By Victoria Tran, the Communications Director of Kitfox Games, a small independent games studio in Montreal currently working on Boyfriend Dungeon, Lucifer Within Us and publishing Six Ages, Mondo Museum, and Dwarf Fortress.
*Kicks down door*
HEY WHAT’S COOL ABOUT YOUR GAME?
Yes, your game is very cool. And I’m sure it is! Good job for making the cool thing!
However, I’ve found a lot of devs lose track of what is actually cool about their game to the public. This is a common problem — when you work on a game for so long and have deep knowledge of its technicalities, you lose sight of how to simply communicate what’s exciting about it to a random stranger.
Think of it like this: no one will be interested in your game if you cannot tell them why it is interesting in a way that they actually care about.
So awhile go on Twitter, I tweeted this handy little chart that explains an important marketing concept: customer value proposition (CVP). That is - the full, persuasive explanation as to why someone would want your game and what they’d get if they bought it.
I wanted to expand more on this, because I think it’s a valuable asset for game devs who might not be as clear on the marketing aspect of things (or need a gentle refresher.)
Soooo let’s do it!
1. All Benefits
The All Benefits section focuses entirely on all of the good/cool/exciting things about your game.
All the positives someone will experience playing your game. For example, if you play Boyfriend Dungeon, you will get to play a unique dungeon crawler/dating sim mash up, experience a cute summer love, inclusive dating aspects, befriend a cat, watch stylish transformation sequences, have fun mastering the different play styles in a dungeon that changes all the time, etc.
Answers the player question
“Why should I buy your game?”
Knowledge of what your game offers.
Benefit assertion. This means that you might end up talking about things that players actually don’t care about at all. Boasting about a game being a roguelike means nothing in a world of a million roguelikes. Who actually cares if your game offers an axe instead of a sword? Alternatively, are you STRETCHING yourself to think of cool alternatives to your competitor and just making stuff up that doesn’t matter?
2. Favorable Points of Difference
Favorable Points of Difference is focused on making sure the player knows all the positive differences your game has compared to the next best thing. Why should someone play Stardew Valley over Harvest Moon, if they could only pick one?
All the positive differences your game has compared to the next best alternative. Format it as a list, an excel sheet, whatever works for you! This is valuable not only for the player, but for you too. It’ll give you a good hint at how to pitch your game, what its hooks are, and also REALLY makes you think about what (and how many!) benefits your game has over a competitor.
Answers the player question
“Why should I play your game instead of another similar game?”
Knowledge of what your game offers AND what the next best alternative game offers.
Value presumption. This is a very dangerous trap to fall into — essentially it’s assuming YOUR differences actually matter to the player, when what they actually like is what your competitor offers. Sure, you can boast that you have the sharpest shooty mechanics compared to any Shooty McShootface game, but what players actually primarily cared about were the 50 new gun types you made. (Clearly I do not play shooters, but you catch my drift.)
3. Resonating Focus
Think about the things about your game that people should focus on, because it would bring them the most enjoyment. Pick only a few things. It can be that there is something different about your game (e.g. never-before-seen features, graphics, etc.) OR a similar thing, but vastly improved upon (e.g. a platformer, but with incredibly tight jumping mechanics.) And a note here: it doesn’t actually need to be THE MOST UNIQUE GAME in the world — just unique to the player’s mind.
The key difference (or parity!) whose improvement will bring the greatest value to the player. Not ALL the benefits you listed in the All Benefits section will be applicable or create the same level excitement in the people you’re trying to appeal to. So you need to narrow down your focus, and figure out which key ideas are the one you’ll push the most.
Answers the player question
“What is the most worthwhile thing for me to keep in mind about your game?”
Knowing how your game delivers its superior values, compared to the next best alternative.
Requires researching what relevant players value. Basically, you need to know your target audience. Not just their age/what platforms they’re on or whatever, but what they like. This information is aided by the competitor research you do for the “Favorable Points of Difference” section of the CVP. You need to truly understand what the general public likes about a game and how to PROPERLY communicate that part, because more often than not they’re not actually aware of the technicalities we as game developers often think is cool. (E.g. we think it’s cool that something is “procedurally generated”, but what people like is that something is “different everytime”.)
Structuring the CVP
A CVP requires a lot of research — you should generally know your games strengths and weaknesses, your demographic, your market etc. In the end, a good CVP should be:
- Concise and clear — easily understood quickly
- Relevant to the player
- Highlights the number of good things about your game
- Concrete about the benefits of playing the game
- Shows how your game is different from the rest
- Avoids business/marketing jargon and superlatives. For example, only describing your game as “metroidvania” can be either confusing (to casual gamers) or boring (to seasoned gamers). Gaming jargon can sometimes be a hindrance — think of it like “legalese”. No one who doesn’t make/work in games has any idea what you’re talking about.
To be clear, the CVP isn’t necessarily your hook/kicker, but can definitely influence it or be a part of it. Again, it’s a quick explanation of what makes your game cool and interesting, and why people should care. No More Robots’ Pip Hoskins chatted a bit about how they had initially marketed Descenders as a procedurally generated experience, but quickly realized what people truly cared about was being able to ride down hills really fast. (See more about it in Mike Rose’s GDC talk!)
There is no one true way to formulate a CVP, but it often takes the form of a catchy headline and bullet points. (Images can be part of it too though! And especially when it comes to a store page, it’s all part of the equation.)
For example, this is from Boyfriend Dungeon’s Steam page. (Note here that the heading “Features” is not part of a CVP, and a bit of ~fluff~ was added to the text.)
When you’re in the midst of developing a game, it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening around you. The CVP helps you stay focused, and becomes nice marketing material by the end of it too!
The world of marketing doesn’t have to feel gross and cold. It’s another way for you to figure out how to properly convey how amazing your game actually is to the world, and that’s a valuable thing.
Aaaand yeah! That’s it for me!
Questions? You can always find me over on Twitter @TheVTran!