Get Noticed: Packaging Your Indie Game

Published: 02/22/2018  

Last Updated: 02/22/2018

Packaging your game in the age of downloads and streaming doesn't end with a cardboard box on a retail shelf. Standing out in today's competitive and crowded PC games market takes a carefully coordinated plan for telling your story and promoting your game, in effect packaging it. Whether that packaging is physical or digital, its role is to attract the attention, interest, and desire of potential buyers.

Because indie developers have access to the same channels used by established studios — the web, social media, YouTube*, and retail shelves— physical and digital packaging is neither difficult nor expensive. The key to getting the most out of each channel isn't about how much money you spend. Rather, it's the time and effort you put into knowing your intended audience and telling your game's story in ways that clearly communicate what makes it worth playing.

Depending on where you are in the development cycle, you may already have many of the necessary elements — a logo, screenshots of gameplay, gameplay trailer videos, and a playable demo. And what you don't have isn’t too difficult or expensive to create.

This guide describes how to get your game in front of its intended audience, including:

  • What elements your website should include.
  • What to put on the game's cardboard box.
  • Tips on writing copy, producing trailers, and making screenshots.
  • Tips on designing logos.
  • How to prepare your text and graphics for printing on the cardboard box.

You won't encounter any rules or one-size-fits all solutions for promoting and packaging your game, so be creative, use your best judgment, and get feedback when in doubt. Your mileage can and will vary.

Telling Your Story

If you've been strategizing about how to start conversations and build relationships within the gaming community with the goal of enticing people to buy your new creation, congratulations. You've taken the first step toward marketing your game, and those activities will feed directly into your game's packaging. Including pathways for players to give constructive feedback via your digital packaging can help you refine gameplay, making your game more appealing to potential and future players/customers.

If you haven't already, start by identifying anything about your game that sets it apart from others. Whether it's the way you coaxed an off-the-shelf game engine to do something it wasn't supposed to be able to do, your visual style, the soundtrack, sound effects, or gameplay — if it stands out as different, work it into your story.

Reading the story out loud should take about 30 seconds. Introduce your story to people whose opinions matter to you, people who don't pull punches. Ask other developers, or better yet, find your worst critics and get their feedback. Iterate and refine the story until you’re happy with the result. For marketing and packaging purposes, let it serve as the foundation of your game's story.

When applied to your packaging online or on a box, your story must reinforce your game's selling points with words and a tone informed by:

  • Your intended audience demographic:
    • Are they mostly male or female? A story can appeal more deeply to boys, for example, than to girls.
    • What are their age group(s)?
    • What kind of lingo will appeal to them?
    • How will their nationality or geo-location influence how you talk about your game? Jokes that play well in one locale may not go over in others.
  • The game's genre.
  • The time period in which the game takes place (if applicable).

Make your game's story personable by talking directly to your desired audience and refer to them as "you."

All the other elements of your game — visual and sonic style, color palette, the website and in-game text font(s), and even the words that describe your game’s components — should be informed by the factors listed above.

Essentially, your game's story is your brand. Be consistent in how you tell it. Use the same color palette, fonts, and wording and phraseology wherever you're promoting and packaging your game. See the "Branding Checklist" sidebar.

Branding Checklist

Big companies go to great lengths to document where and how their trademarks and logos can be used, often defining the web and print colors, grammar style guides, and the spacing dos and don'ts.

You won't need that level of detail, but you'll save time by creating a brand and style guide that documents your color palette and fonts, the spelling of unusual character names, and game-centric jargon to ensure consistent use of those elements.

If more than one person is writing copy, create a style guide that covers grammar issues—how and when to use certain kinds of punctuation, game lingo, and so on. Consistency is key to building relationships and an instantly recognizable identity. The more people who are involved in writing your copy, the more important it is to maintain a consistent voice.

Here's a sample style template:

Search the web to find free and inexpensive branding and style-guide creation tools to jumpstart the process.

Content Building Blocks

Like assets for your game engine, you need promotional assets that can be used to package and present your game. Create and store promotional assets so they can be used like building blocks. If you sign a new distribution deal to a streaming game service, you’ll be able to reach into your asset library and drop the content you need into their Content Management System (CMS) template.

The building blocks below, with the exception of music and sound clips, are must-haves.

A Logo

Once the game is named, it'll need a logo—an image that instantly communicates what the game is … and isn't. Logos should be readable and visually aligned with the game's genre. Because the logo is the cornerstone of your game's (brand) identity, once the logo is finalized, don't change it unless you have an excellent reason. If the logo continually changes, who will know it's the same game?

Arizona Sunsine Logo
Crisp, clean, and easy to read, Vertigo Games' Arizona Sunshine* logo communicates the name of the game and also hints at its content through the color-coded Z for zombies.

