Funding 101: The Impact Of The Vertical Slice

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For many game developers, the vertical slice is so much more. This is especially true when producing a vertical slice can result in a fully-realized – and, as with the Xsolla Funding Club, fully funded – player experience.

What is a vertical slice?

A vertical slice is a fully-playable portion of a game that shows its developer’s intended player experience. This means its key features and systems are all working together properly, complete with assets that represent – and this is important – final quality.

Final quality assets set a vertical slice apart from earlier iterations of a game such as an initial playable build, a functioning prototype, and even a minimum viable product (MVP). While these phases of development are important, they’re not necessarily fit for consumption outside of a development team – the vertical slice is.

Providing stakeholders, including investors and other funding sources, with the most deliberate vertical slice helps you sell your vision by successfully communicating that your game is what you made it to be: fun.

A piece of cake

So where to begin? While a completed vertical slice’s flavor depends on what kind of game you’re making, their purpose is always the same. If you cut someone a piece of cake, you’d want to give them a slice that allowed them to experience the full cake as more than just the sum of its layers. A vertical slice of your game should do the same by answering some big, arguably delicious, questions.

Why slice?

What is this game? How does it play? Does it deliver on your intended player experience? Can you complete it at scale? Before you can bake the proverbial cake, you may want to serve a slice to show you’ve got a recipe for success – for your team’s sake, and the sake of the final game.

Committing to producing a vertical slice can help you and your team take a step back and answer the important questions. Doing so can provide you with an honest assessment of where each of the game’s components is in the pipeline and whether they’re properly working together. This can reveal gaps, problems, and inefficiencies, helping you and your team to create a game plan to move forward.

Perhaps most importantly, creating a vertical slice can help developers determine where they are in the production of their game and understand what they have left to do.

This is one of the reasons that many developers incorporate the creation of a vertical slice during a game’s pre-production phase so that they can confidently move on to full production having eliminated as much uncertainty as possible.

What to Include in your vertical slice

We’ve discussed the components of a vertical slice in broad terms, but there are some essential systems, features, and assets to showcase if you want to put your best slice forward.

Musts

  • Art direction: Aesthetics aren’t optional. A completely designed world should successfully immerse players by connecting the visual dots between every asset.
  • UI: Your user interface (UI) should function as intended. Players should know how to toggle between core gameplay and any menus or other secondary devices within the game.
  • Gameplay mechanics: Does your core gameplay hinge a playable character that can fly? Slow time? Walkthrough walls? Give players the ability to use all – not just some – of these gameplay mechanics in your vertical slice to show how the final product will really play.
  • Music: Scores help set a game’s mood. Take the time to add music to make sure your vertical slice resonates.
  • Sound design: Sound effects add realism and depth to the player experience. Include every punch, tire screech, error buzz, and thunderstorm sound you can.

Nice-to-haves

  • Controller tutorials: At presentations and events, you might have the luxury of personally walking players through your vertical slice in real-time, but your game will eventually need to stand on its own. Building out an in-game controller tutorial now will give you more options for presenting your vertical slice.
  • Controller flexibility: Is your game set up to play on multiple devices with multiple input options? Include each of these options in your vertical slice to communicate a player’s ability to play on a controller, a keyboard and mouse, and any other options you want to include in your final game.
  • Settings/options: Most modern games include a host of display and controller customization options to help players optimize their experience on a variety of devices. Building settings and other options into your vertical slice will add an extra layer of polish… and maybe help you avoid technical support.

Align your vertical slice with your pitch deck

When submitting or otherwise presenting your game, your vertical slice should align with the game vision presented in your pitch deck. If your pitch deck is your case for investment or other stakeholder buy-in, the vertical slice is your proof. Help ensure a successful pitch by demonstrating consistency to instill confidence in your presentees.

Treat the vertical slice as your first milestone

Investors will recognize your vertical slice as your first milestone, because it’s their first impression. If you move into an agreement with an investor or other funding source, be prepared to have it shaped by the overall quality of your pitch deck and vertical slice. A vertical slice that communicates developer strength and quality can result in a much different investor relationship and corresponding milestone schedule than a game that’s not ready for prime time.

Take your vertical slice seriously

Even if you’ve already secured funding, your vertical slice can make the difference between earning further capital or potentially losing funds. Taking your vertical slice as seriously as possible will help you face the “make or break” aspect of your first pitch meeting with a given investor.

Make the best and save the rest

You don’t need to build out plans for a game that doesn’t exist yet, so save wooing popular streamers or any other distracting activities until after you’ve completed carving out your ideal vertical slice. By focusing on the most important deliverable in your arsenal, you have the best chance of creating the best game possible, on the best schedule possible, to secure the best funding possible.

Ready to move forward with your vertical slice?

Ready to show your vertical slice to investors? Apply to the Xsolla Funding Club. Our free service connects approved applicants with a pool of nearly 30 investors for an opportunity to receive the funding you need to create, launch, and market your game.

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