Indie Game Pitches & Funding Stories!

Indie Game Pitches & Funding Stories!

We’re talking about all our pitching stories for our games today. Something Miracle Tea have been fortunate enough to have met with some success in. We’ll be discussing how we’ve pitched each game we’ve made. We’ll talk about what went well which resulted in funding, what didn’t go well and made for some awkward moments and what we’d do differently next time causing us to hold our heads up and move on. Hopefully this short read is some interest to you, grab a brew and get comfy!

Pitching Ruya in 2016

Our very first big indie pitch was to Tranzfuser in 2016 for Ruya. The way Tranzfuser ran back then was teams would showcase and get judged at EGX and then be selected to later pitch in Edinburgh for the funding. The years that followed teams pitched at EGX to streamline that whole process out.

Back then Myself and the Miracle Tea guys ventured up to Scotland. We were happy to make the trip from old blighty and back. Tom drove us all the way which was a laugh. I remember talking about conspiracy theories and putting on Steve Hughes and Bill Burr podcasts most of the way down. Those guys do well to put up with me chatting shit most of the way and getting up to shenanigans. I remember the hostel being gnarly, the restaurant we ate in being shady but the drive up and Edinburgh itself being beautiful. I love how vast Scotland is.

Anyway, from memory the pitch itself went well enough for us to secure the remainder of the Tranzfuser grant. I remember we are walked into a room above an art gallery with sandwiches and teas and coffees. All the other Tranzfuser finalists were there too. I think there was about 7 teams along with a panel of judges. Teams took it in turns to pitch their game, we went first…

One thing that we did that was perhaps a little unorthodox was our whole team took it in turns to talk through designated slides. We observed that other teams dedicated one person to pitch their game. At the time we were operating as a flat hierarchy and sharing the load of certain disciplines so it made the most sense for us to it that way. I don’t really know if this worked for or against us in that pitch. Maybe we came across as different and tight nit as a team, or maybe it came across as a bit convoluted for the audience to shift focus on different speakers. Either way we don’t pitch like that anymore!

One thing that went bad was we had audio playing in the background of our presentation. I remember getting feedback at EGX from some judges saying that the submission of our initial pitch deck stood out because of the music within the deck. As a result of that, we were keen to keep the audio in on the big day. Turns out that was a bit of a mistake. The audio was a little louder than expected. We nervously started our pitch with haste before thinking to ask if people could hear us okay or to adjust the audio. I remember looking into the face of another Tranzfuser team about half way and could tell they were having difficulty hearing us. I often think back to this moment and laugh a little bit! If we were to do it again the we would’ve made an effort to take our time to adjust any audio in the pitch or simply would’ve just taken it out!

I remember walking away from that pitch feeling unsure about how it went, I think the rest of the guys felt the same. When we got the grant sometime later, we were so stoked. This was a big deal for us all and we knew that we would finish what we set out to do. Getting this grant was a real catalyst of encouragement for Miracle Tea, we most likely wouldn’t exist without Tranzfuser. The development of Ruya was huge journey for us all. So many ups and downs and seeing our peer’s projects never seeing the light of day and companies going bust around us was discouraging and scary at times. Sometimes it was tempting to just quit and go and get a regular job, I’m so glad we pulled through and finished the game in spite of everything.

Pitching Oath in 2018

After Ruya released in November 2017, I started working on a prototype solo into the winter. The design of the game was very much a reflection of the time. At first, I thought the game wouldn’t be fit a good fit for a potential Miracle Tea game, for a while it was something I was just going to tinker with on the side. I eventually pitched the game to Tom as I got to a point where I’d knew it probably wouldn’t see the light of day without his help. He dug it and later got involved. Things really started to take shape after that.

Early 2018 we pitched a game called Oath (working title) to the UK Games Fund for the round of 4. We knew that after Ruya was wrapped up and as Tranzfuser alumni, the natural thing to do was to pursue the UK Games Fund grant. It felt like the next stepping stone in our careers. The application process from Tranzfuser to UK Games Fund was more or less the same so we felt hopeful about our chances. For the application we had to submit a short 2-minute video explaining the game, our business plan, target audience, dev schedule etc. Oath was unfortunately declined for the grant but we learnt so much as a result.

