Be bold. Be imaginative. Protect yourself.
These were the three main takeaways from an engaging panel discussion on Getting the Band Together during the Indie Rock Stars track here at Pocket Gamer Connects.
The first mistake an indie start-up will often make when pitching to a prospective publisher or investor is starting up the 'wrong' Office program.
To explain, PowerPoint (with game visualisations) should be front and centre of an indie dev's pitch. According to Gamefounders co-founder Kadri Ugand, an Excel spreadsheet should only be booted up later. Sell the game idea first; sell the ROI second.
First and foremost, a nascent developer or studio should be passionate about its game. When considering a possible development partner, Ugand assesses the production skills of the team.
"Do you have the requisite tech for the proposed project? Are you more than just a one-product enterprise?
"We clearly see games as showcases for the developers themselves. Devs doing something differently in the existing space."
Slice of life
In a similar vein, Playground Publishing's Wilhelm Taht seeks a company with a strong vertical slice, a strong masterplan. Does this jibe with the target demographic of Playground's in-development title(s)?
"We do assess the market, but we'd much rather stare at concepts. We tend to avoid clones. We want innovative games. We take a chance on outliers like Papa Sangre II. Edgy, quirky experiences."
And what about protecting those innovative - and by extension highly treasured - concepts?
Paul Gardner from lawyers Osborne Clarke stresses that there are very few genuinely original ideas left. And even if you think you have had a Eureka moment, you may struggle to patent your software concept in Europe.
Don't focus so intently on NDAs, Gardner warns. Indies are paranoid at the moment about copycats. It's almost impossible to protect an IP during the pitching phase.
What you can - and must - trademark straightaway is a name. The value of the term 'Tetris' cannot be underestimated, for example.
Speaking of value, games commissioner for Channel 4 Colin Macdonald emphasises the need for his corporate unit to remain fair to all parties in the game production process.
Licence holders, developers, funders, and TV production studios should all be recompensed fairly. Though C4 on the whole loses money on its gaming investments, the knock-on or halo effect can often be just reward. On multiple counts.
Cross-promotion in tie-games to existing TV properties, additional engagement, and audience tracking metrics are all sought-after commodities from his parent network's perspective.
That necessity to plan your financial runway properly was reiterated by Taht.
"Pay attention to cash flow. Remember that platform holders and channel operations don't always pay you as soon as you'd like."
Hope may not spring eternal
Somewhat controversially, Taht then boldly proclaimed that you don't necessary need a publisher. But you DO need publishing. Remember: hope is not a strategy. Explore the DIY route, at least.
And if you decide to approach an investor in the form of an accelerator program, manage your expectations correctly. If you are entering an accelerator just for the money, you will be disappointed. You should be mindful of what you need. Figure out what you need and the strategy.
Oh, and don't ignore the legal aspects. Gardner urges all startups to read what you sign. You may have little negotiating power, but you still need to understand your obligations. Focus on the key six points in any legal publishing contract. Ask 'what if?' questions at every turn.
According to Macdonald, "devs just don't get business-savvy enough." You do need to create a sustainable business. Making the game only is half the battle. Getting it out there is the other - just as important - half.
In his experience, developers are too shy to pitch and hawk their wares. Get in the face of commissioners, publishers, investors leave your bedroom! Be proud and shop it around. If you're not careful, someone less talented may take your lunch money.
And your meal ticket to indie rock stardom.