Let’s start with one simple truth - your product has to market itself. No matter how good your trailers are, how great your wordsmithing on your Steam page and press release is, and no matter how much money you will spend on ads, if your game is bad, or even average, it’s going to be hard to convince people to look at it - not to mention to buy it. So when you start thinking about your game, think how it’s going to catch peoples, journalists and YouTubers attention. In a way, the marketing starts from the moment you prototype.
So, what’s a hook then? Well, in simple terms, it is that elusive “thing” that makes people look up and take notice. It’s what makes people go “ooo, that’s interesting” or “ok, now that’s cool!” It’s an attention catcher. And one of the very first hooks for your game is its title. Now, think about some of the popular indie games that are doing the rounds. What comes to mind? To me, I’m thinking of Ooblets, Super Meat Boy Forever, Untitled Goose Game. I’m sure you heard of them. You can argue that by hearing these names, you are hooked, or at least interested, and want to find out a bit more about them. Now, imagine if it’s the opposite, and you are presented with a generic title, like “Fire Sword” or “SomethingVille” - do these names hook you in? Do they make you go “heck yeah, what is this?!?” If the answer is no, then you should think about how you can spruce up the VERY first thing that people will hear about your game.
Does your game have one of these words in its title? Maybe you should reconsider…
Another hook that you should think about right at the beginning of your production process is the premise of your game. Let’s take Untitled Goose Game again. Now, I love this game, as it has hooks coming out left, right, and center. First up, you have a great title that makes you go “wtf”, and then you hear the game’s premise - you play as a goose (alright I’m listening!) and the goose in itself is an asshole that steals stuff - how great is that!!! If you tell this premise to someone else, I guarantee that they will go “ok, tell me more!” with a smile appearing on their face. That’s a hook and a half right there! So if your next game is about a knight saving a princess from a castle, see how that premise will fare against an asshole kleptomaniac goose (the goose will win – trust me).
Got to give props where props are due – this game has a lot of attention grabbers coming at you from every direction.
The best thing is, this is just the beginning. Your game can have lots of hooks if you play your cards right and use that creative side of your mind. Graphics are an obvious hook - if the game looks pretty, or it has an unusual visual style, then you’ve won half the “attention-grabbing” battle. People like looking at nice things - it’s human nature. It helps you stand out, and it’s why Instagram is so popular. So give it your best shot when it comes to visuals. It doesn’t have to be AAA-hyper-realism-ray-tracing-bonanza. It just has to be enticing. Another hook is your music - maybe you have an unusual style of music in your game, such as that funky-as freestyle jazz in Ape Out. Or your music is licensed from the hottest underground electronic music artist, like the soundtrack to Furi. So think about the music that you will have, and see how you can spruce up the score so to speak.
But wait, there’s more!
So let’s keep going. Remember how before Red Dead Redemption 2 came out, one of the biggest stories on that game was how the horse's testicles shrink in winter? Now, this isn’t a feature or a gameplay element - hell, it’s nothing of importance when you really think about it. It doesn’t change the game. But this little hook, what it did is it made people go “OMG, there’s soooo much detail in this game that even horses balls shrink. Can you imagine all the other things you can to do!?!?”. Now, you might not have the budget that Rockstar has (does anyone?), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t implement a not-so pointless hook in your game too. Heck, maybe your in-game day and night cycle is based on the users real-life time, or an in-game story will go in a certain direction based on a global player survey. If you have a crazy hook, people will talk about it. Even if it’s a little detail like the 5-year long achievement in Stanley Parable. And lastly, location is a great hook. Will your game be taking place in a generic no-name city in 2019? Or in a treehouse in a French village in 1754? One of those might sound more interesting than the other - I’ll let you decide which one.
Did you check if the rumors were true? It’s ok – we all did.
I hope that these few words helped you out somehow, and made you think about what you can do with your game to hook people in. Hooks really do make a game easier to market, especially now where there are sooo many games coming out each day of the week, competing for people’s attention. So take some time and think about how you can put in place some hooks in your game. You, and your marketing person, will be thankful that you did when you’ll start promoting it to the masses.