During the last weeks of July, our team of Dissonance Entertainment has been hit by a whirlwind of exciting events. Mind the Trap won the Best Multiplayer Game award and was nominated for Best Game Design at the Casual Connect 2016 trade fair. In addition to that, we locked in meetings with publishers, got approached by freelancers and marketers, got the game Greenlit after nine days on Steam, and for the first time had a post hit the front page of Reddit with over 7000 up-votes.
What we found particularly surprising about these accomplishments—minus the award and nomination—was how in the world did we manage to get so much attention despite nobody actually played the game?
We believe the spotlight was the result of delivering an effective, targeted presentation on all our web pages and exhibit booths. By doing everything so, we managed to impress viewers, drive traffic to our game, stand out from the competition, and set up discussions with potential business partners—just to name a few.
We look back at our own experience, and here are our ideas on taking your presentation to the next level.
Know Your Audience. Give Them What They Want.
As developers, we spend a lot of time building a community around our work by sharing the nude behind-the-scenes of development. Most of those followers are other developers who have an appreciation for the kick-ass physics engine or the voxel world that you spent days crafting. As valuable as the community is, the majority of people buying your game are consumers, not developers. Consumers just want to know if the game is fun and worth their money. Your invisibility as the creator of a game forces you to rethink your marketing approach to target those that really matter when your game sells.
In other words,
And give them what they want.
There’s a standard set of info that you should always have ready for consumers and publishers:
1. Headliner: The catchy one-to-three sentence description that explains what your game is all about.
2. Gameplay trailer: What are the core gameplay mechanics?
3. Features list: What’s so different about this game compared to others in the same genre? What are the features that would make me excited to play it?
4. Progress: When is the game coming out?
And having the following can mean the difference between making it or breaking it when meeting with publishers:
1. Team: Who are the people making this game? Do they have the determination and passion to finish it and take it the extra mile?
2. Business and marketing plan: Who are the target customers and how big is that market? What promotional campaigns will be held and what’s the timing? What are the launch plans?
3. Financials: Is the team “starving” or financially stable? What do they need the money for and how much?
Publishers pay particular attention to the team because they believe that a passionate team can be trusted to finish the game and take it beyond. Anybody can make a good game, but a great game is the product of a good idea and the people behind it.
“When we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever.” – Warren Buffett
If your game is a suitable fit for the publisher’s portfolio and your team exhibits determination, they’ll question you about high-level marketing plans and company financials. The more prepared you are with this information, the more likely they’ll respect you and want to do business with you.
Highlight The Top 3 Gameplay Features
Recent studies show that the use of smartphones has reduced our attention spans to a measly 8 seconds.
That means people are quicker to identify what they like or don’t like and pass over anything that requires a significant time investment. Your job as a content creator is to deliver the most amount of information with the least amount of time and effort required from the viewer.
We achieved this by investing the most effort into the top 3 gameplay features that gamers would be most interested in knowing about. At the top of our Greenlight page, we presented each of our chosen gameplay features with a catchy headline, a succinct 2-3 line description, and a GIF that demonstrated the feature in visual form. As a result of early focus on gameplay, viewers had the info they needed to make a judgement all without playing a demo and with few questions asked.
These features should also echo in your gameplay trailer. More often than not, the first thing someone glances over when viewing your game is the gameplay trailer – but its length already makes them a huge time investment for somebody with the average 8-second attention span. Thus, you need to highlight the top features very explicitly and as early as possible in the video to hook in the viewer before they move on to the next game.
Even at a convention like Casual Connect, this tactic turned out to be surprisingly effective: it took less than a minute for publishers, marketers, and freelancers passing by to watch the trailer and become engaged. Consequently, follow-up discussions ensued all without the need of them physically playing the game.
