How ‘No Man’s Sky’ Can Teach You to Pitch Better

August 16, 2016

4:00 pm

If you’re a gamer, you’ve definitely heard of No Man’s Sky by now. The survival game is set within a procedurally generated, deterministic open universe that’s essentially infinite and a mind-bendingly new approach to a gameworld. But that’s a fact that’s tougher to pitch than you might think.

Indie game developer Rami Ismail blogged on the topic of No Man’s Sky and how the game’s creators, Hello Games, were able to craft an intelligent pitch that could grab the imagination. Here, I’ll dig into the problems and how NMS beat them, before explaining the crossover that could help you in your own pitching endeavors.

The Problem

You can’t just called the game “infinite.” Audiences already see video games as infinite, even though they aren’t. General audiences’ outrageous expectations include assuming “games can be photorealistic, infinite, and capable of simulating reality rather well.” From the article:

“I’ve mentioned this before, but most non-gaming people don’t directly assume Grand Theft Auto isn’t an infinite world beyond the city borders, and don’t realize a Call of Duty game takes place in a map rather than a country. The question of game world size doesn’t occur, because that’s an abstract idea that requires an understanding of game boundaries, and a context of game worlds.”

Also, any technical terms are off the table, since they won’t be understood. It’s the same reason why Apple tells you how many songs can fit on the iPhone rather than how many Gb it will store. And anyone who doesn’t know deterministic mathematical models won’t get the procedural generation that No Man’s Sky uses.

The Solution

The actual pitch opted to compare NMS to our actual universe:

“No Man’s Sky is a game in which there are 18 quintillion planets (wow, a number that sounds bigger than a trillion!). Even if a planet was discovered every second by a player, our own actual sun -not the one in the game!- would die before every player in the world combined would have seen them all (wow science).”

By replacing “infinite” with a specific number, Hello Games was able to pitch the true mind-blowing accomplishment of the game. By discussing scale in relation to our universe, they were able to use the same trick Apple does to get people to understand how their game worked.

Why It Applies to You

When you’re pitching your startup idea or explaining your abilities in order to get hired, you can draw on the same tips and tricks. For instance, a narrative isn’t general, it’s specific. Don’t say you’ve always loved graphic design, name the characters in the comic strip you wrote when you were seven. Don’t say you were a top worker at your last position, tell them which clients you worked with and what percentage of the quarterly earnings your department earned.

As the Harvard Business Review once wrote:

“See what themes you can extract to further your understanding of yourself. Connect these discoveries with what you do now or want to do. Seek out professional development opportunities that reconnect you to these early tendencies. Look at job postings through a new lens. And even be bold—tell a story from your youth in a job interview that explains why you think you’ll thrive in a new role.”

Think about how your audience will perceive you and find a new way to represent yourself with specifics that will form an impressive but insightful narrative by connecting with who your audience is. Maybe you’ll become a famous indie game developer, to boot.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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