You have, at best, a few minutes to grab someone's attention with your game.
The press is deluged with pitches for coverage, with links to Kickstarters and pleas to review or preview this or that game. If you're trying to get your game noticed you have to realize that you're up against a few dozen other games on a daily basis, and that's at the best of times.
The one lesson I tell every developer when I discuss how to try to break through is to make sure you can describe your game, and explain what it doesn't differently or better, in a few sentences.
How a successful film director does it
This lesson came through loud and clear when I watched the video director and writer Rian Johnson created to sells studios on his idea for the science fiction film Looper. Johnson has also been tapped to direct at least one of the upcoming Star Wars sequels, and his experience in Hollywood speaks for itself, but Looper features a challenging premise that's very hard to get across quickly.
"This is a strange curiosity I thought might be interesting — just after I finished the script for Looper but before we began preproduction I asked Joe to record some voice-over, and with help from my friend Ronen Verbit constructed this 'fake trailer' using clips from other movies," Johnson wrote.
"This is a fairly common thing to do when you're trying to get a movie off the ground, but it was the first time I tried it. It was meant to show more some of the film's tone, and to show how the odd concept could be presented in a clear and compelling way in the marketing," he continued. "Zach Johnson did the sketches. Note that we hadn't begun the casting process yet, and the clips were chosen just based on their visuals and not by who is in them."
Pay attention to how much data is given to the viewer in under two minutes. How much of the world is built and makes sense just based on a voice-over and some clips from other movies. It's a neat trick of editing, and we know that a skilled editor can change the tone of nearly any content with a few cuts and musical choices, but this is something that was put together quickly and for very little money that ended in Looper getting a $30 million budget and making $176 million worldwide.
You watch that rough teaser and want to learn more
I've seen similar trailers for other games that work to set the tone for what the game will be, but it's not like you can edit some clips of a big-name actor and use that for a Kickstarter video. The method is less important than the efficiency and brevity of the final piece of marketing. And getting attention for your game is just that: Marketing.
Johnson obviously thought long and hard about what the movie would be, and was able to skillfully get that point across in an incredibly short amount of time. His elevator pitch was amazing, and the first lines of dialog are more than enough to pull you in.
You watch that rough teaser and want to learn more, you want to watch more, and you can instantly see how you could sell the content yourself. Of course the studios threw money at this project, who wouldn't with a sale pitch that good?
I talk to so many developers who lose their confidence when I ask that simple question: Why do we pay attention to your game? It's the simplest question in the industry, and the majority of indie studios don't bother to come up with a good answer ahead of time.
You see them at events at PAX trying to work out a good pitch in their head, on the fly, when you stop and try to take a look at the game. It's their own product, and they don't know where the hooks are or, worse yet, there are no hooks. If you know the name of a studio or developer it's likely due to the fact they got good at this skill, or paid someone else to do it for them.
You have a few minutes to gain the attention of a player or the press when you're trying to drum up interest for your Kickstarter, or Early Access release, or trailer. You're competing with literally everyone in the industry for attention and money. If you have 20 seconds to talk about your game, what do you say? Learn from what a film director did in two minutes, and get even better.