Public Relations and Advertising for Your Mod
Part of a Series on Campaign Design by Nuclear1
- Original post by Nuclear1, here.
One of the best parts about making campaigns and mods for Freespace is getting people excited about your ideas. It feels really good when you see people say your ships look great, or that your story sounds intriguing. You like it when people are excited to see your hard work.
But that's the tricky part with modding. You can learn how to FRED, texture, model, write, and animate, but there's plenty of people who never get a good grasp on how to deal with the community and their potential players.
Learning how to effectively advertise your mod, and then how to deal with feedback before and after release is important. It generates interest in your work, and it lets others see you as someone committed to not only the quality of your work, but to the satisfaction of the players.
So, let's start with advertising.
Piquing Interest: Screenshots, Trailers, Demos, and More
There are lots of different media campaign designers use to generate interest in their mods. Some are more common than others, but they're all useful (and detracting) in their own ways.
Screenshots are, by far, the most common medium used by designers. They're simple to make, just point and shoot. There's also dozens of websites that will host images, and HLP's attachment feature makes showing images even simpler.
Pardon the trite expression, but a picture's worth a thousand words. There's a lot of things a single picture can say that entire paragraphs of exposition can't, and they can say it in a much quicker way.
Even something as simple as showing a ship orbiting Earth, a ship entering a Knossos, or two ships battling can say lots about a campaign. If you show a Typhon orbiting, people will conjecture that your campaign has something to do with Vasudans in Sol. Show an Ancient ship entering a Knossos, and people will start thinking about what role the Ancients will play in your campaign. Show two Shivan ships fighting each other, and people will wonder why.
Sounds Great! I'll Start Taking Some Right Now!
Slow down there. Before you start abusing the Print Screen button, let me tell why screenshots can be bad.
Like I said, screenshots can be useful if they force someone to conjecture or ask questions. Unfortunately, a lot of people who take screenshots do so for the sake of showing the latest juggernaut they downloaded from FSMods destroying other ships just for the sake of an action shot.
Taking screenshots is in a lot of ways like photography. For people to be interested, the photo has to take into account a lot of factors: objects in the foreground and background, camera angle, lighting...even the smallest detail, like where a ship appears in a screenshot in relation to another, can speak volumes symbolically about your campaign.
Like all other things in Freespace--less is more. Take enough screenshots that people will stay interested, but leave enough to the imagination that people will still have something to look forward to.
Video trailers are a little more difficult to make, simply because it involves more than just pressing Print Screen at the right time. You have to find the right software, get your footage recorded, and then likely edit that footage together into a coherent work. Making a good trailer often takes as long as FREDing a moderately complex mission.
So why do people do it? Because videos are sometimes even cooler than screenshots. And they're more difficult to make. Making a video of your campaign shows that you have some know-how. It also allows you to show your ideas in action, and you often get to include some really cool music in it too to get people pumped. It's like being a director, but on a smaller scale.
Videos, like screenshots can get people thinking and asking questions about your campaign. "Why were those beams red and not green?" "What was that coming out of that subspace node?"
In short, videos can really help your campaign...
Well Then, I'll Get the Cameras Rolling!
... if done right.
In the same way videos and screenshots can both raise interesting questions and get people excited, they also have the same problems. Your video has to have something interesting to show off, or something that people haven't seen before.
And I'm going to tell you right now--99% of the time, people aren't particularly in seeing MORE BEAMS, or MORE SHOCKWAVES. Unless you have a good reason for showing a ship firing beams, or for showing something blowing up, I wouldn't do show it. Anything that we can see in an any Freespace campaign--beams, explosions, big ships moving ominously, giant fleets in formation--is best avoided unless you have a damn good reason for it.
Here's an example of how a good teaser is done. The FreeSpace Port team released a number of videos before the release of Silent Threat: Reborn, including this teaser. It's barely over a minute long, there's not a single weapon fired in its entirety, but it was still something that got fans excited for the release.
Why? Because like the Star Trek teaser it's based on, people watching that video wondered "what are they showing us here?" With the final revealing of an iconic image, or something easily identifiable with the project, that question was answered--and fans got excited to see the Hades or the Enterprise being prepared for their next adventures.
Now, unless you're planning on including the Colossus, Aquitaine, or some other iconic Freespace vessel in your mod, this sort of teaser won't do much good. But don't worry, there's other things you can do as well.
Silent Threat: Reborn also had a number of Mystery Videos that showed small segments of gameplay, though the focus of the video was typically on the dialogue, mission objectives, or directives. A few lines of dialogue, out of context, were used to generate discussion and speculation over certain elements of the story--what were those Vasudan freighters carrying? What was the importance of those ships being destroyed, and why was the Hope badly damaged?
Simple things that can generate interest. Those videos were effective: they got the message across, and they got people talking.
If you can FRED your missions in a campaign, you're fully capable of doing one of these. Demos give players the chance to preview your gameplay and get immersed in the story before you release the final product. They're fun, they're not particularly revealing, and they show that you're making good progress in finishing the real campaign.
A lot of times, demo missions tell a prequel story, or are excerpts specifically from the campaign. It lets people get a feel for the atmosphere, pacing, and style of your campaign in a much more interactive way than videos and screenshots.
