Ad Blitz.

The title is a bit of an overstatement. But recently we were thinking about what the ads for Braid would be like. (It’s actually a requirement of Xbox Live Arcade for a game to have some bitmap ads made, which can be placed on the Live dashboard and on the web site).

I deeply dislike ads, but I took this as an exercise to come up with something simple that communicates useful things about the game in a straightforward way; that is faithful to the nature of the game, without being base in the hope of attracting peoples’ attention; and that is respectful of the viewer’s attention. After some back-and-forth with David we came up with the following:

Braid Xbox Live Arcade Banner

Braid Live Billboard

We did not put a huge amount of effort into these; we feel it’s more important to put the real effort into the game. But I think they’re relatively sophisticated and communicate a lot about the game in a simple fashion. (For example, most people who have played platformers will probably understand the genre just from this picture).

One thing they don’t communicate, unfortunately, is that this is a sophisticated puzzle game about time manipulation. But that seems like the kind of thing that is difficult to communicate in a bitmapped ad like this, without resorting to lots of verbiage and betraying the aesthetic of the game, or else just being ineffective.

So we’re settling with conveying the art style and the conflicted sense of emotion, and from there people can download the free demo and see if they like the time stuff.

47 thoughts on “Ad Blitz.”

  1. I think that’s lousy, because not only do you not communicate the time manipulation puzzle stuff, but you probably miscommunicate that it is a cliche jumping game with weird art.

    (I don’t see any emotional conflictedness in that screen shot that distinguishes it from, say, Sonic.)

    The problem is this doesn’t really say “try me out” to anyone, does it?

  2. Good question! I wonder what other people think of it. If everyone thinks it sucks, we’ll probably re-do it. (Whereas I would not follow that philosophy with a game, with an ad… sure.)

  3. I agree that it doesnt convey any sense of time manipulation, and it isnt something that would want me to check it out.

  4. It must be really hard to come up with something good in a non-moving, non-behaving way that is supposed to convey an experience in just one picture.
    But you should definitely put more effort into the ads than this.
    Sure, you could go with the idea that the game should speak for itself, but you still need to promote the game properly (you can’t just rely on word of mouth advertising). Doesn’t Microsoft allow you to make small clips instead of bitmaps? It would make it so much more logical, compelling and best of all inviting.

  5. That looks creepy, certainly not inviting.
    Besides, the main feature of the game is time manipulation, not platforming. Either go abstract (in the direction Harold suggested), or follow the Dali path of time representation through molten clocks, distorted numbers etc.

  6. I have to agree with posters above. Especially Harold. The pic he proposed puts immediate interest in my brain, the banners say shallow Mario jumping again. I think besides the jumping and the little walking critter the colors are too revealing on the banner. The pic should only tell half of the story and leave me confused/interested to find out the other half IMHO. Maybe you could show the time puzzling with something like onion skinning and/or multiple instances of the guy all doing something at the same time but I don’t know how exactly…

    otherwise as Harold said a cool untypical pic and some crazy 3word sentence about time …

    just random thoughts .. BR

  7. It could work, you want to get the people to find out more, not go “OMFG I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS GAME IN A SINGLE AD”. The image could work, perhaps you should knock up say four / five different ads, put them on one page and then invite people to click on the one they find interesting…

    I’ll be honest, you’ve got a hard one here.

  8. If at all possible, this would be one of those times when an animated ad is worthwhile.

    If that’s not possible, could you convey a sense of time through using multiple panels, comic book style? I know there’s not a lot of space to work with, but maybe something simple in two or three panels would be enough.

  9. I agree with the others too, the ad doesn’t communicate the kind of things that make the game special (except the great art-style). I think having a bad ad or one that doesn’t communicate very well is really something that will come back to haunt you later on. What do you want players to expect from your game when they look at these ads? I think you should look for the answer to that question and work from there.

    To give players a sense of the time-controllability, perhaps you can show a transparent trail of where the character has been? ‘Time’ should definitely be the focus in the ads. I think the current one emphasizes a bit too much on the Mario-style of the game. While that isn’t particularly a bad thing per say and I do like the current one from an art perspective, you could do more with the game and it’s (gameplay) theme.

