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How to get to your game's hook, quick!
A visual point of view. Also: PlayStation Trophy games & all the latest news.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome to another working week in the PC/console game biz, folks. As we approach the holiday season, we hope you’re all having a delighful time - and that you can take some downtime over Thanksgiving or Xmas. (We might even take some PTO ourself.)
In that downtime, I’m presuming that none of you will develop hobbies like developing a VR headset that could literally kill people, as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey just did (in tribute to Japanese manga Sword Art Online.) Thanks in advance!
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Getting to ‘hook’ quick - a visual perspective?
Some of you may recall that we ran an article from game trailer maker Derek Lieu (Among Us VR, Tunic, The Long Dark) a few weeks back. He has a cool niche ‘game trailer tips newsletter’ he sends out weekly. And he said we could adapt content from it again, woo.
Specifically, Derek’s recent post on how to hook the audience with a trailer - and a related 2021 one on the best game trailer structure - get to the heart of a big discovery problem. That is: games not presenting their game’s hook clearly, up front.
Of course, this is presuming that you actually understand what your game’s hook actually is. And I recommend Ryan Clark’s video(s) on hook if you feel like you don’t. But here’s some clear takeaways I got from Derek’s two articles, summed up for you:
If you consider the ‘hook’ is what makes the game different, then that’s what you should be spending most of the trailer highlighting. Derek has spotted a particular issue here: “I see so many game trailers which seem to deem it necessary to cite all the commonalities before giving a glimpse into the unique qualities, and they're really boring to watch.”
When you show your game visually via trailers, GIFs, and so on, Derek believes you should showcase its charms in this precise order: “Genre.. Hook.. Content.” He says: “Genre helps the audience know if they're interested at all; Hook tells them why it's notable beyond basic interest; Content indicates scope and variety.”
He thinks many people wrongly do it in this order: “Content… Mix of genre and hook.” In other words: “a trailer which - mere seconds after it's started - is already throwing up title cards which tout the features and modes of the game like: Couch co-op! Upgrades and powerups!” But the potential player is still trying to understand what the basic genre and differentiation of the game is. Opportunity… lost.
In the second article, Derek also introduces the concept of the ‘anchor’, as coined by Chris Zukowski, which is “the things that makes the game familiar at a glance.” For example: “in a Metroidvania game, an expansive and color-coded map screen is an anchor.”
These are fine to showcase. But if you lean too hard on anchors, the trailer can grate: “A lot of indie games build off the anchors of previous games (and that's ok!) But the longer the trailer goes without showing a hook, the more it will seem like the game is a lesser version of an old game without much reason to play it.”
What do we want here? Practical examples of game trailers that utilize some of these rules. And that’s precisely what Derek does in his catalog of work, as follows:
Like many games, Ooblets has farming as a game mechanic, but Derek notes that “the first thing I showed in this trailer being harvested wasn't regular plants, it was [the Ooblets creatures]! I could've spent more than half the trailer showing the anchors like: farming plants, talking to NPCs, buying items at a shop, walking around different places, decorating their house, and buying new outfits.”
In this trailer he made for Nobody Saves the World, the first two shots “are to establish the genre, and the third shot is to show the hook of changing into different forms… After the intro, there's a lot of time spent on the hook of combining powers, while also showing the anchor of Legend of Zelda style combat.”
In his trailer for Manifold Garden, Derek “could've spent a lot of time in rooms showing the anchor: ‘Find a key and open a door’ without showing any of the game's unique architecture and MC Escher-like spaces. But instead the opening shot shows the infinite architecture AND the key being used to open a door, which is immediately followed by a shot of Manifold Garden's unique spaces.”
So, it’s odd. I actually think the very best trailer-makers will break down your game in a way that makes their hook & discoverability much clearer. So this subject isn’t just about ‘editing trailers’ - it’s about defining what really makes your game attractive.
PlayStation’s Trophy shovelware - action coming?
So, as GameDiscoverCo works on taxonomy for console games ahead of our GameDiscoverCo Pro launch early next year, we ran across The Tiger T. This game costs $1.49, and has around 10,000 owners on PlayStation, according to our estimates.
What do you do in Tiger T? Well…. you hold down a button, and get trophies. That’s… it. The folks in Reddit’s r/Trophies are excited about it, though: “Pretty easy platinum. Just hold R1 and trophies pop.” That reminded us to research this entire weird genre.
And for those not getting it, this subgenre of PlayStation-specific games are ‘titles that exist purely for Trophy-obsessed PlayStation gamers to get another Platinum.’ This isn’t a small set of titles, with some of the ‘key’ devs in the space including:
Webnetic, which has over 150 PlayStation games including The Llama L, The Bat D, and aforementioned The Tiger T. Their ‘games’ often involve static renders with little user interaction, and Trophies share facts about the specific animal. (They also have a ‘quiz game’ format which they repurpose constantly.)
