1 May 2017 | 24 Comments
I recently began an extremely difficult 8-month process of not watching the trailer for Star Wars: Episode VIII. There’s a long road ahead, and I’m not sure I’ll make it, but I’ll do my best.
The reason? Spoilers!
We all have different definitions, tolerance levels, and grace periods for spoilers. For me, it depends on the movie, book, TV show, game, etc. Star Wars is really special to me, and I genuinely don’t want to know anything before I experience it on screen. I don’t even want to look at the movie poster.
It’s going to be a long 8 months.
Spoilers have been on my mind a lot lately because I’ve been talking more about my upcoming legacy game, Charterstone, on its Facebook group. Marketing is a challenge for Charterstone because everything inside the box is a spoiler. I’ve already shared images of the front and back of the box, and I still have 6 months before its release!
It’s also made it difficult to answer questions about the game. My modus operandi is to answer any question someone asks about anything (especially in public), but I can’t help but feel cagey whenever I’m asked a question. I can (a) be honest and give a spoiler, (b) lie and not give away anything, or (c) ignore the question and look inattentive. It’s an odd situation.
So today, perhaps for my benefit as much as yours, I thought I’d map out a chronological marketing strategy for a spoiler-driven product.
Playtesting: During the blind playtesting process, I ask playtesters not to share any content relating to the game on social media. I prefer to have control over that information. However, I think sometimes I get hung up on that level of control, as I’ve reacted unprofessionally when a playtester has leaked information. So in the future, I think I’m just going to not react when someone spoils something. Just because 10 people in some corner of the internet know about something doesn’t mean the whole world does.
Pre-Marketing: This is where I am right now for Charterstone. I’ve shared a few images and will continue to do so selectively, and right now I’m focusing on weekly “designer diaries,” in which I talk about very specific elements of the design. At some point I’ll release a cinematic trailer (which won’t have any spoilers) and the slim starting rulebook. At one point there was no starting rulebook at all, but the last two stages of blind playtesting revealed that it’s probably better for players to start the first game with some knowledge of how the game works.
Packaging: Packaging is a key part of marketing, both for brick-and-mortar and online shelf presence. The hardest part about a spoiler-driven product (particularly a game) is that you can’t provide a detailed list of components on the back of the box, even though that can be a key selling point for people who want to know how much stuff they’re getting. So I’ve settled on a vague list: “36 metal coins, 350+ unique cards, and 230+ wooden tokens”, with the description also mentioning that there’s a game board.
Reviewers: I really value the roles that reviewers play in marketing a game. They’re the first part of this process that provides customers with an unbiased perspective to help inform their purchase decision. But it’s also an area where I really have no control over what the reviewers will say, so it’s up to them to clearly delineate spoiler content from non-spoiler content in their reviews. My plan is to communicate to reviewers that there are light spoilers (the types of things players will see in Game 1) and heavy story-driven spoilers so they can effectively convey the difference to their audiences.
Conventions and Events: A big part of our typical marketing strategy is to send games to play-and-win sections at conventions, as they encourage lots of people can learn play a game in a short amount of time. I actually think games with spoilers are fine for play-and-win sections; however, they don’t work for legacy games, which feature permanent changes. However, I’m working on another game with spoilers that isn’t a legacy game, and I think it would work fine for play-and-win or convention demos.
Organic Sharing: I’m fascinated by the techniques utilized in recent video game releases like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Both are games that are full of spoilers, but their publishers actually encourage organic sharing of the various places, skills, and puzzle-solving methods in Zelda and picturesque screenshots of Horizon. I’d like to do the same with Charterstone, but I worry that it could alienate people who want to avoid spoilers at all costs (particularly those in the Facebook group). Perhaps the best way is for me to serve as a moderator in asking people to put “(SPOILER)” at the beginning of their posts.
Community Engagement: I alluded to this above when I talked about people asking me direct questions. This will grow exponentially when the game is released, as people will have rules questions. The method I’ve used so far is to write “(minor spoiler)” and then proceed with the answer. BoardGameGeek also has a special code for spoiler text that people can expand and contract.
How do you like spoiler-driven products (games, books, movies, etc) to be marketed to you? Do you prefer for the publisher to release lots of information, and it’s up to you to decide how much you want to know? Or do you get more excited when there’s an air of mystery about it?