?
It depends. And I don't even know what it depends on! I just design and produce games. I don't market them.
>I would really apreciate your help (I promise you will be part of the credits on our game!)
>Thank you very much,
I think I probably haven't helped you very much, unfortunately. Good luck with your financial analysis, and with your submissions. - Tom
Los Angeles, CA
Date = Mar. 3, 2004
>Name = Michael C
>Age-Ed-Occ = Under 20, High School, Student
>Date = April 16th, 2006
>Comments = Hey,
>I have a little question concerning the industry. I see you have a lot of articles but I don't think the question I'm about to ask is covered in your artciles, so there goes. I'm 15 years old and I need some advice. I know you've said that you need to be in the industry for your ideas to be picked, but I had this great idea (or should i say, ultimate idea) for a fighting game. I wrote a script and send it to someone i knew that just started a video game development studio. He loved it and told me he wanted to do it, I'm really happy about it but I don't know what my contract will contain and I wouild like to know before discussing the contract with him. I'm interested in royalty rights and I would like to know what is the industry standards as far as percentage goes. I would also like to know what rights to I get on the game.
>Thanks a lot for your answer.
I don't know what my contract will contain
I don't either. Wait until it comes.
I wouild like to know before discussing the contract with him.
Don't. Wait for the contract, be 18 years old or older, have a lawyer discuss it all with you, and negotiate terms as needed. If you don't want to wait until you're 18, your parents will have to sign for you.
I'm interested in royalty rights
We all are. If the guy really is going to license your concept from you and pay you royalties, this would be an extremely rare and noteworthy occurrence in the first place. Wait and see what he has in mind when he gives you a contract (if he actually gives you one).
I would like to know what is the industry standards as far as percentage goes.
There is no industry standard for how much to pay high school students for paper concepts. There is no industry standard for how much to pay anybody for a paper concept.
I would also like to know what rights to I get on the game.
As much as you can negotiate for.
Tom Sloper (湯姆スローパー)
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
April 16, 2006
If I license my boardgame to a boardgame publisher, what will the contract terms be?
>From: Shimi S
>Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 12:03 AM
>Subject: selling the rights for a boardgame
>my name is shimi (Jimmy), I design boardgames (heavy hobby) and I also love cats!
>I've designed some games and since I don't have the money or the time to produce and publish them I will sell the rights to a company.
>my question is about the duration, when a person sells the rights of his game is it for a life time or for some period?
>I'm asking because if I will sell my game to a company, and that company will fall or something, what will be of the rights for the game?
>Thanks, for every answer...
If I license my boardgame to a boardgame publisher, what will the contract terms be?
I loaned my crystal ball to a needy fellow in Nigeria, and unfortunately I'm having difficulty getting in touch with him. So I can't foretell what terms your contract might contain.
OK, so maybe sarcasm isn't helpful. Here's the deal - if you can manage to license your boardgame to a publisher, the terms of the contract are negotiable. I don't know how it works in boardgames, but if you license your concept for use in a video game, you can certainly ask for a limited term, and reversion of the rights to you at the end of the term. You can do that with books too - the publisher can publish your book for a certain term, and it's normal to ask for reversion of the rights once the term has run its course.
Your agent can help get you the best deal, that's a big part of what the agent does.
Tom Sloper / トム·スローパー / 탐 슬로퍼 / 湯姆 斯洛珀
Los Angeles, California, USA
July 22, 2008
Legal questions about pitching game ideas
>From: Carla B
>Sent: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 4:46 PM
>Subject: question about game idea
>I was reading over the information on your website about selling a game idea, and I have a few questions.
>1) If I am wanting to sell my idea to a company, do I need a patent on it first? Or can I just create the game and rules and take it to the company to attempt to sell?
>2) If the name that I want to use for my game is already the name of a toy (not another game, a childs toy) can I still use it for my game?
>Any advice you can offer will be appreciated. Thanks so much!
Thanks for numbering your questions for me.
No. You do not need a patent. But you should register your copyright.
Toys are near enough to games that there's probably a good chance that a lawsuit could result. A game called "Kleenex" would probably also not be a good idea. Your lawyer can explain this better than I can. But essentially... If it's just an accident that some dumb toy company happened to name their toy the same thing you named your game, then you should change the name of your game. If it's not an accident, then the only party to whom you can pitch your game-about-that-toy is the toy's manufacturer or the game company who's got the rights to make games based on that toy.
Creator of the game advice FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Los Angeles, California, USA
February 15, 2012
Gamasutra has an excellent article that goes much more in depth into this subject. http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19990305/winters_01.htm.
And read Dan Marchant's guide for pitching, at http://www.obscure.co.uk/the_pitch.shtml.
If your pitch is successful and you get an offer, there are legal things you need to know. Go to http://www.maientertainmentlaw.com and find the archived article from February 2009.
Check out "Presentation Zen" at http://www.presentationzen.com/.
Guy Kawasaki's "10/20/30" rule for pitches could be useful too! http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html
From E3 2006 - Indie Game Devs: 'Forget It' - Developers tell aspiring game makers the ugly truth (Red Herring reorganized their site since 2006. If you find a direct link to the article, please email it to me).
Also: check my article on game finances. It's FAQ 62.
Are you a BOARD GAME guy, not a video game guy? Our Books FAQ includes some books just for inventors of board games. Sorry the FAQ isn't better organized, but trust me, there are some real gems listed there. And read FAQ 20 too.
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