Getting coverage of a game you work on is one of the most thrilling parts of marketing. And seeing your game in a major showcase, beaming to hundreds of thousands of fans all at once is one heck of an adrenaline rush -- it's flight or fight, but on your couch.
So when the major "non-E3" conferences announced that they were looking for content, you can't help but think about ways to get the games that you are working on into those streams. It's a one-shot online moment that can really place your game on the radars of press and players.
When PC Gamer made a call-out for its "E3" show, it was a no brainer that being part of that showcase would be a huge boost of awareness for one particular client of mine -- the Yaza Games' turn-based strategy title Inkulinati. And the fact that the game was in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign meant that a feature on the PC Gaming Show could help us gather more funds too.
However, there was one major problem: we had no news to share. The game was already announced, and so was the Kickstarter. We didn't have a release date yet, and we had no other newsworthy bit of information. So how do you become newsworthy if you have no news to show?
Seeing your game in a major showcase, beaming to hundreds of thousands of fans is one heck of an adrenaline rush"
Enter Adult Swim bumps.
The medium is the message
Watching a two hour stream full of trailers, interviews and gameplay can be tiring. Sometimes you just need a break, a distraction, a "what the heck was that?" moment. And that's when it hit me: we can provide that moment.
Our game has that mischievous quality about it. We have a playful medieval aesthetic that features donkeys playing trumpets with their bottoms and giant snails fighting sword-wielding rabbits. A "what the heck" asset and message would certainly be on-brand.
Plus, the audience might appreciate this "interruption" too -- a little break of pace never hurt nobody. Using Adult Swim bumps as an inspiration, we had an asset to pitch. We had something of value that we could present on the show.
The asset itself
Although I didn't have the Adult Swim channel, I was still influenced by the impact it made on culture. Shows like Robot Chicken, Bob's Burgers and Rick and Morty are classics, and what added to the "classic-ness" of the channel were its bumps -- short video gags/commercials that featured awesome music mixed with out-there ideas.
These bumps are now classics in their own right -- you would look out for them just as much as the shows themselves. These bumps became our inspiration for the Inkulinati PC Gaming Show video.
We used the classic Francis Plays Magic the Gathering video as our inspiration. When we first pitched the idea for a bespoke "bump" to PC Gamer, they loved our idea. However, they suggested that we add a bit of gameplay at the end of the video, so that people are aware that it is a video game that's being shown.
That suggestion was worth its weight in gold, as it certainly helped promote our game a bit more and added to the video itself. People knew that they watched a promotional video for a turn-based strategy title. Without gameplay, it might've been a gag with no benefit.
So with the first four seconds being a "Public Service Announcement" text in the middle of the screen, followed by 15 seconds of a fire-farting bull flipping a table, and 15 seconds of gameplay, we had an asset. And it was time to show it off to the public.
My fight or flight response was kicking in -- hard. Was this stupid? Would people like this? Or will they eat us alive. It was too late. The show was just about to start.
The reaction and its effect
When our bump finally aired, just on the halfway point of the show, I caught my breath and my heart started to pound. I automatically glanced at the chat. The initial reaction was as expected -- "Wtf is this?" -- and then positive comments started to appear. They ranged from "okay, this was unexpected" to "this is weird" to "I love this, finally something new!"
We also saw a real impact on our Kickstarter campaign. Within 30 to 60 seconds of airing, new pledges started pouring in and we saw a visible spike in contributions that started to ease off after 15 to 20 minutes from the video being shown. Seeing real-time pledges coming through was just as exciting as seeing the asset on the stream itself. Overall, it was one heck of an experience.
Final thoughts and words of advice
This asset changed my mentality for how I approach my work. I no longer feel I just pitch news -- I feel that I also pitch entertainment. To me, not having any news is no longer an excuse for not throwing your hat into the pitching ring. At the end of the day, gaming is about delivering a bit of respite from the monotony of the everyday world. Our marketing can reflect that too.
Now, when I look at opportunities, I look at what I can provide that's more than just your standard "I'll give you our release date/announcement/new feature" news. Sure, those are great news items and beats to share, and I will continue to share them, but if I run out of news or I'm not ready to share them just yet, I will also look at proving other forms of entertainment too.
If you are looking to try this tactic out, let me give you a couple of pointers.
First: think of the medium in which you will be shown. Who will be watching it? How long will it be? What format will it take? What content will be shown? If you can, watch a previous episode or stream and get a feel for it. Get into the viewer's head and think about how your video can stand out, and add value to the whole viewing experience.
Second: personalise your asset to the event. See if you can include a cultural reference within your video, a meme, or reference the event itself. Perhaps there was a famous moment that happened during the conference -- who can forget the famous "299" moment at E3? -- that is just there for the taking. This is all good material to use and be inspired by.
Third: once you have the idea, pitch it to the event hosts in advance. Explain it with enthusiasm and show why the idea will benefit the show and its audience. Pitch it, see what the hosts say, and what improvements and ideas they might suggest. Great ideas are usually the result of great minds working in unison.
Lastly: make sure your message is on-brand. If you are making a serious game that tackles a serious subject, perhaps video tomfoolery is not be the best way to go about it. Let your assets be a reflection of your brand.
We, as marketers, can provide more than just news on our products. We can provide content that's fun to watch and provides value to players and the medium on which it is shown. We can provide fear, laughter, a break from the norm. And that's the place from which magical moments of brilliance can arrive. That's where I want to keep my head at. I hope I can see yours in there, too.
Michal Napora is a video game marketer and owner of marketing agency 32-33. His gaming credits include Dying Light, The Sinking City, Aragami, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter, and more. If you need help or advice on marketing, you can reach him on LinkedIn.