  10. Ads are a very complicated thing. I’m not sure how to display “time-controllability” in a static bitmap, but even if we managed to do that, is the result something that would make people want to try the game? Or would it just be a confusing picture that looks weird and they ignore as they flip their way over to the movie download page?

    The thing about the “time” concept is, even that is only sort of superficially what the game is about. Time-based gameplay mechanics are the means by which it does its thing, but the overall agenda of the game isn’t necessarily anything about time. What the ad should *really* be saying is: “this game tries to give you experiences you have never had”, or “this game is a high-density, low-filler experience,” or “this game is trying to be a sober, mature experience”.

    The fact is that it’s a complex game that just isn’t going to distill out into a static image. Any such image is de facto going to be missing most of the game’s ideas. So we do have to pick something simple and go with it.

    This is not to say that the ad pictured above is the perfect way to do this; I’m just trying to communicate how we arrived at that.

    At the same time, though, I don’t think Melting Dali Clocks are the right answer, because that sells the game short in other ways, and also communicates next to nothing to the player. (Is this “Braid” game a graphic point-and-click adventure in a surreal Dali land, or what?)

    But maybe symbols of time-like stuff can be incorporated with some elements to create a coherent picture somehow. Don’t know — I am definitely open to suggestions.

  11. As an example, one thing we thought of (which would communicate the idea of time, and something going on with it, and the somewhat surreal nature of the game) was to use the poster image David painted for Slamdance:

    It may be an interesting image, but at the same time it tells people nothing about what they can expect… you know?

  12. The onion skinning idea mentioned above was what immediately came to mind for me as well. I think a similar shot wherein the protagonist was simultaneously placed in multiple positions that he might inhabit depending on what choice the player made (then rewound and remade) would vaguely suggest the idea of multiple outcomes from a single instant, and hopefully pique enough interest for a user to download the trial.

  13. Yep, that kind of image is exactly right. It’s suggestive and evocative. If you want to give a platform element, show the main character precariously holding on to one of the hourglass’s columns, or stuck in the sand.

  14. hey, this comment isnt really about your Ads (though I approve of not going into detail about the game, people feel more rewarded when they get more than they asked for)

    Anyway, I just saw a presentation you did last year where you talked through braid and I wont lie, I was swore really loud as I was watching as I had recently started working on a time travel game myself doing similar stuff and thinking I was being all revolutionatry and new and stuff.

    I was severely put off at first, as the gameplay has a lot in common, but I figured that the experiance itself was fresh enough to justify continuing development on the game, though the impact I was hoping for it is now significantly less than I was hoping for, but that takes off the pressure at least.

    however I figure you’ve done an awesome looking job so far and I cant wait to get a hold of braid, but I was wandering if I could perhaps get your email or something so I could talk with you about some issues in making my game? I really want to have objects other than the player that are tricky to do, such as a crate to push, but of course if a past version of yourself is pushing it how should the box react to the present self etc?

    anyway, good luck with braid, if I we dont get the chance to talk I wish you the best. 🙂

  15. If you’re required to provide multiple ads for a rotation anyway, and your game’s concept is tough to get on first glance, then maybe diversity is the right strategy. The first ad you posted gets across “slightly weird, non-saccharine platforming”, the older hourglass promo image (which unfortunately doesn’t work well in the horizontal aspect of the ad banners) gets across “mysterious, time-based”. Maybe a third ad could represent the time dynamics in a fractured comic panel sort of way… a lot of David’s stuff is already along those lines, so just set him loose on it. Even if the image doesn’t communicate anything concrete about the game, it’s worth something if it’s compositionally interesting. And yeah, make the image with the fire and the bridge into a banner too. It’s strong even with zero context.

    Think of an art gallery room with a bunch of cheesy fantasy illustrations hanging on the walls, and one very refined and splendid piece of modern art in the middle of them. That’s the position you’re in. Moreso than most other games, what draws someone to Braid will be different for each person. All the ads need to do is show any given person the right image to get them interested.

    It’s kinda gross thinking about it as consumer psychology, but if your intentions are non-evil it’s really just reaching out to an audience. A performing musician has to do that every day without losing their soul.

  16. Agree with JP. Don’t try to communicate the entire game in a banner add. Your goal as a part time marketing person is to have people download the demo. That is it. People should see the ad and be drawn in enough to download the free demo. After that, the demo should be the tool to convert into a sale…not the ad.

