Trailers: Do they cause more harm than good?

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Trailers in the gaming industry are the first step in building hype for a game.  Often the trailer will come out as a teaser years ahead of the actual game.  Nearly every trailer features zero actual gameplay and the vast majority are done in CGI with scenes having little or nothing to do with what playing the game will actually be like.  When I watch a trailer the first thing that I do is try and identify what they’re wanting to accomplish.  Are they showing me what the game will be like, setting up a story, introducing characters, or simply giving me some really flashy scene to watch and drool over?

Here’s where I ask myself whether or not trailers cause more harm than good.  Let’s quickly evaluate a few trailers.  Some of these are going to be from past releases and some will be for future releases.  We’ll be able to compare in hindsight as well as identify similar qualities in trailers for the unreleased games.

Warhammer Online Cinematic Trailer – It’s a beautiful trailer.  But it’s epic for the sake of being epic.  There’s nothing in here that matches what the actual game was like. Characters are behaving in ways unlike they did in-game.  You don’t have Shadow warriors running on rooftops or squig herders hopping inside their squig (this was even billed a feature for a while). This trailer got people excited.  It caused more harm than good.

Allods Online Trailer – Rendered with some CGI and some in-game engine.  Here’s a trailer that clearly defines what will be going on in-game.  You have two sides that will be battling on air ships in the astral.  While the game itself may have floundered this trailer certainly did not do it any injustice.  I played the game to the max level and even went into an airship.   The game was like the trailer.  This trailer did well by the game.

Aion “Vision” Trailer – This one starts of so well by giving players a look at how the game will ‘actually’ change.  However, it then quickly degrades into showing a bunch of stuff that looks nothing and plays nothing like Aion ever played.  There’s not even room for believability here.  It gives people this false sense of excitement for something that will never be like what’s shown.  More harm than good for sure.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Teaser Trailer – I wrote about this trailer yesterday.  Here we have a story being set up in the beginning with absolutely no expectations being put onto the gameplay.  When the character in plate armor begins fighting skeletons, there’s a believability to the combat.  I’ve seen combat look like this in Batman Arkham Asylum and God of War.  It’s CGI but I’m betting not too far off the mark from what the game will look like.  They’ve left me interested in the story, knowing there’s combat, but not set up to be disappointed.

StarCraft 2 Ghosts of the Past Trailer – Not once in the entire trailer was there ANYTHING close to gameplay.  SC is a RTS game!  However, the entire trailer is about the story.  If you played the original StarCraft and have any memory of what happened in the game then you’re already connected to the trailer because you’re connected to the story.  Blizzard has a magical ability to enchant the sense with their cinematic trailers that make the movie industry look like preschool.  They’re usually always about giving you a glimpse at the story to set up how you should be feeling as you go in to play.  If you’ve never played SC though and you go into the game thinking you’re playing something like this trailer… I really do feel bad for you.

SWTOR “Hope” Cinematic Trailer – Bioware’s trailers for Star Wars are starting to give Blizzard some real competition.  They’re absolutely gorgeous.  There’s some story being told here.  I’m familiar with a lot of the history and story being told about the wars between the Sith and the Republic.  At the same time, this starts to fall into the same problems that Warhammer’s trailer did and a little of SC2.  The SWTOR trailers are a little too epic for the sake of being epic and if you have no prior knowledge of how SWTOR plays then you’re probably in for a disappointment.  We’ll see.

I could go on for hours writing here with the number of trailers out there.   Trailers are supposed to get people excited but there’s definitely a line.  There’s a line for the people making them where they have to consider who is watching and what they’ll be expecting after.  There’s also a line for those watching to know that what you’re seeing is most likely not representative of the real thing.

Choosing whether or not trailers cause more harm than good, I would definitely conclude that they do indeed cause much more harm.  Regardless of how much responsibility is on the viewer not to get excited, it happens and it happens to me all the time.  I know it happens to you too because I’m not the only one buying the games that turn out nothing like the trailers.

Trailers are only a single ingredient in this enormous hype recipe, but they’re usually the first and they’re always one that appeals to the senses most.   I want to see more trailers that do a better job at either telling a story or providing us with more realistic expectations.

  • Just to clarify, Squig Herders in Warhammer Online CAN actually jump inside of a squig and go into Melee Combat with them. But it was (And remains to be) one of the weakest features of the class that most players kind of ignore it. It’s called “Squig Battle Armor”.

    That being said, Yah, Trailers are kind of stupid in general. Game play or why bother.

