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  • The Big Game Branding 101

    [08.13.19]
    - Jamin Smith
  • In my first blog a few months back, I detailed out five steps for studio branding. It was all about how you and your team are an extension of your games, and the way you present your studio should dovetail with the way your games look and feel. One feeds the other, and cohesion is important.  

    In this follow up article - the sequel, if you will - I want to focus on the games themselves. 

    What follows is a whistle-stop tour of game-branding from my experience in AAA publishing. As with my last guide, I'm striving to focus on specific, tangible steps that anybody can replicate (and hopefully without budget - this is indie-focused). I've never been a fan of wishy-washy guides without points that can be quickly actioned on. 

    Enough pre-amble, then - let's get stuck in. Here are EIGHT STEPS TO BRANDING YOUR GAME


    1 | DON'T START YOUR BRAND WORK TOO LATE

    An important point at the top of this list: don't wait to start this work until your game is finished. This isn't PR or end-of-line marketing. Brand is the identity of your game and ensuring it's market-friendly; start this work yesterday. 

    Your design decisions directly affect the brand of your game. Some examples: the clothes your characters wear, the dialogue you write and the conclusion to your story can all have a profound impact on the brand of your game. 

    Creating iconic costumes will prompt cosplayers to attend conventions as your characters, great dialogue can birth catchphrases that enter the gaming lexicon ("The cake is a lie", "You have died of dysentery", "Finish Him!" etc etc) and writing an ending that doesn't close narrative doors will ensure you can develop a sequel (should that be your intention). 

    All of the above can effect your position in market and how consumers will perceive your game. Don't leave it too late - design a market-friendly game to begin with; retrofitting any of the steps below ain't easy.  


    2 | WRITE YOUR PRESS RELEASE (NOW)

    Before you write a pitch a deck, design doc or script, write a press release. Do this is as early as you can. Do it when your game is but a twinkle in your eye. It will feel premature and weird, but thinking about your game as a finished product and preparing language for a hypothetical journalist will help you zero in on your game's USP and hooks. It'll help you design with a clear outcome in mind, and ensure you don't stray too far from your big sell.

    Going through this process will also force you into writing a headline (effectively your logline/elevator pitch), and detail out your key features. Coming up with an elevator (or X Statement) is bloody hard, but contextualising it in the form of a press release makes it easier - you're writing with a headline in mind; you're imagining it slapped on the front page of your favourite website or magazine. 

    When I announced Headspun, I didn't have to do much work to my press release. I'd written it before I'd written a line of code, and it helped shape the development. 'AN FMV GAME SET IN THE HUMAN BRAIN' the headlines read, 'PEEP-SHOW MEETS HER STORY'. 

    (Superstring Patrons can gain access to this press release and more as part of the original post).


    3 | IDENTIFY YOUR POSITION IN THE MARKET

    Unless you've managed to invent yourself an entirely new genre of game (well done if you have, nice one) you will have competitors, and working out how you are similar (or unique) to said competitors is at the heart of branding. 

    By surveying the land and creating a competitive set, you can highlight what everybody else in this category is doing (or not doing) and carve out your own little spot. It's not about redesigning your game or adding new features, but rather elevating your existing features or attributes which make you stand out from the crowd. 

    Here is a crude example I spent no way near enough time making:

    Let's say you're developing a first person narrative game (a walking-sim, if you will), your competitor graph might look something like the above.

    The idea is to find a nice, comfy little spot for your game on the map, and then double-down on owning that space. In this example, we can see that there's a hypothetical gap for a funny sci-fi game (I've no idea if this is actually true), so can craft your trailers or promotional imagery with this tone and direction as your focus. 

    You can shimmy the axes around until you find combinations which give you an ownable outcome - if you can't find a spot to own, whack in a different set of axes and continue your brand work accordingly.

    This work is not only helpful for brand, but also if you're seeking investment and trying to prove a gap in the market. 

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