    I also disagree with your very early comment that you don’t care so much about the ads and would rather work on the game. Once you have people in the game, fine…but these banner ads get out to people who are not at all interested in your game. They are on to play Halo3 or CoD4 and just want to shot things. So…how do you get these people to stop and go, “Hey, what’s this shinny thing here…free download…sure I’ll try it out.” When the concept is abstract or hard to communicate, beautiful concepty art seems to do the trick for me. 🙂

  17. I agree with Sean. And more broadly, while ads are usually irritating, they can sometimes delight — and since the concept behind Braid is so delightful it seems like this might be an opportunity to do a bit of that. Maybe the ad itself could be a bit of a puzzle? And nothing says it has to be directly representational of the game — some of the best ads for video games (and other things) take a completely separate graphic approach. (Super-realistic where the game is cartoony, or the opposite, etc.)

  18. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    One of our goals we talked about was to portray the game as straightforwardly as possible. But it’s also true that the most straightforward presentation — say, a screenshot — doesn’t necessarily convey at all what it really feels like to play the game. So, you can reach for symbolism or metaphor (like that hourglass/castle illustration), but then you’re losing literal accuracy.

    Before someone jumps in with this, I did suggest a 90s-style photograph of a grunge kid with his hair standing straight up, collapsed in the rubble of his parents’ house, with a slogan like, “you don’t play Braid / Braid plays you!” and a tiny single screenshot at the bottom.

  19. “””Before someone jumps in with this, I did suggest a 90s-style photograph of a grunge kid with his hair standing straight up, collapsed in the rubble of his parents’ house, with a slogan like, “you don’t play Braid / Braid plays you!” and a tiny single screenshot at the bottom.”””

    No Sega 32X version then?

  20. I agree with JP and Harold and a few of the other posters here. The ones you posted at the top of this post definitely convey the art style, but in my mind very little else, which does the game a disservice. I really like the hourglass poster, and think that would be effective in a “What is going on here, I’m intrigued enough to find out more” way, instead of the current ones which are very “Oh, a cute Mario Bros clone, great”.

    If you think about the box art for Mario Galaxy, it just shows a well drawn Mario flying through space, and doesn’t try to convey the weird gravity which is the principle mechanic of the game, but still gives the idea that something to do with more space/dimensions is going to be involved.

    The hourglass does an excellent job of conveying the time aspect symbolically, and the while it doesn’t immediately convey a puzzle game, its abstract enough that you won’t be surprised when thats the kind of game it turns out to be. This is kind of what Robin was saying in a way.

    The screen Harold linked also works in much the same way. It conveys the art style and a sense of mystery, without trying to advertise that its a 2d platformer. In this scenario, I definitely think that being up-front about it being a platformer will work against you, because thats all people will think it is, which will unfairly prejudice people too early.

    Just as a final comment, I’m personally completely okay with adding words to the banner/splash. If you work them in neatly and in a non-obtrusive way you can add a lot to just a picture. For example, by having a tag-line along the bottom that says “Time and Space don’t always move in a straight line…” or “Time doesn’t always have to work against you – Coming February to XBox Live Arcade”, you add a thought-provoking hook that give some indication that theres depth to this game in a way the audience isn’t quite expecting.

  21. I hadn’t thought about it, but indicating the controllability of time can’t quite be shown without adding symbols or showing actual movement indeed. Even in a comic-style it would simply look weird or confusing when the last image looks like it would have to have been the first. I’m not sure if it would even be apparent what’s really meant with such a micro-comic without text explaining what’s going on.

    Some pictures explaining Valve’s Portal game where simply abstract ideograms;

    But as you can see they already needed a lot of additional text to explain how the game works.

    Perhaps going with the focus on the art-style and jump ‘n run gameplay is actually the way to go, because it’s indeed very complex explaining the time manipulation in such an ideogram without getting too confusing. There isn’t a good way of showing the art style in combination with such an ideogram too I think.

  22. That’s an interesting case, Erik. How were those ideograms used?

    The magazine ads for Portal that I’ve seen just show a couple screenshots and say “Open your mind to an all-new way of gaming. Puzzle. Action. Adventure.” Now, the opening your mind part is on the right track, but the rest of it seems not to communicate any of what makes Portal so great.

