We get hired by organizations all across the world to make educational video games on their behalf. Some organizations just want to meet us, trade ideas, and get to work. Some organizations want to play or see a ton of our games. Some organizations want to meet our team so they can “look us in the eye” before deciding whether or not they want to work us. And some organizations ask us to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP).
It’s a big decision to invest in an educational video game and I understand that most people I talk to have never contracted a studio to make a video game. With that in mind, I’m pretty flexible and happy to go through whichever process helps you determine the best partner for your project.
I like getting an RFP. It gives me the time to pull together a variety of people in the studio to generate our best ideas and develop our most accurate budget for your project. I’ve seen at least a hundred educational video game RFPs at this point so I’m here today to share with you what I think you should be asking me:
1. Ask me about Filament. I can tell you the facts about Filament. This is our 13th year in business, we’ve worked on over 115 projects, we currently have 40 staff members, and we’ve had more than 50 million plays of our games (that we know about!). We make games for all ages and any content area. These are the basics. But I’d also like you to ask me why I think we’re particularly well-suited for your project. You are presumably sending this out to a few studios so give me the chance to tell you what sets us apart. And then lastly, ask me for what we believe in and what we stand for. We’re always really excited to work with partners that place value and emphasis on our mission alignment.
2. Tell me about your goals and objectives for your project, and then ask me about our design thinking rather than asking me for a pitch. Say you want to make a game about the fundamentals of accounting. Some RFPs will ask for an accounting game pitch. I find myself in a pickle when we are asked right away for a pitch, because our team can probably think of hundreds of different ways to make a basic accounting game. We then hem and haw internally on what we think might be the *best* game concept for you and we outline it in our response hoping that you like it. As you can see in the video below, this is contrary to what we know about how to make great learning games.
We don’t start with a pitch. We start with understanding your learners, distilling your goals into specific objectives, learning about your assessment needs, and learning about how your learners have successfully learned this in the past. From there we iterate on game mechanics and the look and feel of the experience. It’s more valuable if you ask about how we would approach your project from a design perspective. What do we need to know about your learners? What are some known pitfalls and known strategies for success in our experience working on similar projects? What are the big questions we’d want to work on answering during our discovery together? These are all questions that shape a successful design conversation.
3. Ask me about our game development methodology. Make me outline how we will approach your project from A-Z. Here are some things you’ll want to look for:
Do we have a repeatable methodology that consistently delivers high quality games?
How will your team be involved throughout the software development lifecycle?
How do we allow for time for feedback and iteration?
4a. Speaking about testing, ask me specifically about how we approach quality assurance testing. Depending on the size of studio you are working with, they may or may not have an independent quality assurance team that will work on your project. When Filament Games was smaller, we did not have an independent team and our developers did their own testing. As a result, our prices may have been less expensive but games often shipped with less-than-ideal levels of testing, creating a risk for bugs and other issues. Having a discrete quality assurance team ensures that we have a system of checks and balances in place that leads to higher quality software.
4b. Don’t forget to ask me about user testing. Ask me to outline if and how we do user testing. Our best advice is to test your releases with your intended audience, preferably multiple times during development. We like to do at least one, if not multiple in-person user tests with testers within driving distance from our studio. Our clients are always welcome to participate in person or through a video conference. We have established relationships with local organizations who are happy to welcome us in and provide this type of testing.
5. Ask me about the makeup of the team we’re proposing. Ask me to detail all of the different staff roles that will be included on your project and what each role will contribute to your project. If you haven’t worked with a studio before, you might be surprised by all of the talent that is needed to make a video game! If you ask me to name specific people for your project, I can, but with the caveat that the actual team members assigned to your project will depend on who we can make available when your project starts.
6. Tell me if you have any mandatory technological requirements - this includes things like your preference of coding language, the devices you want to support, and your integration requirements, if applicable. If you are not sure, ask me for our recommendation. This will help me put together a budget and will help our team crystallize our technical approach to your project. Generally speaking, there are many technological considerations to keep in mind when making a video game for learning.
7. Ask me for examples of our past experience and make me tell you how they are relevant to your project. Past success is the best indicator of future success. So ask me to provide some examples of our past experience and then ask me to tell you how they are relevant. Relevance can be explored from multiple perspectives. I can show you games we made that are similar to yours in terms of age group, content area, device types, type of client organization, and/or technology platform. If you have a particular perspective that is really important to you, let me know that so I can pick projects that will demonstrate our the specific competency you’re seeking.
8. Ask me for references. I don’t get asked for references very often but I wish that wasn’t the case! We’re confident in our relationships with our clients and we’d love it if you called these people and asked all of your most pointed questions. Yes, I will of course send you references of clients that had a fabulous experience working with us. But even then, I do believe most people want to be helpful and will give you candid answers. Here are some questions for our clients that we’d encourage you to ask:
What were we like to work with?
What was your role on the project? Were you happy with your role?
When you hit bumps in the project, how did Filament handle it?
Would you have any reservations about hiring Filament again?
9. If your heart is set on a game pitch, let me know if you are more interested in the design thinking of the pitch rather than the content of the pitch. Seriously, this would save me hours of sleep! The worst feeling is submitting a proposal that features a merry band of siamese cats only to find out that you hate siamese cats.
10. If you’re looking for concept art, let me know what age group you are targeting and anything else about the user demographics that could impact creative direction. We can illustrate something visually compelling for you that is appropriate for your age demographic, but bear in mind that the mood and style of the game will evolve once we start working with you.
11. If you want direct access to games we made in the past, understand that sometimes I’m limited in what I can have you play. We are a work-for-hire studio and the value we bring to our clients is that what we build for them is theirs to keep. Many times, the games we make for our clients are not publicly available, are not free, or are inaccessible for some other reason. We’ll always select the most appropriate available games for you, but the aforementioned access issues mean that they might not be one-to-one examples of your intended project.
Speaking of which, here’s a selection of the freely accessible games and games platforms that I typically send out for review:
12. Tell me your budget and ask me how we’ll spend it. I know, I know, I know. You don’t want to tell me your budget because you are convinced I will bloat our price to meet your budget. I promise I won’t! We are so straightlaced here. We actually budget each project two different ways to make sure we get to the most accurate price. Our team is made up of big dreamers and, if you don’t give us the space to dream, you might assume that we can’t make a compelling game for your budget even though we often can. The other advantage to providing me a budget is that it allows you to compare oranges to oranges. As you know that the price will be the same for all bids, you can focus on the amount of game and the amount of time that each studio offers for that price.
Thanks for listening and making all of my RFP dreams come true! ✨