I spent a good chunk of my early 20s learning to write fiction and screenplays, and part of that was learning to write about my fiction and screenplays. The back-cover copy. The press release. The cover letter. The pitch. And on and on. But for some reason, when I decided to turn Osprey Adrift into a reality, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of writing about the game that would be required.
There are quite a few pieces of writing that any game designer should be ready for (aside from the rules), and each one is a bit different – different audience, different goal, different content, different tone. I’m going to you guys a rundown of some of the writing game designers have to do, based solely on my experience. Hopefully this helps out any fledgling designers reading this, and if you have any other experiences, let everyone know in the comments!
The box back
We all know what this is and what it’s supposed to do. The back of a game’s box is akin to the back of a novel. It’s meant to excite someone who’s on the fence. It’s meant to describe – in a very economical way – everything the game is about. It’s a small peek into the experience a player is about to undertake. It’s simple, in theory; but it’s not easy to do in practice. Just because you’re good at telling someone about your game doesn’t mean it’ll translate well into words on the box. My suggestion is to start this as soon as possible, and keep working on it as a living, evolving piece of writing. If and when you get to the point of doing product design for the box itself, then you’ll be ready. Edit, edit, edit. Have someone else look it over. Then edit some more. It’s difficult to distance yourself from your own game, so try to get fresh eyes on the box back copy (be they from someone you can trust, or your own from a pseudo-objective perspective).
In terms of how much writing needs to be done on the back of the box, well, that’s entirely up to you. Sure, you may have limited real estate depending on the size of your box, but my recommendation is to at least include the following elements:
- Theme – This is the perfect opportunity to write something about the game’s theme. Paint a picture of the world. Use descriptive language and set the scene. Human beings are naturally drawn to stories, so tell your game’s.
- Core gameplay – What’s the game experience like? Use commonly-used terms to describe the core mechanics, but feel free to play up anything about that gameplay that’s especially unique.
- Number of players, Playing time, recommended ages – These can be worked into the description of the gameplay, or, as is more common, displayed in quick-to-scan icons.
- Game contents – People will definitely want to know what’s inside the box.
The press release
The press release is a tricky animal if you’re not familiar with it. A press release goes beyond what the box back does – yes, it’s meant to excite and describe, but it’s also meant to be a news story. The launch of your game is news, after all. However, it’s up to you to make it newsworthy. The press release should describe the game in an objective tone, similar to how a reporter or interviewer would cover it, so avoid injecting your own excitement or ego. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, because the news should be exciting, of course, but it can’t come across as excited – otherwise you run the risk of coming across as untrustworthy.
In addition to the content that’s generally included on the box back (albeit in a more objective tone), a press release should optimally include the following:
- Release date (of the game, or the Kickstarter – whichever is applicable)
- A link to your own website, or the Kickstarter
- photos/pictures (different news outlets may have specific requirements for the number and size of pictures you include)
- A bit about you as a publisher or game designer (a line or two should suffice), because people will want to connect the game to its creator.
Remember the main tenet of news stories that you learned in elementary school: make sure you cover the what, who, when, where, and why.
The Kickstarter project description
Kickstarter requires you to include a description blurb that will appear below the title of your project (presumably, your game title). This is akin to a social media bio in that it needs to be extremely short. People’s attention spans aren’t going to be any longer for your game than they’ll be for someone else’s, and there’ll be some 250 other games on Kickstarter competing for their attention. Your project description blurb is your first (and, unfortunately, sometimes last) chance to hook someone on your game.
The most successful project descriptions that I’ve seen act almost as a hyper-condensed version of the box back. They include a bit about the game’s theme, the core gameplay, the number of players, and the game’s contents… all while being catchy. Crunching all of that into a one-sentence, 140-character blurb is a feat of creative engineering, however, just remember that it’s not an exact science, so have fun with it! Keep it short. Keep it simple.
If the Kickstarter project description is a Twitter missive, then any banner advertisements you run are emojis. Banner adverts appeal to the most basic, primal parts of a person’s brain. If there’s much more than three words, no one’s going to read it, and it’ll become background noise. As a general rule of thumb, stick to the game’s title, advertise the fact that it’s on Kickstarter, and if it’s funded, you can include that as well. Any descriptions about the game should be kept to single-word slugs.
Until next time, gang! Keep it plucky,