What are the main reasons a creator decides to release their product to the public? With most people, there are normally two factors at play:
- the desire to share their vision with others;
- the wish to monetize it.
Let’s look at this from the point of view of online game development. In order for the monetization to be successful, a game needs to attract as many players as possible and keep them engaged for as long as possible. For this purpose, it has to offer them a unique and interesting story. Put bluntly, the popularity of your game directly depends on how good its story is.
So, how do you create a good engaging story? Let’s look into this question in detail.
How Much Story Do You Need?
Most games can be divided pretty cleanly into three types:
- Games that require little to no plot;
- Games that require some plot to drive them forward;
- Games that are completely plot-based.
The first category includes simple logic puzzles, digital versions of board games, etc. Implementing too much plot into your version of Tetris, Mahjong or Solitaire would only weigh it down. And with purely physics-based games like Smash Hit, a story simply won’t fit into the game design. This is why they are also called “mindless games”.
The second category is the widest: these are the majority of games on the market. Most games require a plot because most games are based on repetitive mechanics. The plot is what keeps the players going through the mechanics over and over again to uncover new details and unlock new options.
The third category includes text-based quests and choose-your-own-story games. A good example is everything produced by the now defunct Telltale games.
There are also games that don’t really fit into any category. Is there any actual plot in The Sims or Pokemon Go? Not quite, but you could say that the worldbuilding tells a story of its own.
How to Create Your Game Story
The basics of creating a game story are not unlike creating a story for a book or a movie.
Choose your setting
The setting is an important part of any game, one that sets the mood and defines the target audience. A Victorian mansion, a spaceship, or a medieval village are the setting of your story. If you need inspiration for this part, you could turn to your favorite books or movies, or what’s most popular at the moment. Players love a well-developed setting that feels three-dimensional (not just graphically, but in the sense of a place that has a history.)
Choose your story
The actual game mechanics could be anything from match-3 to hidden objects to farming. But in between the levels, the player could be solving a crime, looking for a lost family member, trying to pursue their dream career, etc.
Remember that a good story always needs a conflict. There are several types of conflicts:
- Internal – the protagonist struggles with their own issues;
- Interpersonal – the conflict is between two characters;
- External – the conflict is between the protagonist and a powerful external force.
Protagonist vs. evil overlord is an external conflict, protagonist vs. annoying neighbor is an interpersonal one. An external conflict is the optimal solution for most games, but not a requirement.
It’s a good choice to have more than one storyline. In addition to the main conflict, there have to be some background things going on. Building relationships with other characters, defeating smaller villains, collecting artifacts – these are all parts of the story that add more depth. And depth, as we know, is what makes a story more interesting.
Choose your characters
Every story needs a protagonist – that would be the player, or the character that the player controls. Their actions will be presented as decisive for the plot of the story.
A story also needs supporting characters: the ones who will be assisting the player, presenting quests, etc. Every supporting character needs a backstory, a personality and a purpose.
When working on supporting characters, ask yourself: what is this person doing here? What are their reasons to cooperate with the protagonist? What is their goal throughout this story? Knowing all these details makes a plot strong and consistent.
Choose a way to introduce the story
Are you going to start with the player knowing nothing about anything, and then have all the details of the story revealed to them through a string of quests? Or are you starting off with a clear purpose, and then adding new obstacles on the character’s way to their goal? In any case, you need to have a clear idea of what’s going on, even if the player doesn’t.
Choose a solution to the story
Is the protagonist going to defeat the evil overlord after all, or is it going to be a never ending struggle? Both options are good for different purposes. If you have the possibility to keep adding new content to the game, then the best option is letting the player finish the smaller storylines, introducing new ones, and keeping the main conflict open. If your game has the kind of plot that needs a clear ending, is it going to be a happy ending, or is the character going to fail? Will the ending depend on the player’s actions or be the same every time?
Keep in mind that there is a difference between PC, console and mobile games when it comes to the implementation of the story. Games for PC and console are mainly monetized via purchase, while mobile games often rely on continuous monetization via in-game ads or paid VIP accounts. That’s why the best plot for a mobile game is one that keeps offering players new mysteries to uncover and ideally, never ends. Of course, it also depends on the chosen genre.
With knowing all these things, you should now have a pretty consistent story.
Should You Use a Story Generator?
There are plenty of services online that offer plot generators, and they seem like a tempting idea if you’re just starting to mull over your story.
The pros of using a plot generator:
- It’s fast and easy;
- It could help you come up with unconventional ideas and/or combinations of ideas.
The cons of using a plot generator:
- You will be less emotionally invested in a randomly generated story, and less interested to keep working on it;
- With a poorly thought-out story, there is a higher chance to run into inconsistencies later;
- These tools mainly target writers, and what works for a short story is not guaranteed to work for a game.
All in all, story generators are good tools, but only if used for supporting purposes. Relying on them alone is not the best choice if you want to create an engaging game.
How to Estimate Your Game Story?
Now that you have your story, it’s time to test it on real people. If you are working alone, it might be a good idea to run your story by someone else as often as possible. Other people tend to see things you don’t notice. They may point out inconsistencies you’ve overlooked, or suggest new ideas for storylines. Just remember that it has to be your target audience, otherwise the ideas won’t be fully objective.
Of course, finding your target audience and getting them interested in your project is easier said than done. For this purpose, you can engage professional help of companies that offer game development services.
We at Melior Games have vast experience in outsource game development for different genres. We can help you test your game from every point of view, including user experience and technical specifics. Rest assured: we know how to make your story more engaging and your game more profitable. And if the story is the only element of the game you have, we can help you find a technical realization for it.
Take a look at our portfolio, and contact us to discuss your project.