THE ART OF THE SCREENSHOT II: Stir Emotions & Convey Attitude

…our job as PR and Marketers is to create an
emotional connection with our target audience…

Before we get into the details of my advice for acquiring and distributing great and effective screens successfully, I want to take a step back to take another look at the BIG PICTURE.

Previously, in Part I, I suggested that screen shots should be more than just literal representations of what a game looks like; it is PR’s responsibility to ensure they are memorable.

In this edition, we’ll cover the importance of injecting attitude instead of action and showing the fun of a game rather than the activity of playing.

Screen shots are more than a photo ID; think of bad vs. good screens as the difference between the picture that gets you into a bar and the picture that gets you a date on – one is functional and the other actually works.

Recent Random Example: This screen has no soul

Recent Random Example: This screen shows lots of graphical detail BUT... it has NO SOUL. 🙁

You need to ask yourself — what does the art “feel” like?  What do the images represent and what is the emotional impression they impart on those who view them? Many of us get so caught up in finding screens that look cool, or have crazy violence… or cool action… or neat water reflections… that we forget to take into account the attitude that is being presented and how that attitude meshes with the key messaging of a game.

Screens are more than bump maps, lighting and blood spatter; don’t waste your time selling UE3 – Epic’s doing  fine at that – YOU focus on selling your GAME, and CONNECTING people to what it offers.

For example, the shots that were chosen to announce Scarface: The World is Yours in an early EGM cover story were of extremely low quality in many ways.  They were visually poor, sure, but even more importantly, they did nothing to convey:”YOU ARE TONY FUCKING MONTANA!”

First you get the money...” or “Say hello to my little friend!”  Iconic lines that spoke volumes about the kind of man he was; lines that has attracted fans over decades.  The artwork for the game needed to tell readers that this game was going to make THEM into Tony Montana and that experience was going to be fun.

This SF shot was so bad, it doesn't seem real. But it was.

Old SF Shot: so bad it seems fake, but sadly, it's not.

OLD SF: this image was so bad, it hung

OLD SF: This hung in my cube with "Worst. Screen. Ever. NEVER AGAIN!" written on it... as a reminder.

It was obvious that these early screen shots created a hole of negativity that we had to dig out of.  The previous campaign’s artwork had done more harm than good, a fact that was only compounded by the premiere placement secured through the EGM cover story.

Facing negative impressions of the game, I did what any self-respecting professional would: I carefully studied our most successful competition.

I poured through shots from GTA3, Vice City and San Andreas.  I’m not embarrassed to admit it – they had artwork that was instantly recognizable as GTA SHOTS and transmitted “cool” from the get-go.

I wanted to know, what did they use to attract gamers and define their title?  Why did people instantly associate the game with a cool factor?  How could that success be expressed in an actionable PR course for Scarface?

I clearly remembered iconic images from those campaigns… a Burger Shop… a drive-by… a kid pulling a wheelie on a BMX bike… a nightclub… and then I realized the common thread: NONE OF THE IMAGES I REMEMBERED SHOWED GUNFIRE.  OR ACTION OF ANY KIND.

This shot stayed with me.

GTA:SA: This shot stayed with me for years.

So I looked back through the shots and it was clear that the beginning of the campaigns had very few or no action shots, gun fights or blood.  There was no indication of how the game was going to be played.  It was all character and CAPABILITIES; they exposed the possibilities that were unlocked by the game design — and did so through a demonstration of ATTITUDE.

Gameplay?  Not so much?  Atmosphere and possibility?  Yes.

GTA:SA: Gameplay? Not so much. Atmosphere and "possibilities?" Oh, hell yes.

It was an eye opener.  Here was a mega-popular game that turned its back on widely accepted screenshot conventions – that you need to show guns firing and blood flying and the “how” of mechanics in action.

On Scarface – we focused immediately on capturing “attitude” and key messages in screen shots rather than creating “good-looking action shots.”   We showed Tony Montana in classic clothing, with expensive cars, walking through iconic Miami locations, playing in familiar film locales and talking with women in bikinis on the beach.

We showed Tony living the life of Tony… the lifestyle that had been imitated and idolized by fans the world over and immortalized and revered by hip-hop artists and athletes.  The lifestyle the game was offering to put players into, which is what they wanted more than anything.

New SF shots captured the attitude of Tony.

New SF: capturing the ATTITUDE of an icon.

The game suddenly had an identity, rather than a genre.

You don't need to show the combat, to get the FEEL.

New SF: You don't need to "show" everything to transmit a FEELING - see Shakespeare for reference...

The game suddenly had attitude instead of just mechanics.

Women, palm trees and shades...

NEW SF: Women, palm trees and shades...

And suddenly, people started to believe it could be something special.

Our job as PR and Marketers is to create an emotional connection with our target audience; artwork is a critical device to do that, rather than a tool for explaining mundane details.

There is plenty of time in journalistic exposition and a long PR program — first looks, previews, updates, videos, features, etc — to explain the “how” and “why.”  Screen shots and other pieces of art are an instant medium – they can be seen in the blink of an eye and judgment – which will likely be final – is made in under a second.

We need to give our audience a reason to to believe; emote an attitude that appeals; connect emotionally; and offer a small taste of the fun rather than an explanation of the activity.

It is certainly a tall order.

– PR_Flak

Next up: the basics of selecting and requesting screenshots; forming relationships to get it done; and restraining PR until you have what you need to execute properly.

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