    I wonder if they considered an illustration or render of the heroine, viewed in third-person, hopping through a portal in the floor while also flying out of a portal on the ceiling in the same, continuous, image. Of course, what tells the viewer that’s the same person, and not a couple of similar people? Getting these things across can be tricky.

    It’s even harder for Braid because Braid bends time, so you can’t easily show it in a single image.

  23. Yes, it’s true, getting the time bending across correctly is very difficult because it’ll easily get too confusing.

    As for the ideograms, they weren’t really the main ads of the game, but part of a promotional presentation explaining the game. It’s something you guys could opt for too, explain the game with a preview-movie of some sort later and stick with an ad that focuses more on the art-style.

    I think the following image shows how easily it gets confusing with multiple heroes on screen;

    I think aiming for a Mario style ad isn’t so bad after all. 🙂

  24. Hi!

    I’ve had a pair of ideas that maybe you could use somehow. Here is a rough modification of the original ad to show them:

    First, the rewind icon. It’s a widespread symbol that anyone that owns a Xbox 360 will understand correctly.
    And the other idea is to use a kind of shadow trail in front of the Braid character, showing that the movement was done backwards.

    Hope it helps, if the link doesn’t work I can put it somewhere else.


  25. I too don’t agree with your negative attitude towards advertising. People want to be advertised to. They want to be seduced. You should try and see it as part of the project. I know you are very concerned with simplicity of interface in the game. Well, advertising is part of that effort: make it easy for people to get into the game. They don’t need to understand the entire game from a single ad. Hell, they don’t even need to learn anything about the game from the ad. The ad should present some of the benefits for the player and not try to express the features of the game. Make an ad that makes people experience a similar emotion when looking at it as the one they would get from playing the game, e.g.

    But maybe you should just hire somebody else to do this for you, somebody not involved with the game at all. I bet such an outsider’s perspective would really help.

  26. “””People want to be advertised to. They want to be seduced.”””

    Isn’t that just a wee bit presumptuous?

    I just don’t see the need to embrace the kind of icky cultural virus that advertising has turned into, when as a creative person you can simply express what is inside you and try to reach out to people with whom that might resonate.

    Real art (or entertainment if you’re insecure about the A-word) has its own “pull” factor, there’s no need to resort to “push”, and in fact that can often be quite destructive to the creative intent.

  27. Yes, unfortunately, most great artists died penniless and drunk. Their work was discovered posthumously, but not to any avail of theirs. Advertising is a reality of today’s market. Get with it and see your product (have no romanticized notions that it is anything less) reaches it’s destination, or eschew a clever advertising campaign and leave things to chance. Your choice.

  28. This is where I must disagree. If I thought of Braid as a “product”, it would have turned out to be a much less interesting game. What you call “romanticized notions” are, in fact, the things that make life worth living, rather than it just being a soulless scrabble for the top.

  29. You ‘re missing my point. I’m not saying you should let market expectations influence the content of your game. Rather, follow any creative path you want, but market your end-project as wisely as you can. Once you’ve released your game, however interesting it is, the market is ignorant to it, and you have to follow it’s rules if you want to maximize your infiltration. If your content does have creative sparks, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t follow the market’s rules.
    The main parameters for product sales are word of mouth and advertising. Once your product is finished, you only have direct control of the latter. Here’s a concise article about it:

  30. I see what you are saying, but I still have to disagree (for a different reason).

    The “market rules” as they are understood by marketing and sales people are basically about how the market responds to typical games (or typical whatever — it depends on what you are making). That’s because most games are pretty close to typical, so when you observe market response over a long period of time that’s what you see, and learn.

    When you make something that’s far out of the ordinary, though, it doesn’t fit those dynamics, because it’s a different kind of input to the system. Marketing people usually don’t know how to deal with these kinds of games — and just assume that they won’t sell because they are so different from the mainstream. Well, often there is an element of that, sure. But also, it’s just that the game is pretty far outside from what they are used to; it doesn’t seem to make sense given the rules that they know, but in fact it could be a big hit, because it is actually outside / next to / beside those rules.

    Sim City and The Sims are examples of games like that, which went on to sell gigantically.

