Interlude: Pitch Jam

This weekend I participated in pitch jam, which brought together professional writers with those wanting to break into the world of games press and journalism.

Of course, when I first saw “games writing,” I thought it was all about writing the storyline for games (another area where I’ve dabbled in the past), but as it transpired, pitch jam was actually about helping those going into the world of freelance journalism. The idea being that often, they’ve written a great article or piece about gaming or the games industry, but struggle to pitch the article to website and magazine editors, who will actually publish it and pay them for their work

For the purposes of the jam, some dozen or so writers and editors from a variety of gaming websites and magazines very kindly volunteered their weekends’ to review and critique the pitches. Aspiring games journalists could then get feedback on their attempts to sell themselves and their work.

In the course of promoting Crystalline Green and Executive Star, I’ve done a lot of “content marketing” (i.e. blogs, videos and articles), both directly related to the company and game, and more tangentially, such as when covering the latest OUYA developments, or in areas of gaming that I’ve crossed into during the course of my work.

My two most recent games industry themed blogs, I republished on gamasutra.com, and was rewarded with them being elevated to  “Featured Post” by the editors there. Often though, it’s difficult to discern whether the quality of my writing is what attracts attention or if it is the content that has the real value, perhaps in spite of my writing.

With this in mind, pitch jam seemed like a good opportunity to get some feedback directly on my writing, somewhat detached from the content itself. Furthermore, the ability/skills involved to pitch an article to a website are transferable to pitching other types of content; a business plan to investors or a game to a publisher

First port of call though, was Robert Rath’s blog post dissecting the anatomy of a pitch (found after a little digging through google and the resources provided by the pitch jam organisers). Having never made this kind of pitch before, I unashamedly ripped of the format and structure of the pitch:

1st Paragraph – Give a flavour of the article content and my writing style.

2nd Paragraph – Back it up with the background behind the story: Any sources, plus how my own background and knowledge will add to it

3rd Paragraph – How I’m going to achieve that as a journalist: Convince the editor I have the contacts needed and can get the crucial interviews

After mulling over a couple of different ideas and sleeping on it, this is the pitch I eventually submitted:

Veiled in secrecy, Valve’s Steambox console has thus far been the antithesis of open development. As other platform holders fall over themselves to highlight their open, indie friendly credentials, Valve have seemingly headed in the opposite direction.

Yet developers of all sizes continue to flock to the platform, and for many indies, acceptance onto Steam represents the successful culmination of years of hard graft.

In my own work as an independent developer, I have built up an extensive network of contacts, especially here in London where I am a co-founder of the London Indie Game Developers group. Using these contacts, I will gather thoughts and opinions from both upcoming and established indie developers on what Monday’s Steambox announcement means for them, and the impact it will have in the wider context, as platform holders battle for indie support.

Being heavily involved in the OUYA community, I have seen how developers like Bluebutton Games and more recently, Bram Stolk (of Little Crane fame) have turned to Steam after becoming disillusioned with lackluster sales on the upstart console. While comparisons will inevitably be drawn to Sony and Microsoft’s respective “Next-gen” consoles, I shall argue the case that the existing credibility Valve and Steam hold within the indie community poses a far greater threat to the nascent microconsole market.

Of course, at this point I’m bullshitting somewhat, because I’ve not actually gone out and asked any of my indie friends if they’d be happy to do interviews or give their opinions on the matter. But then, this is a pitch created for the purposes of the jam, and I’m unlikely to follow through and pitch it for real. (I don’t have the time to actually go chasing up people for interviews for one thing).

I was lucky enough to get feedback from two different writers/journalists. First one from the editor of a large gaming site:

“Perfectly solid pitch, one with obvious timely appeal. It’s not the most imaginative or original, but it’s also one of those cases where it doesn’t have to be. The key to this being more interesting for the reader is that the featured developers have created games that the readers have at least heard of, if not actually played. Similarly, the article will rise or fall based on the quotes that these developers provide. There has to be some genuine analysis and insight present, or else the article will end up a blah placeholder. “

 

And secondly from a freelance writer and editor of a small gaming website:

“Dear Pitcher,

Nice, brief pitch that gets straight to the point; I like it. I’d suggest swapping the order of your second and third paragraphs, and then make sure to be explicit about who your “contacts” are. “Contacts” sounds too mysterious, and editors want concrete examples that they can rely on as assets for the article you pitch. Talk to some of your contacts, secure their participation, and cite their names/studios in the pitch you make.

Also, I noticed a few spacing errors. Don’t forget to proofread before you send it out.

Best of luck!”

On the one hand, I feel a touch guilty about entering the jam, having a good pitch, and at the same time knowing there is almost no chance this article will ever get written for real (especially when there will be many people entering the jam who genuinely want to be games journalists, and may be getting back much harsher criticism).

Conversely, it’s a good feeling to know my pitch was received favourably. There was no real ripping into the style, format, wording nor content (all of which I had, somewhat masochistically been hoping for).

What is slightly depressing is how both placed the greatest value on being able to attract big names / developers of famous (indie) titles. Can’t really criticise the media for that, as it reflects a deeper desire for the audience to be able to attach either a face, or a game they have played, with the person being interviewed.

But, coupled with comments such as those made by Sony’s head of indie relations, it does somewhat feed into my existing anxieties about the culture that is forming around indie development. One with increasing emphasis on who you know as much as it is what games you’re making

 

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