Fire Up Fred! We've Got A Demo To Make!
But you might want to hold off on making one yourself.
Thing is, demos are really great, but they drain your productive resources away from finishing the main campaign. Your FREDers (or you, alone) working on the demo typically can't be working on the main campaign at the same time, at least if you're going for a solid demo. And if you don't have a solid demo...people can get turned off.
In the eyes of some, such was the case with Blackwater Operations. For those not familiar with BWO, it's essentially the successor to the epic campaign Derelict, produced by mostly the same people that made Derelict. It's also notorious for its long development time--it's been in production pretty much ever since Derelict came out, almost ten years ago.
Not long ago, BWO released a demo, and while it was fun and well-crafted, it left people wondering--you've got time to make a demo, so where's the real thing?
Demos are best released once you've got the vast majority of work done on the main campaign. It allows you to divert some energy away from finalizing the missions to develop something to get people interested, but still allows you to focus energy on getting everything wrapped up and ready for release.
Alright, to begin, let me say this one of the least-used methods of advertising for Freespace campaigns. In my nine years at HLP, I believe I've seen two campaigns ever use this.
Viral marketing is the practice of using other methods to get people actively interested and, in most cases, participating in the advertising itself. Mystery websites (Andromeda Strain's "What Happened in Piedmont?"), scavenger hunts (The Dark Knight), and minigames are ways to get people involved in the project before it's released. They're often a lot of fun, they test people's abilities, and they get people working together, uniting fans of the project.
Needless to say, this form of advertising is very fun, and very rewarding at the end.
Sounds Great! We'll Make a Website, Think Up Some Games...
And they're also very, very, VERY complicated from a designer standpoint.
Since I've been referencing them already in this article, I'll mention the Freespace Port team and Silent Threat: Reborn. Not long before ST:R was released to the community at large, the Port team released this trailer.
Nothing too special. Some text, some ships dogfighting, and finally a shot of the Hades. Title card, nothing much else. Ah, cool they did a thing like the mo--wait, what was that? Something just flashed on the screen.
And that's where it began. The "162" that flashed eventually led people to discover a hidden subforum on Hard Light, where they had to complete several puzzles and think hard outside the box to discover the next step. Eventually, the final puzzle led to yet another hidden subforum, which contained an early release specifically for the people who had worked on the puzzles.
For this game, the Freespace Port team, as well many others, had to create an entire Vasudan language, a new font, several rendered images, a flash animation, a new website, and constantly monitor the players for progress.
See what I mean? It takes a hell of a lot of work if you're going to try to make an alternate reality game, or something similar. It's more of a drain on your creative resources than even building a demo.
There are other ways you can use this method. I refer to the only other campaign I think has ever used viral marketing to advertise itself: Axem's still unreleased JAD 2.2. On April Fool's Day 2011, a new poster by the name of QueenHolley released a short demo, which, just after the first two missions, seemed like a horrible piece of crap. But at the end (without spoiling it), the player realizes that this was essentially a demo for JAD 2.2, and that Axem has used AFD to pull this off.
So, long story short: Viral marketing is fun, engaging, and gets a lot of people interested. But it's also very complex, and takes a lot of work and ingenuity to get it right. Unless you've got the time and energy, don't do it.
Public Relations After Release
Alright! So you did some advertising, people got stoked, and you released your campaign. People have downloaded it, and have played through either a little bit of it, or all of it. Now they've come back to the release thread.
They'll give you their feedback. They'll report bugs you didn't catch during testing. They'll ask questions. They may criticize some mission design work, or some plot elements.
You have to know how to handle all of this appropriately. Your response to the players' feedback and questions is representative of the quality of your campaign.
How NOT To Handle Criticism
For a moment, I'm going to revisit what was possibly one of the saddest moments in HLP campaign history--Relentless.
Relentless was a campaign released by KappaWing/Deka1184. It had been in development for several years, and had even had an awesome trailer released that got people excited. He did all the advertising right, he made regular updates, and got people excited to play it.
Then he released it. It didn't take very long for players to notice that, by and large, a lot of the missions were tedious, there wasn't much complexity, mission objectives were missing, that the plot made little sense, and that every mission could be completed by simply warping out at the beginning, with no AWOL scenarios FREDed.
Releasing a buggy campaign isn't a horrible thing. There certainly are problems with it, but it's still a manageable situation. Even if your campaign has show-stoppers or other annoying bugs, it can still be saved by accepting criticism, asking for help, and getting the problems fixed and patched.
This didn't happen with Relentless. When people started to come back with criticisms and problems to report, KappaWing shut them out. When people suggested renaming this thread to indicate a Beta Release to allow better feedback and soften the blow, he refused to do so. He refused to patch the problems he heard about. He took criticism personally, when it clearly was not intended to be personal. Since he refused to listen to the problems involved in the campaign, HLPers who had played the campaign (myself included) unleashed a storm of sarcasm and very unproductive criticism on the thread.
The lessons you can learn from this:
- Don't take criticisms personally.
- When you hear about problems, try to reproduce them yourself. Once you find it, fix it, and release a patch.