Guest Post by Frank Zazanis. Frank is a designer and publisher in Southern California. Check out his company website: General Nonsense Games and be sure to stop his booth at Strategicon or wherever else he might be!
Picture this: You are at a convention. It is crowded… noisy.. and you are trying to get people to stop by your booth, demo table, space on the floor by the trash can – whatever – to see your new game, prototype, or Kickstarter project.
People are streaming by you at 100 miles an hour on their way to an event, or the major game company booth next to yours with the flashing lights, booth models, and gigantic miniatures (is it really still a miniature if it takes up your whole dining room table by itself?).
Finally someone stops at your table and looks at your prototype or finished game and says “Oh..what is this?”
…This is the moment you’ve been waiting for all day…
…You only have about 30 seconds or less to grab their attention…
What do you do……What do you say?
What you say is vitally important at this point. Your game may be awesome, but it will not sell itself. My first job in college was working in a game store, and I mean working in a game store, learning every product on the shelf, even the ones I did not like or play myself. I wasn’t standing behind a counter playing a ccg when I should be helping paying customers (not bitter about the level of service I have gotten at some stores am I?) I spent 40 hours a week demoing games for 3 straight years and have spent the last 2 doing it again at conventions.
You need to give them a…
A pitch is a fast but well-executed delivery of vital information about your game.
The keyword is VITAL. Do not overshare during your pitch, only give them the vital parts. A pitch is an introduction to your game. That’s it. The purpose of the pitch not to close the deal, it is to entice and invite conversation and play.
Why is having a crafted pitch important? Here are a few reasons:
- If no one knows what your game is about in the first 5 seconds they will tune you out
- If they tune you out they will not give your game a fair shot or worse they will tell you and others what your game is without having any real knowledge of it
- Having a great pitch will save you time in giving a full demo to someone who does not enjoy the kind of game experience you are offering.
But how do you craft your pitch so they stick around for the demo?
You Pitch Slap them!
S.L.A.P. = Simple–Lock In Moments–Availability–Personal
S is for simple.
Your pitch needs to be simple. If it is not…YOU WILL LOSE THEM in the rest of the environment surrounding them. A simple practiced pitch is going to make you stand out and be memorable. A simple pitch is going to help them understand what your game is about quickly and hopefully get them playing it so they can make a decision to purchase, back, or test your game. Lets look at 3 ways to make your pitch simple. Using a fake game named BLAH
Jargon is defined in this case as game specific language that the average person does not understand or use on a daily basis. As designers we often speak about our games in a mechanical nature and we are not selling mechanics we are selling an experience. Some examples of what I mean… along with a less jargony way to say it…
Some game mechanics. Minus the jargon:
Tap-In order to pay for that card, rotate this card to show you are using it
Resource-Now that you did that you get a piece of what you need to complete your goals
Deckbuilding-BLAH game about decisions where you are in control of what cards are in your deck
CCG-BLAH is a game where you collect cards and build an army
Drafting-BLAH is a game where you pass cards around and pick your favorite ones
Use third grade-level language
Imagine the person you are speaking to is in 3rd grade. Note; DO NOT TREAT THEM LIKE A CHILD. Imagine you need to explain your game to a kid and use that kind of language. This will ensure you don’t talk over their head so you do not lose them.
Stick to Highlights
Only give your audience 3 pieces of highlighted information during your pitch, Any more than that you should save for the demo when they say they want to give it a try. Example: “BLAH is a card experience that is all about choices you make as you pass cards around the table taking your favorite ones in order to create your undead army and conquer the town of Portville Orgeon.”
L is for “Lock In Moments”
Lock In Moments are ways to engage multiple senses in order to enhance memory retention. A good example of a lock in moment I use in my pitches for card and miniatures games is this:
I put a hand of cards in their hands and I say… “your side needs you, I can’t tell them what to do..only you can. (At this point I put cards in their hand, literally, because they won’t just walk away holding your product!)
