During august 2012 I wrote an application for a game development grant from The Norwegian Film Institute's games fund. My game was heavily inspired by Transport Tycoon, The Sims and some Sim City. I didn't get the grant, but I learnt a lot.
You have just been assigned the position as Director of Transport Co.. Your task is to get people to prefer to use public transport, and you do this by establishing bus routes. Figure out where people live and work, and establish just the right amount of optimal routes.
The problem with the concept
Transport Co. started off way too big. I was mixing too many genres, creating too many rules, and it quickly became very complicated. I noticed this as I wrote the application so I cut down the concept, but I should have reduced it even more. I should have kept the rules so simple that the game would be easy to learn, and instead put the effort in creating interesting rules that foster emergent game play.
James Portnow commented that my game sounds exactly like a part of Cities in Motion, where you have to figure out where individuals are going in order to provide the best public transportation service. All though I did quite a lot of research, I apparently didn't do enough.
About The Norwegian Film Institute
The Norwegian Film Institute has a fund of about 440 million NOK (73.7 million USD) where most of the money are reserved for movie productions, but 20 million NOK (3.35 million USD) are reserved for computer games. Every year there are three dates when you can apply. NFI now receives about 100 applications each round, so the competition is getting tough. The positive is that this shows that the norwegian games industry is growing.
When you apply you have to send the NFI a bunch of documents describing your concept, production budget, list of staff and so on. If your concept sounds interesting enough, you will be asked to do a presentation in front of the jury. The jury consists of four persons, three of them from the NFI and one from the industry. The person from the industry is replaced each year.
About 20% of the applicants gets to the presentation round. 50% of those 20% gets funded.
So, how did it go?
I got to the presentation round. Yay! Considering this was my first application, I'm super happy with that. It tells me that I did something right with my application. I cannot thank my girlfriend enough for her invaluable feedback and hard work on refining my writings.
Presentation is something I have to practice. The problem with my presentation, as I saw it, was that I started to doubt my own concept and could not sell it. I also had my doubts about the presentation itself, as I had never done such a presentation before. In order to sell an idea, you have to apply yourself to the presentation. Be enthusiastic and show, don't tell.
My project was only at the idea phase when I applied, so I had nothing to show of the game. I should have had a video of actual game play. That could have raised the level of interest in the game, and make people want to play it. It's easier to imagine yourself playing a game when you can see it in front yourself.
Dragons Den at Konsoll
Konsoll is a game developers conference organized by The Game Developers Guild of Norway and held in Bergen, Norway. Each year they have a Dragons Den competition where game developers get to pitch their concept to a panel of four dragons from different areas of the industry. When I pitched my game, the panel consisted of James Portnow, Alex Trowers, Tor Ole Rognaldsen and Bjørn Alsterberg.
The next time I pitch a game to a panel of dragons, I have to figure out who my players are, what the value of the company is and how much the production will cost. Having some references to how well other similar games have fared will also help. Don't compare with the big games like Sim City or The Sims, be conservative in the estimates. I should have also presented some thoughts on what makes my game different from Cities in Motion.
And lastly, I have to show more enthusiasm during the presentation. I was super nervous and couldn't even dare to look at the audience.
I got some positive feedback too. My thoughts on the whole production process was fine. I showed that I understand how games productions work, and have a healthy view on how to approach it. One from the panel said that of all the games presented, mine was the one he wanted to play. But there was so many other things wrong with my presentation that I didn't win.
I'm glad I got some things right. That gives me the confidence to try again, and I have a more clear picture of what to do better.
I would definitely do this again. Writing the application for the grant was a long 6 week period, and the Dragons Den was nerve wrecking. They both gave me invaluable feedback which I wouldn't have gotten elsewhere.
Next time, I'll make sure to have worked on an actual game prototype well in advance of the application deadline. By keeping the development process open I will get feedback from possible players from day one, and that will strengthen my own trust in the concept. This time I spent 6 whole weeks of prototyping, concept development and writing. I would dedicate at least the same amount of time next time to get full focus on the application.
If you're considering doing the same, I'd advice you to do it. Good luck!