Not only has the audience broadened, the sheer range of titles available at any given time is astounding. Publishers are always looking for the best way to give their game an edge, or at the very least, establish some form of brand recognition within consumers.
Trailers tend to be the go-to marketing tool for this. In theory, they’re the easiest and quickest way to drum up interest for a visually oriented product, and given the apparent convergence of film and games, they’re also a proven winner. However, there is a distinct difference between the marketing of a film and a game: the time between the initial reveal and the final product availability. A technique that’s becoming worryingly common is the use of a pre-rendered trailer designed to capture the ‘mood’ of the game before it can actually be shown in a state worth demonstrating. These trailers are sometimes released well over a year before the game itself ships, and fail to actually demonstrate the game in any way.
Yes, there are reasons to do this. Games take an inordinate amount of time to produce, and publishers are more than eager to find out if there’s a guaranteed audience for their game before its release. Unlike film, games don’t always have the luxury of being completed enough to cut together a trailer: a film trailer can be cut as soon as the film wraps (or even during the shoot itself). However, despite the delay between the trailer and the game’s release, things like the mood and tone of the game would be essentially locked down, allowing the trailer to create a relatively faithful analogue. The initial teaser trailer for Arkham City is the perfect example of this: while the content and ‘story’ of the trailer weren’t completely represented in the game itself, it hints towards the tone of it, as well as providing a back story that’s then revealed in the game. While the visuals are of a considerably higher quality than what the game was ultimately able to produce, the trailer and the game still share certain characteristics.
However, this is not always the case. Dead Island’s teaser trailer was, to some, better than the game itself: it presented a sentimental and harrowing story of a family overcome by a zombie apocalypse while on holiday. Unfortunately, the game itself was far removed from the tone set by the trailer, opting for a more generic action experience that lacked the finesse and care portrayed in the trailer.
Perhaps this is the point though. Marketers simply wish for people to remember a name, and the Dead Island trailer certainly achieved that. It’s no longer acceptable to rattle off a list of technical features; instead, it’s all about impressions and emotional resonance. I maintain that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but using this technique for such a blatantly obvious purpose without a solid connection to the end product is irritating. There is a large conglomerate of gamers out there who would love to play the game offered in that initial Dead Island trailer, and not the one that was actually released. No amount of marketing is going to sell me on a game that I don’t particularly want to play, no matter how good the trailer is.
I’d like to end on a trailer that came by out way last night, for a game called Reset. Reset is, according to developers Theory Interactive, "a single player co-op first person puzzle game with a strong emphasis on story and atmosphere". While it’s essentially guaranteed that the game will visually match the trailer (as the trailer was produced entirely in-engine), it’s a complete mystery as to whether the tone indicated in the trailer will be what we get in the end. If it is, then consider my interest piqued. If it isn’t, then it’ll be yet another disappointing example of contrived marketing, and another mark on the tally of frustrations.
Imagine this scenario: A new game is announced! You don’t know anything about it, but people are talking about the awesome new trailer. So, you think to yourself, "I do believe that I will partake in this trailer’s audiovisual offering!", and proceed to YouTube and look this new game up.
As you watch this trailer, you are hit from every direction by the emotional touch of the trailer, the music, the setting, the graphics! Everything is amazing, fits together perfectly, it’s so damn cinematic! Whoever made this game is obviously the best developer of all time. Screw all those other games you were looking forward to, this trailer has now convinced you to cancel all your game preorders and get ten copies of this new game instead.
Months pass, the game’s release date gets closer, and your anticipation increases with every passing hour. Follow-up trailers convince you that you want this game more than anything, ever! The teasing glimpses of the gameplay in them look awesome too! You go to your local game store for the midnight launch, get to the front of the line, slap your cash on the counter, and run home (all while drooling profusely).
You eagerly put the disk into your console, press the "play" button, and the game loads into a 5-minute intro cinematic. Holy crap, this is going to be awesome! You finally get to the point where you can control your character, and start pressing buttons with gusto. Okay, so it’s starts off a bit slow. That’s cool, happens in every game. It’ll get better, right? Five hours later, and you come to a realisation: It’s not going to get better. As you come to terms with this realisation, something within you dies. Your formerly colourful soul turns a particularly dull shade of grey. You cry yourself to sleep, never play games again, and end up in a dead-end job packing packing boxes into other packing boxes with box packers.
…Right. Well, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But you know what I’m talking about – game trailers that don’t show the most important part of the game: the gameplay! Look, I’m all for fancy cinematic trailers. They’re always really damn cool looking and they always work well to get more people interested in a game. But for the love of god, follow it up with a gameplay trailer immediately! In fact, they shouldn’t even be two separate videos. If you’re making a game, show me the damn game.
Yeah, I’m talking to you, whoever made Dead Island! You too, Blizzard! And we can’t forget about Square Enix and Bethesda! And close to almost every other company announcing a game, from the looks of it! Cinematic videos are cheap, and don’t show me what the actual experience of the game is going to be.
I only have one request, and it’s a pretty simple one. If you’re going to announce a new game, show how the game will be played, not what the cutscenes are going to look like. Because unless more than half your game is cutscenes, they’re not what I care about. Gameplay is king, and that’s what game trailers should be focusing on.