“Let me tell you about this great game called BLAH”
Now granted, my personality lends to this style of pitch because I can be a bit abrasive, but in a good natured and friendly way (Thanks for teaching me that Pikachu! Yes, demoing pokemon was part of my job and I do not like pokemon.)
Ways to engage their senses:
- Put something in their hand… you want to show them how good the minis look, hand them one
- Inflect your voice to show how important this decision is
- Have them feel the cards… to show the quality
- Have them flick the cards near their ear… that is your army calling you- this works, believe me
A is for Available
This part is really quick…
How is your game available? Can they buy it now? Is it on Kickstarter? Give a date of possible
Make it clear how and when the game is or will be available.
P is for Personal
Connect to the customer as a person. People tend to do transactions with faceless entities, but they do business with people. How do we connect?
- Ask them questions about their favorite games.
- Tell them why you personally love the game your pitching and be sincere.
- Tell them about a previous customer who did something awesome or crazy.
Connecting is critical if you want someone to enjoy your game.
Template: FORMAT OF A PITCH
Introductory sentence or two:
(GAME TITLE) is an experience where you
(GAME TITLE) uses high quality (hand them something) insert object
And it is coming to kick starter on (insert date) but we are trying to get people’s thoughts on how the game plays…
Launch into demo!
Next time: The 90 second demo!
If you want to see my pitch for king’s ransom or any other game, leave a comment below, and I’ll see what I can do to make a 90 second demo of that game!
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29 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
Good info, Frank! Another example for your PITCH approach can be used is at a convention, like Strategicon, where when you’re running an Event you have to write up a brief description for the Sign Up sheets. You need a good PITCH that will work without you being present if you want them to join your game. Especially if your Event is a Prototype of which they know nothing about.
I agree wholeheartedly that your event info pitch in the convention book needs to be super strong and in that style pitch I would stay completely away from mechanics and strictly state the experience your offering “SOME SAY ARRR, We say BLAH …BLAH is a fast playing game of combat on the high seas that takes 30 minutes to play and puts you in control of 2 ships and 2 captains. If you don’t have 19 hours to move tiny ships on super large boards but you still want to feel like an awesome pirate captain then this is the game for you.. Stop by for a demo and get a con exclusive promo captain card for use in the final release.. Demos are in room 123 at 12, 2, and 4 pm on Friday and Sunday” but that’s just off the top of my head, I’d probably hone that even tighter if I was really putting it in a con program or on a sign up sheet. Is that what your referring to?
Excellent post. The thing I struggle with, which I’m getting better at, is talking to a passerby before they say, “oh, what is this?” Often, a con-goer will slow down or pause for a brief moment to look at a booth display. Ideally, this is where you engage with them but I’ve let quit a few people just walk by. Asking a question like “do you like X?” (where x is the name or type of game) is a good opener because most people will answer a question like that which opens the door. However, simply asking “would you like a demo?” doesn’t yield a lot of takers.
This area is definitely a challenge for me too. (THANKS Frank for writing this). I think I don’t want to bug people. I know, I know – am I selling games or what?
I witnessed this weekend the ideal game in the ideal scenario with the ideal pitch. Blaise Sewell made a simple game called POOP – Uno style mechanics where you pick up all the cards if you clog the toilet, or you can flush with a good play. It’s a single deck of cards, only $10. All he had to do at IndieCade is say, “Are you interested in Poop?” – and voila! The poop flew off the shelves.
I don’t think I could get myself to ask the question of a passerby.
I meant to be more specific “that question”.
One question I ask passerbys is… “Hey what have you got there…?” And then I genuinely listen as they tell me about the game or binder of cards they are carrying and start a conversation… Show interest in them and often they will ask you what you are showing… Key here is be genuinely, truly interested in what they are telling you about.., example “hey is that what the food? Your carrying…I’ve been meaning to play that one..what are your thoughts on it?” Or “is that Jupiter rescue? Man that game kicked our butts last night..down with the creeps man…” That’s my approach I use most of the time now. Or I just shout “Free Games…..what the game is free the components are $19.99 (smile)”
That’s like the TV ads that say “Order now and we’ll send you the second one FREE just pay the shipping & handling.” Then in small print you see the shipping & handling cost more than the item.
