It’s practically impossible to pitch a game today without a decent HOOK. I’ve been studying this area for years now and will publicly present my findings for the first time.Having done HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of video game pitches worldwide to publishers / sales / marketing / investors / press / TV / gamers, I’ve plenty of HOOK secrets that will arm you better than a Championship Fisherman. HOOKS are NOT divine intervention, just commonly forgotten tasks that matter more to your bank manager and your career than you’ll ever know.
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David Perry’s Hook Evaluator
This document contains a simple set of questions to
determine the hook-worthiness of a game design concept.
Download it here.
It’s practically impossible to pitch a game today without
a decent HOOK. I’ve been studying this area for years now
and will publicly present my findings for the first time.
Having done HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of video game pitches worldwide
to publishers / sales / marketing / investors / press / TV
/ gamers, I’ve plenty of HOOK secrets that will arm you better
than a Championship Fisherman. HOOKS are NOT divine intervention,
just commonly forgotten tasks that matter more to your bank
manager and your career than you’ll ever know.
Who here has heard of the new game, which is called "NO
It’s based on a Tattooed poem on a prisoner in a Maximum
Security Prison, the poem on his shoulder states how he answers
to "No Man."
The game is secretly being designed by ID software working
in concert with the award winning director James Cameron.
(The guy that worked on hit action movies like Aliens &
Set in the future, the game uses an incredible new cutting-edge
photorealistic 3rd person game engine by John Carmack.
The music for the game is done by Marilyn Manson.
In the gameplay you need to build respect by fighting &
surviving until you have enough followers, that you can lead
to a jailbreak.
The game AI is rule based and flexible so there are literally
1,000’s of ways to go about the breakout.
It also has optional voice recognition so you can speak to
your group and give them orders. Like saying, "Mo",
"Sir", "Silence that guard", "Yessir."
Mo then hunts down the guard, and slits his throat.
The action only intensifies when the jailbreak happens, and
you’re hunted through the local villages.
You might not have heard about it, but by a show of hands,
who here would like to see it?
Well, is this true, does this game really exist?
But it’s an interesting mixture of HOOKS. And that’s what
this talk is all about.
Heck, I want to play it!
WHAT ARE VIDEO GAME HOOKS?
So what are Hooks?
What’s the Dictionary Meaning?
It means, "A means of Catching or Ensnaring."
It it’s also, "A means of attracting interest or attention;
Or it can be a, "A catchy motif"
That said, A HOOK can also be a GIMMICK, however the higher
quality the HOOK, the less it ‘SEEMS’ like a GIMMICK.
For example, James Cameron has proved that he can write,
direct and create compelling stories. That makes him a HOOK,
if I’d just said, "A real Hollywood Director worked on
this game!", then it starts to feel more of a Gimmick.
I think we’ve all got a common desire, that’s to sell games
LOTS of games
We’d like to entice, ensnare or catch
a LOT of buyers.
Quality Hooks can help us do that.
It used to be easy
When I started, there were so few games, it was simple to
get attention, only a couple of magazines existed and there
were only a few games machines in the stores.
Nowadays, say I want to show a new game to the press, I end
up spending 7 days, flying from city to city, rushing through
traffic, pitching like crazy, and all I’ve covered is one
To me it feels like a kind of ‘drive-by’ pitching.
It’s not getting any better
With 100’s of websites
wanting visits also, it’s becoming a full time job to just
present your games.
Then again, we want to sell lots of games, so the more we
can get the world’s press behind our game, the better.
Ultimately we have THREE main goals
(1) To make the game attractive and enticing to the consumer.
(2) To make the game attractive and interesting to people
that tell the consumer what to buy.
(3) To make the game attractive and interesting to the retailers
that stock our games for the consumer.
We want to take care of all 3 categories.
So what can make this whole adding hooks and pitching games
I guess the truest answer is: "That it’s easier to just
let someone else do it for you!"
It’s usually left to the Producers or Lead Game Designers
of the game.
Experts are people like Peter Molyneux, Warren Spector, Will
Wright and Hideo Kojima.
WHY DID I AGREE TO GIVE THIS TALK?
Because when I go on a press tour, it saddens me to see some
of the pitches that games get.
