Referencing outside of games.

I got to watch a new team pitch their game yesterday. They included something in their pitch presentation that I think is really important, something that AAA games often get right more often than mobile or indie; providing reference from outside of games.

Here’s why i rate it.

Games developers love games. That’s why we got into game dev; games is or was one of the more important things in our lives. It’s understandable that when we talk about the games we want to make, we talk about the games that have influenced us; the experiences we had in other games that we want to recreate, or want to surpass.

That’s not necessarily the case with the audience though. Their cultural interests are likely spread equally across a wide range of platforms; movies, music, books, tv, sports, current affairs, politics. Advertising and marketing from other media probably reaches them more frequently than advertising or marketing for games does.
Btw, ‘audience’ can be many things – it can be the people who might buy or play your game, or it might be the exec at the other side of the desk during the pitch meeting to get your game funded.

People are under no obligation to like your idea. And there’s a ton of other boxes on the shelf, or trailers on youtube. So sell them the idea in whatever language they’re most likely to understand.
What Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Halo, Dawn of Titans all have in common is that they have clear touchstones central to their concepts or themes that are already familiar to almost everyone.

This isn’t just about saying to people ‘if you like this film, you’ll like our game’, incidentally. What you might also be using these visual and conceptual touchstones for is to teach people about how you want them to experience your product…

Let’s say you’re making a stealth game. You show the audience a player character with a gun. You may have to explain to the audience what the player is going to do, the pace of the game, the likely narrative, the types of situation they’ll be put in, the different mechanics they’re likely to encounter.
Now put that player character with a gun into a Tux. You don’t need to explain anything that I just mentioned. The audience already knows. You’re using an established hollywood character trope as a shortcut explanation of what your game is.

“The theme you select directly influences how you present your initial skills to the user. By saying “Pirates”, I turn on a particular schema in the player’s brain and a network of possible behaviors and likely outcomes instantaneously lights up. If they see a pirate with an impressive sword facing a small soldier, the goal of fighting the enemy is self evident. With a small visual cue, I’ve eliminated minutes of painful initial learning.”
Daniel Cook, Lost Garden

Referencing other media helps the game during development too.
When your game isn’t finished yet, and is still a bunch of different interpretations of a concept in the teams’ heads, it’s really helpful to point to something – a world, a character’s personality, a vehicle – already fleshed out in other media, as your starting point; then you’ll all have the same vision.

More than anything else though, I just think it’s really important that game designers aren’t just gamers; the best ones I’ve worked with have had a really wide range of cultural interests, and a huge vocabulary of visual, literary and musical styles. It’s something that’s really encouraged me to keep trying other things that aren’t just games, and to keep talking about them while making games.



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