(+5 points for Jupiter Rescue reference!)
Also, complimenting t-shirts works. Nothing makes people happier than recognizing the obscure Dr. Who/Mario reference on a geeky t-shirt.
Yeah it’s designed as a laugh line said in an extremely cheesey voice.
Experience is the key. There are SOOOO may new and good games these days, it is one way you can stand out.
Here’s something I have to get off my chest, that’s bugging me about the presentation (not the content) of this article.
This past year, I’ve been paying more attention to the question of why there aren’t more women board game designers and players. We in the board game world are lucky in that we don’t subject women to the kind of open hostility that the video game world does (where, this week, things have gone from bad [https://www.develop-online.net/news/developer-brianna-wu-flees-home-following-death-threats/0198673] to worse [https://www.theverge.com/2014/10/14/6978809/utah-state-university-receives-shooting-threat-for-anita-sarkeesian-visit]), but I think there is still a bit of a subconscious, unintentional velvet rope that us men in the board game world put up.
And this year, the more I looked for it, the more I saw it, from male gamers annoyingly explaining basic strategy to experienced women gamers, to covers of new releases that only feature women if they look like this [https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/2226268/lap-dance]. It’s not openly hostile, it’s not intentional, and at times, it’s even well-meaning. But it all adds up to a velvet rope, and I feel like it excludes women who may be new to the hobby.
Which brings us to this column. I think its advice is outstanding, but the term “pitch-slap”? It’s another velvet rope. It’s funny and harmless to us boys, but at the same time, I don’t think we can laugh at it and then simultaneously wonder why there are so few women game designers out there. I believe there’s a link.
To be clear, I’m not asking for someone to edit this column. And I don’t mean to sound holier-than-thou or to accuse anyone of overt, conscious sexism. I certainly don’t feel like changing this column will result in an immediate flood of incoming women board game designers! But I do want us game designers, who are mostly men, to start thinking about how our behavior may be keeping women away from this excellent hobby.
Thank you for voicing your thoughts Gil. I’m glad you said something. I’ve been following the video game side of things, and I agree there’s a culture issue that needs to be fixed.
Luke Laurie brought up the title to the league during editing, and we had an informal 4-2 vote (including one of our female members) that went in favor of it being a contextual, harmless pun, solid advice from a guest speaker we respect. I was one of the folks who thought it was ok, seeing it for the content. But like you said, it may be harmless and still contribute to an issue that is worth thinking about.
Sorry for any offense, and thanks again for mentioning.
Gil – I appreciated your comments on “hostile/velvet rope towards female gamers” issue. I used to be concerned with what kind of game design would appeal to the female gender. I would look at the forums which by their category would be aimed at female gamers to see what appeals to them. However, having read some of the entries and playing with female gamers, it’s my conclusion that if you design a good, fun game you’ll attract both genders of gamers. One should be careful using the “velvet rope” the female gamer may just use it to thrash you – on the game board that is! 🙂
Hi Norv, thanks for the reply!
I mentioned in my reply to Frank that I’ve been keeping track of the genders of people I play with this year, and that’s one of the things that has opened my eyes to these velvet ropes. Of the people I play with, only 25% are women. If I play in public, that drops to 21%. If I’m doing a playtest, it’s 17% women. And when I analyzed the list of board game designers with new games at Gen Con, I found that only 6% were women.
So I don’t think it’s enough to design a good, fun game to attract both men and women. I think we need to look at how we’re presenting ourselves, and if we are unconsciously and inadvertently turning women away.
When I play in private, or I play a published game, the number rises to a little over 30% women. And data from the video game world shows that, as a rough average, 45% of video game players are women [https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/gaming/2013/06/12/women-50-percent-gaming-audience/2411529/].
I don’t expect that 45% to map straight to board game players, but I think it shows that we can do better than 25% women players (in my experience) and 6% designers. And if we want to do better, it’s not just a matter of designing good games; it’s a matter of some honest (and maybe difficult) self-reflection.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I know I’m being the fun-killer here, and I hate to do it, but I felt like I had to say something.