I see a marketing guy running left and right on screen as
he states, "This product will ship 3rd Quarter 2002,
it’s going to have X dollars marketing and will be available
simultaneously on Gamecube, X-Box and PS2." Meanwhile
they are ONLY running left and right on screen.
Then just when I think the demo is going to start, they put
down the joypad and say, "OK let me show you the next
I remember doing a pitch once for MDK and was asked to wait
while another developer pitched their game.
I thought, sure, I’ll wait, this will be interesting.
The guy pitching started with, "Our game has lots of
rendered full motion video
48 minutes to be precise
we worked very hard on it and are VERY proud of it."
Indeed it looked good, so I waited to hear more. But that
He had no other hook, and was basing their focus on the fact
that they just had full motion video.
His pitch fell flat.
Now we all make mistakes
Speaking of pitches falling flat
One of my worst was thinking it would be OK to drive to Los
Angeles and pitch Earthworm Jim to 27 Universal Pictures executives
at 9AM in the morning.
Just so you know, Licensing Executives don’t generally have
a fantastic sense of humor at 9AM in the morning.
I had thought one of our Hooks was the humorous names of
our Earthworm Jim characters, so off I went
All super enthusiastic, telling them about characters like
Professor Monkey for a head and Queen – Pulsating – Bloated
– Festering – Sweaty – Puss Filled – Malformed – Slug for
I got blank stares, then they just sipped their coffee as
they tried to read their faxes.
Trust me, you could hear crickets in the boardroom.
So before you even TRY to pitch, make sure you have an audience
that is ready to hear the pitch.
That said, for the FMV guy I mentioned before, as video game
journalists tend to be cool guys, you’ll see during this lecture
how easily his pitch could have been modified.
With so many developers out there, it’s a WAY to get attention.
So think of Hooks as ‘Weapons’.
ASSESSING YOUR ‘HOOKABILITY’
Let’s forget about pitching for the moment
I want to consider a few ideas
Let’s start outside the video game world
If a game on a shelf is an object, and WE want to sell that
What kinds of things attract people to buy ‘OBJECTS’? (In
no particular order)
Here is a list:
- A Need for it – Like shampoo.
- A Strong Respect of the Brand / Reputation – An example
is the "Ford Expedition – Eddie Bauer Edition".
It’s got a Famous name brand standing for "A Passion
for Outdoors" that has been around since 1920. Eddie
Bauer is a good license. – They could have gone with a guy
called William Clark, he was another explorer, but the retail
recognition is really low. So the brand counts.
- A History of using the Products – People like to play
safe and buy what they know. Sometimes it can also bring
back strong Nostalgic Memories.
- The way it looks or feels – Basically, it’s Aesthetics.
- Word of mouth sells objects too – By it’s Perceived Popularity.
- The Price matters a lot – or at least it’s Perceived Price.
- It’s Newness – Some people are attracted to originality
& fresh approach to a problem.
- An impressive range of features can sell objects – By
- Guarantees help in a sale – They effectively give piece
of mind to a sale.
- Recognized Quality – Having read Reviews / Ratings or
seeing its Awards gives an aura of quality, lifting it from
- Clear sensible advertising that gets the message over
– That can help sell objects, in the past some of the .com
Superbowl adverts were so obscure that they left people
wondering what they were actually trying to sell. Clear
sensible advertising is important.
- Can the object improve a person’s perceived worth? – Or
does it make them look ‘cool’ by having it
- Is the object very comfortable to use? – Does it feel
- Can someone with an average IQ use the object? – As VCR
programming has taught us
Don’t rely on people reading
- Does the object have a cool or catchy Name?
- Does the object have Slick / High Quality Packaging? –
So it catches your attention in a store?
- Is the object Rare, is it a Special Edition? – Or does
it have a story attached that makes it feel rare to you?
- Is the object Collectable? – Will people feel they need
to keep a collection going with this object?
- Can a person Customize or Personalize the object? – (Nokia
cellphones or Tivo are great examples of this.)
- Is the object easy to purchase? – Can impulse buyers get
their hands on it fast?
- Does it ooze Innovation?
In making this list, I started to see links with what we
So I decided to continue
Maybe I could focus on other things that help sell Entertainment?
I asked myself, what other things attract people to see or
buy movies, or music or even comics?
