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Level Three: Presenting
This final level of the Proposition phase will be brief and relaxed by comparison. It will give you general recommendations for the look and fitness of your slides, your personal demeanor during your pitch, and your proposition handout.
If your pitch is an in-house pitch, you can skip the following paragraphs on publisher selection and the dreaded triad of non-disclosure, submission, and copyright agreements. If you’re representing a game studio or a team of indie developers and you’re pitching to a publisher, then don’t skip them.
First of all, only try to get invites from the right publisher or publishers. The right publisher is a publisher whose portfolio is a match for your game treatment, and whose portfolio would be enriched by it. If you find such a publisher, apply for a pitch presentation. This might entail handing in a high-level paper, about two or three pages long, compiled from your pitch content just discussed in Level Two: Polishing. It would comprise most of Part I, an abbreviated Part II without the walkthrough, and something about yourself and your team from Part III. Make it succinct, but still comprehensive. And tasty! Then, somewhat less formally, if you make a pitch at a games convention or trade show, you generally won’t have to provide a high-level paper in advance. But you might have considerably less time for your actual pitch instead of the usual twenty minutes plus discussion. But wherever you are, don’t waste anyone’s time. Don’t pitch to a publisher for the sole reason that its representatives happen to be there. Pitch to a publisher because it’s the right publisher for your treatment!
Then, the matter of who needs to sign what. Here, misconceptions abound. On the one hand, there’s the non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, which no publisher will sign for your pitch ever. Then there’s the submission agreement, which you will have to sign for your pitch pretty much always.
Let’s unravel this from the tail end. By signing the submission agreement, you have no legal recourse in case your pitch is unsuccessful, but a game similar to what you pitched is released by that publisher at some point in the future. The reason is that ideas and inventions aren’t created in a vacuum. They’re created in a cultural context. Similar ideas and inventions tend to bubble up in different places around the same time. Your personal risk would be that the publisher takes your idea and develops it without you, a risk that is extremely small for reasons we’ll get into in a minute. But on the publisher’s side, a game with elements similar to what you’re pitching might already be in production. The sheer chance and legal risk involved with that is orders of magnitude larger than the imaginary risk that a publisher steals your idea. Also, if you invented a hammer, everything will look to you like a hammer. You will see similarities left and right where there are none, or only superficial similarities, or even unavoidable similarities. Publishers have to protect themselves. And for the exact same reasons, they certainly won’t sign an NDA.
Now, what about you and your precious game idea? First of all, as mentioned, the risk you take pitching to a publisher is microscopic. But beyond that, if you do it right, you need not fear that anyone will take your idea from you because you’re not pitching an idea but a treatment, as discussed in this phase’s Introduction. If you were pitching an idea, that would be different. You can’t copyright ideas. Actually, nobody can own an idea! So everybody can take your idea, and that’s perfectly legal, create a work based on it, make a million dollars, and—as the film teacher Dov Simens put it—go to heaven.
Eventually, when the chances are minuscule that a publisher takes your game idea and develops it without you, the chances that a publisher takes your game treatment and develops it without you become infinitesimal. Not only is it a risk no publisher in their right mind would be willing to take. It would also be completely at odds with a publisher’s business model.