If I get your drift, we’re talking more about the casual & potential gamer of the female gender rather than the more veteran gamer. So, does your tracking indicate any tips as to what to keep in mind when designing a game? This kind of brings to my mind that early on in my play testing experience of having a colorblind tester in our group. What I learned from that experience that I try to keep in mind always is not to rely on “color ID” of components but also “symbol ID” and/or text. As you can see from the responses, we share your concerns and are looking for ways to better our designs.
This’ll be my last comment on the issue; I don’t want to turn into “that guy.” 🙂
It’s a tough question here. On one hand, you want to be as inclusive as possible. On the other hand, there are such thing as target demographics, and I think a game is going to be different if you are legitimately targeting it to a specific demographic.
I don’t think there’s anything I can suggest on a mechanical level here. But on a thematic level, I’d urge you to represent as equally as you can. For example, if you have cards representing player characters, try to have a man on one side and a woman on the other (I wish I could have done this with Battle Merchants). Imagine the awkwardness of showing your game to several women, and forcing them to play all-male characters, or have to decide who will play the only female character in your game.
It’s not an overt thing, but it’s something, and it always feels like another straw on the camel’s back.
Just an fyi here. The title and term comes from my business as a small business trainer and when I teach the art of the pitch to small business owners… I came up with the acronym and did not have a title for the seminar… A woman in my business networking group came up with the term Pitch Slap… not me. I polled several ladies who are business owners, not gamers and they agreed it was not hostile in anyway and made for a unforgettable way to remember the acronym of slap. To be clear I am super thankful for Gil’s comment… We field tested 6 alternate titles when I first started teaching the pitch method I use and nothing stuck the same way mentally as the title. This title came from a lady, not me as a male.
Thanks for the reply, Frank! I’m glad folks in this hobby are open to this sort of discussion.
I can dig that women you polled said they were okay with that. But I think that speaks to more of an “is this overtly offensive” issue, instead of something more subtle. I think this is more subtle.
I’ve been going out with my girlfriend for about a year. She didn’t know anything about board games going in, so I’ve had the chance to see the hobby through fresh eyes. I’ve seen her try to play Freedom with a couple of alpha gamers, I’ve seen her encounter grungy game stores for the first time, and I’ve seen her notice that she’s the only woman in a roomful of men.
All of these are velvet ropes. And she confesses to me that they’re all reasons she doesn’t feel comfortable at conventions, or gaming in general. And again, while “pitch slap” is too over-the-top to be overtly offensive, I believe it’s still a velvet rope.
So while women with thicker skin, like women in gaming or women businessmen, seem to be okay with this, I believe there’s a good number of women who are being silently turned off by these velvet ropes. They feel that board gaming is not for them.
Again, I’m not looking for apologies or retractions or anything like that. I just wanted to point out that of the people I’ve played with this year so far, only 25% have been women, and when I analyzed the genders of board game designers with games at Gen Con this year, only 6% (!) were women.
So I think us men game designers can do things to stop silently turning women gamers out of our hobby. I think finding our velvet ropes is one of these things.
This is indeed subtle. It’s so subtle even, I’d argue against it being a velvet rope, honestly.
It’s ironic to me to use the term velvet rope, because a) velvet ropes immediately conjure an image of men stuck behind them at bars, while women are encouraged to enter. So using them as a barrier of entry for women is a reversal. b) the term might be extrapolated all the way into some bondage behavior if you look at slang dictionaries. The same way pitch slap could be extrapolated, if you change the words and follow it down to a possible meaning. However, I don’t see those meanings in our discussion here, or preventing access to the content.
I wholeheartedly agree that we need to remove barriers for women to play games. I love tabletop so much, and I have spent many years making sure it’s something fun for my wife, as well as my female friends. I have had some friends make the experience less than enjoyable (for women sure, but usually for everyone). When that happens, we remove those barriers and don’t invite that person.
