Devolver Digital's Loop Hero is described as an "endless" role-playing, roguelike, and deck-building game. The title doesn't explain its mechanics, so players discover them over time.
So when it came time to promote this unusual game, Devolver Digital marketing manager Robbie Paterson found himself with a problem. How could he and the ad team tell customers what the game is when the game goes out of its way to not do that?
"When we wanted to promote this game there was a real sense that we wanted people to feel the way we felt when we first played the game. What is this strange game with all these odd secrets beneath the surface?" Paterson tells GamesIndustry.biz.
"It looks kind of weird, it doesn't really tell you a lot when you first start to play it. That enigmatic nature of the game is the reason we fell in love with it."
To that end, Paterson took inspiration from similarly enigmatic marketing campaigns he had seen before.
"I'm a big fan of ARGs," Paterson says. "There was a good ARG years ago with Nine Inch Nails for their album Year Zero. You had to find all these websites to get the secrets."
To promote the 2007 release of the concept album Year Zero, Nine Inch Nails ran an ARG in which clues for fans were hidden in merchandise, flash drives, music, fliers, trailers, and so forth. The campaign allowed fans to learn about the album's dystopian world.
So with this in mind, Paterson thought about the design philosophy of Loop Hero. As a game that encourages players to discover secrets, the mystery was key to convey. So, much like the promotion of the Nine Inch Nails' album, minimalistic communication served to be the bridge to the customer.
"People see ads everyday. How can you make something with extra intrigue to it?"
Paterson says Loop Hero had an "old school vibe" that reminded him of the days of the Amiga and Commodore 64, so when he thought about how to entice people with secrets, he remembered the tips sections of classic PC gaming magazines.
"Initially we had the idea we could run print ads in PC Gamer," he says. "Then that spiraled into visual ads. Then the idea came for teaser videos, and the idea came for these cryptic videos. How do we have fun with this game and how could we have people interested in discovering the secrets?"
This then led to the creation of ads that appeared on media sites and in print outlets that the targeted consumers would visit regularly. The Loop Hero ads were designed to be similar to PC magazine ads of the past: full of color, attention grabbing, and drenched in the aesthetic of an earlier era. The advertisements include secret tips written in golden letters to aid customers, such as placing certain cards in certain areas for items, armor, and more.
"People see ads everyday," Paterson says. "How can you make something with extra intrigue to it? We wanted to make it obvious that there was more to the ads than meets the eye."
Paterson shares that the marketing for Loop Hero wasn't a risk because the ads weren't expensive, they didn't require a lot of developer input, and they really understood their target audience. They focused on trying to do something fun and creative that would be able to stand out, in addition to creating something that would resonate with the development team.
Paterson says it paid off, with the marketing campaign exceeding expectations.
"As it became more and more popular, people were visiting the sites that we had ads on more frequently to know more about Loop Hero. So that fed into this self-fulfilling campaign in that respect."
Paterson says the campaign provided an opportunity to do something different with a low amount of risk.
The title could have been advertised more traditionally, but Paterson says that would've been a disservice to the kind of title that it is. If Loop Hero were advertised in a traditional, straight-forward manner, it wouldn't reflect the experience of actually playing it.
"Every game is different and they all have their own subtleties. With Loop Hero we thought it would be fun to include these secrets. It definitely gave us confidence to follow our gut instincts to make any kind of promo to be as interesting as possible," Paterson says.
"At the end of the day we want the games to speak for themselves. But they do also lend themselves to an extra layer of creativity for marketing, as long as the dev team are up for it and want to take advantage of the great creative minds at Devolver. And we will continue to do more of them."