What Game Designers can learn from Advertising / by Abhay Ramakrishnan

Before I started making games professionally, I used to make mass media advertising campaigns for some of the biggest brands in India. I learnt a lot while working in 3 ad agencies across 6 years, some of which I think definitely applies to Game Design.

Copywriters are very good at using their medium's constraints to evoke the maximum emotional response from any piece of communication. If you are tasked to write a 30 second commercial, your ad should be able to at least convince the viewer that your brand is aspirational, if not get them to drop everything immediately and actually go buy what's being advertised.

So, here are the 3 skills the advertising industry has taught me which have helped me become a better Game Designer -

1) Well-defined goals lead to measurable results

A Unique Selling Proposition is one of the main tools in an advertising professional's belt. In Zynga, most of our specs have a slide dedicated to a 'Razor' statement. These short, one line statements are incredibly useful when it comes to making something evocative.

If you are working on a game or a specific feature of a game, always write down the Razor first. A sharply defined Razor statement will help you and your team stay on target, instead of either increasing the scope or deviating from the vision.

Here's how I approach writing the Razor statement -

  1. List out what you want players to feel when they play your game/feature
  2. Whittle down your list of adjectives down to 3 essential words
  3. Craft a simple sentence which somebody who doesn't make games will be able to understand

Note - Avoid using vague words like 'fun' or 'engaging' in your statement as they are too broad/subjective.

Some examples -

  • Ridiculous Fishing - A handcrafted game about fishing with guns, chainsaws & toasters.
  • The Hotel feature in Farmville 2 - Build a cozy inn where folks' can check in their animals for a while.
  • Mafia Wars Japan Expansion - Make allies while you rise through the ranks of the Yakuza and become the ultimate Godfather.


2) Treat players with respect

The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.
— David Ogilvy, Copywriter

David Ogilvy is called the 'The Father of Advertising' for a very good reason. When he started his career in the 1960s, there was a lot of advertising which was either very dull or superfluous. Advertisers in that era used to treat the consumers like walking wallets who could be spoken down to in a patronizing manner.

We see a similar trend occurring in Free to Play games. Many game developers spend a lot of time and effort implementing monetization strategies that don't support the gameplay experience. I've seen a lot of game developers pour in lots of in-game content with hold little value for most players. Some Free to Play games are blatantly pay to play, with poorly implemented gacha systems.

If you don't provide something valuable for people, they will find somebody who does.


3) Selling yourself

As a copywriter, you needed to bring to life each on of your ads and sell it to everybody on your team and your client's team. If you don't, then no matter how good your ad is, it will never see the light of day.

You quickly learn what appeals to different kinds of people. How to project your voice and present the one ad you wrote weeks ago with the same enthusiasm you had when you presented it for the first time.

A lot of game developers are excellent at their craft, but are terrible at selling themselves. A few even consider marketing their games an unnecessary distraction as they believe their games can sell themselves based just on their gameplay experience. There may be some outliers, but the vast majority of people who don't market their game well don't breakeven.

I only got better at presentations and selling my ideas better through practice. That is one of the main lessons I learned from all my years making ads.


It was a hard decision for me to shift careers, 6 years after I worked in advertising. But looking back, the lessons I've learnt, the people I worked with, and the experiences I've had have shaped me into the person I am today.

If you shifted careers to make games, do tell me about how your work experience helped you become a better game maker by writing a comment below.