- Boredom is a good reason – It’s a great motiviator.
- Was it made by a Director that you respect?
- Is it starring an Actor/Actress that you respect?
- Is the Soundtrack or music by a composer or band that
- Has story been written by a Writer that you respect?
- Is it Based on a Subject matter that interests you?
- What is the Usage Situation? – Like is this a great movie
to see with you friends?
- Does it have Breathtaking visuals or Special Effects?
- Is it based on a Genre that you generally enjoy? – Horror/Comedy/Action/Kids?
- Does it sound fresh and full of Creativity?
- Does the Title interest you?
- Is there Controversy, touching on a nerve? – Grand Theft
Auto III obviously oozes controversy, but when I first heard
about The Sims it sounded like a "You get to wash the
dishes and put out the trash" simulator, only to find
out later that it’s got Nudity & Lesbian Kissing.
Violence and controversy can be demonstrated by looking at
the latest video game rental charts. The top 4 are the most
violent. The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) has
announced its VidTrac results for the week that ended March
3, 2002. The top ten game rentals were:
- 1. State of Emergency-PS2
- Grand Theft Auto 3-PS2
- Max Payne-PS2
- Wreckless: Yakuza Missions-Xbox
- NBA 2K2-PS2
- Sonic Adventure 2 Battle-GameCube
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty-PS2
- Final Fantasy X-PS2
- Simpson’s Road Rage-PS2
- Agent Under Fire-PS2
OK, so I had a list for what sells objects.
I extended this list with what sells movies.
I am going to link this all together in a moment..
But before I do
As movies are movies and games are games, this list is not
What is it that WE as video game designers can control?
What can WE do to help sell games?
We can control the Visuals as we decide the scenario:
That means we can control the overall ‘Look’, so can you
spot the game from a distance, can you spot it from just one
screenshot? – Parappa or Rez are good examples.
We can also design a focus on new or Spectacular Special
Effects? – Like the Trees in Dead or Alive 3 or the bullet
time in Max Payne.
We can also control the overall Aesthetic Beauty? – That
you see in games like Giants or Ico.
Visuals are not everything, and so we can also control the
game’s World or Universe:
Does the world have normal or new Physical Attributes? –
Like the manipulation of light / gravity / wind / sound etc…
What phenomena regularly happens in the world you are making?
– Is it under attack, does it have earthquakes / meteor showers
/ storms etc..
What changes is your world going through? – Is it breaking
up / going underwater / expanding / shrinking / dying etc
Can the world be changed by the gamer? – Can they permanently
leave their mark?
In your world that you are making, is the gamer truly free
to explore? – Or are they trapped?
As I cover these different subjects, you will see how many
directions we could go in whilst on our search for the perfect
Each of these things can trigger a hook.
Let me keep moving forward
As designers we control the emotions of the Gamer, so ask
yourself can you FLEX their emotions?
Would they feel different during or after gameplay? – Happy
/ Sad / concerned / strong / tough / smart / powerful / devious
/ aggressive / scared?
Step by step, what stages will a gamer’s emotions likely
go through? What would the emotional arc look like if you
drew it down on paper?
Will the gamer care? Will the game back up their emotions,
or will it just get them there, then drop them. Like they
are finally getting to open the tomb door only to stop dead
with a "LOADING" screen.
Does the game feel like it’s got incredible depth?
Can the gamer solve problems in the game that are worthy
of respect? So they feel TRUE accomplishment?
Will I miss my allies if they die? This is an important feeling
from multiplayer games.
Will the gamer be surprised by what he finds out in the game?
– If the designer is leading them down a path, then they are
a perfect captive audience for a surprise.Are there Memorable
Moments of gameplay that I can’t wait to tell my friends about?
To be honest a lot of Emotional hooks that can be created
in games commonly fall back to Intelligence
I might get emotionally involved with a sidekick, liking
him there watching my back
But then again, if he keeps blocking the stairs because he
is stupid, then it’s time to die.
So we as designers can control the Intelligence of the Characters.
– That is if you make life as easy as possible for your programmers.
Other intelligent features are things like, can we have our
actions give us different results than other gamers are getting?
– Deus Ex was a great example of this.
The designers also control the Balanced Challenge of the
Gameplay and how the game reacts to your presence.
