Posted 6 May

FuturLab Pitch To Sony

Hello again!

Today I’m going to spill the beans on how a bunch of Flash developers managed to become licensed to make games for PSP and PS3!

Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t have lots of games under our belt; none of us had worked on a commercial video game before, and none of us knew anything about C or C++.

What we did have was a great idea and the naïve enthusiasm to rock up to Sony’s Liverpool headquarters and present it in person.

PRISM

It all started back in 2007 when I’d just finished building our Flash game engine, PRISM. We decided to use the engine to develop an idea I’d had at University. The idea was essentially a game that reaches outside of the console, with characters in the game contacting players through instant messaging, email and telephone calls.

You might have heard of this kind of game, it’s called an Alternate Reality Game (or ARG – pronounced A.R.G.).

So we used our engine to build a Flash demo and started looking for places that would fund and publish Flash games. This was before Kongregate and other portal sites existed, but we did find one company (which shall remain nameless) in the US who were offering to fund Flash games. We showed them our idea, including all the ARG stuff, and they essentially said:

“We love the little robot running around and shooting, but…not sure about all the email and text messaging – that all sounds a bit weird”.

Hmm. Bit disappointing, but their offer was a lot better than the Flash work we were doing at the time. Still, I had this nagging feeling that we could do better.

One day, whilst we were in the midst of negotiating the deal, I made the decision to pitch the idea to PlayStation. Nearly everyone I spoke to about it said I was nuts; that PlayStation would definitely not take a risk on a company with no prior experience.

For some reason I didn’t listen, and instead asked all of the people we’d done Flash work for if they knew anyone who worked with Sony, to give us advice on our pitch. Luckily, someone did, and kindly sent our pitch to Relentless Software, makers of Buzz! and Blue Toad Murder Files.

Suddenly I found myself in Relentless’ studio being given advice by their Creative Director, David Amor.

I can’t tell you how amazing it felt when David said:

“You’ve buried all the cool stuff at the bottom of your pitch…the cool stuff is the text messaging, and the emails, and the telephone calls – bring that stuff up front! Sony will love all that!”

DETERMINED

That was it, from then on I was determined to capture Sony’s imagination with our idea, and, since it was about a game taking place outside of the console, we decided to put on a performance, and dress up as characters from the game. Nothing weird or outlandish, just some nice suits with our pitch documents branded to the corporation featured in the game instead of our own branding.

The idea was to put the Sony execs in the middle of a real world game event taking place in their office.

We needed something to personalise the experience for them, so we looked online for the names of the people we would be meeting, and found their biographies on LinkedIn. Awesome. We butchered those around a bit, and worked them into our story. The longer we spent working on this idea, the more convinced I became that it would work, despite many people advising against it. They said things like: this is your only chance, what if they throw you out, or don’t ‘get’ it? I just thought that if they don’t get it, then we don’t want to work with them :)

We called Sony and booked an appointment with a month to practice our performance. We also had a lot of work to do on our game engine, so this gave us plenty of time to polish things up. Still, we barely had any time to practice our lines, so when we got the train up to Liverpool the night before, we practiced our lines in the park.

The next morning we arrived at Sony’s headquarters, calmly confident, but amazed that we’d actually got this far!

We did let them know we’d be doing something a bit different with our presentation, and that they should just be patient as it wouldn’t last long, which raised a few eyebrows. By the way, we were expecting to pitch to three people, but we had five – the head of the department decided to sit in as well :S

So, we launched into our performance, where rather cheekily, our story was based around one of the producers, Phil Gaskell, coming to meet us in our offices, to have an interview.

It began:

“So Phil, thanks so much for travelling all this way to see us in person. Your CV was by far the most impressive.”

This made them all sit up a bit.

UNAUTHORIZED

The presentation continued, up until the point where we gave our Flash demo over to Phil to have a go. As I passed the keyboard over, I pressed a secret key combination, which set a timer running. Then, as Phil was playing the demo, the game purposefully froze, glitched out and then showed an error message:

“NEW USER DETECTED, PHILLIP GASKELL…

UNAUTHORIZED.

CHECKING HISTORY…”

At this point, the screen filled with Phil’s LinkedIn biography, including recommendations by his colleagues also in the room, all hacked to fit our story.