    Neither am I saying Braid is going to be a mega-hit; I don’t know. If anything, the biggest marketing problem is that I spent all my money on development and don’t really have any left for marketing, so that may limit how many people hear about the game. But hey, I would rather make something really good, than make something a lot less-good and then be a lot louder in telling people about it.

  31. It’s too long ago to really remember properly, but I’m sure I’ve seen at least some ads for a few months in the bigger magazines for TheSims. Nothing unusual as far as I remember though, but they did do ‘normal’ marketing. I guess that simply was enough for it to start a hype.

    But apart from the fact that both Sim City and TheSims are actually really excellent games, it’s also one of those game series that makes one wonder how publishers or developers were able to start a genuine hype.

    I mean TheSims has been the best-selling PC game for at least 3 consecutive years (setting a record that’s many times the old one).

    Perhaps it simply was the right time to launch such a game, appealing more to the masses and casual gamers and they got lucky? Could it really be just the quality of the game itself? Not so sure.

    “If anything, the biggest marketing problem is that I spent all my money on development and don’t really have any left for marketing, so that may limit how many people hear about the game.”

    That shouldn’t be a real problem. At least not if you believe certain indie game gurus that have successfully released multiple games. They all say the same thing. Usually sending in press-releases, teaser material and other media promoting your game will be enough for magazines to start talking about your game. You might get lucky and your game might get noticed on some smaller but popular online magazine causing a bigger one to write about it, causing a chain reaction.

    Your game is definitely interesting enough for the bigger magazines to take a look at and probably more than interesting enough for them to write about. This kind of marketing and promotion can costs quite some time, but it’s also a common mistake of people to just sit down and wait until people start noticing your game.

    (I’m not saying you are or would sit down and just wait, but I’m just saying what those ‘gurus’ mentioned about people complaining that they have a hard time selling their game, eventhough it’s a good game. It takes a lot of effort apparently. )

  32. Sure, The Sims is big now, but it almost got cancelled like 3 times during development, because nobody believed it would sell.

    I do think that just press relations and word-of-mouth are worth a lot. If people in the press like your game, they will not hesitate to tell people about it. We’ve been fortunate with Braid in that some journalists really like the game. (PC Gamer UK have been great to us and have run articles on Braid twice — and we haven’t even given them a PC release date or publisher yet!)

    I’m not sure who the indie gurus are you’re referring to. But, I do think indies have low expectations sometimes. I go to some indie sites, and what I read there is just amateur and ridiculous. But of course, there are some indie developers who are totally on the ball.

    But one thing I think is that a lot of indies have low expectations for sales, so it’s easy for them to be happy with how much they sold. Maybe I’m foolish, but I spent a lot of money making Braid and it would be good to earn that back! If Braid sells 100,000 copies, I will at least be in the neighborhood of breaking even (when including an opportunity cost estimated on the low end). That’s a believable number for XBLA, but it’s also nowhere near a given.

    On forums you often see indies who would be crazily happy with sales in the 5,000 or 10,000 range; that’s just a different ballpark. Tactics that will sell 5,000 of a game are not the same ones that will sell 100,000.

  33. “Sim City, The Sims, Myst, Doom sell gigantically.”
    There are two parameters for a game to become genre defining: a leap in technological achievement and incorporating a new idea the market is ready to accept.
    The Sims might have been scheduled for cancellation, but all new ideas face that stage. Who would want to take care of a virtual person, or explore an island all alone through static pictures? The target group isn’t initially obvious.

    “I do think that just press relations and word-of-mouth are worth a lot.”
    No disagreement there. But a smart ad only works additively to your sales. Of course, if you have statistics that XBLA ads don’t amount to a whole lot of sales, that’s a different issue. The thing is, your game is going to be mentioned in the press once. Ads might offer less infiltration, but they repeat as long as your game is sold.

    “If Braid sells 100,000 copies, I will at least be in the neighborhood of breaking even”
    That seems like a hefty investment, nowhere near most indie productions.

  34. Going back to the actual images, I saw this press image from Cloverfield that I think does a really good job at explaining a lot of the movie:

    You know from this image, of course, who some of the main characters are, but also that it’s an action film (bloody forehead, dirty clothes), and communicates probably the most complex aspect of the film to communicate in ads – that it’s going to be told by one of the characters in the movie.

