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How to announce a video game in 2017

Most games are sent out to die, says No More Robots' Mike Rose, but building an audience isn't "luck of the draw"

It always gets my goat when someone suggests that making people care about a video game is "luck of the draw," or "a magic trick," or just "completely random."

It's true that there are now more games being released every single day than ever before, and the average game on Steam is now making roughly $10,000 in its first month on sale, so what chance do we have? The horrible truth, though, is that 99.9% of those games are sent out to die, and a big part of that is a marketing deficit.

This has always been the case - developers are still facing the same marketing issues they faced years ago - but what it means is that, even now, there is still plenty of room for games that are marketed properly to be noticed. You just have to know what you're doing, or hire someone who does.

"The horrible truth is that 99.9% of games are sent out to die, and a big part of that is a marketing deficit"

I've always been fascinated with how and why people attach themselves to certain games over others, and after years of hands-on research with the topic I can assure you that luck really doesn't have as much to do with it as some people think. Every time I've been a part of thrusting a game into the public eye the approach has always been purposeful, calculated, and sprinkled with bursts of spontaneity.

I want to offer some up-to-date advice on making people care about your game, using the recent announcement of Descenders from RageSquid and No More Robots to show our own methods. In the first few of weeks after the announcement, Descenders is sitting on the following numbers:

  • Over 500,000 views on the trailer across YouTube and Facebook
  • Over 500,000 gif views across Imgur and 9gag
  • Over 10,000 beta signups and Discord members
  • Dozens and dozens of articles from nearly every video game news site

Here's how we did it, with plenty of points that are easily transferable to any video game announcement in 2017.

Understand why your game is hot shit

That thing you think is cool about your game? It's probably not the main thing that will make people care. When I'm working out the narrative for selling a game to people, I always separate elements into two columns: "The Hook" and "The Kicker."

What you're probably focusing on with your game marketing is The Kicker. This is the element of your game that makes it really interesting, but actually needs something else to latch onto first. Let me explain with Descenders as an example.

"That thing you think is cool about your game? It's probably not the main thing that will make people care"

Descenders features procedurally generated worlds, which has been a massive talking point about the game. But procedural worlds are The Kicker; loads of games have procedural content in them now, so leading with that doesn't work so well. Instead, we first explain that Descenders is "extreme downhill free-riding," which is an intriguing Hook since there are few other games like it, and then we reel you in with, 'Oh, and you're racing through procedural worlds.'

With this structure the procedural elements actually land, because we've first provided context for why that's exciting: "Descenders is extreme downhill freeriding [The Hook] through procedurally generated worlds [The Kicker]."

Your trailer is so damn important

The Descenders trailer went through a dozen revisions over two weeks before we landed on the final version, courtesy of RageSquid's Gary Lobine. This is the footage that thousands of people will be watching, and you'll be using it over and over to sell your game. It requires an incredible amount of blood, sweat and tears.

Everything you see in the Descenders trailer has a purpose, and isn't just random footage mashed together. The music choice; the way the footage is matched up with key beats in the music; each and every shot shows a glimpse of the game that isn't shown anywhere else in the trailer; multiple elements are teased but not explained; you're waiting for crashes and then, boom, you get a bunch of them to finish it off.

Watch on YouTube

If this isn't the depth you're going into with your trailer, you need to be. Trailers are so powerful; we can now link this trailer to anyone, and immediately explain to them what the game is without needing to be there. This trailer has got us press, social media hype, and conversations and deals with companies who may not have talked to us otherwise.

Notably, your trailer may need to follow different rules to the Hook and Kicker you've put in place. For Descenders, we toyed with how to show the game's procedural worlds in the trailer, but it always came across badly, or amateurish, or just confusing. We decided to make the trailer all Hook, and then when people go to find more information elsewhere they discover the Kicker separately. That's worked pretty damn well so far.

"It's easy to forget that most people don't actually read video game news, including people who play video games"

Find new audiences, find all audiences

Here's something that may surprise you: around half of the views on the Descenders trailer came from audiences outside of video games.

Apart from spreading the trailer as far and wide as we could with video game news sites, we also contacted the mountain bike press. Those outlets had a completely different take on the game, mainly reporting on it with headlines like, "Could this be the first good mountain bike game?" We always planned to talk to bike press, but we just hadn't realised how massive it would be for the game. This also led to a number of interesting conversations for us, including chats with bike brands and companies who may want to be involved with the game.

It's easy to forget that most people don't actually read video game news, including people who play video games. On top of that, those outside of the video game bubble might read news and have interests elsewhere that you can still connect with.

Who might be interested in your game outside of hardcore video game news readers? Do you have a hook that could connect you with an entirely different audience? It's worth thinking carefully about.

Funnel interested parties into cool things

The vast majority of people who see your announcement will then click away and forget about it until the next time they stumble across the game. But what about those people who see it and want more? These people are more likely to actually buy your game, so what are you doing to keep them interested?

With Descenders, we built an entire meta-game for people to take part in running up to the launch, and we coupled this with beta signups. Essentially, anyone who is interested in being part of the beta is encouraged to sign up to the official Descenders Discord channel, at which point they are required to pick a team from the game. The moment they pick a team - Enemy, Arboreal or Kinetic - they're given that team's colours and access to its private Discord channel. They become part of something, and each week they can take part in events that provide them with special prizes before the game is even available.

"I see so many developers announce their game, then disappear off to make it for a year, before finally sprouting up again at launch"

We now have a lively, active community around Descenders that continues to grow every day, filled with lovely people who are eager to see more. A couple of weeks ago we did a Twitch stream to test how we envision weekly streams looking, and despite barely publicising it more than 500 people watched in total, with more than 100 concurrent viewers.

If you don't have a way to bring together the people who like what they see in your game, then you're basically just hoping that they see it again in the future and decide to buy it on a whim. Does that really sound like a good idea?

Keep the train rolling

Around 50% of the eyeballs on Descenders came during announcement week. The other 50% came in the weeks that followed, thanks to continued marketing push, and those views continue to roll in with every new article, feature or whatever we make happen.

I see so many developers announce their game, then disappear off to make it for a year, before finally sprouting up again at launch. This usually renders your original announcement pointless, because everyone who saw the news at first probably forgot about it by the time you come back into their lives.

You need to have a plan for how to keep people interested in the game between announcement and launch. With Descenders, we've kept loads of information back, with the plan to put out new feature trailers, announcements and partnerships over the course of the next six months. The goal is that, by the time the game launches, people aren't just thinking 'Oh, that came out of the blue,' they've actually been following along and are waiting for it.

Look, I get it, you don't have the time to do any of this. You're making your game! This is every developer ever, including RageSquid. The bottom line is that this is why they have me: RageSquid can continue to make its game in relative peace, while someone is handling all of this on its behalf.

If everything above sounds like too much, or just isn't your forte, I'd strongly suggest finding someone to help you, whether that's a marketing person for your team, a publisher - whatever works for you.

Don't be in that 99.9%. Your game is important, and people deserve to know about it.

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Mike Rose