Tag: Game Dev Superstars.

 

★GAME DEV SUPERSTAR SERIES★

100 TIMES I DIDN’T MARKET STARDEW VALLEY AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT

 

(Press CTRL F DEMONSTRATION ZONE to skip to the good shit)

All right listen up, this is part one of an ongoing series called Gamedev Superstars, because god help us we need some rock and roll in this industry. This is a series in which I will impart you with my observations, explanations and analysis of game marketing because there isn’t shit out there and I know it. I’m going to use real examples because I want it to make actual sense instead of giving you the metaphorical Jackson Pollock of analogies. That’s me up there, I’m ready to tell you some shit. Are you ready to listen?

LET US BEGIN.

One of the best things to learn as a game developer is how to craft a great marketing narrative. Stories (not features, not specs) are what spread from person to person – they are an authentic way to help players naturally create more marketing for your game than you ever could by talking about what tech you use to build it.

But let’s explain what we mean when we say ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ as game marketers:

A common issue when marketers talk to game designers and developers is that ‘narrative’ may mean very different things to either side. When game creators talk about narrative in games, they are often referring to story, plotlines, characters, narrative arcs and what is actually being told – either visually, tonally or through dialogue in our games.

When marketers talk about narrative, we generally mean a very different thing. We’re talking about the story that sells your game, and communicates the value of the experience. We ask ourselves ‘how are we going to get people on board with this title?’.

To illustrate, here is an example of a strong marketing story:

“Firewatch is a mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio.

Mystery, an unusual locale, keywords like ‘emotional’ and ‘lifeline’, the low-tech tangible noun of ‘handheld radio’ – these are all terms that blend and breathe into a story that can resonate and become memorable. It’s a strong one-liner that can pass from person to person.

Nail the emotional intrigue first, whether the emotional rewards of your title include ‘romance and heartbreak’, ‘unforgiving, brutal difficulty’ or anywhere inbetween. The Firewatch one-liner is not weighed down by jargon or comparatively emotionless terms such as ‘2D’, ‘isometric’ or similar, flat words. Players don’t love a game for the ingredients –  they love, remember, and talk about the flavour.

Use this mindset to consider and always highlight what the soul of your game is, beyond the parts you’re building. As humans, we want to say interesting things and provide stories and words to our friends, colleagues, loved ones, (and yes, even strangers) – so give them something human and interesting to signal boost. We are all curating our lives, so offer something that we (players) would like to add to the collection and narrative of our day, our twitter feeds, and our coffee chats with friends.

As consumers (players, fans) we rarely resonate with marketing designed for everyone (TV ads, radio spots etc). We have so many other ways in the current day to curate and see ‘stories’ or content that resonate with us, so it’s easier than ever to tune out unless it appeals to something personally important. We don’t all want the same things, and we don’t all want the same games. Hence, the power of highlighting an authentic, remarkable ‘story’ or marketing narrative around your game. Pairing this with an understanding and mindful targeting of players that LOVE what the title offers is the one-two punch for effective game marketing, and the most basic way to describe our passion and approach to working with clients.

Instead of the narrative world within the game, we are looking to craft a narrative outside and beyond the game itself, bridging the space between players and a title.

How can you start this today?

You can utilise the narrative structure normally associated with entertainment to construct a marketing narrative. The goal of the marketing narrative is to help your potential players better understand, and relate to your game.

What the marketing narrative does (aka how it helps to sell your game) is deliver your strategy. The marketing narrative is persuasive, convincing and human, whereas the the marketing strategy is simply a plan on paper with a bunch of usually very dry copy written into it. The marketing narrative is the element that brings a strategy to life, and helps you make decisions on what kinds of marketing activities are the best fit for your title.

Let me give an example:

The narrative of the game Ori and the Blind Forest was the tale of a young orphan destined for heroics. It’s a story of friendship, love and sacrifice, and the hope that exists in us all.

The marketing narrative for the game Ori and the Blind Forest is powerful, strengthened by the developer story (also part of the marketing narrative!): a group of ex-AAA developers that came together, inspired by Studio Ghibli, creating a beautiful and heartfelt indie platformer.

Most journalists will deprioritise new indie titles with no pedigree behind them in favor of something that has clout so of course it’s a good idea to put who you are front and centre if you are someone. And, if you aren’t then you find the most unique and unusual things about your game and place them front and centre of your marketing narrative.

