Making Your Game Sell Itself

Marketing is expensive, and a pain to do. A great (and free) way to do this is to have your players recommend your game to their friends. Word of mouth or going viral is one of the most effective marketing strategies around. Great! How to engineer it is somewhat more difficult. Rather than getting into information propagation and the psychology of social media, I’m going to talk about how to make your games screen captures look good.

A game that definitely thought a lot about this is Monument Valley. It is clear that their art style was considered with selling the game in mind, ustwo even confirmed as much in their GDC talk

In Monument Valley the camera is fixed allowing the designers to fix every pixel of the screen, everything is designed to make the screen look as good as possible. The fixed camera makes it very easy for the designers and artists to think about the composition and the positioning of everything in the screen. How far things should be from the edges of the screen, what colour the background is, the perspective the player is given, all of it is under complete control. The time and effort ustwo put into this aspect of the game is why it could be shared with such nice screenshots. By creating a game that always looks good they got everyone to advertise their game. Whenever they tweeted a picture or showed their friends their screen, they were advertising Monument Valley.

Having a fixed camera makes it easy, what if you give the player control of how the perspective and the composition. You might end up like Firewatch. Their game was also one that seemed to wow with every screen shot. Every video looked like a promo. If you listen to Campo Santo’s GDC talk you’ll see that they painstakingly designed every environment to yield the maximum impact. Each environment designed from initial sketches to be the best looking environment it can be. The results are plain. No matter what the player chooses to frame, no matter what angle the player is looking at the scene from, the scene performs. No easy task. So if you give the player camera control, you need to do a lot more work to make the screenshots from the game look good.

Well maybe.

People like looking at things that look good. A statement just shy of a tautology. What I mean is that people will often take screenshots of part of a game that looks good. Similarly with photography, photographers don’t blunder around taking pictures at random, they search for something they can frame nicely, that has a good perspective. In this way we can cut some corners with our environment design. Games that have environments too large to micromanage rely on this technique, the sprawling landscapes of The Witcher 3 exist in some parallel universe where sunrises and sunsets seem to take up half the day. But a bit of looking and sure enough, early morning and late evening light is favoured by photographers. In this way the developers at CDProjectRed have made it easy for players to capture something that they thought was beautiful in their game and share it. Ever wondered why the colours in The Witcher 3 are so vibrant?