Practical matters: Create a vector version of your logo so it easily scales to any screen size. Also create a version with a transparent background so that background elements aren’t deleted when you place the logo onto an image, over text, or in a video.

Screenshots and Graphics

Take several gameplay screenshots. Focus on things like epic battle scenes, monsters, vehicles, puzzles, and anything else that will grab attention. A picture is worth a thousand words, so use screenshots to emphasize the best things in your game.

Caption from Arizona Sunshine Video GameA hero graphic — an iconic image taken from or inspired by gameplay—is essential. Established studios often use illustrations or ultra-high-resolution renders from their graphics program rather than their game engine. Such images exemplify all that the game represents—action, fun, cool puzzles, and so forth. Use a hero graphic on your homepage, download or streaming landing pages, and on the cardboard box if you're distributing via retail stores. Hero graphics should be powerful enough to draw your audience in entice them to keep reading below the fold of your homepage or interest them enough to turn the box over to learn more about your game.

Caption from Arizona Sunshine GamePractical matters: Computer screens and printed materials require different resolutions and different color spaces. For online use, 72-dpi resolution is plenty. For printed materials, use a minimum resolution of 300 dpi. On-screen graphics need to be in RGB (red, green, blue) color space. Printed materials need to be in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color space.

Treat your promotional assets like you treat your game assets—keep them organized by naming files in a consistent, easy-to-remember manner. Saving images named "Screenshot 2017-11-09 12.30 PM" won't make them easy to find when uploading game graphics to a new streaming service site or updating your Facebook* page.

Music and Sound

If your game has a soundtrack, consider adding it to your promotional toolkit. Upload audio clips to a streaming music service and embed its audio player in your website. Choose audio excerpts that emphasize the best your game has to offer. The audio clips don't have to be bombastic. Ambient sound characterizes many successful AAA titles. If atmospheric audio sets the game's mood, use it to package your game.

Practical matters: If you embed an audio player on your website, don't set it to automatically play. Also, make it easy for the user to turn the volume down or off. You don't want to get a potential customer in trouble because they visited your site at work and your ultra-cool soundtrack let everyone else in the room know what they were doing.

Text Blocks

Consider creating three versions of your game's story:

  • Short—30 words or less
  • Medium—50 words or less
  • Long—85 words or less

These different lengths provide flexibility. Each version could consist of one concise sentence followed by bullet points that emphasize the game's primary selling points. Longer versions could add more bullet points or include another sentence or two. The key is to create short, fun, and easy-to-read blocks of text that can be plugged into a content template or design.

Other important text blocks include:

  • The game's vital statistics—the number of players, their age range, and playing time.
  • Information about your team, its history, and other games you've created. Keep the team's story short—no more than 200 words—and break the story into sections using headers such as The Team and Our History.
  • Unless you created the game yourself, create a ready-to-use list of credits.
  • Legal indicia, including a copyright notice, trademark info, "created with" licensing info, and so on.
  • For boxed games on retail shelves, include minimum system requirements and the logos of the operating system(s) your game runs on.

Trailer Videos

Game trailers, like Hollywood movie trailers, are an extremely effective way to attract attention and pique the interest of potential players. Whether you produce one trailer or release new trailers throughout your development process, keep them focused on promoting what makes your game a blast to play. See the "Tips for Creating a Compelling Trailer Video" sidebar for details.

Post your trailer(s) on YouTube or go live on YouTube Gaming to showcase features that make your game stand out.

Post gameplay videos on your YouTube channel to showcase your game. Keep the videos focused on action that entices people to want to learn more about your game or—better yet—buy it to play it.

Some Assembly Required

Your growing collection of promotional assets—including the game's retail packaging—can be used on your company website, a standalone website dedicated solely to your game, landing pages on streaming service sites that carry your game, your Facebook page, or your Twitter* feed.

For inspiration, we've included a few examples of how your promotional assets can be used.

Caption from Arizona Sunshine Game
Notice the calls-to-action in the navigation options along the top of the page and in the box beneath the hero graphic that dominates this portion of the Arizona Sunshine website.

Standalone Game Website

Your homepage ingredients can include:

  1. Hero graphic
  2. Logo
  3. Copy block(s) for your game's story
  4. Call-to-action links to download/buy/play a demo and read reviews of your game as applicable
  5. Screenshots (presented as stills or in a slideshow)
  6. Trailer(s)
  7. News—Link to new builds, new reviews, new characters, new levels, or anything that will generate excitement, keep your game’s momentum, and create the impression that people are playing and enjoying your game
  8. Events—Places where people can try your game live and meet you or hear you speak
  9. Feedback—A way for people to offer suggestions and comment on your game, both while you're still building it and after it's released
  10. Links to your game and reviews of your game on third-party sites and forums
  11. Blog
  12. Links for others to share your site on social media sites

Your website's homepage design objectives are to attract attention, generate interest, and make it easy for people to take action (read reviews, play a demo, watch trailers, and purchase the game).