We can also very easily Track Frustration and respond with
a helping hand. – Like has this guy tried to open this door
20 times in a row now? Maybe he needs help.
Can the game perceive my strategy and change it’s own? Can
it recognize patterns in my play and then surprise me.
As far as sidekicks go, is there someone else that I am helping
(like in Ico) or is someone else helping me?
So that’s Visuals, World, Emotions, Intelligence, what about
There we can control the Music and it’s mood and flow in
relation to the action.
We can control the Sound Effects, Speech and also the repetition.
We can control the overall Ambiance. – The mood is up to
Personally I think (and so do most of the musicians at this
convention) that Audio is very under-rated when it has such
a profound effect on the games we play.)
Something else I care a lot about is the Controls:
We as designers need to worry about the ease of controls.
The feeling and response and visual feedback to what people’s
That means things like Sensing the Gamers Emotional state
through their inputs vs their situation. I have always wanted
to make characters see what you are doing
So if you
are jumping around like an idiot, then they would say "What
the HECK has got into you?"
Next on my list of important parts is the overall quality:
Just how well thought out is the design. Is it full of logic
bombs or is it Tight?
Does it have a Steady framerate?
Is it Bug free? – Of course (I hear you say.)
If it’s a PC game, is it compatible with all video cards?
Speaking of that, we really learnt our lesson after we made
a game called Messiah, just how important those items were.
It was incompatible with lots of video cards, it had bugs,
it pissed off Christians, and it starred a baby in a diaper.
With Messiah I think we created a new term called a video
The annoying part is that it’s much easier to make Repellors
than to make Hooks.
So now you see why we take hooks a lot more seriously at
TIGHTEN IT DOWN
So are all the things I have talked about Hooks?
Some are not
Some are definitely not
It’s a very complicated mix
I think of them as unique selling points or USP’s.
I personally believe that each HOOK is the VALUE of it’s
Unique Selling Point.
The good news is that because it’s a VALUE, it can be calculated.
So if a game has 10 USPs, it’s VALUE is equal to 10 X (relevance
of each USP)
Note: However, there is a modifier, that is..
You then need to SUBTRACT how much everyone else has got
the same Unique Selling Point.
So for example, being able to pick a ‘Difficulty Level’ in
a game is a good thing, but then because everyone else has
it, it’s not the most UNIQUE selling point, so it greatly
drops its Hook value.
If we were to take all the information before, compress it,
throw away the repetition and irrelevant items and turn the
lists into Video Game relevance
Then that would give us a nice list of key hooks that you
could potentially use to judge games.
You could judge your games, other people’s etc
You could judge them, but then again with the information
I am about to give out, if you see a hole where there COULD
be a hook, then it helps your brainstorming process because
the definitions are narrow.
I’ll be posting this to my website in case you think of some
Here is the list!
With this, in just a few minutes, you’ll have a good GUT
feeling on how well positioned your current game is.
I have had many of these filled out and it works surprisingly
So we will be filling out the table based on the game you’re
making now, or the game that you last made or the game that
you’re just about to start. It’s your choice.
I personally love Statistics, so if you enjoy this process,
back at the office it’s better to use weighted scores.
For our ease of use here today I’ve kept it so that you don’t
need calculators to get a value out of it.
Today, we will simply be scoring, H for HIGH, M for middle,
L for LOW.
Let’s work this out for one major market only.
You would need to do a different sheet and calculation for
each major territory.
So focus on your main Market for now.
I’ll be using the USA.
Note: This list is based on the feeling of the TARGET AUDIENCE.
Let’s start by thinking WHO IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE? (Keep
Get that in your head.
Maybe it’s Cool Teenage Males? Or Older Sports Fanatics.
Remember, the scores are not based on YOUR opinions, base
them on your chosen Typical Audience.
This only works if you’re HONEST with your marks.
So remember, H for HIGH, M for MEDIUM, L for LOW, scored
for one territory by your target audience.
If you don’t have an answer, just leave it blank.
OK, so add up all the "H’s" you have on your list.
The question is, could you wrangle another "H"
out of the list?
Looking at the list, raise your hand if you think there are
SOME changes you could make to your game or design that would
get you another "H" on the list?
