Dragons’ Den – Into the mouth of madness

This year Bergen had its first Game Development Festival, arranged by Linn Søvig, JoinGame and the Norwegian Game Developers Guild. The festival was named Konsoll, the Norwegian word for Console (read: Xbox, Ps3, Wii and the likes).

Disclaimer: I am on the board of the Game Developers Guild, but was not involved with the workgroup that was responsible for arranging Konsoll.

Dragons’ Den is based on a TV show. The concept goes like this:

A hopeful entrepreneur has a set time to present his great idea to a panel of experts, and then the panel has a set time to critique the idea. When I say critique, I mean tear apart, as dragons do.

At Konsoll the Dragons’ Den was set up so that the entrepreneurs had 5 minutes to present their ideas, and the panel had 10 minutes to give feedback. After the feedback each panelist would have a fictional 10 million Nok (around  $1 300 000) to distribute to the participants. The panel was Alex Trowers from Boss Alien Ltd, Bjørn Alsterberg from BTO, James Portnow from Rainmaker Games and Tor Ole Rognaldsen from Fuzz.

Getting ready

The signup deadline for Dragons’ Den was four days before the event, and it turned out that there still was one spot available and it would be filled by me. I never intended to pitch anything at Dragons’ Den, but when I was kindly asked by Linn if I could enter the Dragons’ Den, I had to seize the opportunity.

I chose to pitch a game I already am developing. That game is Gravity Run, which is a small side project me and a few friends have been working on under the name Badgerpunch Games.

Gravity Run is a 2.5D shoot’em up with puzzle elements, inspired by the popular Descent series and a dash of old school arcade action. We have been making this game in the evenings and weekends for the last year and a half.

My pitch would be a short verbal presentation of the game, a gameplay video, and then present the people involved with the game, and how we want to publish the game. We didn’t have any specific numbers for predicted sales or what kind of money we would be needing to complete the game. I had some rough ideas about what the numbers might be, but they were not included in the presentation. I later learned that one of the key points of a Dragons’ Den pitch is economics, but by then I thought that I might as well skip the numbers, and let it be a learning experience for me and the audience if I was outed on that point.

 

Into the mouth of madness

On the day of the Dragons’ Den I started getting nervous about my pitch. Even though I didn’t have anything riding on it, and the pitch is supposed to be a fun event. I started thinking of all the things I hadn’t done, like the economics part, the fact that Gravity Run isn’t a super-exotic game, and the fact that I only had 5 minutes to get my point across.

Linn let me be the 2nd one up at the Dragons’ Den which I thought was a brilliant idea until I heard the first guy pitch. He got bashed for not having enough numbers to back up his idea. I started getting really nervous at that point. And then it was my turn.

I had edited the presentation right before the event started because I got nervous and thought I would never be able to get through it in 5 minutes. I pitched Gravity Run and got through all but the last slide in the allotted time, even though I spent valuable seconds flailing around in Windows before I found the gameplay video.

Mission accomplished. Now what?

 

Feedback time

The first reaction I got was that everyone on the panel liked the game. Most of them said it was a game they would like to play. Yay!

Then they started asking about the economics of making a game. How much money was I asking for, and how long would I need to complete the game? How much would I sell it for? Where would I sell it?

I said I would need around 1.5 million Nok, which is around $250 thousand, based on having 4 people work on it for 6-8 months. Which is both a pretty tight deadline and a cheap budget based on the time and people involved.

Gravity Run is the kind of game that could be sold for $9.99, but most probably wouldn’t sell well at that price point, so I said that $4.99 is a realistic price point. The panel started crunching the numbers. How much would Gravity Run need to sell to make back the money invested? At $4.99 selling through Steam the money back to me would be $3.5 per copy. The game would need to sell 71500 copies to break even. Oh shit. That’s not good. The panel agreed that Gravity Run might be able to sell 50 thousand copies, but over 70 thousand is stretching it.

I was told that apart from Gravity Run being a nice game to look at, and a game they would play, it was a game no one would invest in. Not because the game is bad, but because there is no way they would be able to make their money back if they invested what I was asking for.

So, what are my options, according to the panel?

* I could start out pricing the game at $9.99 and hope to capture some customers at that level, then do a sale where I put the price down to $4.99 and hope a lot more customers buy the game at that super low awesome sales price. That might work.
* I could keep developing the game to a point where the investment makes more sense. That would mean completing or almost completing the game as a side-project, and then going to an investor at that late stage and asking for less money to be used to get the game ready for release and marketing.
* I could keep developing the game, and see if I could get some “free” money. In Norway we have government grants from the Department of Culture where you can apply for up to 1.5 million Nok. A great system which quite a few indie and even established companies use.

Maybe a combination of all three options is a good way to go. Definitely food for thought!

Conclusion

Even though the panel liked the game, the numbers I produced made the game a bad investment. I did not win the Dragons’ Den competition. The guy who won had a wonderful and crazy idea about gamers saving the world through playing a game that when beat would make companies pay for add-space. Or something like that. Crazy and cool idea!

All in all it was a great experience. Even though I was pitching a game I never intended to get funded, it was nice to get feedback on the viability of the game. It got me thinking a lot more about the economics of making a game, and if I should be getting investors involved or not, and that doing the number crunching does matter! The panelists had lots of good advice, and Alex Trowers concluded by saying that Badgerpunch Games was one of the best company names he had heard!

Next year I will be back, have the numbers crunched and win the whole thing!

 

PS! Linn Søvig wrote an excellent post mortem on Konsoll on her own site: http://linnsovig.com/2012/10/30/konsoll/

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