When I’ve talked to people about my video game, I often struggle to figure out how to describe it. Sometimes, I want to give it far too many tags, like: “Off-world, city-builder, survival sim with moral and meaningful choices balancing short-term decisions with long-term consequences, oh and it’s player driven with scripted narrative events. Oh, and genetic engineering.”
More often than not, this description actually manages to peek peoples interest, which is one of the reasons I picked this game idea to move forward with. Although, sometimes, it leads to follow-up questions that make me think maybe I didn’t explain it very well. And then, sometimes but rarely, there’s the glazed over eyes and people are looking for an escape from the conversation. That last one is never a fun experience, especially for the socially anxious.
But when I try to hold back, especially on some of the more… morally oriented circumstances (for fear of how they would be received out of context), well, then I get tongue twisted, and the panic takes over and it comes off like I don’t have a solid premise.
I’ve tried comparing it to other games, which works decently. I’ll say things like: “It’s like FrostPunk, but with more content and more moral choices.” or “It’s like Oxygen Not Included, but 3D, and instead of randomly rolling the traits, you choose them for each generation.” Of course, no comparison is going to completely explain the game because it isn’t exactly like anything out there. And I also hate comparing it to other games because I convinced of this game long before I played any of the things I’m comparing it to.
How to fix this? Well, practice. I’ve got to work on my elevator pitch. I have to explain the game, I can’t hold back, and if people don’t get it, then, well, I have to figure out how to explain it so they do. That long description at the beginning can be hard to follow and also manages to bury the main mechanic of the game: genetic engineering. And comparing it to other games could set people up for misleading expectations.
Here’s what I have so far, I think: “It’s an Off-world, Society-Builder focused on Genetic Engineering and Consequences.”
This is still a little cumbersome, but at least it’s a little more focused.
Off-World tells you it’s sci-fi, on another planet or planets, and that there is likely a survival element.
Society-Builder tells the player that you control people, as well as the city. That you craft the society you want to make, which is a large part of this game.
Genetic Engineering is the hook. It’s the unique mechanic that makes this game different from others like it. It raises questions, possibly stirs controversy, but it gets attention.
Consequences – I specifically call out consequences because it’s the theme of the game. Do you sacrifice for a better long-term outcome? Do you do the quick fix to solve the problem you have now? The idea of every decision having consequences can be seen all throughout the game, from preserving or destroying the environment you’re in, and the genetic engineering decisions, to your society as a whole, and what scripted events you’ll run into.
What about the other things? What about those scripted events I just mentioned and the player driven game? What does it mean to build a society? How does the genetic engineering mechanic work? What about the previously used buzzwords “meaningful choice” and “moral choices”?… Those can come later. If what I have to say in my short(er) description opens up a conversation, then the other stuff can come up organically.
In the end, I think that telling someone about a game is a bit like telling them about yourself: Keep it simple, peak their interest, and don’t overshare.