They were sold.

The game we pitched that day has yet to be made, because, although Sony is really receptive to great ideas, they’re not stupid, and weren’t ready to spend £4m on us with no prior experience. :p

However, they did make a commitment to find a way of working with us, and got us to work on other projects for them. Unfortunately those projects never saw the light of day either – but, here we are now, with our first little game on the ladder, Coconut Dodge!

We’ve been developing other ideas too, and have something just as original and exciting around the corner.

So there you go. It’s perfectly possible to become licensed with Sony without any experience if you have a great idea. Of course, not many people will want to make an ARG, where a role playing pitch is appropriate – but the important lesson to learn is that if you go the extra mile in making a presentation special, it speaks volumes about your professionalism and dedication to making something of high quality – and ultimately, it’s high quality ideas that Sony are most interested in.

Stay tuned for next week where I’ll be detailing how we evolved our very first Flash game to be worthy of publishing on PlayStation Store!

Thanks for reading,

James

Did you enjoy this?

Comments

68 Comments 0 Author replies
Show oldest first  
James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 2:31 pm   1

Hello, hope you enjoy the article today, I’m here to answer any questions if you have any!

I am also prepared for a barrage of comments related to the current PlayStation Store problem :p

James

 

Wow. That’s a truly inspirational story. I have a feeling that an ARG of that level would work extremely well in Home. It would be extremely impressive to be able to freak users out to an exceptional level. I know I’d be amazed if it came up with my address while playing a game. It’s great to see smaller developers being able to gain the attention of much larger publishers, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your studio in the future!

 
mitch_uk_psn 6 May, 2010 @ 2:39 pm   3

What an excellent and inspiring story! Fantastic read. What you recommend as an introduction to game programming – Flash? Best of luck with your new game.

mew_frenger 6 May, 2010 @ 2:40 pm   4

tnx for sharing, nice read.

 
somethingatt 6 May, 2010 @ 2:40 pm   5

Sony truly is the company who loves breaking boundaries, even if it means taking a loss. Very inspiring story.

I’m glad they took you in, however, this Coconut Dodge is a far cry from A.R.G….I hope you are still pursuing something like that to release on PS3. Using PS3Eye/ text/ e-mail/ Move, you can do some crazy stuff with that kind of creativity.

Best of luck and I hope the game does well.

 
LeChuckie 6 May, 2010 @ 2:40 pm   6

I love these kind of stories. Can we have more of them on the blog please?

 

Quite interesting. Much better than all of these stories that say “our game is the best” blablabla.

 
freakwave82 6 May, 2010 @ 2:42 pm   8

A really interesting story!

And though ARG still a bit far, I could easily see a future where a S-E phone connects to my playstation, gets a message on a timer and then “sends” it to me later when I am at university, work or whatever :)

 
Agriel 6 May, 2010 @ 2:45 pm   9

I lol’ed, have to say that took some guts. I can understand though your thinking on it “if they don’t like then they are not for us”. Is your ARG game still in the works or is it some where on the way back burner? It sounds like it might be fun.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 2:46 pm   10

@somethingatt

Hiya! Coconut Dodge is a far cry, but I hope you will see where our creative ambitions lie, and appreciate that we don’t have £4m of our own money, and have needed to start small.

I know you can’t get much smaller than a crab on a beach, so we concentrated on making it fun :)

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 2:48 pm   11

@Agriel

We have lots of ideas in development yes – as I said though, Coconut Dodge is self funded, and our first step on the ladder. So, we’ll see how it goes! :)

Bodyinabox 6 May, 2010 @ 2:49 pm   12

Really interesting article. I love how easy you make it sound.
“We called Sony and booked an appointment” haha me thinks it was maybe more to do with connections at Relentless? I doubt it’s that easy to book an appointment if you’re unknown to them.

sowasred2012 6 May, 2010 @ 2:49 pm   13

YES!!!! More ARG’s would be a great thing for the PS3 – not necessarily in Home, but I would certainly pay for a sort of ‘central hub’ for the game, downloaded from the PSN.