I can promise you, another "H" would do you no
Now you can see where hooks are needed, I will discuss some
topics in more detail
THE NAME & LOGO
I personally believe the name of the game is very important
In the past, I’ve picked some terrible ones and I promise
not to do it again.
Firstly, names should not have a negative meaning to any
large group of people
In all main languages.
So I understand, the Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux
used the following in an American ad campaign: "Nothing
sucks like an Electrolux."
In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come
alive with the Pepsi Generation", came out as "Pepsi
will bring your ancestors back from the dead."
So more than just a name, make it easy to pronounce, spell
Don’t overestimate the public
So I understand, "License Revoked" was going to
be the name of the James Bond movie that then became "License
to Kill", because they felt that many Americans might
not understand what ‘revoked’ means.
They even had to worry about British people spelling license
with an S vs Americans spelling it with a C.
If it’s hard to spell, then the public will have a more difficult
time finding it online.
Like I called our company Shiny Entertainment. Little did
I know that about 50% of the population spells Shiny with
So plenty of people find it hard to get to our website.
Spelling or meaning is not the only problem
name that won’t be confused with something else.
Movie companies commonly make that mistake, when I sit down
with them they say things like, "We are green-lighting
a new action Earthquake movie called "Quake" and
want you to make a video game also.
They just don’t take the time to check if there has been
a game with that name before.
Another thing to note, a good name can be a hook for future
sequels, so keep a name open for expansion:
Skyscraper Vigilante might sound cool, but what if you don’t
want to make the sequel in a skyscraper?
Also try to avoid currently trendy names/sayings
Calling your game "Who let the dogs out?" is no
use if you plan to ship two years from now.
OK lets move on to:
THE GAME CONTENT
Say divine intervention failed you and you can’t think of
enough hooks for your game design or story?
Firstly you had that list of overall direction
Just take it down into detail
For example, for the characters or world:
You can Play with Body Speed, Scale of Character/Enemies,
Scale of World, Transportation, Travel Speed, Bend Time, Bend
Perceived Time, What can be used as weapons, Change Scale,
Strength, Power, Sight, Smell, Hearing, telepathy, possession,
invisibility, Minds, Ability to induce Fear in others etc
Note: Extremes are commonly more fun.
You can play with concepts like Demonic possession, money,
sex, power, dinosaurs, UFOs, scandalous love affairs, serial
killers, extra terrestrials, cloning, justice and honor, immortality,
immorality, secret societies, lost treasure, lost worlds etc
There are dozens of concepts you can play with, then mix
those with the dozens of character attributes.
You’re worried that your story idea is a bit dull? – Buy
a book of movie synopsis, read them, they will inspire you.
Just search for books using the keywords: movie and synopsis.
One of the easiest ways that Hollywood writers get their
initial idea is to take a story they already liked, then change
So taking concepts from Pulp Fiction or Dirty Harry, then
making a Sci-fi story out of it.
Personally I believe that it’s the world you care about most.
So instead of trying to copy the Pulp Fiction story, you can
just use it’s world.
What about the ACTION or goal?
Tell the gamer what the action is required to solve the problem.
"The moon is on a collision course with the Earth."
Or a "A serial killer is loose".
Subconsiously, you are inspired in your own mind to think
how to catch a serial killer or how to stop the moon hitting
So then subconsciously you’re interested to see how we do
But it’s gotta be something that interests the gamer.
Most stories have a key problem, that’s what makes this work.
The HOOK is an intriguing part of this problem that makes
us think even more.
It’s easy to come up with this stuff
Just think of something, then twist it.
"Guy breaks into a church
but it’s an alien church."
"There is a serial killer loose
you were just
killed by him."
"The moon is on a collision course with the Earth
you are on it."
Just make it not what we all would expect.
For games, the Hook commonly makes the situation more dangerous.
Something else I do…
Have a pad of paper for notes when you play games.
Write down the things, the touches and the ideas that impressed
you or you find yourself talking about.
Ask yourself, what hooks did you experience?
When you impulse-buy a game, movie or music album, ask yourself
exactly why that specific purchase was so easy.
Ask yourself, what hooks did you experience?
You will learn what motivates YOU.
Build a list
Mix them up and use them as brainstorming
There are many many more combinations of hooks out there,
much like there are many more songs to be written.
