Many game makers look at figures like Peter Molyneux and wonder why he gets all the press and they get none. And the answer is that Molyneux understands marketing stories and how to tell them. Most industry legends are the same. They get that the public does not just see a game as a thing, but in context.
You might think you’re just making a game, but you’re not. You’re either creating or contributing to a marketing story, whether intentionally or otherwise, and it’s increasingly important to tell the one you genuinely believe in. Especially if it’s about the future.
When your story is about the future, people listen. The future is inspirational. Bloggers want to write about it, gamers want to read and talk about it and designers want to figure out how to define it. It’s why previews are more important than reviews, why events like E3 are a big deal and why companies like Nintendo succeed far more often than they fail.
There isn’t just one kind of future. There is the story of graphics and technology, which went dormant for a while only to return recently. Another one is social play, in which the future is about people coming together to play games, and the business opportunities which arise from that dynamic.
A third is the Jane McGonigal-esque idea of games saving the world through directing the positive psychology of play in productive directions. A fourth is the narrativist idea that games will one day be a legitimate story medium. A fifth is Techthulhu.
They all have a common thread. They look forward and say this:
The future is over the next hill and will be amazing. Are you coming?
What About Your Future?
The thing is, you can’t just magic a marketing story up. Maybe you could many years ago, and maybe some legends still have the power and press attention to do so today, but increasingly it has to be the story you really believe in. It’s not enough to get some air time and interviews with magazines because everyone does that. You need a community that you talk to a lot, a tribe who know you, and that’s pretty hard to fake.
However it’s also an incredible advantage against legends who might eat up a lot of official air time but find Twitter uncomfortably naked. The questions to answer for yourself are:
1. What do you believe the future should be?
2. And if the game you are working on is not a representation of that then why are you working on it?
‘I just want to make games’ is not a good answer because that story ends up sounding like ‘I’m average’ or ‘I’m all about me’. It’s not about the audience nor a compelling idea that they want to grab with both hands.
Nor is ‘I need the stability. When I have that then I’ll change the world.’ Studios of all shapes and sizes get trapped in that space and never have enough. They also have a tough time remaining visible to players because they eventually become anonymous service providers and nothing more.
Telling a great marketing story is not about scale, budget, or even execution. It’s about a vision for how things either will or should be, right or wrong. It’s about consistently building games, communities and a public conversation that supports that.
So what does the future look like?
My story for the future is this:
If the history of game development until now could be called the founderwork age, then the future of game making is the masterwork age when the next generation creates legends of their own. Using the lessons from what went before, it’s the age when we finally accept what games are rather than getting caught in circular debates about what we wish they would be, and so we set the stage for building what they will be.
Games already satisfy the criteria of culture and art. They’re not just dramas, playing machines, reward engines or simulations. Those might be the schools of thought that have brought us to where we are today, but think of them as four corners of a pyramid. What’s on top?
Greatness. Belief. Magic.
Thrilling play with sharp storysense, deep engagement in thaumatic worlds that bring tears, terror and joy to millions. Cultural legitimacy through defining games as an art in their own right with their own language. Accessible game creation for the technical and non-technical alike. Finding virtue in fun and using it to explore who we are without embarrassment or frustration. Sad games, happy games, philosophical games and exploratory games. Ex Uno Plures (from one, many).
It’s a future of purpose, confidence and hope.
Are you coming?