Pitching Skulduggery

Over on my main blog I’ve talked a lot about the importance of having a clear 25-word-or-less pitch statement to explain a new game you’re selling at a booth. Obviously, it helps you to get a few more copies into people’s hands. However, designers, in particular, should have that pitch in mind as they create the game.If you have a tough time briefly encapsulating it, chances are that you haven’t yet nailed down your game’s central idea. Without that core premise, you don’t have a strong game.

For actual booth-manning purposes, though, it doesn’t pay to have a completely prepared spiel that you rattle off when anyone comes within ten feet of your table. It’s better to be a little ragged and conversational than to seem too slick or polished. You want to talk to the person, not at him. You’re assisting as he makes a discovery, rather than pushing a product. (Or worse, pimping it—a term that drives me nuts. But that’s a story for another day.)

To put my example where my mouth is, here’s the pitch I used to explain Skulduggery to folks who wandered over to the Pelgrane booth and started to flip through it.

First, get a sense of whether the browser wants to flip through the book undisturbed, or is open to chat.

Then, the quick pitch:

That’s Skulduggery, the fast and furious game of betrayal, backstabbing and verbal oneupsmanship, in which the player characters face their most dangerous foes: each other.

If the browser seems to want to hear more, go beyond the quick pitch. Cut it short if interest seems to flag. Be ready to jump into question-answering mode if engaged. (This didn’t happen as much for Skulduggery as it does for the various GUMSHOE games, where obvious questions present themselves: How is Trail of Cthulhu different from Call? How do super powers work in Mutant City Blues?)

It’s a multi-genre game. It shows you how to create your own setting/scenario packs, and provides four ready-to-go examples: US politics, pirates, space traders, and—the one that was always the nastiest in playtest—staging a high school musical.

After another pause to gauge interest:

For character generation, you distribute sets of cards. [Flipping to book to show card set #1 from “If Space Permits.”] Players then rationalize how all the components of their character, from the various sets of cards, fit together. That immediately engages their creativity and makes them feel like the character is theirs, and not just a straight-up pre-gen.

And another:

The rules mechanics are a new, streamlined version of the <i>Dying Earth</i> rules. If you don’t like your die roll, or your opponent’s, you pay points to get or require a reroll. So you get a “Yes I do! No you don’t!” back-and-forth dynamic that sets the tone of the game.

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During the show I switched the order of these three pitch units. Although it didn’t make a big difference which came first, in retrospect I’d say this is probably the ideal sequence.

After developing this pitch, I was able to adapt it to easily describe the game in interviews, too.

Retail-wise, pitches don’t really work outside a convention exhibit hall. A game store clerk who lays a pitch on you is going to sound weird and artificial. But maybe the above will help those of you who belong to the brick-and-mortar brigade to explain the appeal of the game, although in a much more conversational way.

One Response to “Pitching Skulduggery”

  1. Graham says:

    This is really useful, thank you. More posts like this, please!

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