Our feedback from UK Games Fund was also that this kind of action game genre is super competitive making it a risky investment on their part. In theory, we ticked a lot of the boxes with this pitch though there were a few things that weren’t particular clear. One being that we didn’t discuss how far in development the grant would get us and our options beyond this. Another thing to note is around that time we were definitely prioritising the game build over our actual video application. A lot of the footage we showed was real in game content. In hindsight our gameplay could’ve been communicated with simple stills, or diagrams and more energy could’ve been on really making the best use of time in the video. Another thing that we later realised is that the subject matter of violence and gore in Oath might have been a fairly risky thing to pitch to a government funding scheme. If a game like this ever-got bad press and then it being funded by a government scheme perhaps might not be an ideal situation.

Pitching Alula in 2019

The biggest thing I’ve learnt from skateboarding is to get up and try again and eventually it’ll happen. My lecturers would refer to that as ‘grit’ in psychology. When the next round of UK Games Fund applications opened up in 2019 the was no way we weren’t going to pitch something. With an unsuccessful pitch last year, we knew some things to avoid. We had some time to recover and let the dust settle from the launch of Ruya which I think was a really good thing for our team. We spent our time between the two pitches tinkering with Oath, prototyping new ideas, working with clients and building rapport, maintaining Ruya, saving/sustaining the business and catering our personal lives which had been somewhat neglected due to the intensity of Ruya dev.

Near the end of 2018 Tom prototyped a simple little puzzle game that started as this idea called Tangled Thoughts. From memory, it was a puzzle game where progression and puzzles were metaphorical representations of anxious thought patterns of a player character walking from left to right. I later did a re-skin and it changed into a game where a mother owl and a baby owl were climbing a mountain together where progression was measured by matching stars in the sky. The better you did the closer the characters would be to one another to show a bond. We jammed this version of the game out over a weekend or two together and then showcased it at Game Anglia in Ipswich. People seemed to dig it and were curious as to what we were up to next. The name Alula emerged at this stage in the prototype. By the time we pitched it to UK Games Fund the following year we had already re-designed Alula again.

I was in a weird place in 2019, I spent a lot of it alone and thought a lot. ‘No one is an island’ was something I heard a lot from friends and family. 2019 was a really good year for my career but one of the toughest personally. What stemmed from the personal struggle was the pursuit of work that revolved around loneliness in order to make something out of the suffering I was going through. It’s often easier for me to communicate that way. I started messing around with texture brushes and compositions in Photoshop trying to hone my skills and visualising different ways to convey some of the emotions I was feeling. One of the concepts that emerged felt like it had weight and could potentially be embedded into our already existing game mechanics. Though it meant a significant re-design, so I had to get Tom on board. Me and Tom met in a Costa in Felixstowe, I pitched to him a proposal for the drastic re-design and change in art direction, he was up for it and we were on our way!

From then on, we went with full force on our UK Games Fund application for Alula with the new art direction in mind. I spent a lot of time on video pitch and completely ignored the game build. We really honed in on making use of every second and if any line of dialogue felt off-kilter, we cut it – something I felt like we didn’t do that well previously. The content of our video featured loose concepts, some in game interactivity and diagrams breaking down our design loops or plans, nothing too fancy though it was stylistically cohesive and clear. The pitch video felt way more solid than the one for Oath. I was chuffed when we submitted. I remember sleeping so well after it was complete.

Tom got the email some months later from UK Games Fund when we got accepted to showcase at EGX. It came at such a surprise but re-enforced to us that we were onto something. As a result, we put Oath on hold and our focus shifted towards Alula development as a priority.

Once you get accepted to showcase at EGX, you don’t necessarily get the full grant. You have to then pitch in person to the UK Games Fund team at the event in a meeting room. The lead up to EGX me and Tom really focused on the game build and mastering our pitch. The month before was so intense and we worked so incredibly hard. Our experience of EGX 2019 is a whole separate story, we’ll post about it in the near future.

Hopefully this has offered some insight into the nitty gritty side of pitching indie games for funding. If you’re thinking about pursuing the UK Games Fund or Tranzfuser grants and have questions, feel free to join our Discord community for a chin wiggle. We’re always happy to help!

Catch you next time.

– Brad

Our Tranzfuser Experience

Our Tranzfuser Experience

What is Tranzfuser?