So now, lets go back to when I talked about pitching your
PITCHING & PRESENTATION!
I talked earlier about hearing other people pitch your games.
The scary thing is that this cannot be avoided.
You simply can’t do every one.
Especially around the world.
So regarding Presentations, there are 3 common problems
- Not knowing what to say.
- Saying the wrong things.
- Not covering the important things.
Now with a list of all the "H’s" on your sheet,
you have the base of a presentation already planned.
If you have gone through the work of getting a lot of "H’s"
on your Chart, then the most difficult PR work is already
done for the game
All you have to do is get those messages over cleanly.
After spending time with many developers you start to get
a feeling that they are not all in love with their marketing
and PR departments.
Yet these people have a profound effect on your sales.
So it’s up to YOU to prepare them.
I suggest you get them as many "H"’s as possible.
Then go through the list with them and tell them why they
What good are hooks are all these hooks if nobody can remember
I’ve found over the years that about 80% of all pitches are
done to a guy that does not write anything down, that then
goes to a phonecall or another meeting immediately after yours.
The way to TEST your delivery is to PRACTICE it on someone
that does not know anything about your game.
Then once you’re finished, change the subject to something
Don’t talk more about the game.
30 minutes later, ask them what they remember.
So you’re relying on his ability to remember all your hooks.
He won’t do that unless there was a lot of GLUE in there.
If you find your test person is missing the key messages
you NEED him to hear, then do the politician trick
Politicians repeat themselves over and over for the same
reason. Like President Bush stating that the Afghan war would
be "A LONG WAR".
He said it over and over.
The advanced and generally successful politicians actually
repeat the same statement on every sentence to hammer home
"We refuse to negotiate with terrorists because xxxx"
"We refuse to negotiate with terrorists because xxxx"
They are really just delivering the message "We refuse
to negeotiate with terrorists."
It’s a tried and tested way of applying glue.
Pictures are also good pitching tools
Like a diagram
of how the game concept came about, (draw it out) with all
the hooks plugged in.
Pictures do indeed paint 1,000 words.
Then you can leave it behind.
Another trick is to have written notes with you (that do
not look like they are being given to everyone), then hand
them over at the end.
By having these notes, you save them time. (Remember these
are extremely busy that live on a nearly permanent deadline.)
If you pitch to a person that is not a decision maker then
the problem gets worse, as the hooks must work their way along
a chain of people as they pitch it to their bosses.
So if YOU are the only one that can pitch it, then you’re
The idea must sell itself.
It must be SIMPLE for other people to stimulate others just
by saying the lines of the idea. It can be subtle.
So for Jurassic Park, you could have said, "A guy finds
a way to capture DNA from the blood of pre-historic mosquitoes,
then by using modern genetic techniques his team re-creates
That would work fine, but it might get broken as it passes
from person to person
How about, "A guy cleverly
re-creates Dinosaurs, they run rampant destroying their stunning
new theme park."
The second version is more sticky.
You care that the editor can recite every single "H"
from your table, so it’s worth the time to think about how
to explain them.
As you can see, the subject of hooks is actually quite large
I personally will continue looking into this subject and
put my findings online for discussion.
It’s not strange at all that a game like Metal Gear Solid
It’s got a CELEBRITY DIRECTOR (Kojima), WORD OF MOUTH, STRONG
BRAND/REPUTATION, COOL BOX, HIGH SCORING REVIEWS/AWARDS, GENRE
THAT I ENJOY, SUBJECT MATTER I ENJOY, EXCELLENT COMPOSER,
IMPRESSIVE FUNCTIONALITY (FEATURES) etc
Basically it scored a lot of ‘H’s
Good hooks can help in even more ways.
Some of the Hooks get you MONEY / FUNDING for your company.
Some of Hooks get SALES.
The Design Hooks can keep your GAMERS happy.
Company Hooks can even help find EMPLOYEES and new opportunities.
It’s funny, but to now get approval for making an X-Box game,
even Microsoft asks on their submission form, "What is
Nothing beats a good game, it’s the strongest hook of all.
That said, if you want to fight it out on the shelf with
a James Cameron and John Carmack Prison Break idea, then an
army of hooks can really help you out.