So how can you apply this to your own game? Think about what makes people excited to play your game! Once you can clearly define what it is, narrow that down to the top three features and flaunt them! However, be careful: As we’ve noticed from many Greenlight and Kickstarter pages, avoid wording your features in a manner that toots your own horn. For example, rather than explicitly stating that your game has a “gorgeous, hand-drawn world,” say “hand-drawn world” and show intimate, close-up screenshots of the environment. Rather than stating that “you and your friends will laugh your asses off,” show a montage of people having a great time playing your game. Don’t tell viewers what to feel; show them and let them discover it for themselves!
Make It Juicy
It has become all too common to see games getting canceled despite successful crowdfunding campaigns. As a result, consumers and business partners trust less and become more cautious of who they open their wallets for. Putting in the extra effort to make your presentation more “juicy” not only helps you stand out from the crowd but also demonstrates your seriousness and commitment to completing your game.
What can be done to add “juice” to your presentation? Assuming your game is at the stage where you want to be attracting the attention of publishers, investors, or the general public through media channels, consider polishing cross-sections of your game, such as the demo, to a nearly shippable quality. That means replacing placeholder assets, adding visual and sound effects, implementing a clear UI, etc. In doing so, you will find yourself with a marketable build that confidently echoes the final product and provides you with plenty of solid gameplay footage to primp up your webpages and trailer.
In addition to having a polished build, you can try:
Header art for the web pages. Anything that catches the eye of your viewers will help maintain engagement.
Banner, tabletop props, giveaways. Eye candy applies in real life as well. A publisher we talked to mentioned that it was really easy to point us out from across the conference room.
Standby mode: If you’re at a showcase and your game sits idle for more than a certain amount of time, try having it automatically play a gameplay trailer on a loop. Any time spent on staring at a blank screen is wasted time when you could have bystanders see a trailer instead. We really can’t emphasize enough how important having this mode is.
More Visuals, Less Text
Games, like paintings and movies, are visual entertainment. Describing a game in text is like telling people about an art piece without actually showing them the painting. No matter how hard you try, the true value of the painting can never be fully conveyed.
If you pass through the Twitter feed on Saturday for #ScreenshotSaturday, you’ll notice that the most highly retweeted posts are GIFs and videos. There’s a good reason for that: Consumers tend to respond better to visual cues and are more engaged by visual media because of the emotional substance/context they provide that text can not. A big block of text comes across as a huge time investment, and very often the viewer will just pass right over it. A good rule of thumb that we follow is that no paragraph of text should have more than three lines of text without a relevant GIF in between to give some visual context.
Do Whatever You Can
A game cannot take off unless you give it a push. Using whatever limited resources you have, you must be aggressive and tireless on building an early follower base, even if it means hosting a pizza night for local playtesters, staying up late to respond to questions, or spending a few hours a day to learn needed skills instead of hiring a third party. By giving that extra push, you ensure you’re doing everything you can and more to succeed and stay ahead of the curve.
Check out the infographic, which summarizes it really well.
As our experience has shown, delivering a strong presentation can bump up your game’s publicity, open many doors for you, and put you at a competitive edge over the majority of indie game developers. To summarize our lessons learnt:
1. Target your content towards what consumers want—and not what you want.
2. Highlight no more than the top 3 gameplay features of your game on your web pages and in the trailer.
3. Use GIFs and videos over text wherever possible.
4. Make every element of the presentation as juicy as possible.
5. Do things that don’t scale.
If you deliver a targeted, gameplay-focused presentation that hooks in the viewer, respects their attention, and allows them to make a well-informed judgement, then there’s no absolute need to play the game.
“If we’re [fortunate] enough to gain knowledge, we have the responsibility to share it.” – Sean Everett
We understand that running an indie business is extremely difficult, and that’s why we are so fortunate to have made these accomplishments. We hope that by sharing our best practices you will have the opportunity to have similar success stories.
Kenneth Ng of Dissonance Entertainment
Kenneth Ng is the business and marketing manager, as well as co-founder, of Dissonance Entertainment.