Your story is awesome, and I wish you so much luck with getting the game on it’s feet – if you want any help from someone who doesn’t even have experience in Flash (but way loads in playing ARG’s), let me know! :D

alwool2k9 6 May, 2010 @ 2:50 pm   14

hey james anymore news on the update problem?

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 2:51 pm   15

@mitch_uk_psn

I would recommend Flash or Unity.

They are both very easy to get into. Perhaps Unity might be a better bet these days because it can publish to so many platforms, check it out.

 
Adwil24 6 May, 2010 @ 2:52 pm   16

Awesome article and a great read! Very interesting. Looking forward to next weeks post! And Kudos to Sony for spotting your talent and kudos to you guys for taking a chance! Now about these PlayStation Store problems…… ;)

 
dogwalker4000 6 May, 2010 @ 2:53 pm   17

Great story :) hope you guys do really well, you sound like you’re gonna be making some very unique seed based games :p

 
Agriel 6 May, 2010 @ 2:53 pm   18

Well consider one more unit of Coconut Dodge sold. Keep us up to date on whats in the works in the future.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 2:53 pm   19

@Bodyinabox

We were given the right number to call by Relentless, yes.

However, we had the initiative to ask for help, which led to our relationship with Relentless.

Often you will find that if you have a good idea, and you ask for help, people will go a long way to help you.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 2:55 pm   20

@everyone

Thanks so much for the positive feedback (especially given the problems you’re all having with the PlayStation Store) – it’s much appreciated!

 
Noisepurge 6 May, 2010 @ 2:55 pm   21

Hi,
i loved “In Memoriam” back when it released and the characters sending me emails and tips was awesome.

I hope you get your dream project released one day!

alwool2k9 6 May, 2010 @ 2:57 pm   22

no worries james. i’d like to ask when you think the problems will be fixed though as it keeps saying my credit card is invalid. cheers

 
Darkscorpius 6 May, 2010 @ 3:01 pm   23

Fair play to you James for trying, I’m not sure I could’ve done that but if you don’t try… I’m somewhat intrigued by the whole ARG thing but sadly I don’t have £4m either :p

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what you guys are up to after reading this.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:03 pm   24

@alwool2k9

I have no idea :) I expect there are engineers working like crazy to fix the problem as soon as possible. Nobody wants to upset their customers on purpose.

CinderShadow 6 May, 2010 @ 3:03 pm   25

The article inspired me to check out the trailer for CC. I look forward to getting it, when it’s out. It looks super fun! :D

I like a lot, the idea of a game having a broad appeal for all to enjoy in how it’s designed (so that it’s not just a bulletpoint, it’s imbued), and also of tiered progression, so you get better the more you play, and that effect cycles and that’s good fun. Fun concept, and hopefully, it’ll be out soon. :)

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:04 pm   26

For anyone who missed my last blog post, it can be found here:

http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2010/04/28/introducing-coconut-dodge/

alwool2k9 6 May, 2010 @ 3:05 pm   27

cheers james you actually the only person that has answerd me about the problem. good luck in you project.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:06 pm   28

Thanks all for the great comments! We will of course try our very best to realise our next game :)

Chrysus 6 May, 2010 @ 3:07 pm   29

Inspiring story, I wish you and the team every success :)
I LOVE how Sony continues to invest in UK based dev studios.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:11 pm   30

@Darkscorpius

Thanks mate – you’d be surprised how much confidence you gain by just deciding you’re going to go for it in the first place. We’re not all born confident types – I certainly wasn’t!

I hope our story does inspire people to do the same :)

alwool2k9 6 May, 2010 @ 3:26 pm   31

james if it says the credit information cannot be updated and to conntact tech support does that mean its locked up?
i tried it yesterday at about 1pm and its not changed yet. do i have to actually ring them up or should i just wait? cheers

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:30 pm   32

@alwool2k9 – They’re saying you should try waiting until the server is less stressed. So, I am guessing just wait until you hear more news – I would find something else to do, like… WipEout HD or something :p

 
JIM-N-A 6 May, 2010 @ 3:44 pm   33

Great stuff mate and more power to you,Its good to hear a huge company like sony and even relentless actually help.Its sends a good message to the world that if you try your best,Someone will see your potential in the end but nothing is just given to you,You have to earn it.
Also on a side note do you or your team have your own blog/site or twitter so we can follow your ever growing story?
I will be supporting your game as i have done with all other new games(hysteria project,heavy rain etc monsters stole my princess probably)

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:48 pm   34

@JIM-N-A

Hiya, thank you for the support!

