Like Superman, Shawn Kittelsen was adopted.

It wasn’t until his son—Clark—was born that he was able to look at someone who shared his blood.

“I had never seen anyone with my eyes reflected back at me,” he said.

That very line is said by Superman in the video game Injustice 2 when he meets Supergirl. All of a sudden, he has a family.

“I knew that the way that lifted my spirit was universal,” Kittlelsen said. “And I knew for Superman that would lift his heart.”

And by extension, lift the hearts of core fans and casual players alike.

Kittelsen co-wrote the game, winner of multiple 2017 Fighting Game of the Year awards for NetherRealm Studios and WB Games. He spoke at PromaxGAMES: The Summit 2018 about striking the right creative balance between diving too deep into a core niche— in which you risk alienating casual fans, and delivering content that’s generic or inauthentic, which angers the core.

The solution?

“Emotion is the universal key to all of this,” he said.

When creating content, Kittelsen asks himself two questions: What lifts my spirit and what breaks my heart? These are different things for everyone, but the feelings themselves are universal.

When writing Injustice 2, what broke his heart was that to the dismay of his childhood self, Superman is a bad guy; kind of an evil dictator who likes to kill people.

“For this kid,” he said, showing a photo of himself from 1987, “that’s not my Superman … It hurts to see the hero be a villain.”

But he honed in on a theme: every villain is the hero of their own story … and so is every fan. And so is everyone on earth.

So when the moment came where Superman unexpectedly saved Batman, it struck a chord with the community.

“Even when they are enemies, they are still heroes,” he said.

This sentiment feeds into another creative approach: “We need to stop being professionals, and start being fans ourselves,” he said.

While that probably sounds like simple advice, and a reminder of what marketers may already know, it’s something that’s he’s embraced throughout a successful career in gaming. He’s not just a fan of Superman, he understands why other people are fans too. So when it comes to getting the games he writes to stand out on the shelf, he is able to appeal to both core and casual fans by letting his emotions shape his narrative.

“If you feel nothing when you are looking at your creative, who else do you think is going to feel something?” he asked. By the same token, “if you feel it, I guarantee you are not alone.”

Too often, marketers make the mistake of chasing data without checking into their own emotions, but the strategy should be a balance of the two.

“If you lead with your heart, confirm with your data,” he said. “If you lead with data, confirm with your heart.”

Tags: promaxgames 2018

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