On Conventions

A Proposal for Game Blurbs

What is the earliest point that the game designer can interact with the player? It happens when they pick up the box and read the blurb on the back, or find the game online and read the blurb there. True, this is more marketing than game design, but you want the customer to pick your game, right? And this choice will be easier if they can be convinced that your game will meet their play needs. 

There is an extremely formulaic convention at use in the videogames industry that dictates that the blurb for a game must read something like this: 

[Statement: “Product identity statement” or “Exciting imperative statement!”]
[Description: Short prose description of the game, usually focussing on either the framing narrative, the atmosphere of the game, or the gameplay description/genre]
[USPs: 3 to 5 unique selling points presented as bullet points]

Consider these three games taken at random: 

Resident Evil Zero

- Discover The Root of All Evil
- 23 July 1998
. The day before the deadly virus is unleashed upon Racoon City
- 3 bullet points

Dynasty Warriors 3

- One Warrior Worth a Thousand!
- Battle
through vast lands and against impossible odds in KOEI’s newest BATTLEFIELD ACTION game!
- 4 bullet points

Katamari Damacy

- The rolling, sticking, never-stopping ever-swelling clump of stuff that makes a star out of everyone and everything.
- When the King of All Cosmos accidentally destroys all the stars in the sky, he orders you, his pint-sized princely son, to put the twinkle back in the heavens above. How, you ask? By rolling everything and anything on Earth into clumps, so he can replace what’s missing in space.
- 3 points (Pick up everything! You’re already on a roll! Roll over the competition! 

(I have lost count of the number of blurbs like this I’ve had to write!)

You can pick up just about any game in your own collection and spot the same pattern, with very few exceptions.

The only other information given to the player to help them make up their decision is some basic game data: 

  • Number of players
  • Memory card usage
  • Controller restrictions or compatibilities
  • Age restrictions
  • Publisher logo 

Now this is useful information to put on the box, to be sure, but of these five only "number of players" is something that might sway the player into buying. In fact, Memory card usage, controller restrictions and age restrictions are more likely to prevent the player from buying!

I propose that publishers should improve their conventions for composing box blurbs to include additional information that will help the player make a positive purchasing decision. In fact, I suggest adapting some conventions already at use in tabletop gaming. 

Box_dataclipped A typical hobby game will come with icons much like this printed upon the side of the box.

These icons indicate:

  • Suggested player age
  • Number of players
  • Typical playing time

Now these are excellent guides to the play of the game! Because recommended player age on a board-game is not at all like the age restrictions that are shown on a videogame. Rather, it is a guide as to how hard to learn the game will be – and this is something that players are very interested in.

Equally interesting to players is how long the game will take to play… A game that takes 3-6 hours to play is only courting a hobby game audience, but a game that takes only 30-45 minutes to play has the potential for wider appeal. 

I propose that publishers would see a measurable increase in sales if the following additional information were added to all their game boxes and online blurbs:

  • Mortar_board Ease of learning expressed as “Suitable for” Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced players (or “Suitable for All players”)

  • Joystick_icon Difficulty of play as Easy, Medium or Hard (or a list of provided difficulty settings e.g. “Easy, Medium and Hard difficulties”)

  • Clock_icon Play time expressed as both a single play session length and the total play time e.g. “30 minutes (10 hours total)”

'Play session length' refers to the length of a typical portion of play, either in terms of the length of an indivisible game activity (such as the typical time between save points) or in terms of a satisfying segment of play. Many Casual players in particular want to play their games for less than 30 minutes a sitting, at least some of the time.  Conversely, total playing time is important for many Hardcore players who often feel disappointed if their games are too short. Thinking about play session length would be an entirely new convention for videogame data – but it should catch on easily because it is vitally useful to many players.

Players need help deciding what game to buy – the game blurb should assist by providing information pertinent to individual play needs, along with all the formulaic fluff. And adding data of this kind will also encourage game designers to consider how easy to learn, challenging and quick-playing their games will be – and this, frankly, would be equally beneficial for all concerned.


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Those are pretty good guidlines actually. I think I'll write my RT post on game marketing conventions in a wider sense.

Here's the blurb draft I'd write for Fianna:

Flick your index finger and the church explodes. The paladins are torturing our contacts. Muirne might be pregnant. They're onto us and closing in, we only guerillas, we can't beat those numbers. And a girl named Fianna is begging for peace. For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believed in him would gain eternal life.

Ages 14+

1-3 Players

20 minutes - 4 hours per session

Interesting thing, genre is only used in Hollywood by direct to video schlock that doesn't have name recognition or a unique angle to saturation market.

I like it. I'm particularly impressed with the play length measure, although I'd argue that the only relevant information is the play length per session - after all, board games don't currently tell you how many times you'll be able to have a game before you get bored of it. (Although that might have prevented me from buying a couple of the less fantastic items on my gaming shelf.)

The game difficulties thing I don't think would help much. Really, the "ease of learning" is much more helpful. It's the same problem as with game difficulties - when the "Hard" mode in Kingdom Hearts is orders of magnitude less challenging than the "Easy" mode in God of War, I don't see what replicating this on the outside of the box is going to achieve.

Greg: the total game length is important to certain players, mostly those closer to the Hardcore end of the spectrum. For instance, diehard cRPG players don't want to shell out for anything less than 40 hours of play. Putting in both numbers seems to cover all bases. It is perhaps most relevant to games with a long spine, though.

Regarding game difficulties, this is really of benefit to players who want to be reassured there is an Easy mode. With this in mind, a simple "Easy mode available" might be sufficient! :)

I agree with you that the difficulties don't cross calibrate from game to game even remotely, but one hopes at the very least that by choosing 'Easy', players will get a less challenging form of play.

I will certainly adopt this system as soon as I release something. The Play Time info is a great suggestion - I don't know how we, as players, managed without it for so long!

Yes, and if there is an easy mode... try making it really easy! I mean, Conflict Global Nonsense's idea of easy is to give you a few more saves per level.

It's still ridiculously hard for an "Easy" setting. Where's the auto-aim and such? Hmpf.

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