This article originally appeared on PocketGamer.biz on 27th September 2013.
As indie mobile developers we can’t command AAA marketing campaigns, and it’s worthwhile taking Byron’s advice to involve PR expertise as early as possible.
One of the most obvious areas to make an immediate impact is through our video trailers – YouTube isn’t exactly a level playing field, but YourStudioName can have its own channel just as much as RockstarGames and your trailer is displayed in an identical video player to the audience. We must think like the Pufferfish – make ourselves look big.
Every spare second of making-a-game tends to be sucked into actually making the game, leaving little leftover brain-space to make videos. I think this is why so many indie game teasers are lacking in focus, concept and/or quality.
They can feel rushed, or an afterthought (“oh Google Play metadata says I can have a video – better make one quick”). Given that they can often represent the first experience anyone has with your game (especially if it’s paid-for), it’s a problem if they don’t reflect the care and quality of the final product. Even before spending £0.69, I’ll want to watch the official game trailer. If it’s clearly a laggy screen-capture from simulator with some generic library music slapped on top, I’ll notice and wonder if that’s the level of neglect I can expect from the game itself. I may put my £0.69 towards one-fifth of a coffee instead.
Focus for us means thinking about who our audience is for the game – which slice of the game market do we think this will appeal to? How have similar games advertised themselves? Are there common tropes we should adopt, subvert, or avoid? How can we delight, surprise or scare?
Focus also means thinking carefully about the game – identifying what makes it unique or distinctive, and listing in priority order the main selling points to our audience. For our upcoming game we put together 8 slides to summarise this, each starting with “Papa Sangre 2 is…” – an easy digest for anyone on the team to review, discuss and argue about.
For the concept we’ve been thinking about how best to present our unique selling points to our target audience in a way that would provoke a reaction, whether sales, word-of-mouth or press attention. The risk here is creating a confusing or bland trailer by trying to do too much at once.
If your selling points are quite vague, or encapsulate the whole game experience (“you just need to SEE it”), you’ll probably need to show in-game footage. BUT that requires a time commitment from the viewer, so ideally you also need a hook within the first 10-20 seconds (or sooner) that suggests it’s worthwhile to keep watching and not wander off and make a cup of tea.
Thomas Was Alone, for instance, used two hooks – a celebrity voiceover in the video name, and whimsical copywriting (“a game about friendship, and jumping”). I’m a fan of all three of those things and that kept me watching long enough to have Mike Bithell show (not tell) me that there’s also something quite special about the atmosphere, graphics and story.
This gets back to the (slightly awkward) metaphor of the Pufferfish. There is no excuse for using in-game footage that isn’t high quality, or having production values suffer in any other way. It’s never been easier to capture high definition in-game footage (we use a Black Magic Intensity Pro capture card set to 720p and 30fps, outputting from an iPad through a thunderbolt-to-HDMI connector).
Audio levels, video editing, keeping it short – there are tutorials and cheap/free software that can get you quickly trained up to a level good enough to produce punchy, well edited trailers. If that’s too daunting/time-consuming, seriously consider outsourcing to a specialist.
Trying something new
For our earliest projects, I was a one-man-band putting together simple trailers for our apps and games, but for our latest effort we worked with the expert in-house video team at Somethin’ Else.
The video team took our principles slides (“Papa Sangre 2 is…”) and used it as the basis of their video treatment, which went through several revisions before being shot. We also brought in an Art Director with a background in music videos – that outside perspective and expertise was hugely helpful.
We’re editing it into a shorter teaser (with the hook of ‘You are dead’), followed by a longer trailer closer to release (leading instead with the voice of Papa Sangre 2 being Sean “Game of Thrones” Bean).
It’s a marked departure from our previous promos, and we’re excited (and a little nervous) to see how it performs. At the very least we’re confident that its quality matches that of the game itself, and that we’ll learn a lot whatever happens.
How do you approach making promo videos for your games? Or if you don’t make trailers, why not? Is there perhaps an argument that part of the authentic charm of indie games is a slightly shonky, overlong video?