In constructing the Steam Greenlight campaign for Crashlands I scoured the web for whatever thoughts, resources, and post-mortems I could find about other campaigns. Based on what I learned, I put together a campaign that was Greenlit in 42 hours (see the page here). Now I'd like to return the favor and share what (we think) worked for us.
It all collapses onto one thing: the trailer.
Not being a regular peruser of Greenlight campaigns, I decided to spend time as an actual user every day while crafting our strategy. This was incredibly important as it led me to some basic usage ideas for how prospective voters actually move through the Greenlight queue - by “playing” greenlight I got to put myself into the shoes of a voter and see what really matters.
For me the primary source material for making that crucial YES/NO decision came down to one asset: The Trailer. It's the first thing a voter sees when visiting a Greenlight page; everything else requires clicking buttons or scrolling. Perhaps more important, the "Next Game" button, the thing that keeps the Greenlight play-experience flowing, is right below it. From an interaction standpoint, this means that optimal flow through Greenlight will happen from not scrolling at all making a decision with the assets at the top of the page only.
This quickly became my own mode of moving through the Greenlight queue, and once I saw the pattern in my own behavior I inspected the comments from other Steam users to see if the primary things people mentioned were found in the trailer. LO AND BEHOLD, they were! This supported my hunch that the trailer represents the primary voting decisions for a greenlight campaign. All other material must be present, and polished enough to support the trailer, but in the end the trailer is what will carry you to victory.
How to Trailer?!
Having established that the trailer is itself the most important part of a campaign, I sat back and watched a dozen Greenlight trailers back to back and found the same formula used in all of them - and it was the same one we've used in previous trailers. It goes like this:
Studio splash screen > Queue epic music > Gameplay >
Onscreen text >More Gameplay + rising music > More text >
Extreme endgame gameplay > Fade out
While trailers designed with what we’ll call the Flat Formula above are easy and quick to produce, they fail the purpose of a game trailer on all levels (even though they may SEEM like they don’t).
The purpose of a game trailer is three-fold:
Showcase gameplay such that a prospective player can understand what the game feels like.
Differentiate the game from others in the genre.
Leave a lasting impression. This should be entertainment, in whatever emotional direction is appropriate for your game (terror, chuckles, sadness, etc).
While gameplay footage might look completely sensible to you, the dev, it’s important to remember that new eyes on the game are going to be lacking all the context necessary to really understand how your game feels based on mere snippets of video. This is where the usage of onscreen text or voiceover can be extremely helpful, as it not only serves to give the trailer a good beat (and break up the monotony of watching game footage), but can do wonders to give context to potentially confusing video.
Often, gameplay footage alone does little to explain how the game differs from others of its genre. In our case, Crashlands looks on the surface like Don’t Starve; crafting is the core mechanic, it has a cartoony style, and it’s in a top-down 2D view. We knew there would be inevitable comparisons to Don’t Starve, which features a dark atmosphere and a rather brutal play experience (difficult survival, permadeath, and all that), so we chose to highlight the crazy lightheartedness of Crashlands and the differences in crafting and combat that would make the comparison with Don’t Starve a good starting point for understanding our title, rather than the end point.
Finally, the third and final goal of a trailer is to leave a lasting impression. Ideally, at the end of the day, a trailer is shared among friends, in part because the content is interesting, and in part because it’s damn enjoyable to watch.
To find models for inspiration, we drafted a list of the commercials that we had gone out of our way to watch (and even rewatch). Old Spice came to mind, as well as this Baked Beans commercial. So we dug into what these “trailers” were doing and found that they focused most of their energy on being entertaining, and only a bit on actually explaining what the hell they were selling. In fact, many of their product “features” were outrageous lies meant solely to entertain us. The Baked Beans commercial is unidentifiable as such until the last bit of the commercial, and even that bit was about an aspect of their product that is normally considered to be a bad thing. But damn if it didn’t make us want to buy some beans.
Having found our commercial inspiration, we turned back to games to see what, if any, game trailers pulled a similar trick. Luckily, Adam had been playing The Behemoth’s Battle Block Theatre a few weeks prior and remembered its Steam Announcement trailer (it has a lasting impression!). We watched it and laughed so hard we had to watch it again. And again. And then go watch their other trailers, and listen to the game music.
The Behemoth sure knew how to make a trailer. And the funniest part was, of the whole 2 minute experience, most of it was not talking about gameplay at all, or was outright lying about it to a hyperbolic degree (1 billion p resolution and support for 5 simultaneous Oculus Rifts, for example). It was an entertainment product first and foremost, that happened to star assets from the game it was “advertising”.
Taking heavy inspiration from Battleblock Theater, Old Spice, and a few other commercials, we whipped up our trailer and launched the campaign.
It’s absurd, loud, and full of jokes. And it worked. A high percentage of the Greenlight (and elsewhere) comments were about the trailer, often including the claim that it was sufficient to warrant voting for and the future purchase of the game. We finished the greenlight campaign with a 69% Yes - 31% No ratio in just 42 hours. In short, the trailer did exactly what we hoped.
A note about page content
Reading is a chore compared to watching a sweet trailer.
Recognize that the Page itself is the last thing people will inspect in a detailed fashion. It’s actually a support piece for the trailer itself, where you have more time to expand on the concepts you touch on briefly in the video. It needs to feel polished and look good, but will be used to deepen understanding rather than win converts, which means you also have room to chat and invite people to other aspects of your game or studio, such as a forum or podcast.
Focus on what your audience is focusing on and you'll hit ALL THE GREENLIGHTS!