How I Used Gamification To Teach Students To Give An Elevator Pitch
It is not enough for a game designer to merely have an idea for a game to develop. Unless the game idea is one that the designer can create and publish on his or her own, then the designer needs to convince other people of the idea’s value. He or shed needs to be able to pursuade the rest of the development team that the idea is worth developing, and if it is not an indie game, pursuade a publisher or client that the idea is worth funding.
One common way to “sell” an idea to other people is by presenting an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product and its value. The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes. The term itself comes from the scenario of accidentally meeting someone important in an elevator. If the conversation inside the elevator in those few seconds is interesting and value adding, then the conversation will continue after the elevator ride or end in the exchange of business cards or a scheduled meeting.
While the elevator pitch should be short and succinct, it should convey the following information about the game idea:
- Title: You should give your game a title, even if it is a temporary one, so that people don’t simply refer to it as “your idea.”
- Genre: Stating the game’s genre conveys a lot how the gameplay will be balanced between action, strategy, conflict and exploration.
- Target Player: If the game is targeted for a specific level of player expertise (casual vs. hardcore) or demographic (e.g, children, history buffs), then that should be stated in the pitch. However, if your game is just targeted at everyone who enjoys playing that genre, then you can omit describing the target player in your elevator pitch.
- Core Mechanics: You should describe exactly what players will be doing to try to achieve the game’s overall goal.
The core mechanics should be described in player actions and the purpose for the actions (for example, “jump to cross dangerous chasms” or “fulfill quests to improve character abilities”).
- Play Value: Explain exactly how the game will entertain the player. You need to be more specific than simply saying that it’s “fun” or “cool”.
- Competition: Compare your game to an existing, successful game with which the audience is familiar so that they have a greater grasp of what your game will be like. However, you can omit calling out a particular game if your idea is similar to many games in its genre
- Unique Differentiation: It is very important to describe how your idea will be different from other existing games by describing its unique core mechanics, features, setting or story.
This information is then conveyed in the elevator pitch in a structure like this:
Game Title is a game genre for target player. It features core game mechanics that bring play value. Unlike Competition, this game unique differentiation.
Of course, you want to present this information in an entertaining and compelling way that gets the listener excited about the idea. Here’s an example of an elevator pitch that one of our Los Angeles Film School students wrote, with the key pieces of information appearing in boldface.
Somehow it always falls to Mustachio to rally his friends for their many adventures. Run and jump  through a side-scrolling platform world made of and inhabited by blocks. With mustaches. A world full of action, puzzles and arbitrary danger that Mustachio faces boldly with his mustache-fueled power to make block duplicates of himself. What? Cloning AND mustaches?! You betcha!
 Core mechanics
 Play value
 Unique differentiation
Although an elevator pitch seems like a simple concept, I was surprised when I first started teaching game design about the difficulty students had in writing one. While they could list out the information about their game ideas the elevator pitch needed to contain, they typically had problems putting the information into the structure of an elevator pitch and presenting it in an entertaining way. Even more surprising to me was that some students could say something entertaining about their idea but without conveying the essential information about how their game would work of what made it different from other games.
This is not just a problem for our college students. One of the requirements of the Boy Scout Game Design Merit Badge is to write a vision statement, which is very similar to an elevator pitch, and I’ve found as a game design merit badge counsellor that it is the requirement that gives scouts the most trouble. My working hypothesis is that identifying the information needed is a left-brained task while conveying them in an entertaining way is a right-brained task, and few people are adept at using both sides of their brain on the same tasks.
However, I think I found a solution to the problem. This term I had my students do their elevator pitches not in the classroom, but in an actual elevator. I brought the class to the ninth floor of the Los Angeles Film School building, and I had each one board the elevator with several other students, who I said were Activision executives who happened to be riding down with you at your hotel to go to the annual Game Developers Conference. Once everyone boarded, I had the students recite their elevator pitches, and if the other students liked what they heard by the time the elevator reached the lobby, the students were to give the presenter their “business cards.” Each student had only four business cards to give out, so they had to decide whether the presenter was really worthy of giving up their business card for. I gave extra credit to the student who received the most business cards after everyone had a chance to pitch.
This gamification of the assignment worked like a charm, and the students gave the best pitches I’ve heard in the past year that I’ve been teaching at the school.