· 9 min read
Words Matter – How to Write Compelling Copy to Sell Your Game
You might think that the most important part of being a game developer is, well, developing games. But you also need to be a writer. I’m not just talking about the words that appear in your game (although obviously those are really important) – you’ll also need to create copy for the app store description, patch updates, user interfaces… the list goes on. And the best publishers also have writing that supports their game. So that’s things like website content, press releases, and promotional material, for example, blogs and newsletters. The short version is that your writing is one of the best selling tools you have in your arsenal – eye-catching, well-written copy could be the difference between people downloading your game, or ignoring it and moving onto the next one.
Before you run away shouting ‘But I’m not Ernest Hemingway!’, don’t worry. You’re already a writer. Your game has a narrative, right? And you’ve probably written some characters and dialogue too. Even if your game is ‘just’ idle or hyper-casual, I bet you’ve still got some written words somewhere – whether that’s a description for the app store, an explanation on how to play, or copy telling people how many rewards they’ve accumulated. You just need to take this skill and use it to create other words that relate to your game. What about a regular blog to get people excited about your characters? Or a monthly email publicizing updates or new products?
Having said all that, if it was that easy then everyone would be doing it (and I wouldn’t have a job). So here are a few writer-y trade secrets that will help take your words from average to stand-out-from-the-crowd.
How to polish your prose
1. Decide how you want to sound
This is about finding your tone of voice – so not what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Here’s an example of the same bit of content about an email offer written in three different tones:
- ‘You will receive a personalized offer via email.’
- ‘Your email offer will be with you any minute now.’
- ‘A bit of polish here… a lick of paint there… Our elves are putting the finishing touches to a shiny new offer, just for you. Keep refreshing that inbox.’
This shows the difference your tone of voice can make. It’s a chance to get the personality of your brand, game, or app across, so ideally it should be distinctive, recognizable, and unique. If you work for a big developer there might be some guidelines in place already. If not, it’s a good idea to put something together.
Here at GameAnalytics, we don’t have anything official in place (yet). But we like to sound friendly, geeky, and smart in all our writing. To find your tone of voice, have a think about how you want to come across, then take it from there. It might help to come up with a person or character you want to sound like (it could even be someone from your game), and then think about how they’d say something. If you’re not sure, you could always do some A/B testing to check which tone of voice gets the best response.
Some words of advice
Whatever you chose, you’ll probably want to sound like a human being and not a robot (unless of course, you’re writing as a robot character…). Here are a few technical tricks to easily take your writing from cold and impersonal to warm and friendly.
- Avoid formal words. When we’re talking, we don’t really say things like ‘ensure’ or ‘whilst’ or ‘obtain’ – we say ‘make sure’, ‘while’, and ‘get’. But when we’re writing we often use these types of words, thinking they make us sound clever or professional. In fact, they can alienate readers, especially if they have to ‘translate’ what you’re saying into normal language. You probably wouldn’t say ‘A network connection is required to utilize the application’ to someone in real life. You’d say something like ‘You’ll need a network connection to use this app’. So write that instead.
- Use contractions. Nothing to do with babies. Contractions are when you run words together – like ‘we’ll’ instead of ‘we will’, ‘you’re’ for ‘you are’, and ‘they’ve’ for ‘they have’. We use them all the time in speech, and they’ll immediately make your writing sound warmer and more natural.
- Use the active, not the passive, voice. This one’s a bit technical, sorry. The passive voice is where the subject of a sentence has an action done to it by someone or something else. Here’s an example: ‘Your complaint has been received.’ Because the passive voice highlights the action rather than the person doing it, it can make you sound unclear or – worse – like you’re trying to hide something. To make the sentence above active, we just need to put the person performing the action back in. So our sentence becomes ‘We’ve received your complaint’. Or, even better, ‘We’ve got your complaint’ – ‘received’ is another one of those formal words we don’t often say in real life. Much nicer, right?
- Keep your sentences short. The ideal sentence is around 14 words, and it’s best not to go over 25 (although this isn’t set in stone, and I can guarantee I’ve broken it in this post). It’s a good idea to vary sentence lengths as well, to keep things interesting. And don’t be afraid to chuck in a really short sentence to break things up. Like this.
- Avoid unnecessary capital letters. Capital letters actually make words harder to read. That’s because the letters are ALL THE SAME SIZE which makes it more difficult for our brains to recognize the words. They can also look like you’re SHOUTING (unless you are, in which case carry on).
- Stay away from exclamation marks. Lots of developers throw these in all over the place, thinking they make their words sound fun or exciting. Trust me, they don’t. In fact, they can make you sound a bit annoying. So keep them to a minimum (or avoid them all together).
Once you’ve settled on your tone of voice, try to use it everywhere. Lots of apps, and businesses generally, suddenly forget their warm and friendly tone when it comes to menus, or anything even vaguely terms-and-condition-y. So whether it’s a blog post about one of your characters or the legal disclaimer on your website, try to make sure you use your tone of voice (in fact, legalese is a great place to add personality – just make sure you’ve still covered all your regulatory bases).
2. Keep the technical stuff to a minimum
You’re a games developer, so you’ll need to talk about some mechanics – for example to explain what type of game you’re publishing or how to play it. But most people don’t understand or care about ‘accessible core gameplay’ or ‘risk reward mechanics’. Think about how you’d say something if you were talking to someone without much techy know-how – someone who just wants a fun game to play. I like to imagine I’m explaining something to my elderly aunt. She’s great (and much cleverer than me), but she wouldn’t know an app from her elbow.
3. Don’t use too many adjectives
Adjectives are describing words like ‘great’ or ‘unique’ or ‘fabulous’. Obviously, you want to get across how ‘great’ or ‘unique’ or ‘fabulous’ your game is in the app store description or your press release. But the key is to try to do that without actually saying (you’ve guessed it) ‘great’, ‘unique’ or ‘fabulous’. You want to show your players the benefits of your game, not tell them. So instead of writing things like ‘it has unique gameplay’, say why it’s unique – what makes it different from everyone else?
4. Read your writing out loud
It’s amazing what a difference this can make. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, running out of breath, or putting on a bit of a funny voice, then you haven’t got things quite right yet.
4. Find a second pair of eyes
You might be really confident with grammar and punctuation. You might even have been known to whip out a marker pen to correct a misplaced apostrophe on a street sign (just me?). Even so, it’s still worth getting someone else to have a read of your writing. Because it can be hard to spot mistakes when you’re really close to something.
So now you know the secrets of good writing, time to see some in action. Here are three publishers that are doing things really well.
- Team Fortress write a regular blog, which is a great way to engage people. They also sometimes post as their characters. Like the Scout selling his own action figures, or Saxton Hale giving players a telling off for leaving matches early.
- Kitfox Games wrote the email campaigns for their game Boyfriend Dungeon from the perspective of their characters. And they got great results.
- Platonic Games used language and tone of voice to build relationships with the audience for their game Kawaii Sins.
Hopefully, all this has made you feel a bit more comfortable with the idea of writing. And if you haven’t already, have a think about whether creating some extra content like a blog or newsletter could take your game to another level.
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