What Storytelling in Video Games Can Teach You About Content Marketing
Content marketing for most brands has a surprising amount of traits in common with video games when it comes to both the development and marketing fronts. Brands are looking to latch on popular game franchises by working closely with Twitch streamer affiliates for promotion or commissioned content creation. Since having content alone isn’t enough anymore, brands are also starting to experience pains with the content optimization and curation processes that are akin to the discoverability challenges indie game developers are facing.
Games themselves can also be a form of content, with several historic and current examples ranging from Balmoral’s The Lost Island of Alanna tie-in for Cherry Coke in the 1990s to the recent game commissioned by financial giant Bloomberg to spur discussion on America’s decaying shopping malls. There’s definitely a happy marriage waiting to happen between game developers needing paid work and brands looking to work with interactive content.
But games aren’t monolithic. They’re not just collections of pixels and chiptune where the player goes from point A to point B fulfilling some objective. There are all kinds of audiences hankering for different types of games and there’s much to be learned from how storytelling itself has evolved in games. Here’s what content marketers need to pay heed to.
Know Your Audience!
If you’re developing a visual novel type of game or a point-and-click adventure, your storytelling and dialog writing skills are what’s ultimately going to carry the game. You can use nothing but stock photos and public domain music and there’s a chance some huge Twitch streamer will pick it up if it plays well and has memorable dialog that strikes a chord in people or makes them laugh.
But if you’re designing a fighting game or 2D sidescroller, these players are less likely to want to read lots of text or watch long cutscenes while other players love this kind of content.
Know your audience. Does long-form content resonate more, or are you aiming for short and sweet?
If it’s very conversational, how does your target audience actually speak? Not just in terms of languages and dialects, but how do factors like education level, devices used, and so forth affect those conversations?
How You Tell a Story is Even More Important Than the Story Itself
Not all games have a simplistic plot. Large games with open worlds and several playable characters have these living, breathing dynamic narratives where entire teams of narrative designers are constantly buried in flow charts and spreadsheets. They contain branches and the multiple paths the player can find themselves on and how relationships may be affected, if those mechanics drive the gameplay.
Some games live and die by some meme-able lines of dialog. Depending on the game’s style and core gameplay loop, others keep players hooked on the story based on progress, objectives, or levels completed even if it’s not the driving force the way it would be in a visual novel or adventure game.
Game Stories Don’t Have to Be Linear…
A linear game narrative has a beginning, middle, and end that doesn’t change no matter what choices the player makes. Other games have multiple outcomes and endings.
In real life, you’re more likely to deal with the latter as far as how your prospects and customers engage with you. Be prepared with multiple dialog options and subsequent content for likely responses.
…But There is a Time and Place For It
Modern game narratives have become twisty with several branches, but the runaway success of Donut County proved that there’s still a place for simple linear game narratives. Sometimes people just want a straight answer or a story that’s very simple to follow. It can boil down to the audience you’ve cultivated, and the means you’re using to tell the story. Complexity can be good for some strategies, but sometimes you need to keep things simple and linear.
It’s hard to make a game “for everyone” when some stories are meant for groups of people whose stories often aren’t told, or they never picked up similar games before. The same principle applies in content creation in that you’re often creating for a specific audience opposed to “everyone”. Storytelling can prove to be powerful in driving your brand’s message home and some stories resonate better than others depending on how you tell them.
Rachel P is a 4-star content strategist (Strategist Account #541) available to help you with keyword maps, customer journey maps, and buyer personas in addition to writing for you! She’s also an indie game developer, writer, and consultant. If you would to like to hire Rachel to devise a content strategy for you, please contact your account manager or send a direct message.