Today I have one question for you. Why do you buy games? Probably to play them. Although some games on my shelf I have never played. But well most people buy games to play them. But why do you buy game A and not game B? Because of a better rating on Board Game Geek? Or because of a better rating on a Youtube Review Channel? Typically these are the things that draw my attention to a game. But not the actual factors that make me want to buy the game. Every game has to have something very special, something unique, something that I can immediately understand as an interested person. Something that makes me want to play the game and something that I will never forget. In game design, we call this a hook. A good hook can make the difference between me buying a game or not. In today’s episode, I want to take a closer look at how to come up with a good hook and how to make it so dominant that no-one will ever forget about your game!
Definition – What is a gaming hook?
As usual we start to define a topic before we go into the details. And we will do the same today:
- A hook is something new, something that makes your game unique.
- Something that makes your game stand out from the crowded board game market.
- In marketing, we call this the unique selling proposition
- Therefore, the hook is used as the main component to market your game.
- The goal really is to get people interested and encourage them to want to try your game
- And you want to deliver that message as fast as possible.
- In an elevator pitch, you would use your hook to describe what makes your game special.
- In the end, the Hook is the interesting difference between you and your competition.
I will talk about some examples later but let me give you one example right away. The unique deck game idea of Keyforge is a great example of a very good hook. Here is how they describe the game on their website:
“Enter a world where anything is possible in KeyForge! In the center of the universe hangs the Crucible, an artificial world built from the pieces of countless planets. Here, in the world’s first Unique Deck Game, created by legendary designer Richard Garfield, two players step into the roles of mighty Archons, racing to forge keys that unlock the Crucible’s hidden Vaults. […]https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/keyforge/
With a vast array of creatures, artifacts, and abilities and over 104 quadrillion possible decks, every deck is completely one-of-a-kind, and no two battles will ever be the same!”
- The world’s first unique deck game
- Every deck is completely one of a kind
These are the sentences that stick with the audience and that makes them interested. Can this even work? Will this be fun without deckbuilding?
Why do you need a hook for your game?
To stand out from the crowd and get people interested and buy your game
No game, no matter how good it is, can be successful if no one ever plays it. Therefore, the game needs something you can advertise. This could be one of many things. It could be a unique game mechanic, it could be an original theme, it could be a novel execution. The key is that the designer has to make sure that there is something built into the game that makes someone stop and want to know more about it. I look at so many games every week and only a few of them make it to the next stage in which I invest a bit of time to inform myself more about the game. Typically these are the games that have a very strong hook that also resonates with my personal preferences. Your hook may not work for everyone, but it should work for your target audience.
For press and social media to talk about your game
- If you want people to remember your game, to talk about your game, to write articles about your game, etc, it needs to have a hook as well.
- If your hook is something that makes the game unique and that you can deliver easily with a few sentences or an image or a short trailer that is even better.
- A great hook is that element of the game that the players, the press, and the retailers can all recognize instantly, without much explanation.
- Try to put yourself into the position of game reviewers or journalists. Their goal is to get the attention of their audience and generate a lot of clicks and traffic. You can do this better with topics that are provocative and stand out from the crowd. These don’t always have to be super provocative topics or disruptive business models. Sometimes it is enough to just be completely different. Let’s take exploding kittens. The marketing claim for the game is: A Card Game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams. Typically these things don’t belong together, but somehow the idea of exploding kittens resonates with people.
For people to keep coming back
A hook is not only important to sell a game. It can also be very important to make people keep coming back to your game.
- In many games, this can be broken down into two aspects progression and customization. These are for me the most intrinsically motivating reason to keep playing a game.
- And those motivating factors are often part of a good hook.
How to create an advertising hook so people get interested in your game
Let me clarify an important aspect in advance. Even though the hook becomes most important in the sales phase of our game, we can’t just tackle the issue then. We have to think about how to make our game special from the early design stages. How to make it stand out.
