Pondering the way in which we describe our own Games


Let’s try an exercise.

Last night, I asked people to ‘pitch’ me their game via twitter. A few simple rules followed: At least two sentences, pop in a screenshot and a really tricky one: Don’t refer to other games. Huh.

This is actually sneakier than it sounds – we do live in a time where people try to communicate with each other through relating A (known thing) to B (unknown thing) rather than by stating details about B itself. We see this proliferated through descriptions of emotions and reactions with memes like ‘TFW’ and ‘MFW’.

The reason why I’ve put these rules in place, is to consider something simple: What makes me interested in a game when it’s being described to me? Last weekend was PAX Australia – where I was exhibiting – and I found about midday on the saturday that I was describing my game all wrong. There were a lot of reasons how this came about, but one of them is that I’d not spent a year refining my descriptions like I had for its predecessor at last year’s PAX Aus.

So, I began to change up the way in which I described the game to various people. Obviously it’s important to describe different things depending on your audience, but I remembered that last year we would lead with the story behind the game. Both the story within it (‘you play as Bob, who has some urgent debts…’) and the story about its development (‘well, I worked on another game for a long time before…’). I began approaching people on Saturday afternoon and Sunday from these perspectives and people responded much better.

To slide down the rabbit hole further, I listened to how the gamers/guests described OTHER games when I asked them about their favorites. What I noticed was simple: People describe settings, humour and moments. They didn’t focus on mechanics nor genre. This contrasts drastically with how developers tend to describe games to other developers (‘it’s like Game B but with elements from Game C…’). The difference in language was pretty astounding.

I’ve said for a long time that it becomes easy to deal only with other developers, and end up marketing only to other developers (like a house in Grand Designs that gets described as ‘an architectual achievement… but I wonder if it can be a home?’). If you want a bit more of an example, look at how developers talk about Undertale vs the people on tumblr who are actually playing it.

So – challenge time. Last night I asked people to throw pitches at me, and asked them for differing language to the usual gamedev speak. Now I ask you for something: Describe the following games to me using the same rules. No genres, no other games referenced, keep mechanics lists to a minimum.

THEN, the opposite: describe using only relational statements. Try a genre and other conventions.

Show me what you got.

The list (games I have never played!)

* Earthbound
* Super Mario Sunshine
* Ocarina of Time
* Tekken
* Splatoon
* Starfox
* Bloodborne