Tranzfuser is a graduate game pitching competition for a grant of £25k supported by the UK government. You pitch a prototype and teams that get selected will be awarded £5k to develop and work up their prototypes over the summer period. At the end of the summer, Tranzfuser hook you up with a free both space at the biggest trade show here in the UK called EGX. Teams demo their prototypes and go on to pitch their games for an additional 20k.

If you’re thinking of entering, you can read lots of wisdom from our friend Caoimhe here.

We competed in Tranzfuser in 2016. Back then we were younger and fresh faced. We can say with certainty that competing in the Tranzfuser programme has been the best thing for our careers to date. It not only raised the profile of our company it has made us very employable as individuals. The programme has changed a lot over the years since we competed but in the best possible way!

What was our project?

We made a game called Ruya for Tranzfuser. Ruya is a meditative puzzle game about dreams and motherhood. You can pick it up on Steam if you’re curious. Ruya launched in 2017, about a year and a half later to when we were competing in Tranzfuser.

Where did it come from and how has it evolved over the past number of years?

Tom built the core mechanics as a university project. I later got involved and started helping him with the design and the visual style. The art that I brought in come from another game I made for a game jam called Indie Speed Run. We kind of merged that art style and Toms mechanics and then it grew from there. We set out to re-imagine match style games, to try and make them ‘cool’ I guess, they get a bad rap from a lot of people in the indie scene I find. Our thinking with Ruya was to marry the mechanics of a game like Bejewelled with the emotional depth of a game like Monument Valley.

Ruya - Tranzfuser Booth, EGX 2016

How did we find out about Tranzfuser? 

Tom heard out about Tranzfuser through the news and mentioned that we should apply. We were trying to pursue our own thing and make own video games full time for a living, but didn’t necessarily know the whole logistics of doing that. I think we were both good at making games but had little to no idea about setting up a business, so it seemed like a no brainer. We applied, got through and started working out of the Eastern Enterprise hub – a lot of the work for Ruya was done there, especially working out our pitch and deconstructing its design. Back then it felt like doing a fourth year of University and getting paid for it which was really cool!

Why Tranzfuser?

As a team we simply wanted to form a game company to create the kind of games we think have value. There was also an element of wanted to compete in a more serious and professional capacity. To see what we could do and where we sit relative to the rest of the industry. We had entered a lot of game jams in the past but Tranzfuser was a big step up with tangible rewards and greater stakes at play.

How did you apply your university learning to Tranzfuser and beyond?

My dissertation was in game jams which taught me to work quick and iterate and fail a lot. We were taught at university that are first 10 games would like suck and that you should just get them out of the way. Most of how Miracle Tea approach making games specifically the emotional and mechanical side comes from our teachings from University. Our lecturers really encouraged that. There was also a part of me that wanted to prove to lecturers that what they taught us at University had value and that we really listened to them and that their teachings had a real impact on their students. I think Tom really learnt how to get good at coding and craft mechanics. And I got really into the more emotional side of game design. And I think when we come together it makes for an interesting team dynamic. There’s a kind of push and pull that happens when me and Tom work. We pitched a lot of games at University. Every couple of weeks we would have to pitch our game to a panel of lecturers – so when it come to Tranzfuser it felt very familiar.

What did Tranzfuser do for you?

Tranzfuser opened a handful of opportunities in the industry that otherwise would have taken us years to understand and achieve. How Miracle Tea pitch our games today is built upon how we pitched to Tranzfuser back in 2016. Only with more confidence! Tranzfuser gave me personally a shortcut to a certain level of confidence and growth that I never knew I had. As a result of that growth, we’ve been asked to mentor students at our local university, be a judge for game jams in our community and asked to speak at conferences overseas.

High Points?

The psychological impact of getting into Tranzfuser was a big deal for us. We saw a lot of our peers getting big studio jobs or succeed in various game jams and competitions. It gave us a certain level of confidence and esteem that I think we all needed. Observing people play. People taking photos with plushie. We knew that even if we didn’t get the funding for Tranzfuser that we’d be able to get work in the industry, people were coming up to us saying if this doesn’t work out email us and we’ll hook you up with a job. All of that was really re-assuring and motivating.

