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  • Indie Insights: Hooks And Anchors

    [03.02.21]
    - David Logan
  • One of my favorite things to do in these features is pull back the curtain a bit about our development, production and marketing processes. By doing that, we hopefully help give other indie studios a little window into what we consider to be important, interesting or helpful uses of our time. Today, let's talk about a little exercise we call Hooks and Anchors.

    Primarily a marketing exercise, Hooks and Anchors helps us collapse the wide, ever-expanding scope of our game into core, fundamental philosophies. The Hook is the novel, the new, and the innovative. It's the thing your game does that no other game does - the "wow!" factor. It's the fundamentally unique thing that your game does that no other game has done before it. Conversely, the Anchor is the expected. The familiar. The safe and secure game design that players recognize, understand and love. It's the thing that says: "This game reminds you of other games you love, so you'll probably love this too!"

    We think both are necessary to sell games - here's why.


    The mystery of Karoo and the island is Mutazione's hook.

    The Hook

    This one gets talked to death but here's the basic idea: The Hook is the new, innovative, out-there thing that grabs your audience's attention and brings them into your game.

    For many games, this will be a gameplay feature. It will be a type of multiplayer experience that they've never experienced before or a new, flashy mechanic that they've never seen before. Some high profile examples from recent memory might be the Nemesis System from Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Players have gone through the process of fighting through a chain of command, but the prospect of fighting NPCs that learned and grew depending on your fights with them created a sense of agency and choice. The decisions that you make matter and the game will react dynamically to them rather than ignore your autonomy to shoehorn you through a linear narrative.

    For other titles, this will be aesthetic. Our recently released 2D-precision platformer Spinch, for instance, featured tight jumps and dashes, but the hook was really the art by indie comics artist Jesse Jacobs. Players had seen plenty of platformers from Celeste to Super Meat Boy nail those kinds of platforming fundamentals, but the hypnotic, psychedelic art was unlike anything they'd ever seen. Most of the comments on our Reddit threads and Youtube videos related to Spinch would highlight the art because it stands out so well.

    Some games might even sport a narrative hook. Mutazione, our mutant soap opera from last year, hooked players with relatable characters, enticing themes, and clever mysteries. One of the first gifs I made for Mutazione featured Karoo, the mysterious bird spirit that visits Kai in her dreams. That gif attracts attention because it draws players into the mystery of the narrative.

    Finding your hook is typically straightforward for indies, because it's common that we approach our games with innovation and novelty in mind. We want to develop titles that players have never seen before. And especially when we talk to them, we focus on the hook as a way to communicate to a player that they'll never get this experience anywhere else. From a marketing perspective, it was important that we had a clear understanding of our hook so that we could properly create messaging around the game. Whether that was focusing on the art, design or narrative, it created a leyline that we'd draw power from whenever we got stuck on our messaging going out to players.

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