The main goal of any commercial game that you release should be to make a profit. You need to earn more than you spent in order for your studio to survive. And in order to make a profit, your game has to sell. Now sure, there are all these artistic and internal goals that you might have, ie self-expression, changing the world, and all that good stuff, and that’s great! But if you’re spending money, and you are borrowing money, and you want a self-sustaining studio, then from a business point of view, you need to make that money back and then some. This is the nature of commercial business.
Hi, my name is Michal Napora, and I’m the owner of a video games marketing agency called 32-33. I’ve been marketing games for over 6 years from big AAA titles all the way to indies. Today, I want to show you how you can define your key pillars so that you can communicate and market your game like a pro.
Now in simple terms, one of the best ways to make people buy your game is through marketing it and promoting it. But before you go out and start talking about your game, you should first figure out what it is that you should be saying. Why should people give a damn, spend their time, and not to mention, their money on your game?
Finding your key pillars will help you do just that - it’ll help you tell people why your game is special, why it’s worth following, and what it is that makes it stand out. Key Pillars form the foundation of your communication - after all, it’s pretty hard to talk about something when you have no idea what you should be talking about.
So the first question you might have is “Well this is all great and all, but why should I define my Key Pillars? If the game is fun, it will sell!”. Well, that’s true, but it’s also quite naive. Remember, you are not the only game that’s coming out this year, this month, this week, or most likely, on this day. There are other games around you that compete for people’s time and attention. And if those games can communicate their strengths better than you, who do you think the audience is going to gravitate to?
So that’s enough of intro-ing - let’s get into the exercise! I love defining key pillars! When you figure out your Key Pillars, you will make your life sooo much easier - you’ve pretty much done 50% of your work! Now, personally, I like to stick to 3 key pillars. 3 is a magic number (Steve Jobs believed in its power) and it’ll be easy for people to remember what are those special qualities of your game. Take a look at the theory of three. Sure, you can have a few side pillars too, but if you end up coming up with 27 key pillars, then we might have a bit of a problem…
So, to begin this exercise, all you need is a whiteboard, blackboard, or a giant piece of paper. If you can, invite other people for this exercise too - people from your team and/or people that know your game quite well. And most importantly, bring a lot of honesty - remember, your game will be compared to others that are on the market, so be mindful of that. Now, what you need to do is list all the strengths, hooks, and features of your game that you feel are its standouts. For the purpose of this exercise, the game that we are working on is a story-driven street brawler set in a post-apocalyptic city of the Vatican. Yep, let’s go crazy.
So, go around the room and start mentioning your game’s strengths. So in this fictional game, we might have a Unique character that has an interesting ethnic or mental background, we might have a really unusual story that’s talking about issues that haven’t been dealt in games before. Our game also has really tight controls, I mean, they’re actually pretty damn good! We also have over 100 combos, and over a 1000 ways to kill an enemy - that’s not bad. Our game is also set in an open world - it’s not the biggest, but it has 5 different game regions, and it’s set in a unique place like the Vatican. Ooo, and we also have a customizable character, and there will be some puzzles and hacking.
Once you have all of these strengths listed, you might realise that some of them form a theme. And once you start seeing those themes, give them a creative name. So for Yellow’s, you might have “A story that’s finally being told”. For Blues, you might have something like “Express your inner brute”, and for Greens perhaps something like “A world that didn’t know it needed saving”. And just like that, you have your three key pillars - the three things that you want people to know and remember about your game. You have your talking points.
Now sure, you might have little side pillars, like Customizable characters, or puzzles, but they might not be really stand out features. Sure, you can mention them, but don’t treat them as your main hooks, strengths, and points you talk about.
So once you figured out your game’s key pillars, from now on any communication that you do should reflect AT LEAST ONE of your key pillars! So your game’s screenshots, gifs, interviews with press, trailers, demos, press releases, anything that promotes your game, it should all refer back to at least one of your key pillars. Pretty much, you want people to see are your strengths from the get-go. And best-case scenario, after they see your materials, they should look at your game and go “I’ve heard about this - that’s the game in which you brawl in a post-apocalyptic Vatican with this crazy dude and you have over 1000 combos!”. You want them to describe to others what your game is about.
And before I leave, just some last tips. First, make sure that the key pillars describe your game and not what you wish the game had. This is very important, as you don’t want to be talking about things that are either not there or are waaaay oversold. That will come and bite you back when the game is out and people realise they’ve been fooled. Also, try to label those key pillars as simple as they can be. Short, few word statements are much better than long paragraphs.
I hope that you enjoyed this Key Pillars exercise, as honestly, it is one of the most useful exercises that you will ever do. It'll make your life so much easier, and it'll help you set course with what to say and do. I love it and I hope that you will fall in love with it too.
And until next time,
Take care and good luck with your marketing!