Embracing Authenticity

“It has to be authentic.”

In my conversation with Wes Keltner, co-founder and creative director at Gun Media, this was the throughline. Gun Media’s latest title, Friday the 13th: the Game, has recently surpassed 1.8 million units sold on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Authenticity is at the core of the gameplay experience and reflected in the marketing designed in collaboration with Shatterbox.

From working with known names from the franchise’s history to balancing the mechanics of the game, Gun focused on making the players’ experience as authentic as possible. Working with Shatterbox’s team of designers, this philosophy extended to the international marketing campaign.

Keltner, well-versed in graphic design himself, knew exactly where to begin when it came to gathering inspiration. “I didn’t really look at other games for what we were doing, I looked at 80’s film stuff. VHS covers, static effects.” He continued: “But any time 2D stuff went out, we tried to capitalize on the authenticity of Jason’s mask—close up scrapes and scratches on the mask. Or we would put him in a foreboding, moody shot.”

What comes to mind when you think of Friday the 13th? Even if you’ve never seen any of the films, you’re familiar with the atmosphere, specifically: Jason Voorhees’s mask and the bloody nights at Camp Crystal Lake.

Rather than chasing video game industry trends, Keltner and Shatterbox borrowed aesthetics, color pallets, and design tropes from the film franchise to serve as the foundation for the marketing campaign.

Early in development, Gun faced the challenge of how to market the game to potential backers on Kickstarter (a crowdfunding platform) with very little to preview.

“When you don’t have a lot of assets to show, then you rely on the story. You rely on the promise. You rely on those people (Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees, music by Harry Manfredini, executive producer Tom Savini). You rely on what you have,” says Keltner.

By giving backers a taste of what the project could be, Gun started to build something all game designers strive for: they started to build hype. But the trouble with hype, in any form of media, is maintaining it. How did Gun approach maintaining hype over more than a year of development?

“To put it in horror terms, you don’t show the sex. You show the bra and panties,” says Keltner.

While it may seem a simple remark, this philosophy paid dividends for the game. Teasing the audience with shadowy silhouettes, cryptic imagery, and overt nods to the genre, helped sustain suspense. Not only did that reiterate the concept of the game, but it created a “what will they do next” ecosystem so vital to media marketing in the age of social media.

Whether remaining true to the source material, embracing what you have and doubling down on what’s to come, or building hype that is indicative of the culture, Gun Media and Shatterbox have remained authentic in all facets of the game’s marketing. They just embraced it.