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A Parable About Starbucks

(And Pitching. It's actually about Pitching)

This topic was originally intended to be part of a talk. And maybe it will be some day! But for now, here's some thoughts about how to set yourself up for success before you even start to work on your game.

Imagine you walk into a Starbucks. You're feeling a strong need for a hot beverage, and some caffeine to boot. You step up to the counter, looking to treat yourself a bit. But this Starbucks has been keeping up with the news! The economy is down, millennials can't afford all of this extra spend on fancy coffee. They know how to fix it. "We're only offering Shorts today". You're probably not too thrilled with this. A short isn't nearly enough coffee to get you going. Sure, it's cheap, but you were expecting a nice slow drink, not a few tablespoons!

Of course, that's not how Starbucks works. The short, while a totally viable option for folks looking to get a fix of caffeination on the cheap, is probably not what most folks are looking for. The Tall is better, but that Grande really feels just right. And then, what's this? The Venti. It's not much more than the Grande, but that's a whole lot of coffee for your dollar. Well now the Tall doesn't look like a good option at all. The Grande is safe, definitely enough coffee. But that Venti... I mean, you're here for coffee after all (or maybe a tea). Could you maybe splurge a little bit more? Treat yourself? Don't you deserve the Venti?


When you're bringing your game in front of publishers and other investors, there can be a pull. It's a totally reasonable, rational pull, of course. The instinct to make yourself small, palatable, the safest easiest bet imaginable. As if, by stripping your vision down to the absolute minimum, you can slide past the alarms and get enough funding to build a thing that kind of looks like the game you wanted to make.

The majority of time in game development, scoping down is the order of the day. Strip away the stuff that doesn't work, that's more trouble than it's worth. Whittle away at your creation until everything fits together, the things that only need to be "good" are just so, and the things that need to be "great" shine. Your pitch is not "the majority of the time".

Go BIG. And also small. And Medium.

You know that "ideal vision" you have for your title? The version that launches with all the flourishes you want to put in, with the rich features you've planned, with the extra spend in the right places to really make it shine? Of course you know it, but if you don't tell your investors about it, they never will.

Now, absolutely, you should also figure out the smallest ask. Not the anemic shadow of your design, but rather, "the smallest version of the thing we want to build we'd be happy and proud releasing." And, if you're already there, maybe you can find a happy medium between the "Perfect" version and the "Acceptable" one.

When you bring someone the absolute smallest possible version of your game, the "Short" as it were, it's likely that you're not too excited about it and the publisher won't be either. Or, worse, they might bite and now you're locked in building something you don't really want to! Toss that option out (or, maybe, build it as a prototype, but don't commit to it). Instead, bring folks your full menu. The Tall looks pretty good on its own, but that Grande? That seems much more well rounded. A little more fully fleshed out, enough caffeine to really justify the purchase.

And maybe, just maybe, for only a bit more, they'll treat themselves. Maybe they deserve the Venti. Maybe it's exactly what they've been hoping for.


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