When Bernadette Devlin first entered the British parliament she declared that her constituency, as far as she could see it, was the world of ideas. Over the past few years I’ve reacquainted myself with my childhood belief that ideas are a form of energy so potent they’re worth all the oil in Iraq. From the engine to Eastenders, from penicillin to Popeye, from the mobile home to the mobile phone, from nuclear power to power steering – ideas have sculpted life as we know it today; for better or worse.
Working as I do in the murky freelance waters of ideas pitching, I have never been put off a pitch by the fact that I know next to nothing about what I’m pitching. I have found that all it takes is one solid idea, and as they sing in Chicago, a bit of razzle dazzle. Hence my entry into the sweaty-male dominated world of mobile games pitching. Channel 4 had teamed up with Nokia and EA Games and was looking for ideas for a mobile phone game. All entrants had to do was to submit the idea in a clear and easy to understand manner. Entrants needed no background in gaming or the mobile phone industry. All entrants required to win was a good idea and an interest in mobile phone gaming. Right, I thought, rolling my sleeves up – I’ve played Tetris on my mobile phone, I used to be able to clear Sonic the Hedgehog on the Playstation and I’m no stranger to the online version of Who wants to be a Millionaire? – I can do this.
So I came up with three ideas and submitted these via email. No more the paper trail when it comes to pitching. The fact that you can send entries quick and on the cheap via email (it was free to enter) is an absolute blessing to those of us who are broke from buying stamps and postal orders to pay for pitching comps.
With my entry in the ether, I forgot all about it…until two weeks later when I received a missive from Channel 4 informing me that they had chosen one of my ideas – score! Ten finalists had been chosen and we were all invited to attend a 12-hour mobile phone gaming masterclass- after which we would have to pitch our ideas to the head commissioners at EA Games, Nokia and Channel 4 multimedia. The event was held at Channel 4 headquarters, an impressive space-age-like hub of bustling energy near Westminster Abbey. When I arrived I was quick to note that I was the only female present and that, judging by the goatees, the long leather jackets and the heated arguments they were engaging in about portals and something called Gears of War, all of the other contestants were die-hard gamers, apart from a man in his fifties from Northern Ireland who looked as much out of place as I did. He did, however, have the foresight to use a power-point presentation to pitch – nice.
We spent the day learning how to formulate and pitch a mobile phone game and we were also taught a little about how the mobile phone games industry works. The most important lesson to be gleaned from our masterclass: social networking is the way forward for mobile phone games. Hence the fact that by the time of the pitch-off, each finalist had integrated a social networking aspect to their games pitch. After our lessons we were shepherded downstairs to a surreal 70s harem-like den, where Channel 4 holds its intimate do’s and launches. Platters of sandwiches, starters and mini-bagels were on offer, and I tactfully decided to avoid anything that could possibly remain in my teeth afterwards. We were given an hour to eat and to put our final pitches into a coherent form and then, with frayed nerves, full bellies and barely legible scraps of paper, I led a leather jacketed army up the stairs to a conference room where we each had to pitch in front of the panel of judges, the Channel 4 talent crew, journalists from gaming magazines – and each other. Ouch!
My heart was practically sitting on my tongue by the time I was asked to stand up and pitch (which may account for some of my mumbling). And so I shimmied over to the pitching seat and clumsily adjusted the microphone. I opened with a little joke about being the token female, and received a knowing laugh from the only woman on the panel – Mandy Pollard, a Channel 4 commissioner. After that winning opening line, I can’t remember a single word I said. I can only recall the stony eyes of Nokia heavyweight Scott Foe beating down on me as I answered question after question about the ins and outs of my mobile phone game idea. I didn’t win the mobile phone game pitching event (the prize was a two week placement with a gaming company and £1,000). The winning pitch was that of a finders keepers social networking game where players could break into their pals safe-houses and steal goodies.
Before we left, every finalist received a new N96 phone and Channel 4 boxsets – nice! Even nicer was the fact that a Channel 4 commissioner advised me to turn my game into a TV quiz show and to launch it from there. On hearing this, another of Channel 4’s team cornered me and asked if he could work with me on developing the idea for the screen, which is what I am working on right now. Pitching is a painful process – especially if, like me, you suffer from inherent shyness. But it is an essential part of life for those of us who believe in the power of ideas. It took me less than thirty minutes to put my original ideas for a mobile phone game together, but those thirty minutes have resulted in the most unlikely adventure – I have since gained representation from a company who specialise in bringing ideas to television producers and I recently received a note from Stephen Fry informing me that he really liked my game show idea.
People often ask me what it is that I do and lacking an accurate term, I usually just say I’m a writer. But at heart I know I’m something else. An idealist? Absolutely. An inventor? Occasionally. A chancer? Most definitely. A general opportunist…now that sounds about right.
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