The game and music industries have two things in common. The traditional primary market for both tends to be younger, and video plays a key role in inspiring those markets. Video is arguably more important for games because the final product is unknowable until you play it. Video makes even more sense in the age of Youtube, filling in a role that magazine previews used to perform. Live broadcasts of conferences are now for everyone. Trailers and tech demos are easy to share and dissect, often in high definition. And finally there are interviews, previews and video podcasts.
This makes it important for a game maker to have a sense of theatre. To be able to sell a market on the vision of a game, to speak excitedly and inspire is best done with your voice, your sound and your passion. It's amazing how far your message might travel in this way, especially to markets who don't have the inclination to read. It gives you the opportunity to tell your marketing story, but it also brings with it the temptation to act the charlatan.
I have spoken before about the importance of marketing stories and tribal strategies, which we are now seeing replicated across Kickstarter, web games, Steam and many other venues. There are millions upon millions of passionate players who'll spread a story to each other in the consumer arena if that story is about them and their values. Minecraft, for example, is approaching 10m units largely off the back of spectacular unending enthusiasm from its fan base.
However I've also spoken before about how your market has to care, congregate, pay attention and be reachable if you plan to sow a marketing story. Most markets do not satisfy all four conditions. They may care but you can't reach them, such as most console gamers. They may be reachable but not pay attention, such as businesses that would be interested in gamification if only they knew it existed. Sometimes this distance is even by choice of the game's makers (although this is probably a mistake). Studios often keep their fans at bay for fear of their negativity. They are also held back from speaking or blogging for contractual reasons because it gets in the way of a platform story.
These sorts of impediment make it difficult to maintain a marketing story. So studios create videos instead and hope for the hype effect to take hold. A video is not generally a conversation (although a weekly developer diary might be), but is instead a seed. The game maker uses the opportunity to pack the frame with all of the awesome that they can find, and hopes to heaven that the public agrees. Some studios even get a reputation for awesome videos, such as Blizzard, Bungie or Square. In a different setting entirely, Jane McGonigal got an enormous boost to her book sales, profile and gamification in general from a TED talk she gave a few years ago on the subject of fixing reality through games.
With a great video an idea can travel much further than it is ever likely to as text or image. Video is the most easily consumed content of all, and the one that takes most advantage of the 10-20-70 rule of information, intonation and presentation. Most viewers will not necessarily get every last word that you say, but they'll get the general gist if you pack your ideas in well enough. Tag lines, humanising analogies, effective oratory and intonation all make a difference.
However video also has the effect of smoothing out ideas. A video outlining the basics of brain psychology (such as those by Dan Pink or Iain McGilchrist) can deliver the core idea, but not enough substantial detail to back it up. In games it's the same, with a video really pitching the heart of the game rather than an in-depth breakdown of what it is. Indeed videos that do try to show off every last detail tend to be the most boring because they have no sense of theatre. It's really not enough to simply record a load of footage of your game and upload it, you need to make a song and dance of it. You need to put on a show because video best conveys story, not information.
And it is the story that we buy. Not a game/plot story (before you start equivocating) but rather a vibe, emotional resonance, thrill, sense of wonder or inspiration. Even just a laugh. Mostly we buy into anything that seems human, not its dry list of features.
This isn't a name-and-shame post, it's a discussion of approach. In fact there are excellent reasons to consider that you may need to behave like a charlatan to reach the market you want to reach. The videos which sell games are often more PT Barnum than reality, fiction than fact, and that's generally okay unless what you produce turns out to be nothing like the video promised. That's when you're in actual charlatan territory, even though you may not have intended to be.
Charlatanry works for a while because of the cloak of access. To get into see a world famous game designer and talk to him about his mind boggling game often requires dealing with a layer of PR that acts as a shield. While critics may want to get the guy in a room and dress him down, it never actually happens. Instead the vast majority of previews are soft-serve, containing much in the way of aspiration and little in the way of fault (although if you're experienced enough in reading this sort of coverage there is sometimes a subtext that you can detect).
Charlatanry also works because the memory of the market rarely lasts. Even when a PR disaster plays out in public and the gaming media engages in schadenfreude, the invective usually fades. The primary market always remains on the young side, as does the average age of gaming journalists and bloggers, so after a few years both have little or no idea of what that brouhaha was all about. How many of today's 14-year olds have ever even heard of a Giant Enemy Crab? They do, however, remember the successes and that insulates some game makers with only a couple of truly egregious exceptions.
If you have to get noticed at E3 then perhaps you need to summon your inner Peter Molyneux and say something that will make for some amazing copy, even if it be more hoped-for than real. Perhaps you need to get wild-eyed, crazy, tear your hair out or sing a song. At GDC 2012 Jesse Schell (who is lovely in person) made waves in a talk on the state of games and education by setting alight 50 dollars on stage. It made people laugh and so be remembered. I'm not saying Peter and Jesse are charlatans (Far from it!). I'm saying that they understand theatre, that many audiences need the razzle dazzle because they only have a limited time in which to feel an impact.
Even if that requires the touch of the snake oil salesman that's okay. If you can back it up.
Marketing Stories Are The Future
Niches and tribes are older, often a lot older, and are defined by their sense of taste. They like a good video, but tend to be unforgiving if you can't back it up. Even if the game you made turns out to be different to that which you showed, your video constituted an unspoken promise and you didn't deliver.
This kind of player is the one who most cares, congregates, pays attention and is reachable. She is also the one who remembers. And here's the kicker: Over time the trend of marketing stories is only going to grow. While the console industry may be a managed communication fortress there are few who seriously expect it remain this way forever. App store economics, social sharing and so on will outrun the ability of PR to control and, while this will the breath of fresh air that consoles have needed for years, that means the theatre of old won't work as well as it did.
The same is true in other markets.
As general levels of gaming awareness raise and muggle markets play more, they start to talk to one another and form tribes. This even happens in some pretty unrecognisable markets like gamification. It only takes a savage review, or an inadvertent promise for tongues to start wagging, and against the backdrop of sophisticated audiences who care this can be fatal. Unless you are authentic and speak with an honest voice (or earnestly apologise and promise never to speak falsely again, which you get one chance at doing) then they will eventually realise you're faking it. And they won't be kind when they do.
So you can see how telling a marketing story and making that story authentic are closely linked. Loyalty is earned by following through, as Blizzard, Square and Bungie did. And loyalty is really what the future is all about. So by all means make videos and inspire us all. Just make sure that you deliver what you said you would.