I wasn’t going to use this blog post as an excuse to ‘pimp our links’, but since you asked :)

Twitter: http://twitter.com/FuturLab

FuturLab on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/FuturLab/107944735901463?ref=ts

Coconut Dodge on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Coconut-Dodge/103635566340803?ref=ts

Coconut Dodge website: http://www.coconutdodge.co.uk/

Thanks again :)

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:50 pm   35

Hmm, that didn’t work too well – here’s the ones that didn’t work again:

FuturLab on Facebook: http://bit.ly/dsrDHb

Coconut Dodge on Facebook: http://bit.ly/aW5PxM

:P

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:54 pm   36

@JIM-N-A

There’s also a blog that I post things on when I have something worth writing about:

http://futurlab.blogspot.com/

If you’re interested in ARGs, and would like to read about the master who is regrettably no longer with us, you could check this out:

http://bit.ly/d3UOVh

Thanks,

James

 
DANNY3194 6 May, 2010 @ 3:57 pm   37

Make.Believe

It’s great to see such great talet being put to good use! I wish you the very best of luck in the future James and Co

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 3:59 pm   38

@DANNY3194

Thank you Danny!

alwool2k9 6 May, 2010 @ 4:05 pm   39

cheers james i’m on it now lol. how long do u reckon it will take until i can put more money in my wallet?

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 4:08 pm   40

@alwool2k9

Sorry bud, I have no idea. Surely WipEout is better anyway :p

Seriously, I would wait until you see an official update letting people know that the problem is fixed. Life is too short to be sat waiting.

alwool2k9 6 May, 2010 @ 4:11 pm   41

ok chers m8 i’m off here now but take care n e way and good luck for the future ure game looks really fun.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 4:11 pm   42

See ya!

 
JIM-N-A 6 May, 2010 @ 4:13 pm   43

Thanks for the links ive added you on twitter and I am now checking out unity.I have a load of game ideas but can never put them into a actual demo.Heres hoping that changes.I like the idea of trying something new.Does unity allow you to publish minis?I tried the microsofts indie game program but couldnt justify the money to earn absolute peanuts.

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 4:15 pm   44

@JIM-N-A

Nice one! It doesn’t let you publish to minis yet no, but it does let you publish to PS3.

You will to be licensed with Sony in order to put your game on the PS3 with Unity, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

If you have game ideas, you can get started now because there’s a version of Unity that is free!

 
JIM-N-A 6 May, 2010 @ 4:17 pm   45

Its on like donkey kong!
Cheers mate for your help
keep the gaming dream alive

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 4:19 pm   46

:)

 
dragonmagician 6 May, 2010 @ 4:20 pm   47

As a supporter for all things Sony, I really enjoyed reading your story, and although I am a little disappointed that you have not created the game you were pitching, I’m sure we will see great projects from FuturLab.

Any chance we will see an ARG from you using PlayStation Home, something like Xi?

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 4:25 pm   48

@dragonmagician

Hi there, thanks for the support. There are many things we would like to do on Sony’s platforms – we need to see how Coconut Dodge sells first. If it does well we will be able to finish our music puzzle game (which is just as innovative in our opinion), and then – we’ll get back into the swing of messing with your heads in ARG territory :p

At least that’s our hope!

 
Apnomis 6 May, 2010 @ 4:28 pm   49

Nice article, it’s always good to see new ideas and new talent being encouraged – it’s one thing I’ve always liked about Sony they seem willing to take risks on something new rather than sticking with the same old tired formula just because it sells well…

Hopefully you’ll be able to prove yourself with your mini and ‘graduate’ to bigger projects. It’s about time Sony launched a new Xi style ARG in Home – maybe you guys could adapt your idea into Home one day?

James Marsden 6 May, 2010 @ 4:30 pm   50

@Apnomis

We would certainly consider it.

Load all