There’s also Smobile, with over 100 published games such as Burger Fun, Pizza Fun, Taco Fun and more. In this case, the game is a very simple rhythm game that will grant easy platinum Trophies for a small price tag - $3 or so.
Don’t forget ThiGames, which has titles like The Jumping Pumpkin, The Jumping Burrito, The Jumping Fries as part of their line-up. Press a button and watch the “character” jump & keep pressing until the platinum Trophy pops up. (Visual assets are extremely similar between all these games.)
And lastly, Breakthrough Gaming, which also has 100+ titles and the most varied catalog yet. These include Zippy the Circle (Level 1 and Level 2) and Horse Riding - Breakthrough Gaming Arcade - check out the explanation video for Horse Riding to see how YouTuber ‘Trophy influencers’ hype up these games.
Needless to say, titles like these flooding the PlayStation Store isn’t exactly great for ‘discovery’ for regular games - or people’s impressions of the platform. (They clog the ‘New Games’ area.) So we were pleased that Sony may be considering fixing this.
According to our sources, a recent Sony update to devs revealed that Sony “has instituted definitions for spam and duplicative products”, to be put into force immediately, and that games must “uphold a minimum standard of quality and publishing etiquette.”
Because there was no Sony concept approval, these titles were permitted. But now Sony has a defined boundary, it may act. Wondering if it’ll be only on upcoming games, or if they’ll do anything about titles that are already on the PlayStation Store? (Beware the wrath of players who get their existing Platinums taken away, though!)
The game discovery news round-up..
And as we maraude on through the end of this fine free newsletter, here’s the game discovery and platform news - those with the sharpest swords and best battle tactics:
Another interesting data-point from Sony’s results: PlayStation ‘Add-On Content revenues’ - microtransactions and DLC, largely from third-party games, “fell over 20% to $1.36 billion” year on year. Also: “add-on content made up 51% of total Q2 2022 video game software revenues, as opposed to 55% in Q2 2021.” A combo of post-COVID usage hangover and not enough PS5s hitting the market, we presume?
We haven’t been talking about Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud streaming service much, but it’s continuing to expand quite aggressively, adding game compatibility for Total War: Three Kingdoms, Goat Simulator 3, and more. Reminder: “Unlike most of its rivals, GeForce Now doesn't sell you games or give you access to its own curated library of titles. Instead, it links with accounts at digital [PC] game stores.”
Not surprising that somebody would come up with this, but ‘Available on Game Pass’ is a new Chrome browser extension to know if a game on Steam is also available on Xbox/PC Game Pass: “This extension shows a Game Pass banner on a game store page on Steam.”
Checking in on Apple Arcade, its November offerings are a mix of classic iOS premium games getting ported across (Old Man’s Journey+, Battleheart Legacy+), and newly commissioned titles (Football Manager 2023 Touch, SpongeBob SolitairePants), continuing the ‘broad church’ approach for the service.
How did games perform in Steam’s October 2022 Next Fest demo event? HowToMarketAGame has a data-filled rundown on that, including one title - ahem, Manor Lords - which added 309,463 Steam wishlists during the week! Seriously? Seriously.
Microlinks: that TikTok showcase last week was way less interesting than we expected, with no ‘games running on TikTok’ announces; here’s a good piece on Finji fine-tuning Tunic’s marketing message; Steam on Chromebooks enters Beta, adds AMD support.
A leftover Xbox/Phil Spencer point from that WSJ Tech live talk: “When somebody goes and they buy an Xbox at their local retailer, we’re subsidizing that purchase somewhere between a hundred and two hundred dollars - with the expectation that we will recoup that investment over time through accessory sales and storefront.” Awww.
How is console hardware selling in Japan so far in 2022? GameDataLibrary to the rescue (above) via, I presume, Enterbrain/Famitsu: “Switch: 3.44m (-14% year on year) PlayStation 5: 797k (-11% YoY) Xbox Series consoles: 243k (+196% YoY).” (An interesting increase for Xbox, perhaps capitalizing on hardware shortages?)
Microlinks, Pt. 2: Ubisoft potentially returning to Steam is the subject of more data-mined rumors; Google Play Games for PC is now available for download in the U.S. and Canada; this Warhammer Vermintide/Darktide Steam sales page has an interesting custom layout - perhaps a harbinger of future opportunities.
Finally, it’s super interesting to see People Make Games going after Valve’s inaction re: third-party gambling sites that use CS:GO skins - and often cater to young & underage gamblers - in a longform video investigation:
We’ve been chewing on the problems of predatory monetization too. (We have an interview soon with Natasha Dow Schull re: her great book Addiction By Design.) But this is an intriguing example - since third-parties made the ‘gambling loops’.
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]