Pocket Gems’ Jameel Khalfan: How to Successfully Pitch Your Mobile Game to a Publisher
Jameel Khalfan knows the difference between a knockout and a dud when it comes to fledgling mobile games. After all, the head of business development and IP partnerships at San Francisco game publisher Pocket Gems has seen at least 1,000 pitches from devs who want to partner with his company.
What’s the secret sauce he looks for when trying to pick a winner? Surprisingly, it’s as much about the developer as it is the product. “It’s important to understand the person behind the game,” Khalfan says.
Here, he shares more advice about what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to pitching publishers.
Why would developers want to pitch a publisher (as opposed to launching a crowdfunding campaign or going to investors)?
There are advantages and disadvantages to all of those options. Crowdfunding is the cheapest money to get [since] it doesn’t dilute your equity in the company like going to an investor would, and you don’t have to give up any portion of the revenue. The downside is that you have to announce the game before it’s ready.
With investors, you can end up getting more money than you would from a publisher, but you’re giving up equity in the company, and they might want you to take more money than you actually need. They might want to fund you for multiple games, and you might just care about one game for now. There’s a bigger level of commitment.
A publisher is ideal for developers that want to find a partner that’ll help them with the marketing and promotion of the game. It also brings the expertise of the publisher in game design and getting feedback and taking advantage of their existing network of users.
Walk us through a typical pitch.
I get a few email pitches each day. Generally they’ll give a quick overview of the game and the category that it’s in, and they’ll have some teaser artwork to get you excited about it, and then they’ll also have a video trailer for the game to really get you in. Based on that, that’s when you decide to take a meeting or not.
In the meeting, people that have done a better job will go over their backgrounds and talk about why they want to make the game before they start talking about the game itself.
That’s really important because there are so many games out there, and the bar for creating an app is getting lower each day. As a publisher, you want to make sure you align yourselves with developers who are really passionate about the game they’re working on.
What assets should developers bring to a pitch?
If you’re still in the early stage, have some concept art and a description of what the game’s going to be. If the game’s in development, having an early build would be good. Even doing a trailer for the game is helpful, if you don’t quite have a build yet.
If your game’s already done, or it’s in the later stage, then coming with metrics is important — showing, ‘Hey, we actually soft-launched this thing in New Zealand, and here’s how it’s done so far.’
What are the main factors you’re considering when listening to pitches?
I look for the experience and passion level of the people who are making the game. And, of course, I pay attention to the game itself to see if it’s a fit for the rest of our portfolio.
If someone pitches me a first-person shooter game, they probably didn’t do their homework on some of the other games that we have. I want to make sure that it’s a fit because I want to make sure that whatever we publish, we can cross-promote our audience into that game to make it successful.
I’ll also look at how the type of game [being pitched] typically performs in terms of retention. Is this one of the things that might go to the top of the App Store charts and then people just uninstall it the next day, or could this be something that people keep playing for a long time?
What are the most common mistakes that you typically see during a pitch?
Somebody who just starts going directly into the game and doesn’t introduce themselves. I’m not buying a product from them. It’s important that if we’re going to work together we have a good relationship and I get to know who I’m working with.
Another mistake — and I think this happens more for developers coming from console games into mobile — is when developers just don’t have any understanding of the metrics and analytics that we track in mobile gaming. They don’t understand any of the metrics behind free-to-play, for example. If you’re going to make mobile games, then you should know them well — or find someone who does!
Photo via Jameel Khalfan