Low Points

Watching people being confused by your game is always difficult, it still happens too. We were bug fixing stuff throughout the EGX competition, Tom would setup his laptop around the corner from the booth and would be iterating big usability issues on the fly. A lot of sleepless nights and anxious days! Game development is really hard, such long hours and staring at a computer can sometimes be really soul draining. I think back then the way we worked wasn’t necessarily the healthiest. We’re a lot more balanced these days.

If you could turn the clock back, would you do anything differently?

Pre-EGX I would’ve spent less time crafting the later stages of the game and more time focused on refining the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Because that would’ve resulted in a stronger slice for the EGX demo, and allowed us more time for testing to iron out usability and readability issues beforehand. With the pitch, I would’ve worked on projecting more to the entire room to assert a level of confidence. Also, avoiding apologetic language when discussing the game or ourselves might have been useful. With networking to be more assertive when seeking out the people that could help us achieve some of the things we needed at the time. I think when your starting out that is normal though and it gets easier with time.

What were the challenges of team working?

Sometimes the worry can be paralysing but at the same time the amount we worried probably sometimes helped because we’d be over prepared as a result. We all got really close after Tranzfuser, our team getting funding kind of built more mutual respect and re-assured everyone that we’re on the right path. When we started out communication was difficult, we’ve slowly figured out how to articulate things with more clarity. Talking about finances was something we shyed from in the early days but we quickly got over that once things started getting more serious with the business. A lot of that also seems to come from just slowly becoming comfortable with another person and being real and honest and clear about what your goals are.

What Motivated Us?

The idea that we had people aware of what we were doing and had eyeballs on us is a real motivator. You know, being awarded funding and having people say congratulations is a motivator, there’s a moral responsibility associated to that to set out what you indented to do.

Being in sticky financial situations can give you a certain amount of drive to get something done and I think when we were starting out that was true for all of us at a point in time. I think we’ve all realised what we have going in our team is quite rare. Just the idea that we still get on post-release of game is apparently not always the case within the industry – people often end up hating each other from what I’ve observed.

Why should the up-and-coming game dev talent of tomorrow apply to Tranzfuser 2020?

We took part in Tranzfuser to make running a video game company a reality. It’s the best way to show the games industry that you’re serious about what you do. Tranzfuser was for sure the best thing we could have done for our careers coming out of education. If you don’t try it you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

Why is Tranzfuser important?

It allows the opportunity for great games to exist which is a really important thing, especially right now with what’s going on in the world. You know, games are a safe haven for a lot of people to escape or unwind from their life, and that’s important. Tranzfuser increases the chances of those games being put out into the world. I think we’re really lucky to have something like this in the UK. I’ve met developers from other parts of the world that don’t necessarily have that support and as a result the game scene is really sparse and it’s difficult to survive. It’s an initiative that works too. We’ve been able to stay in business and hire people for almost 4 years and Tranzfuser was the catalyst for all of that.

After Tranzfuser?

We got really motivated after Tranzfuser and then Ruya launched about a year and a half later. We pitched a hack and slash game called Oath to UK Games Fund shortly after Ruya released – that would’ve been in 2018, I think. Oath got rejected but we learnt a lot as a result. Then we started doing client work to sustain the company and working on prototypes on the side. We trickled out Ruya on other platforms slowly maintaining the game overtime and secured a licencing deal after shortly after Ruya launched on Armor Games. This was a big deal for us.

How have we sustained our business?

We’ve had good client work post-Tranzfuser. We worked with lady called Helen who we helped build a platform that teaches people about financial education. We made her a series of small games for her. The licencing deal was a real help. We have the mentality of playing the long game and trying to sustain ourselves over a long period of time. A lot of developers seem to bank on having a hit game and I think that’s kind of the wrong attitude to adopt. I think it’s better to plan worst case scenario which means expecting your game to make no money. If you always plan for that, you increase the chances of staying in business. I think it’s really important to live within your means too.

What are we doing now?

Miracle Tea have been running for over 3 years now since competing in Tranzfuser. We are a remote studio and our list of working contractors is growing. Ruya launched, it won a handful of awards that have given us studio recognition. We are now working on our new game Alula that was recently awarded the UK Games Fund round 5 grant. We aim to launch next year.

If you have any questions for our team about Tranzfuser, feel free to join our lovely Discord community, don’t be shy!