Description of the game
The game's story—located below the fold so people need to scroll down to see it—is told in a paragraph, followed by its selling points highlighted in short blocks of text.

For design inspiration, visit these sites:

Webdesign-Inspiration

Design Shack

Arizona Sunshine Landing Page
On the Arizona Sunshine landing page on Steam*, the hero graphic is actually a window for playing the currently selected game trailer or for displaying gameplay screenshots. The game's story is told in the copy block on the right beneath the logo and tagline for new content.

Landing Pages

Game publisher sites and streaming service sites use landing pages to promote individual games or games from a specific studio. If you plan to distribute your game through a publisher or streaming service, adapt your promotion materials to the publisher’s content guidelines and requirements.

Essential landing page ingredients typically include:

  1. Hero graphic
  2. Logo
  3. Copy block(s) of your game's story
  4. Screenshots
  5. List of supported operating systems
  6. Call-to-action links (start/download/buy)

Assortment of gameplay screenshots on Amazon.com
An assortment of gameplay screenshots available on Amazon.com* clearly communicates that Arizona Sunshine puts players in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Fun!

Your Game in a Box

In-store packaging needs to physically conform to certain requirements dictated by retailers. The overall size of the box should match boxes for similar games so they can be displayed together on the same shelf. Consult your distributor or retailer for further guidance.

If you can afford it, hire an experienced package designer. In retail settings, your box may be the first and only thing a potential player sees before deciding whether to buy your game. If you design the box yourself, check out graphic design applications for pre-built templates that can assist in jumpstarting the process.

For printed packaging, you need:

  • Hero graphic
  • Logo
  • Copy block(s) of your game's story
  • Screenshots that clearly communicate what gameplay is like
  • Number of players, their age range, and playing time
  • List of supported operating systems (or just include their logos)
  • Minimum system requirements
  • Universal Product Code (UPC) code

Model of a package

A. Front of the box design objective: Entice potential buyers to pick up the box and read the details listed on the back of the box.

  1. Hero graphic
  2. Logo tagline
  3. List of supported operating systems (or just include their logos)
  4. Number of players, ages, time-to-play icons (optional)

B. Sides of the box design objective: Call attention to the game when it's on a shelf.

  1. Logo
  2. Publisher info and logo
  3. Number of players, ages, time-to-play icons

C. Back of the box design objective: Communicate that what's inside is worth buying.

  1. Logo
  2. Copy block for your game's story
  3. Screenshots that clearly communicate what gameplay is like
  4. Number of players, their age range, and playing-time icons
  5. Credits
  6. List of supported operating systems (or just include their logos)
  7. Minimum system requirements

D. Top and bottom edge of the box design objective: Identify the game if the box is lying flat. This should include the logo or name of the game.

Summary

The key to getting your game noticed among the 4,000 new games being released every year is knowing your intended audience and using carefully crafted words, pictures, trailers, videos, and demos to clearly communicate what makes your game worth playing. And make it clear where they can buy your game!

Tips for Creating a Compelling Trailer Video

Caption from Arizona Sunshine Video
The launch trailer for Arizona Sunshine as seen on the game developer's homepage. Notice the call-to-action, "Stay alive, get the updates" (by subscribing to the email list).

Armed with video-editing software, background music, and a set of video captures and gameplay screenshots, you should be able to assemble a compelling trailer video that gives viewers a lasting impression of how entertaining your game is to play.

When capturing gameplay video, if possible, mute the background music before capturing the video, but leave the sound effects and dialogue tracks turned on. The former will make creating smooth transitions easier; the latter will help propel the action.

When capturing your gameplay video, capture the highest resolution supported by your game engine to make the best possible impression. Video-editing software usually allows for several kinds of transitions. Most are great for wedding videos, but you don’t need them for game trailers. Stick with straight cuts (jumping from one scene to the next instantly) or sparingly use dissolves and other transitions.

For background sound, write music that’s tailored to match your trailer video, or use a portion of your game’s soundtrack and cut (edit) the trailer to it. Another option is to loop a portion of your soundtrack, assuming the music lends itself to being looped.

Make sure the tempo and mood of the chosen background music matches the game's mood. Slow and atmospheric are fine for a moody mystery game but not for an action-packed, first-person shooter.

Finally, be sure to end your game’s trailer video with a call-to-action. Don't simply say, "buy it now" and show your website link. Instead, announce the release date and state where more info can be found or how to download it.

Resources

Brand Consistency and Packaging Considerations

7 Branding Tools to Effectively Establish Your Brand

How to Make an Indie Game Trailer With No Budget

Packaging Your Game so Stores Can, Y’know, Sell It

Product and Performance Information

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Performance varies by use, configuration and other factors. Learn more at www.Intel.com/PerformanceIndex.