Bobby Wertheim is the head of content for SEGA Europe’s incubation arm called Searchlight. Searchlight is a division of SEGA that specialises in partnering with external development talent to support, nurture and help to bring their game visions to market.
Before the event takes place next month, we caught up with Wertheim for his thoughts on investment and how the current pandemic has affected getting funding.
PocketGamer.biz: What’s the primary Investments focus of your company?
Bobby Wertheim: Our focus is on creating real long term partnerships with quality studios who have great ideas and want to make great games. What we mean by this is we want to find talented content creators with a great vision for us to get behind. We will fully fund a project from a very early stage and look to publish that game globally to kick start the beginnings of a successful brand for new IP projects. We also look at working with developers with an existing IP of their own too. Ultimately, we want our investments to lead to a successful partnership that will last for many years and over many games, where together we will nurture and grow an engaged community.
What are the key advantages for founders when they raise investment from your company?
Our partnership approach that is tailored for each partnership is something that I know our partners appreciate. We look to adapt our approach for each of the studios we work with
Working with SEGA as your publishing partner has many advantages, some of which would include the potential to tap into the global network of SEGA’s studios and publishing/distribution expertise. 2020 marks SEGA’s 60th anniversary and we have learnt a thing or two over those years in how to build a globally successful franchise that is loved by players for many years. So we will bring that know-how to the table. We have a lot of infrastructure that allows our partners to focus on what they love doing, rather than having to wear many hats. Some of this infrastructure might be something tangible like proprietary tools/tech, some might be more our process/philosophy to publishing successful games and building franchises that grow over the years, which comes from years of experience. Our partnership approach that is tailored for each partnership is something that I know our partners appreciate. We don’t have a culture where we push the way we do things onto the teams we work with, but we look to adapt our approach for each of the studios we work with. All of our partners have different ambitions, goals, values and expertise. To leverage this, we make sure to adapt where appropriate to maximise the partnership.
What kind of companies/projects are you interested in?
We are looking for developers with a track record of delivering fun games, a clear vision of what they want to create while having a long-term view of what they want to achieve. We are looking for games that stand out and have the potential to become the genre leader, to be seen to be best in class within their space. SEGA Searchlight intentionally keeps a wide funnel when searching for the next partnership, so it's easier to narrow this down here by mentioning what we are not looking for. At the moment, we are not looking for mobile, VR, or F2P titles. Also the scale of the project in terms of marketability is key too. So it is hard for us to get excited about 2D side scrolling platformers, for example - Worth bearing in mind that we have our beloved Sonic in that space already.
What do you look for in a founder, or founding team?
We look for a founder that is a natural leader, a visionary, someone that is resilient, and has learnt from their past experience. Ultimately, and this is most important to me, I want to feel an assurance that this leader is credible and can deliver on their vision. When there are multiple founders, I like to see that one of them comes from a technical background, or that the founders clearly complement each other.
Did your investment activity or focus change because of Covid-19 pandemic? If yes how?
There are three big questions for me, at the highest level. What is the game? Who is the team? And is SEGA Searchlight the right partner for this project?
Our investment activity has not changed, but we have been impacted in how we do things. We obviously can not go and hold a due diligence in person or hold other key meetings that typically would have been in person any more. It’s all shifted to be online meetings now. So during this period, when doing a due diligence, we have done it over a virtual session with virtual studio tours. All of this has meant it’s harder to move as quickly as we did before and it’s really hard to build meaningful relationships over an online call, but we are working around it. The pandemic certainly is not stopping our activities.
Do you need a pitch deck, and if so, what information should a founder be sure to include to interest you enough to want to know more and have a meeting?
I do love to receive a pitch deck! If there are short snappy videos that showcase your amazing work, I like to see those too. For a pitch deck to really capture my attention though, I like to have the following covered:
- Project High-Level Overview (what is it and why will it be successful? - Can it be distilled succinctly?)
