This week, I attended the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, California. The GDC is the game industry's premier professional event where the game development community gathers to "exchange ideas, solve problems, and shape the industry's future" (1). I am a professional student, budding researcher, and junior game designer and developer. The GDC is not just a career-defining conference, but also a prime opportunity to practice the lessons imparted by Aidan Petrie, a founding Partner of New England Medical Innovation Center (NEMIC), on building an effective pitch deck from their Digital Health Commercialization Seminar Series presentation (2).
I attended the GDC to be inspired and to create traction for a serious video game targeting adults 18 to 45 to prepare for the realities of aging, death, and dying and promote action before it is too late. A serious game is a game with a purpose that goes beyond entertainment (3). A classic example from childhood was "Grossology," produced by SegaSoft for Windows PC in 1997 (4). Grossology was an educational science game that introduced the grosser, but more fun, aspects of human biology. The game was disgusting, fun, and engaging, and most importantly, educational.
Designing and developing a serious game is no easy feat as it requires time, talent, and a lot of money. Therefore, perfecting the "pitch" is essential to garner interest and gain funding to bring your idea to life. The pitch deck, according to Petrie, is essentially the business plan for your invention or product. Although I was not proposing a business plan at the GDC, the elements that comprise the pitch deck were foundational to the discussions I had with potential funders.
First, knowing your audience is critical. Unfortunately, the individuals who monopolize the funding industry for digital health interventions are often white, cishet older men, which places the responsibility of accessibility on the person pitching the product. Leveling accessibility may include using everyday language, using analogies where appropriate, and practicing the pitch to create a flow that is easy to follow. Although game-literate individuals surround me, there are times when I am speaking with someone unfamiliar with medical terminology and end-of-life practices like advance care planning; therefore, finding common ground is crucial.
My pathway to garnering common ground and engaging the audience is storytelling. Storytelling serves as the reflective moment that introduces the problem without explicitly saying so. Consequently, the floor is now open to discussing various factors contributing to the issue that needs attention. From various conversations and personal experience, we as adults become increasingly more aware that we are aging. In my pitch, I ask: “Are you prepared for what is to come?” If the answer is ‘no, I am not prepared,’ I relate to them by saying, “Don't worry, I am not prepared either. Here’s my project design.” as a good introduction. Lack of preparation across the board is why interventions such as video games designed to promote healthy aging and proactive preparation are essential. With this goal in mind, video games can potentially create opportunities for discussion and accelerated action. Herein lies the impact story.
Video games have the power to solve the world's problems, healthy aging among them. Convincing others of that is the challenge. Here is where concise delivery of the solution is key. After commiserating over personal aging experiences or parents in denial about their aging, I can deliver the elevator pitch. Petrie says that more sophisticated pitches are upward of 15 minutes in length; however, a delivery made in 5 minutes or less runs less risk of losing the audience. My pitch, 2-3 minutes total, explains the product, clearly outlines the idea, and emphasizes potential impact. For extra points, I demonstrate my passion.
Shortly after introducing the problem and potential solution, there needs to be a discussion of value propositions. How is a serious video game with a public health focus, in the name of Kanye West, "bigger, better, faster, stronger" than anything else that is out there right now? The answer to these questions is twofold: on one hand, understanding players, and, the other, knowing the current games market. Concept validation derives from customers or the players where understanding player motivation and behavior informs game design and the potential of a video game to have positive behavior change. Careful preparatory research and knowledge of the landscape of the game’s market indicate the market currently holds no video games like one for younger people to promote healthy aging. With that in mind, I could pitch to potential investors and venture capitalists expecting a return on their investment.
Luckily value is multifaceted, so impact can be tacked from multiple angles. Using this understanding to pitch to video game publishers and funders is helpful as it allows one to pitch to the various types of funders available.
Understanding how to effectively craft a pitch has many applications, one of which was readily available to me as I experienced the Game Developers Conference for the first time. Aside from its original intention of securing funding, you can use it as I have to quickly pitch and create traction for your idea, which ultimately ensures a network for you as you go forward.
- “Game Developers Conference.” Informa PLC, Mar. 2022, https://gdconf.com/about.
- Aidan Petrie. “‘Pitch Perfect: Crafting an Effective Pitch Deck’ with NEMIC.” Brown Center for Digital Health | Medical School | Brown University, 23 Mar. 2022, https://digitalhealth.med.brown.edu/news/2022-03-23/crafting-effective-pitch.
- Wikipedia. Serious Game. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serious_game.
- Gamelearn Team. “Serious Games Examples That Explain All You Need to Know.” Gamelearn, https://www.game-learn.com/en/resources/blog/all-you-need-to-know-serious-games-game-based-learning-examples/. Accessed 27 Mar. 2022.