Investor pitch · Prototyping

If I'm developing a slick-looking mobile game, would a barebones prototype help or hurt my pitch?

Jesse Warren Writer/Director and Creative Consultant

July 29th, 2015

I hear lots of people tout the importance of building a prototype.  I feel if a startup is pitching a social app, there are lots of great templates to use to show how the product functions.  But in the case of my turn based tactics game, if part of the appeal is reliant on slick art style, I wonder if mocking up a lo-fi version would actually paint the wrong picture in the VC's mind.  Sure, I can include slick art in the pitch.  But in this show-me town, I'm hesitant to build anything that doesn't look close to the final product.

Daniel Turner Available

July 30th, 2015

I can't speak to the mindset or expectations of VCs looking to spend money on a game (how can they make you sell the company ?), but I think I've seen this discussion before on FD.

The smart consensus was that you have to show that you've thought through and tested the _gameplay_ (and the narrative and lore, if your game gets into that at all). That could and should be done in low-fidelity, so show the mechanics and what makes the game fun and engaging. "Slick" just looks nice; there are tons of visually lovely games that play like your least favorite class in grammar school.

What are you doing for research, at least in terms of "this is how you make a game"? I mean, I've seen tons of "making of" videos, and nobody starts or ever presents "slick"; they may have concept art such as character sketches or landscapes to give you a taste of the world. (The same holds true for the expensive "how we did it" books from SquareSoft.)

Diego Fiorentin

July 30th, 2015

Hi Jesse,

2 months ago, a start up building a video game asked me for help on building a pitch to get accepted on a biz incubator.

They started by presenting me, as if I was the committee their pitch.
They clearly explained the biz model, their strategy and the segment they were aiming for, but they did not show anything about their game. 

It was fine but was not attractive enough. 
The fun component was missing.

They did had a sort of prototype which was light years from been functional. 
however we aid them to create a cool video which was self explanatory.

This video showed the game mechanic and added the fun factor to the pitch.

So, dont build an entire prototype, build the minimum functionality to validate the mechanic and ensure is FUN. then spend some effort on building nice graphics and create a couple videos, add those to your pitch. 

If your game concept is fun, you just have to prove you are the right person to make the project happen.


Craig Conlee

July 29th, 2015

Absolutely build a prototype! Well, maybe some well defined wireframes that will lead to revenue. 

Sridhar Rajagopal

July 29th, 2015

I'm assuming your mockup will be a wireframe. Make it look sufficiently like a sketch (I like Balsamiq for that), and it will be clear it is used to convey the idea, rather than paint a wrong picture.

If you're including slick art in the pitch, you could include that in a mockup that shows navigation between different screens, using the actual artwork for pizazz.

Jesse Warren Writer/Director and Creative Consultant

July 30th, 2015

Thanks for weighing in guys.  Your points are well taken.

I think wireframes are great for getting team members on the same page of an idea.  But I'm having trouble imagining how a series of rough sketches can convey the fun factor of a game.  It seems the interactivity element of an actual prototype is the best way to convey mechanics.  

I couldn't find any game-related examples on Balsamiq.  Any ideas where I could find some inspiration?

Jesse Warren Writer/Director and Creative Consultant

July 31st, 2015

Hey Daniel, I've seen pitch decks from big developers... And I've seen how indie developers have cobbled together prototypes (though usually the graphics upon release in one cases have looked similar to prototype stage)... But I haven't found any pitch examples of an indie company doing a game with high end visuals.  So I'm not sure how this has been executed effectively before.

Based on what I'm hearing, it seems that unless I can secure full Series A funding from the rep of my team alone, I'm gonna have to present a prototype to VCs.  And since I don't have the budget to make it look high end, I'll have to rely on concept/character art to convey the visual style.  

David Fox

July 31st, 2015

Hi Jesse, As a side note, my impression is that most VCs view games as hit-driven and completely risky, unless the team is highly proven with bonafide hits under their belt. Given that its the teams pedigree thats making the sale, not the art style or an innovative mechanic, I think youd actually have better chance with a good Powerpoint and understanding of how you are going to get the game discovered, talked about widely, and printing cash. Have you considered approaching publishers rather than VCs? Publishers actually understand the ins and outs of games and may fund a risky but cool idea if it truly stands out. Weve been involved with development and design for a few folks at a similar stage and typically most opt to approach publishers, not VCs, in which case you absolutely need a strong vertical slice / prototype to prove you know how to build something special and find the fun." Best, -David CEO, Double Coconut

Daniel Turner Available

July 31st, 2015

David makes a good point. Why are you going to VCs? Have you found one that specializes or has a focus in games? If so, what have they funded? How have the game makers fared under that? Agreed that VCs are out to get a rapid return on investment, not create ongoing concerns. Is that your goal? If so, why make a game? 

Jesse Warren Writer/Director and Creative Consultant

August 3rd, 2015

The reason I'm making a game is primarily out of personal passion for this genre.  I've also pinpointed a monetization model that hasn't really been exploited yet.

The reason I'm using VCs in my hypothetical is because I happen to have a connection to a pretty big VC in Silicon Valley (I know his daughter who responded well to my pitch deck).  I now have an open door to go pitch him - and he has indeed invested in mobile gaming companies in the past - but I have been advised to hold off meeting him until I secure my co-founding team: "as you only get one shot with a guy like this."

I'm not opposed to going the publisher route, or incubator, or co-production, or forming a small talented team and building a prototype out of sweat equity, or even putting it on kickstarter...  I'm just taking in various people's advice on the best way to execute this and seeing what opportunities play out in front of me.

Okku Touronen

August 6th, 2015

Some investors I met have a hard time to "see through" the conceptual art and programming of a prototype. So I would suggest that you don't do a wireframe. 

Depending on the game, some games you need to get a feel for, you could do a full version of a tiny slice of the game. For instance just level 1 for one specific mobile device.