The Process of Creating Great Video Game Key Art

Why Your Video Game Needs Great Key Art to Stop Shoppers in Their Tracks.

When you peruse Netflix to find a new show to binge, what’s your process for picking one? Do you go online and read the summary of each individual show? Do you close your eyes, scroll at random, and buckle-up for six seasons of wheat grass recipes or whatever else you might land on? No, right? That’s way too time consuming and unpredictable.

If you’re like most people, you probably find a category you like and scroll though until one of the programs catches your eye. That’s why creating great video game key art is such an integral part of marketing your title. As much as our parents and teachers warned against judging a book by its cover, that’s exactly what everyone does when it comes to choosing, well, everything!

And this way of choosing things isn’t a matter of defiance or lack of thought – it’s just convenient. Our brains are constantly working to filter out unimportant information, and we would literally go insane if we had to analyze and process every single thing we saw, heard, smelled, and touched each day.

It’s easier to individually process something that catches our attention than it is to invest time into an endless possibility of options. That’s why taking the time to design compelling videogame key art that you know will resonate with fans could be the difference between someone taking home your game or leaving it on the shelf to collect dust. You might have a really solid title, but that doesn’t help if no one’s interested enough to pay any attention to It in the first place.

So what’s the process for creating killer video game key art to make your title stand out?

Choose an Artist or Agency

Unless you or someone on your team has super solid design chops, it’s best to go with a professional. Keep in mind that this art will be the face of your game and will be used as the determining factor in whether someone decides to play it or not. You don’t want to skimp out here, so make room in your budget for a reliable artist.

Whether you decide to choose and artist or an agency depends on your preferences, turnaround time, and budget. Going with a freelancer may be less expensive than an agency, but choosing a talented and reliable one can be a gamble. The turnaround rate at which they complete assignments might also be longer since a single freelancer likely doesn’t have an entire team of people working for them.

On the flipside, an agency will have the resources, manpower, and experience to produce quality work. They’ll probably also provide other services you may be interested in that can continue to help market your title in addition to the game’s key art itself. Naturally though, those extras will add up financially, and you’re likely to be paying more with this option.

Keep Branding Cohesive

If you’re a game developer, hopefully you already know the importance of having a solid brand, and your video game’s key art falls directly into that category. You’ll go about figuring out your art direction in many of the same ways you developed the brand voice for your company. So what story does your game tell, and how do you portray that to potential customers?

Insomniac’s method involves coming up with a list of adjectives they feel best represents their game, and building from there. This will help evoke any emotion you’ll want your player to experience through gameplay, as well as what should set the tone for what they can expect from the game and what genre it is.

Tell A Story

If your game has an epic storyline or shyamalan-esque plot twists, you obviously won’t want to give away any major spoilers. That said, it’s a good idea to let people get a glimpse into the world you’ve created, both to give them knowledge to make an informed decision about a potential purchase, but also to entice them into the story of your title.

Your video game’s key art is an opportunity to tell as much about the story as you’re comfortable offering, because you want to pique player interest enough that they take home your game and play it to find out more. You can do this by highlighting main characters, providing compelling action shots of gameplay, or even hinting at a mystery people will need to play in the game in order to solve it.

There’s no limit on the direction, style, color scheme, or visuals you can use. Just be sure to convey the general emotion players can expect to get from the game and what they’ll be signing up for if they buy it.

Make a Clear Timeline

Let’s be clear – the key art you choose will end up being the face of your game. That means that it’s too important of a component to be a last-minute thought you start planning for a week before launch. How much time you should give yourself is up to your specific needs and the art design and direction you’ll go with, but there’s no such thing as starting to brainstorm too early.

Battlefield concept artist, Robert Sammelin shared that it took him eighteen months from conception to completion of the game’s key art. Of course, he had been thinking of art for the game since early production started so that his ideas could grow as the game developed, which isn’t necessarily mandatory (but also doesn’t hurt).

When thinking about your timeline, you might consider whether you’ll be using traditional art with rendered game or character images, or going for a realistic look with real-life people and objects. If you’re shooting for the latter, keep in mind that you may have to put out casting calls, audition models, find and prepare wardrobe, and do test shoots all before you’re ready to produce a final image. And this may be in addition to taking the time to seek out a reputable agency or freelancer in the first place. As a good rule of thumb, give yourself a few months of flexible execution time, and be able to adjust it accordingly determined by the direction you see yourself heading.

The process of creating great video game key art is one you may have to start sooner than you think, but it’s a key component to your title’s overall marketing strategy that shouldn’t go ignored. Making sure your game is represented by the proper art is what gets your title into the hands of gamers most likely to enjoy it, and what sets it apart from the endless other games all competing against each other.

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