    BigBossSNK – “nowhere near most indie productions.” I have to come out and say that is just plain wrong. I know plenty of indie studios, and 100k copies to break even, without knowing Braid’s pricepoint, is pretty on par in the console market, at least. Of course there are plenty of exceptions, but Braid’s not too far off from the norm.

  35. is exactly one of the sites I was thinking of, when talking about low expectations. There are a number of indie developers with PC game sales much higher than that (and much higher than the 100,000 Braid is aiming for); but they don’t hang out at

  36. Jon: The purpose of an ad in this context is not to convey the details of the game. The purpose is to appeal to the same audience as the game. These are very different things.

    An ad is a metaphor for the product. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the product in construction. An ethical but still effective ad is merely one which appeals to as narrow as possible a superset of those people who may want to learn more about your product.

    And of course, an unethical one is one which merely attempts to appeal to the most number of people as possible, going so far as to try to alter their behavior in most cases these days.

    So I would say you want something more along the lines of the hourglass image, and less along the lines of the images in your front page post, because the people who will find that hourglass image interesting are the kinds of people who will find the game interesting, whereas I don’t think that’s true of the front page images.

    – Casey

  37. I like the graphic but agree that it loses something if you don’t have the time mechanic conveyed in some way.

    Only ideas I have are to have the motion lines going backward, or to do a rewind icon or clock hands with motion lines conveying backward motion.

    And/or cheezy tagline, e.g. “Braid: Can you unwind the threads of time?” or “Can you find your way through time?” or something like that. Seems like a cop out to go to text, but might be worth considering.

    Can’t wait to play it! Unfortunately, I have to buy it now that I’m no longer with MS! 🙂

  38. I am an industry outsider, and due to reasons I won’t mention now, I have an EXTREME interest to see this game go off-the-hook …

    I have so little experience with the gaming world, I’m a bit sheepish about offering my two cents worth, but …

    I have a fair background in PR/advertising/imagery related to the entertainment industry. Not in gaming however. As I said, I have a personal bias towards loving this game, and with that said …

    The initial image, while cool and creative and unique in it’s look, also gave me the “Mario Bros.” vibe, and only reading these comments validated my inexperienced perception.

    I also liked the hour glass for it’s ability to convey the games vibe. On the other hand, as I read all these posts, what came to mind for me was something more akin to a sequential image, very much like what the above poster (from a spanish-language site – i’ve lost trak of that post now) did with your original screenshot graphic.

    And what about this question of a banner vs. a squared or rectangular ad …
    it seems to me that the size/shape will undoubtedly influence what type of imagery is used. A banner lends itself to sequential imagery, (though the time issue is still a conundrum), or perhaps even a series of panels. Boxier is harder, and the ad would need to be tailored as such.

    I am curious why some of you believe that verbiage (script) is “a cop out.” All is meant for the sole purpose of conveying the essence of the game. Of course, the details are best left uncovered.

    One idea I had after reading all this is for a banner ad which contains that hour glass image to the far left, with the sequential images of the character “busting out” of time restraints (ie – the hour glass), showing a few of the basic actions, evolving towards a “Saved Princess” at the opposing end. There is some need to better define the sequential imagery than I have done here … to “flesh them out,” so to speak, to be sure. It is just an idea.
    Again, I think knowing the format of the ad is key to making it work.

    As for advertising in general, I wholly respect those artists of all fields who maintain their artistic integrity above all. Still, as a 360 owner who finds very few of the games truly interesting, but who is always searching for something new and different, a look to ads to somehow give me a sense of what the game experience is like, and what makes it different from others. To seek to “nail this on the head” is in no way to sell out. That doesn’t mean the task, especially in this case, isn’t incredibly difficult, and perhaps should be approached as an “artform” equal to that of creating the game itself.

    Well, nuff said for now …

  39. ps –
    the post I was referring to was from Pablo and Foranza’s …

    it seems like a logically visual avenue to explore.

  40. Here’s a catch phrase I came up with while at work today:
    “I conquered, I saw, I game”
    I release this in the public domain 😛
    Hopefully it’ll give you some inspiration, if you decide to use text in your add.

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