Here’s where I would caution you in your analysis. Firstly, as with all stats, they can be entirely misleading. If you say that 25% of women are present at your home play tests, are you saying you invited an equal number of both genders? Because when I invite an equal number, I get 50/50 just fine. I have design nights that are disproportionately men, but I’m inviting mostly men. All the women I invite do come. I’m not so sure I see the barriers in modern tabletop gaming. I can point you to my local cafe, where the trend is more than 50% female gamers on some nights. We could study Gen Con numbers, and I’ll bet we’d find increases among the women involved in the industry. Let’s be sure to cull barriers sure, but if you’re going to make it a science project, we need a control group, and then we can see if we’re going in the right or wrong direction. I firmly stand behind shows like Tabletop, where I know Wil is being inclusive in his invite list and the results show.
I believe we ARE going forward, and I fully support that. I think this is a great topic, and deserves a blog of it’s own. I know you’ve been writing about your experiences on your own blog (https://gil.hova.net) and I commend you for that. I believe we should fight the battles where there are battles to be fought, and I believe this article is simply not one of those battles. It’s solid advice for all game makers with games to sell, and the title refers to the methods employed, nothing else.
Re: my numbers, I’ll be the first to admit they’re just for me, and not for anyone else. But I’m tracking *all* my plays, not just games at my home. So I don’t have any control over whether I’m getting a chance to play with equal numbers of people, especially when I’m at a con, my public playtest group, or some other group.
And that’s the idea! It’s not about trying to deliberately change my group of people so the numbers show an even 50/50 split. It’s about playing with who I play with, and analyzing the numbers about those peoples’ genders. I’m looking for measurements here, not for a performance metric.
When I invite a 50/50 group, then I almost always get everyone to come as well. But as you say, when you do design nights, it’s mostly men. That’s my experience as well. Why is that? Why are more men interested in design than women? It’s a complex question and I’ll bet its answer is just as complex, but I can’t ignore these invisible barriers anymore as part of the answer.
Of course these numbers are personal, and of course they’re going to be different for everyone. I don’t have the resources to track these numbers in a larger pool. But I wanted *something* to describe what I saw (perfect is the enemy of good), and my personal experience was a good place to start. It’s not the final word, sure, but it’s a starting point that I’d love to build from.
Re: the term itself, sure, there might be a better term out there. But the concept of an invisible barrier is still important. The actual term isn’t as important as the central idea.
Re: whether the term “pitchSLAP” is an invisible barrier itself: I still disagree with you, but I feel like I’ve said my peace here, and I don’t think either of us are going to change the others’ minds. I’ll bow out of the thread now. Thanks to everyone for their time!
Thanks to YOU Gil for saying your peace on this topic, and for bringing your insights in from your experiences.. It is a very important topic to our industry. We really respect your blog, so it’s an honor to have you over on ours, discussing things like this. I look forward to your further studies on this topic.
I enjoy a healthy discourse, so I enjoyed mixing it up with you. I hope we hear from others as to what they think. Again, we are pro-inclusion here, and sincerely hope that we haven’t put up a barrier to gaming or game making or reading blogs.
Btw, side note, perfect IS the enemy of good, indeed. 🙂
The topic of gender and other forms of inclusion in boardgames is definitely worthy of it’s own post!
I agree that would be a great post
I too love the fact we have open discussion here. If it does offend, that is surely not the intention in any way. Thanks for your thoughts and your well formed discussions Gil, Peter, and Norv.
“Finally someone stops at your table and looks at your prototype or finished game and says ‘Oh..what is this?'”
This is the most important part of this article gor me. Don’t yell at passerbys, wait for them to address you. I’m an introvert and if I look at something interesting and want to know more, I’ll ask, but if you talk to me before I get a chance to even look, I’m gone.
Yes Christian that is a great point. I didn’t have time in this piece to discuss how to handle introverts vs extroverts, reading people’s body language and mannerisms, etc. How you handle different types of people can make or break your pitch and demo. I love discussing this side of sales I do this to know who to talk to/banter with and who to let approach you. Maybe I’ll blog about that soon