It’s not every day a professional poker player from Duns in Berwickshire contacts you out-of-the-blue to discuss your availability to collaborate on copy for a brand-new party game. But, pleasingly, that’s what happened to me when Dez Chisholm phoned me in May 2017.
Doing things you’ve never done before is one of the joys of being a copywriter and I was intrigued by my client’s potted and, in truth, slightly bamboozling account of his game, Awkward Stewations. Years ago, I wrote packaging copy for the Polly Pocket franchise. Coming up with fabulous stories and scenarios for tiny mermaids was a hoot and light relief against the corporate intensity of business-to-business and graduate recruitment copy – but just as deadly serious in terms of producing audience-ready copy. The party game Dez was developing with his American business partner, Mike, reminded me of that vibe. Awkward Stewations sounded great fun and the brief seemed tight enough: a bit of proofreading and some tidying of existing copy. However, when Dez and I met to discuss the project in more depth, I realised the task was substantially more ticklish. And way more interesting.
This slapstick, potentially raucous, party game is essentially straightforward to play but – like so many games – extraordinarily slippery to describe. Additionally, it can be played by a wide range of ages and will look and sound totally different when played by a family rather than by some buddies over a bevvy or three.
Clearly, we needed to establish a unique voice for Awkward Stewations that would work across all media and inform and entertain a broad listening or reading audience in the same way that playing the game would entertain them. However, before that could happen, we needed to agree exactly what the game was. I’m not going to describe the full details of the game here but please do head over to the Facebook page and website in due course to learn more about Awkward Stewations and the results of our creative cut-and-thrust. When Dez came to me, some of the style of Awkward Stewations was set. The illustrations had already been commissioned from Marc Badminton and Dez was working with a graphic designer/digital wizard, Harry Lang.
Here’s a bit more about the process of developing the game’s persona and voice across media.
Nailing the brief
The strapline for the game in those early days was ‘A role-play party game like no other’. I felt this wasn’t quite right in two ways. One: the phrase ‘like no other’, despite its assertion of originality, subliminally suggests that the game will just settle in alongside a range of similar games – which is not the case. Two is more emphatic: it isn’t a ‘role-play’ game. Role-play is a whole technical genre in the gaming world and Awkward Stewations is not in that category. Once we’d agreed these parameters, we started playing with straplines, and I started playing with the ‘How to play’ leaflet copy.
Tone of voice
I wanted to establish a voice and house-style for Awkward Stewations that encapsulated its anarchic quality, and could be carried over to the other games Dez and his partner are developing. I homed in on a light, conversational style with self-consciously tongue-in-cheek asides which included the audience in the joke whilst poking gentle fun. Dez felt this was in-tune with his wider ambitions and the specifics of Awkward Stewations. In fact, I realised that the voice and tone were fundamental in establishing Dez and Mike as owning the game. Their brand is their personal story and hands-on love of, and involvement in, their games. So, the idea of ‘Dez and Mike’ is essential to Awkward Stewation’s wider media presence and marketing.
Honing Awkward Stewations
Writing the ‘How to play’ leaflet involved breaking the game down into its constituent parts. This helped Dez identify a few anomalies in the game and tighten up the way it would be played. Specifically, through the step-by-step process we realised that, as long as the core game was playable and the rules followable, the fewer additional tweaks and rule options, the better. So, in the sign-off to the leaflet we summed up the wider possibilities of the game, without overburdening an already busy ‘How to play’ breakdown:
“RULES & TWEAKS
We could get all dictatorial here and tell you things like: ‘you mustn’t cover your face with your hands’, or: ‘if you’re not sure if a player’s laughed, take a group vote’, or: ‘feel free to tweak objectives, rewards, number of different cards and when cards are used’. But we’re not control freaks.
Finally, if you find you can’t agree on something and it’s ruining the game (for example, no one’s wearing blue and you can’t decide on another colour): just contact us. We’ll be out.
(Extract from Awkward Stewations How to play leaflet © Awkward Stewations)
The video scripts & website
Research is a crucial tool in any writer’s box and I spent plenty of time hanging out with other games. Particularly Exploding Kittens and Bears vs Babies. These games and the team behind them have had amazing success in the whole card-game, crowdfunding, launch video sphere and their slick, quick, quirky production values are truly impressive. Dez had an American voiceover artist in mind and I imagined his voice as I drafted the paper and web-based copy – essentially the voice of Dez and Mike. The scripts are an extension of Dez and Mike’s characters as they unfold the details of how to play Awkward Stewations in the full-length video on the website. However, the 30-second social media launch video is all about grabbing attention, delivering essential detail (website, launch date) and establishing the ethos of the game through hard-working, light-touch script, animation and subtitles. It was wonderful to finally hear Sean Chiplock bring Dez and Mike to life so to speak! You’ll find the full-blown Dez and Mike story, which is the essential backdrop to Awkward Stewations and the ongoing development of other games, here on the website.
Please do take a look at the short video here and the longer one here. Share away and give Awkward Stewations a like on Facebook. It is fabulous to work with such creative, courageous and, yes, slightly mad individuals on what is a truly different and fun game.
What I have learnt
- Working with a client who’s not used to commissioning artwork/copy/design etc is incredibly healthy in terms of stripping out jargon and common creative assumptions when discussing copy. Which is stimulating.
- Scripting videos for party games is different from other scripts. Don’t try to be too clever or assume subtext will be useful.
- A methodical approach and focused way of tracking house-style decisions is vital: keeping up with continuity issues across a wide-ranging suite of communications – including copy for 500 or so cards in the game itself – can get tricky.
- Writing copy for games is deadly serious and tremendous fun!