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.
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.
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!”
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.
“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.
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…
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,