22 Mar Game Design Lessons #10: Make A Killer Product

I was having a discussion recently with someone in relation to my last article, and he mentioned something that really piqued my interest. The crux of it was simple: Ultimately, if the crowd doesn’t like your product, it doesn’t matter how much marketing you do.

Boom. Very true. So how much should you focus on making your product vs marketing your product?

The truth is, the most important aspect of making a successful campaign, is to have a killer product. So how can you make sure that your product is incredible? Obviously, if I totally knew the answer to that, I would now be ridiculously wealthy with my very own TV show defeating Game of Thrones in the rankings. However, there are some basic principles that I have learnt, and have heard spouted by many others – so here are some of them.

1) Test your market

Ultimately, you should be writing for a market that you know wants your stuff. If it doesn’t…then there’s simply no one to sell it to! Work out who your market is going to be before you start your epic undertaking. You may need to tweak it somewhat if the market isn’t responding the way you’d like. This is a little tricky though, because at the beginning you have no fanbase, you have no one but your friends or family to bounce things off, and they’re likely to appreciate whatever you do, or have very similar tastes to you. So how do you get around this?

One way is to go to forums and post a sample of your work on there. I did that, and found there was a lot of backlash from many people (“I hate zombies!”) which didn’t end up totally translating into my Kickstarter. I think that must simply be because either a) the people who liked zombie RPGs weren’t on the forums, or b) they were less vocal than those who disliked that genre.

The lesson from this is to test multiple areas. I found I had a lot of feedback from my sampler, enough so that I could start to work out what needed to be changed. Then again, I also put out my work to reviewers, who mostly liked it, but tended to hone in on a few similar points – namely that it could be made less complicated. Again, some were more “vocal” than others, so be sure not to get put off by negative feedback. Remember that when people are giving you feedback, some will do it constructively, others more negatively. It’s all to do with their outlook on life, their point of view. So just because someone says your product is a complete disaster, you don’t have to believe them – just understand that something didn’t communicate properly to them. Find out what that was. What exactly didn’t they like? Did they not understand what you were trying to communicate, or did they not like the execution, or did they not like some part of the setting? Be specific.

It will be helpful for you to get an email database (use mailchimp, they’re free up to 2000 emails), so you can send out to people test samples of your work and ask for feedback.

2) Avoid Cliches

I hate to break it to everyone, but D&D and The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are now cliches. So is a vacuum cleaner, TV or plane. That is, they’re cliches if you copy them. They’re so well known, they’re so household-name, that if you present a product that even looks vaguely similar, people tend to assume they’re the same things. Again, I found this out to my detriment with zombies – seen one zombie RPG, seen ’em all!

So if you’re creating a fantasy world, RPG, book, TV show, or whatever, you have to be able to show viewers what’s totally unique and interesting about it…instantly. You’ve only got a couple of seconds to snag someone’s attention. There’s nothing wrong with making a “fantasy world” or a “horror genre” or something like that, but be sure that if you do, you also set yours apart. Making a dozen new breeds of elves is not going to cut the mustard, if you’re claiming this is an “all new world.” If you’re making it as a supplement for something else, then it may be enough.

Related:  Game Design Lessons #12: Refunds

So this presents a funny angle for RPG creators. You’ve played games like D&D or Rifts or whatever, and then you think, “I could do that even better.” And then you proceed to make a fantasy world that is just like the one you were playing, but better… and everyone loves it and flocks on board… right? Sadly, that’s only a dim possibility. Far better to look at what these others have done and go, “I could make something totally unique.” 

A good example of a unique setting is the Blades in the Dark Kickstarter. It has a terrible video, but the concept is pretty cool and a lot of others also thought so. I have read the quick-start manual, and found that above all really sold me on the setting. I think it would have helped his cause even more if he had made a sample of that and presented it on the Kickstarter (quick start rules are important for backers).

Another good example of a unique product, unique setting, is Fall of Gods. Ooh, I really loved this campaign, and regret not backing it. I want that book… but their international postage rates are absolutely brutal. Check out how they’ve interwoven the powerful storyline, the imagery and the studio into the video – I watched that video over and over again, I liked it so much. And I have a whole bunch of their art as desktop backgrounds, because it’s totally epic.  You would think that creating “another viking book” would be a cliche, but they have immediately connected with that strong theme, then showed how unique they are (in fact, they have kind of put themselves as the “proper” vision of the world, because they are actually Scandinavian). Brilliant.

So, make sure you’re product is unique.

3) Work Your Butt Off

Ultimately, nothing can decide your own success except you. Whatever your product is, you need to learn how to make it to the best of your ability. The skill with which you do that will go a long, long way to making it a success. Gimicky things will get discarded fairly quickly and don’t make their way into the “classic” realms. You want your work to become a classic.

The only way to do that is to work, work, work. Practice like crazy. Look at how hard world-class athletes push themselves. Think about yourself in the same vein. You are in a fierce competition with other people who are working just as hard, or harder than you. If you don’t put in more effort than them, you’ll fall behind. So practice, work at it, and pick yourself up when you fall down.

Check out this video from Will Smith for some inspiration on this matter.

I hope this helps you with your project!

~Oliver R. Shead


Elegant plug time: check out my post-zombie post-apocalypse RPG, Infected!  You can download our sampler here, and you can still pre-order here.

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