  • The Aion Visions trailer almost made me regret giving up the game in beta & selling my pre-order copy. Its a shame that none of the stuff was real gameplay. 🙁

  • Absolutely, I was actually just in a big argument on some forums regarding this very issue. I HATE cinematic trailers and think they are borderline false advertising.

  • To be honest, the Starcraft 2 trailer was in a big part (mostly?) made of singleplayer gameplay, not cinematics. You know Heavy Rain? That’s how a big part of the singleplayer is made, not only with RTS gameplay. Besides, even if that was only cinematics, it would still make more sense (in my opinion) to feature the story, since we have been experiencing the RTS gameplay for months in the beta already. That trailer also captures the “feel” of Starcraft really well, unlike most trailers I have seen… (WHO, GW)

  • I wouldn’t say they do more harm than good. It depends on the game. It is counter productive to do cinematic trailers for MMORPGs because most MMORPGs have shitty combat mechanics that put people into comas. I always laugh when I see trailers for games like SWTOR, AION, Warhammer, and the like because the actual game’s combat is NOTHING like that.

    In Starcraft II’s case, people know it’s an RTS, so they automatically know the combat and scenes they see won’t be like that when they’re playing.

    In the end, the trailers for MMORPGs aren’t failures because they are action packed… they are failures and do more harm than good because the games they are made for suck ass.

  • Trailers are often depressingly formulaic. The “Reckoning” one is a real case in point. I actually became significantly less interested in that game as I watched the trailer. My thought processes went something like:

    “I’ve seen this before”

    “Not undead again! Why is it always either undead or demons?”

    “This looks like the target market is teenagers. I’m too old for this. Why am I even watching it?”

    And finally “If this is the best they can come up with I don’t hold out much hope for a decent story”.

    Of course it may turn out that the trailer is misleading in a good way and the game will look nothing like it. Let’s hope so.

    I’ll wait for some actual gameplay footage to crop up. A minute of gameplay footage is worth a hundred trailers.

  • All gaming trailers are commercials. If you observe them like any other commerical you can never be taken in or upset.

    They are like the tooth paste commercials. Your teeth will never be as bright and perfect as the model who has 20 grand invested in her mouth.

    Pay them no mind but appreciate the content non the less.

  • Perhaps my biggest gaming disappointment is that the Warhammer game never even came close to living up to its brilliant cinematic.

  • Just to echo what Sentack said you absolutely could control your squiq from inside of it. It wasn’t as cool as you would hope but it was there. Frankly I love cinematic trailers, just make sure you have some in game footage out there to see too so people can see the difference. I wouldn’t get nearly as excited as I did about the old warcraft games or even wow before now anyway without the.

    For example I respect the 40k mmo debuting with in game footage but I would love to see an awesome cinematic too. The only thing is the company needs to deliver on the game once you get people excited, as a general rule Blizzard does that. I am a huge Bioware fan so for me the cinematic for TOR hypes me up just like the SC2 trailer gets me excited.

  • Didn’t it just turn you into a Squig? Nothing like what they described about going inside and pulling on parts and all the hyperbole they used?

  • GW2 also (wisely, IMHO) seems to be sticking to in-game-engine-based trailers. After WETA’s great Hellgate:London trailer and the subsequent letdown of the game, I prefer in-game cinematic trailers.

  • Trailers are sort of pointless to us as a player but they are free and cheap advertisement for the companies that make them. Usually you have to make an effort to get your ads to the consumer – how awesome is it that you can have a piece of advertisement where the user will come to you only to check out the ad? They spread the word and they do generate excitement for a lot of people – they build anticipation.

    The people that are drawn to a game because of a trailer probably outweigh the number of people that are turned off by it (the small critical community). The latter would get the game anyway if it is decent and they would run for the hills if it sucks. Even though from our personal experience we can attest that we did buy and play many mediocre games.

    Trailers also have an old tradition – people expect them and to me they always have been a window into the future – what may games look like in 5-10 years. At some point, people were excited about trailers because it was the only thing in the game that looked a little real – the game itself was then lines and stick people and ugly pixels running around the screen.

    I take trailers for what they are – a piece of advertisement to generate hype. We are not dumb enough to always believe that these represent how a game will play. They do have game play vids and trailers for this. Anyway, on the big scale they probably dont do much harm.

