Why publishers don`t buy game ideas…

The concept of selling game ideas is one that appeals to a lot of people, especially those outside the industry looking to break in. In a recent post over on Gamedev.net (Link) someone once again asked the question of how to go about getting $10 million from a publisher for a game idea (with no team and no working tech/prototype).

My question is though… I’ve been doing Pitch research and can’t seem to find the information on how to do it. I found info related to “Personal Submissions” but this would be a serious pitch from our Company. This isn’t small.. it is intended for PC first, then console. It has a very strong gameplay but also a very strong storyline to go along with it.

The poster is making several mistakes here. First they seem to think that “personal submissions” (by individuals outside the industry with no track record) doesn`t include them just because they spent a few $ registering a company. More importantly they think that having (what they believe is) a great idea would in some way make a difference to a publisher. This is a particular sub-set of the “how do I sell my game idea?” question which seems to spring from a lack of understanding of the publishers motivations and their decision making process.

The first of those is the easiest to address – publishers are in business to sell stuff. The stuff in question happens to be games because the people running the publishers have identified that there is a lot of money to be made in games. However it is the selling and the money making that motivate them and not the games.

The second part of the puzzle is the process that publishers go through when deciding to sign up/fund a game. The first department to view a game submission may well be the publisher`s development department. The staff here are usually gamers and review a submission on that basis. The quality of an idea will make it of interest to them but as they will be responsible for ensuring that the game actually gets made it won`t be enough on its own. They will want to see experienced staff and clearly defined processes (and they will undertake a due dilligence visit to check for these). What is more a publisher`s development department seldom make purchasing decisions on their own. In almost every case a game must also get sign of from Sales, Marketing/PR and (most critically) Finance/senior management. These departments are seldom if ever staffed by gamers. Sales will make their decision based solely on what other similar games have sold, while Marketing will decide based on how easy they think it will be to build a strong brand around the game. As for Senior Management they are the ones motivated by making money and they usually have little or no understanding of games or development. As such they won`t make a decision based on the quality of the idea. Instead they will make their decision based on business issues such as the projected return on investment and on the level of risk.

The level of risk that publishers look for when funding games is “as close to zero as humanly possible”. Risks include no proven technology, no team/an unproven team, company directors with no previous management experience, poorly defined development processes etc. If you are a start-up with just a game idea then you have all those risks and that is just too many for any publisher to stomach.

To get a publisher funded deal you need to get buy in from all the relevant departments, not just from the development department. This means that the quality of a game idea carries very little weight in the overal decision making process. Yes, the idea needs to be great but alone that just isn`t enough, even for the development department.

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