How To Make A Strong Brand Style Guide

by Justin Carroll

Official Super Mario style guide

Does your game marketing appear cohesive? These 5 essential elements of a brand style guide will help ensure all your game marketing efforts stand united.

Your game’s brand identity is the overall impression it leaves on players after seeing its logo mark, key art, colors, typography and all other visual elements.

Just as most successful game brands have a strong brand positioning statement, they also have what’s called a brand style guide. This is typically a PDF document containing all the visual elements that make up that game’s look and feel, rules on how to use those elements (and how not to use them) and links to their high-resolution asset files.

Although it’s typically delivered in PDF, it doesn’t have to be. My style guides are sometimes delivered as secure microsites for users to access online.

A style guide is useful in getting an entire team on the same page about the style of a game, and it also exists to speak on your behalf about the game brand to marketing and PR professionals. Overall, it’s an extremely useful addition to any existing game press kit.

There’s no size limit to a style guide, but as a foundation here are what I believe are the 5 essential elements to a strong brand style guide:

1. Logo Mark Variations

A logo is a mark, symbol or other design adopted by a game developer or publisher to identify its game apart from all other games. It’s used on all marketing materials even down to t-shirts and stickers.

Your brand style guide should provide a logo in vector, not bitmap (meaning it can be scaled and not lose quality), and exported at high resolution on a transparent background with no matting.

Now, let’s say your logo is blue and looks terrible on a red background. That’s a rule you’ll want to illustrate in the guide. It tells people not to use it in that way.

It’s important you illustrate as many objections as you can, even ones you believe are common sense.

You’d be surprised by the strange things people will do with your logo unless you tell them otherwise. And instead of holding their hand you can simply point them to your style guide.

2. Layered Key Art Files

Key art, or poster art, is the entire essence of your game in one picture or piece of art. Its objective is to literally communicate the brand of your game without the viewer having played it.

Take Super Mario for example, when we see this key art we can take away from it what this game is probably about, the characters, environments and style we’ll probably see in gameplay. Great key art also communicates gameplay style, mechanic and possibly more subtle meanings.

Your brand style guide should provide a layered file (typically Photoshop or Illustrator) for your key art, exported in at least standard poster format (24″x36″ at 300dpi for Web and print) and smartphone, tablet and desktop computer wallpaper sizes (also layered).

With your key art layered whoever is working with it can quickly pop it open and arrange it as they need, possibly for the size constraints of whatever medium they’re working with. However, and again, you’ll want to be painfully clear in illustrating exactly how this important piece of your brand identity can be altered and how it can’t.

3. Character And Environment Background Packs

Aside from story, your characters and environments are the strongest representation of what sets your game apart in the world. In fact, they’re so representative that even the smallest resemblance to another game will have you labeled a clone.

People want to put their faith in your characters so we want them front and center.

Your brand style guide should provide at least 2 different perspectives (portrait, profile and action) for each main character, exported at high-resolution on a transparent background with no matting. And high-resolution, layered, panoramic and seamless environment background images as well.

Don’t forget to include the character’s name, and label the perspectives and environment backgrounds.

There’s a couple opportunities here to go the extra mile. To push things over the top include short GIF (or better yet, MOV) animations for each character. Also, include a sprite pack for all game assets in as high of a resolution as possible. Those are things marketing help, like myself, will ask for anyway.

4. Colors And Pattern Swatches

I like to think of color and pattern as the DNA of your brand identity. Their choice and combination are the fodder upon which you’ve designed the assets for your game. And they should certainly be reflected in your brand identity.

Your brand style guide should provide about 3 or more color swatches complete with their hex or other color codes. And 3 or more patterns that appropriately represent the look and feel of your game.

Patterns and colors should be chosen in such a way that anyone could drop one of your characters or logo on top of it and that would be an appropriate representation of your game’s look and feel. The idea here is to have people constrained to the colors and patterns you choose, and not to choose their own (because they will).

5. Fonts With Typography Examples

Fonts and typography are often overlooked when it comes to a game’s brand identity. And that’s unfortunate because they’re extremely powerful. I’ve seen the look and feel of an entire game change by simply choosing a new font.

Your brand style guide should provide at least 2 fonts, along with examples of how those fonts should be used including attributes such as color, size, weight, leading and tracking.

Illustrate which fonts will be used for certain elements such as headings, error messages and general body copy. This is especially useful for people who help create the game, or owned marketing such as websites, social media and email marketing.

Although you’ll be giving font and typography examples, font asset files shouldn’t be distributed unless they’re 100% free for commercial use.

In other words, don’t distribute your licensed fonts.

Conclusion

Think about how many games reach out for PR from blogs, influencers and other publications. And think about how much work it can be for some of those publications to get that game’s marketing assets the way they want them. A style guide can help you stand out, above and beyond the typical press kit. The easier you are to work with the more likely you are to be worked with.

But more importantly is your game’s brand identity. When brand identity varies it sends a confusing message to potential players. A solid brand style guide will perform wonders in helping your game appear cohesive wherever it’s published in the world.