Results from the Game Design Challenge: Marketing Bullets

By Manveer Heir and staff [09.25.08]  In a recent Game Design Challenge you, as game designers, were asked to come up with three bullet points to list on the back of a war game.

While not the most realistic of situations (in practicality, marketing will handle all work of this nature), there are good lessons to be learned here. How can we help our products stand out, when there isn't anything wholly innovative or new about them?

The difficulty is in trying to make your game stand out with just three marketing bullet points and not fall into the same traps that every other game on the shelf does. Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms, and all the other WWII games already are going to talk about their awesome multiplayer, how realistic their combat is, and how intense and cinematic their game is. As a result, trying to compete the same way is going to be difficult. You need to grab a potential customer's attention quickly and hope the rest of the box art takes over to seal the purchase. It would be great if all purchases were pre-meditated by informed buyers, but that's not always the case.

The best submissions are the ones that thought outside the box and didn't just say how realistic the graphics were and how many players they could have on multiplayer. Rather, they tried to grab the customer's attention in other ways.

What was most interesting about the submissions was how similar many of them were. Many concentrated just on features in the game, which is an easy way to go. Many entries mentioned online multiplayer or realistic combat. The better entries discussed actions and feelings you would have in the game, which can help customers visualize the experience better.

On to the best entries.

Best Entries
E. McNeill, Dartmouth College, The Code
(see page 2)
McNeill's submission was by far the most innovative and compelling, but it also has an element of interactivity. McNeill invites the consumer to start playing the game before she has even made the purchase. Bravo! Or should we say, "alpha, bravo, Charlie..."

Dean Ray Johnson, The Joe Madden Approach (see page 3)
Dean Ray Johnson decided that the WWII game in question would already attract players of that genre. Instead of marketing the game to them, he targeted his bullet points toward other mass market game consumers, especially sports video games players. In fact, his explanation is probably stronger than the actual bullet point catch phrases, but we were sold on the concept.

Honorable Mentions (see page 4)
Sunil Mulay, lead modeler for games in Mumbai, India, The Verbs and Nouns Approach
Sunil Mulay's entry very nearly had the number two spot; his second and third bullet are chockfull of descriptive verbs and concrete nouns, inviting the potential to visualize precisely what she or he will be doing in the game. Unfortunately, Mulay's first bullet point was long-winded and not quite as punchy, putting his entry in among the honorable mentions.

David Linden, Activision, Nintendo TRG QA, The Straightforward Approach
David Linden's submission was similar to Mulay's, but more typical of what one might expect to see on a WWII shooter game. It's straightforward, but it works.

Raoul Duke, The "We Have a Sense of Humor" Approach
We've all known people who become loyal consumers of a particular brand or product based solely on the fact that the ads were hilarious. Roul Duke is clearly aiming for this audience of game players.

E. McNeill, Dartmouth College, The Code

The final bullet is a Caesar Shift cipher for "WE NEED YOU, SOLDIER." In this case, all the letters are shifted backwards by one.

Dean Ray Johnson, The Joe Madden Approach
Here are my three points, in the order that I think they sound most relevant to picking up the guy just walking past the box and picking it up to look at it (in the order of Joes two, three, and one -- see Explanation):

Well, let's face it: As a bunch of people who really think about the game industry and spend a lot of time looking around it on the net, we're not the ones the bullet points are aiming at. The bullet points are really going to need to be targeted at Joe Maddenfootball, who just wandered into Gamestop to do some trade-ins and happens to see the game on the shelf. He's the one who's never heard of the game and is just thinking about it.

So what kinds of things does Joe Maddenfootball think about when he sees a game? Let me try to step into his shoes for a moment.

He could be thinking: "Hmm, my roommate has Call of Duty 4, and that was cool. I wonder if this is as good as Call of Duty."

Or maybe he's thinking: "Hmm, my roommate already has Call of Duty 4, so I don't really need another WWII game. I wonder if this is just the same game."

Or he could be thinking: "Hmm, I don't really like army games. I like Madden Football. I wonder if there's any reason I would like this army game?"

So I'm going write one bullet point to try and lure in each of these three Joes, but none of those points can be so aggressive that they drive the other two Joes away.

Joe No. 1 wants a game that's similar to other army games that he likes. What drew Joe into playing other WWII games? That's a hard question for me to answer. I know that Mikey McNoobpwner likes games with thick multiplayer that let them trash talk and teabag the people that he's just blown apart, but Mikey is really more of a Halo fan than a WWII gamer. In fact, I'm going to guess that the reason that Joe liked other WWII games is that they weren't Halo, that they focused on a mature, realistic system that rewards tactics and aim over crazy maneuvers. So I'm going to spend one bullet point on the solid, authentic WWII experience.

The second Joe doesn't just want to play CoD4 again, but we've already stated that most of the things about the game are the same as other army games. But there's one thing that rarely gets exactly replicated from game to game -- the story. If people watch twelve different crime dramas on primetime network TV, then they can also play different WWII games as long as the plot of the show is different. So one of my bullet points will highlight the interesting story that you'll want to hear about.

The third Joe would rather be playing Madden. That's a tough one, too. The gamer who only plays Madden might be the guy just looking for a simple, fun game that recreates something he really likes. Or he might be the guy who's really into Madden and can tell you a lot about the individual pieces of the game, but he's a little skeptical about getting into another genre. I think that both of those points say that this Joe would want a game that is easy to pick up, that isn't too intimidating, but also isn't too simple like a PopCap game or something. So I'll spend a third bullet point to encourage the less experienced player.

Sunil Mulay, lead modeler for games in Mumbai, India, The Verbs and Nouns Approach

David Linden, Activision, Nintendo TRG QA, The Straightforward Approach

Raoul Duke, The "We Have a Sense of Humor" Approach
Rationale: Poke fun at the fact that it is a crowded market, to get through the reader's "Oh no! Not again!" mindset.

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