Once you have the marketing narrative for your game  you can write your key messages for each audience, I’m about to give an example below so hold on to your bananas.

Using a marketing narrative you can easily design the specific tasks and assets you’ll need to execute. This method makes it much easier to decide what you need to create and who you want to send it to.

The words we use are incredibly important, a single word or phrase has the power to conjure up mental imagery in our minds and that’s why strategically picking the correct (and unique!) keywords to use to describe your game is very important. In marketing we call this framing.

The marketing narrative itself isn’t something you send out to the press. It’s an internally agreed upon angle that will be reflected in all of the marketing assets and copy that you create.

There are four main audiences you’ll be talking to when you are developing and launching your game.

  • Media
  • Players
  • Influencers
  • Industry

Each of these will need a slightly different message a different approach that will be based on what each of these segments finds interesting about your game.

 

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE DEMONSTRATION ZONE.

ANY AND ALL OF THE BELOW ADVICE MUST BE SWALLOWED AND DESTROYED AT THE END OF READING IT.

 

Using the example of Stardew Valley let me show you how I would break down the different messages used to get the most benefit out of these audiences.

DISCLAIMER: All of the below is 100% made up. It’s simply what I would do if I was marketing a game like Stardew Valley. I have no real knowledge of anything Eric Barone did to market Stardew 🙂

MEDIA

Stardew Valley took one guy four years to craft and it’s the best love letter to Harvest Moon ever made.

Why is this  the message?

The media are looking for an angle

  • The fact that Eric Barone meticulously and lovingly crafted Stardew Valley over four years is itself a lovely story, one easy for the media to pick up.
  • Harvest Moon is a popular title and lot’s of fans are sure to be excited about the idea of a new title to get stuck into

How does this translate into marketing actions and assets?

  • Your press release will talk about Eric and the development process, it will include the story of why he loves harvest moon, it will talk about what content is in Stardew Valley
  • You’ll include assets that show a picture of Eric, screenshots of the game that show the diversity of environments and similarities to Harvest Moon such as outside your farm house, the mines, beach front, inside a shop etc. http://stardewvalley.net/media/

What the result might be:

STREAMERS

 Stardew Valley is love letter to Harvest Moon with multiple plots and surprises. You can craft, explore, fall in love and survive in Stardew Valley.

  • Streamers want to know that the game will be interesting for their players to watch.  A game full of surprises and survival makes for good viewing
  • Streamers will immediately know whether this title is for them because it’s being compared with Harvest Moon
  • Harvest Moon has a large fan base and streamers can easily identify that this game already has an audience.

How does this translate into marketing actions and assets?

  • Create trailers and screenshots that showcase, finding something surprising! Discovering a new area, narrowly escaping the mines.
  • Create a tiny slice of the game that contains the most streamable content for video creators
  • Create funny gifs showing people breaking up, obsessing, giving them a gift etc.
  • Send out these materials in a pitch to video content creators who love these types of games.

What the result might be:

CONSUMERS

 You’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home?

  • Players are sold on the story of the game so tell them the story.
  • Players love to explore, be challenged and feel like they can have control or impact in the world

How does this translate into marketing actions and assets?

  • Create multiple trailers that reveal different elements of the game.
  • Create gifs and images that showcase the world
  • Make tweets and key art that emphasise the story
  • Create IRL events that bring the story into the real world
  • Attend trade shows and show people those specific sections of game

What the result might be:

INDUSTRY

 Stardew Valley creator, Eric Barone. spent four years developing solo to make his mark on the farm sim genre.

  • The industry is interested in innovation on a genre
  • The industry wants to learn from developers that are passionate and excel in their area

How does this translate into marketing actions and assets?

  • Create Dev blogs about the development process
  • Write articles about your process
  • Speak at conferences like GDC etc about your game

What the result might be:

Good marketing tells a story about what the consumer notices, or will notice about a title. Games marketing succeeds when enough people inclined to like the emotional rewards of your game come together, in a way that allows us to reach them cost effectively. This is often through email marketing (eg. awesome piece by Will Pugh here), strategic and well-positioned Kickstarter campaigns (like Sunless Skies), effective community management (personality-driven Twitter accounts like @Crunchyroll).

Good game marketing is all about creating good content mates. Use your melon hearts and make something cool.

THE NEXT ARTICLE WILL BE AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT NIGHT IN THE WOODS MEDIA COVERAGE. STAY TUNED.