Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pitch Perfect, Pitch Different?

Two educational games were pitched last week at the July LearnLaunch Meetup/Pitch Night. I pitched Petri Dish, a cell biology simulation game. As I was developing my pitch, I shared it with friends and family. I had never pitched before, and I wanted Petri Dish to stand out. The overwhelming feedback I got was that I should give a more standard pitch. This meant:

  • Talking more about myself (my credentials, my passion for learning, the story behind my company).
  • Explaining the need for a cell biology simulation game (failing educational system, students not engaged, need for knowledge workers in the 21st century, growth in biotechnology industries).
  • Drawing analogies that the audience can relate to (SimCity but with cells, engaging students in an open world like Minecraft where learning is social).

In the end, I did none of those things. Instead, I dove straight into the game itself hoping to show the audience the kind of learning that students would be doing instead of simply telling them about it. It was a lot to accomplish in five minutes, but I was determined to show as much as possible.

Another team presented SputnikBot, a game teaching young kids how to program. Ksenia of SputnikBot did make a standard pitch. There were the obligatory slides on the importance of STEM, the growing shortage of computer programmers in this country, programming as the new literacy, and the power of games as learning tools. After this lengthy lead in, Ksenia only had time to show a few screenshots of SputnikBot and explain the game's scenario: An accident occurs aboard a satellite that erases the memory of the satellite's computer system. The player must program a robot in the satellite to deal with a series of challenges.

For one segment of the audience, this was a revelation; the growing shortage of computer programmers was alarming news and we clearly needed to do something about it soon. For a second segment of the audience, this merely confirmed what they already knew and had been alarmed about for some time. Of course the U.S. is falling behind in STEM; I've been yelling at my school committee to do something about it but nothing ever happens. Thank god someone is finally doing something to address this! But for a third segment of the audience, there was frustratingly little detail. We've seen dozens of pitches just like this one and have tried dozens of games that tried to teach something to kids by hooking them with some superficial game elements... and it doesn't work. How is SputnikBot any different?

The standard pitch loses this third segment of the audience. My unconventional pitch was directed straight at them with the likely possibility that I would lose the first two segments of the audience. I'm not sure if there is a way to craft a five minute pitch that would hold everyone. I'm also not sure which segment of the audience is more important to win over. Since I fall into the third segment (jaded and skeptical, requiring hard evidence due to years of people over-promising and under-delivering), I want to win that segment of the audience over. But maybe you gain market success by appealing to the first two segments? The third segment is small and very hard to win over, and it isn't clear that you gain anything by winning them over anyways. However, if your goal is disruption, winning them over might just be a useful benchmark that you are on the right track.

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