A Good Tease
So this year we’re bringing back teasers as a requirement for game submissions, which means it’s time for a crash course in the whys, hows, and which-end-ups of making a good game teaser!
First, the basics: what the heck is a teaser? To quote our Gamewriter’s Glossary, a teaser is “a short story, document, poster, video, or just about anything else that serves essentially as an advertisement for a game. They are generally distributed online before the camp the game is to be played it, to help build hype and interest in the game. They are also usually exhibited before or at the start of Intro to Story to get the players excited for that workshop.”
Alright, sounds good! But how do you go about building that hype? Well, there are a lot of different approaches to teaser-making. The main thing you want to decide as you set up your teaser is how much information you’re going to reveal. Teasers fall on a spectrum of information. At one end you have things that are incredibly cryptic, and work by giving the audience a lot of questions they want answers to. At the other end, you have teasers that spell out the premise of the game, which work by letting the audience know what kind of game they can look forward to. Both are totally valid options! It’s also possible to release multiple teasers for a single game, running the gamut of options. I’m going to run through the teasers I released for Ghosts of Eden, Winter Game 2011, each one doing a different style of teasing.
The first teaser I released for Ghosts of Eden was this sweet poster. Check it out! I think it is pretty neat. The kerning on the title is messy, though. Dang. But it’s pretty dang minimalist. Not a lot of content going on there. What do we actually learn from this poster? Not much! Space, I guess? What looks like a tiny space station floating between the Earth and the Moon? And that’s pretty easy to miss on a casual glance. So what we have is: this is probably a sci-fi game, on the darker end of serious. Not much beyond that. It does have the most important info, though–the game name, the writer’s name, the rough date, and the website URL. That way people who see the teaser can follow the link and hopefully go register!
Mostly this poster exists to establish tone. Isolation, mystery, the empty vastness of space. These elements made up the core of the emotional tone for the game, which I wanted to establish early to get people in the right mindset. It’s pretty far to the “no information” end of the spectrum! But that’s probably okay, as it was a teaser released way early. It could also be posted all over the place–we put this up on the website, on the forums, at the top of every survey. It gave things a nice coherent identity!
Next up, I released a series of news articles, one every few weeks leading up to game. Each one focused on a different element of the setting, introducing ideas and elements of background that would be important to the game. None of them gave the full premise of the game, but each was packed with lots of information. Close readers could figure out even more about the game’s elements, but still nothing spoiler-y here.
The news stories also introduced important characters like Adrian and Sam Branson, putting them in the minds of players well before Story Intro. At this point we’re somewhere in the middle of the information spectrum–players know a lot about the world of the game, plenty of background, but nothing yet about the game itself.
These teasers also showcase a common teaser format, the in-setting document. Other common in-setting teaser documents include leaked emails, found footage clips, wanted posters, journal entries, and so on.
Introducing the Premise
Finally, a week before game, I posted this video online. Assembled from actual Virgin Galactic ads and some footage filmed on my balcony, it pretty much spells out the whole premise. Adrian Branson has launched a human-habitable space station! A whole bunch of super-smart teenagers from all over the Bay Area will be going up to visit it as the first people there! Get hyped!
Of course, it still didn’t include the minute one twist (all the adult chaperones dying the minute they arrived on the station), but it still got people thinking about who they’d be, what the station would be like, what they might get to do there. At this point, people getting teased have a reasonable idea of what to expect from the game. By the time people arrived at camp, if they’d been following the teasers, they’d be pretty jazzed for game! It is important to remember, though, that not everyone sees the teasers, so you can’t rely on them to convey info to your players. Anything vital in your teasers should still be gone over at Story Intro. (Or just showcase your teasers at the start of Story Intro!)
The Narrative Moment
The one major teaser format I didn’t use for Ghosts of Eden happens to be the most common one–a short scene, written out in text. These can fall just about anywhere on the vague-to-infodump to spectrum, be short or long, and can even come in multiple parts. All the same questions still apply, though. How much do you want to reveal? What questions to do you want to leave your readers thinking about?
An important thing to include, no matter what your teaser format, is what makes your game unique. Why should players be excited about your game specifically? Not every teaser needs to spell that out, but if your teaser is about a shadowy dark lord scrying on a heroic band of adventurers, that’s not really going to catch anyone’s eye.
That was what Dylan and I had in mind when we wrote our teaser for Factory Town. The setting itself at first brush was pretty generic–wizards and warriors and demons and faeries. But the backstory and pitch made it a lot more unique than that, as well as the focus on the bleak tone of day-to-day life in a small industrial town. So we chose to foreground those elements in our story teaser. This was also our only teaser, so we wanted to make sure it really conveyed everything we needed it to!
It’s also possible to do something entirely new and experimental with your teaser! Done right, you can build a whole lot of hype and blow peoples’ minds. Done wrong, no one will even really notice what you’re doing. That’s what happened with my failed attempt at a teaser for Weapon of Choice, Operation Starfall. I attempted to run an Alternate Reality Game on tumblr, with people playing the members of a secret organization dedicated to fighting some of the villains of my game, but despite the best efforts of my SITs to promote it, no one really wound up playing along. I didn’t establish any kind of link to Wayfinder until a month into the game, by which point no one was really interested. C’est la vie! Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did, if you try something new and cool.
Bringing it all Together
There are a whole lot of options for what a teaser can be! It can be a poster, a piece of text, a video, or something weirder. It can be a short story, an in-world document, or just an abstract promotional piece. It can establish tone, introduce the world, or give the full premise. How much you want your teaser(s) to reveal is entirely up to you! Your goal is to get people excited, and there are a lot of different ways to do that. Make sure that whatever you do, you end it with the game’s name, your name, the event it’ll be played at, and the Wayfinder URL! A teaser’s not doing any good if no one knows what they’re being teased for!
Remember too that you can have as many teasers as you want! You only have to include one with your submission, though. Feel free to have it be a simple narrative for now, and if you have plans to do more elaborate teasers, make a note of that. We love teasers!
Finally, here’s one more sample teaser, my favorite one I’ve made to date, a video teaser for Quinn Milton’s Music Box (Penultimate Camp 2009).
Original post 1/5/15