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Cole Gleason

Ph.D. candidate at the Human-Computer Interaction Institue at CMU. I work on accesibility technology for people with vision impairments.

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Recently, we have been discussing game pitches to publishing companies, and how to convince a publisher to take a risk on your game. In this discussion we often say “Publishers want to see this…” or “Publishers will be way of this…”. But how good are publishers at picking successes from the myriad of pitches they see? Do we overestimate our ability to craft good pitches and pick successful games?

In other areas, this is often true. Humans see patterns in randomness all the time, leading them to believe they have skill that does not exist. We see this in picking stocks, gambling, and even video games. So why not with game pitches?

I can’t find hard numbers to back this up, unfortunately. By nature, all “bad” pitches are not likely to get picked up by a publisher, so there is a selection effect. This makes it hard to measure a connection between perceived pitch strength and eventual success of the game. In the stock market, we would measure this by putting all of the stocks in an index, weighted by market capitalization, and measure individual fund managers against that as a benchmark.

Perhaps we can do that for the game industry. Let’s take all games and weight them by budget and profit (whether we can get accurate numbers on this is unclear). AAA games will be our “large cap” games, wheras indie games will be our “small caps”. Low budget games will be “value games” and high budget games can be “growth games” (here the analogy starts to break down). Let’s treat individual publishers as “fund managers” and the games they own are in their fund. This doesn’t strictly mirror the stock market, as games are not infinitely divisable, and competitors are unlikely to own the same games.

In this scenario, we can ask if individual publishers are likely to create portfolios that out-do the games market over the span of their existance. If not, we can conclude that publisher skill is overblown. This doesn’t narrow the problem down to pitches, however, as execution or external market forces could be the issue. And we don’t have the universe of “poorly pitched games” to include. However, this would be an interesting, if flawed, experiment to examine how much value publishers add over the game market as a whole.