- Studio Profile (staff info/bio, experience on an individual level as well as a studio etc)
- Product Information (game design pillars, USP’s, key competitors/influencers etc)
- Post launch content plan (12 months is fine. Detailing scope, cadence/frequency of releases)
- Commercial Details (dev cost, release window, platforms).
- Longer term studio/franchise vision (a single slide showing high level roadmap with blurb would be ideal)
- What you want from the partner/SEGA (funding requirements, services/functions)
- Studio ownership (capitalisation table)
What do you expect to learn from a founder at the first meeting?
There are three big questions for me, at the highest level. What is the game? Who is the team? And is SEGA Searchlight the right partner for this project? So in a little more detail. The first thing I want to establish is ‘what is the game?’. What makes the game stand out and why I (or anyone) should get excited by it. I’d be very clear about the USP’s and scope of the game. Maybe having it compared to what’s already out in the market will give a good benchmark to what the game you are envisioning is. I would then like to know about the team, who they are, what they achieved before, and ultimately why are they the right team to make this game. Finally, I want to know how SEGA can add value to the game, why would we be the right partner for them.
Could you give any advice for developers or teams for pitching over video calls?
Do your preparation, be mindful of timings, and do your research before the call on the company/person you are talking to
The big one: do your preparation. All too often I have been on calls where I have lost time due to under preparedness. Have the meeting tool you will be using installed, test it, familiarize with it. Close down all other unnecessary apps from your device and generally take away anything that might distract you from your surroundings. Try as best as possible to create an environment where you will be able to have the call without a hitch, but we are living in very special times at the moment so I am sure the person you are pitching to will understand the situation when you explain what is happening. We are all having to make do with working in an environment that is not ideal at the moment!
Be mindful of timings. If you have a 30 minute call, then make sure you leave five minutes at the beginning for setup and intros. Next, leave 15 minutes for the actual pitching and 10 minutes for the Q&A section. The person you are pitching to will most likely have questions, so definitely leave time for that. Try to ensure you do not run over time, and you can only do this by practicing your timings.
Do your research before the call on the company/person you are talking to. What makes them excited? How can you make your pitch more relevant to them? I would always look for ways to make your pitch the obvious choice for them, so look for ways to make it a no brainer for them to continue engaging with you.
How has the investment cycle changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, typically, how long is it taking to close deals?
SEGA is a big, multinational company, so naturally getting a deal signed can take a bit of time as projects go through our approvals processes. The pandemic has impacted the length of time that process takes a tad too. Generally speaking, if I can get an agreement signed within six months from the first time that I speak to someone, I’d be relatively happy with that, though I will always be looking at ways to go faster if possible.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook for the future in the longer term?
Not really. The UK has just officially gone into a recession and no doubt we are heading into tricky times ahead, globally. At the moment, the gaming sector is doing very well and so we have not changed course for the moment.
What trends do you see emerging in games over the pandemic that are likely to persist post-pandemic?
Games that have a social element that will allow forging of new relationships as well as deepening existing relationships will likely help people with shielding from the pandemic
I think this is something that was already becoming prevalent before the pandemic, but now even more so will be the importance of games that bring people together. Games that have a social element that will allow forging of new relationships as well as deepening existing relationships will likely help people with shielding from the pandemic. I think it is fair to say there has been a global shift in behaviour of how people interact over the past few months, and now there is a bigger acceptance and uptake and time spent ‘online’. It’s much more mainstream to be spending time online with others now and so I am sure these new habits will need new experiences to help maintain those behaviours. So games with a social hub or games with a focus on cooperation or social interaction in some way will likely benefit from these new behaviours.
Conversely, what trends do you think are short term?
More than the pandemic, I think and hope the new consoles will disrupt the market in a positive way. There are many exciting titles already announced that I am looking forward to getting my hands on and there are also announcements from SEGA due to come in the future to keep your eyes on as we too are cooking up some great games!
Want to meet Bobby Wertheim at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki Digital 2020?
You could meet Wertheim and many more investors online next month by signing up for Investor Connector at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki Digital 2020. So if you’re seeking funding, sign up here.
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