1. Define your target audience
As I mentioned before, a hook is only as good as it fits the target group. That’s why it’s extremely important to first have a good understanding of the target group you want to address with your game. The goal must be to get as high a hook-target-audience-match as possible. If this expression makes any sense. Let me give you one example.
2. Identify the area of your hook
In order to come up with great game hooks you will need to become good at evaluating hooks. A great way to do this is to examine the hooks of other successful games. I have made a list of areas in which other games have come up with great hooks.
New Perspective on Theme or Setting
- Darkest Dungeon turns the dungeon crawling games around looks at them from a different perspective.
- The design explores what it would REALLY feel like to be in a terrifying dungeon all day and how this impacts your heroes mental health.
- While the uniqueness of this hook really comes from the setting of the game it is also supported by seriously masterful artwork, the narrator’s voice, soundtrack, and so on.
- Everdell and Wingspan → With their less violent setting they attract a whole new target audience. If their target audience would have been dark fantasy dungeon crawl players like the audience of darkest dungeon they would not have been as successful as they are.
Special Game Component
- The evertree in Everdell (board presence → great pictures to share on social media)
- The Same is true if your game has great artwork by the way
- The Spell Book in Mage Wars (Which is both a new component and a new mechanic.)
- Custom wooden figures
- Minis in Warhammer or Kingdom Death
- To stand out against those competitors what about adding painted minies to your product?
- Deckbuilding → Dominion
- Legacy Games
- Hybrid Games
- Lord of the Rings Journeys into middle earth
- Unique Deck Games
- Facilitating new production methods
New distribution model
- Trading Card Games in the 90s with the booster mechanic
- Living Card Games
- A narrative that unfolds over a lot of expansions
- Unique Card Games
- Buying entire decks
- Art & Design:
- The box art, the logo or the cover image of your kickstarter campaign are very important for the first impression.
- IP Can help. I mean for some people it is enough to see star wars or marvel or lord of the rings written on a product in order to buy it. That is a tactic that is used by Fantasy Flight Games with a lot of success.
3. Make it clear and digestible
The key to a good hook is that it’s simple and easily understood. A hook has to grab a person’s attention and to do that it has to have a clear and digestible message. As they say you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Remember that your hook doesn’t have to explain much. Its role is not to educate but to tease. Its job is to make the potential player interested in learning more.
When describing your hook think about the experience it will create for your players
- A good example is Mage Wars. THe hook is the spellbook that holds all your spells. The experience that it promises is that it gets rid of random drawing, you can play whatever you want and do not lose to bad luck.
- The experience legacy games sell is that you will experience new and exciting content.
4. Check if you can create more than one hook:
Jamey Stegmayer: “For my Kickstarter campaigns, I always tried to have different types of hooks like a must-have component, a unique mechanism, eye-catching art, and something special about the campaign to get people excited. I don’t think one hook is enough for a Kickstarter campaign.”
5. Be fast
Sometimes it is enough to be the first one in a certain genre that goes to market (E,g, Aeons End as the first co-op fantasy deck builder)
2. What are some tactics to hook users once they played your game
People who feel they have made some progress toward a certain goal are more committed to achieving that goal.
⇒ Gloomhaven, level up of characters, new gear, progress in the story
As human beings, we strive to avoid pain. If you somehow manage to transport this kind of progress and customization across multiple sessions, it can also create another feeling. The feeling of losing something when you would stop playing the game. All the things you’ve achieved so far. That is called loss aversion. A very powerful emotion. Because people really don’t want to lose something they invested a lot of time and effort in.
Envy is an emotion which occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession
Game Example: Slay the Spire → See what the perfect build could be, but you never get there
Not all items are created equal! Create unique items and make sure that players understand the different rarity levels.
Example: Kickstarter Campaigns, Rarity in Booster Packs in Magic, Strong combination of cards in Keyforge.
- The hook isn’t specifically a bit of text or an advertising claim, it’s just the special thing about your game that people remember.
Music by Mathew Pablo