  • I’m still trying to figure out how Blizzard spent $100 million on an RTS game. Maybe the money went into the trailer. =P

  • It’s part of the hype machine that big companies do to get the word out about their game. I’m sure they are well worth making for the business side because it generates interested and excitement for their product that is needed for it to become successful. Sure they are pretty much always filled with zero gameplay but that’s not what they are meant for. People like to see cool stuff and when it relates to something they like it is just that much better, this can be applied to all things in life. I don’t think they ever do more harm than good unless they specifically say “actual gameplay” and it is not.

  • @Rog: I was surprised as well. I’m wondering if thats across all 3 of the StarCraft 2 games coming out. Blizzard seems to like spending lots of money but they have it to spend.

    No doubt about it, the game is pure gold. Still crazy to think it’s $100 million pure gold.

  • I think that great trailers can turn a couple of eyes to a game and sometimes even make a game more successfull!
    Just look at the trailer of Warhammer Mark of Chaos. The game was notoriously weak, but that trailer is one of the best trailers of the gaming industry.

  • I understand that trailers build up hype, which is disappointing when not fulfilled, but from the company’s perspective I don’t think it is harmful, after all it must work to boost sales or they wouldn’t do it. Movies do this, great trailer, but crap movie; so long as people buy tickets the trailer was a success. Its sole purpose is to get people in the door, once there the game will succeed on its own merits. I doubt many people who enjoy a game will rage quit over a misleading trailer…

  • If you are going to be fair and consistent, you should use the pre-release official Aion CGI trailer:

    The Visions Trailer is stuff the Korean devs WANT to do over the lifespan of the game, some of which has already been added in 2.0. Not that NCWest (incompetents that they are) didn’t intend the Visions video to keep people subscribed while they bungled running the game.

    As to trailers, I think they hurt more than help, at least long term. The just released DC Universe Online trailer:

    being a prefect example. It will sell lots of boxes, but when people actually play they’ll get plastic figurines with jerky animations (from what I’ve seen) and very simplistic combat. Bleh. Shame, I’d have been very interested in a good MMO set in the DC Universe.

    But the companies want to move large numbers of boxes on release, and the best way to do that is with really nice looking CGI mini-movies. Can’t really blame them, as I’m sure the cost of the CGI trailer is more than offset by those initial sales.

    They certainly do look nice, though! I wonder if they had a budget the size of an actual movie if the CGI house could do a full length feature film using that level of computer graphics for the entire movie?

  • Btw, WSJ retracted that $100 Million on SC2.

    It was for WoW, not SC2.

    Vision Trailer got me to play AION, hoping and waiting for it to get to the trailer..which never did.

    WAR trailer was exciting and i was planning to play it anyway. The game did disappoint.

    SC2 and SWTOR Hope are all Cinematics..but just like WAR, I consider it as advertisement and nothing more. NO in Game footage to go with it. Although I’m excited about SC2 because other stuffs i’ve been following..

    I’m a little disappointed that alot of the cooler stuffs that we had and mostly gone. MOtherShip is just new looking Arbiter.

  • Even though the SWTOR trailer has little to do with game-play, I would pay to see a full length SWTOR feature film if Blur Studios made one.

  • No question about it, Blizzard and Bioware can make movies and get even richer.

    Honestly, that’s why Blizzard is making such a huge media push with SC2. They know their cinematics are just plain sexy. Their TV commercial and trailers are everywhere and they’ll bring in non-gamers just with the cool factor.

  • What I like about Blizzard is that the cinematics are rarely suppose to be trailers. They’ll release the cinematic that is played when you first start up the game but they also tend to release gameplay trailers so you can see how the game is going to look.

    As an example, look at the trailers for WLK and Cataclysm. I remember the first WLK trailer being two players (a paladin and a priest) walking through the lands. It wasn’t any fancy cinematic, but showed off how the new stuff looked. The official Cataclysm trailer was like that too; a bunch of scenes of lands that had changed, plus mentioning the features they wanted to include in the game.

    And then, soon before release, they smack you with a gorgeous cinematic sequence. Every time I see one, I really, really, REALLY wish Blizzard would just do an entire movie. Seems like it would blow Avatar out of the water….and be just as expensive. =p

  • @Keen:

    “Their TV commercial and trailers are everywhere and they’ll bring in non-gamers just with the cool factor.”

    And 95% of those people will uninstall after one match after being utterly dominated by some Korean kid who plays competitively in tournaments.

  • Movie trailers are just as bad as far as hype. Go back and watch a trailer after having seen the movie, and look at the shots they used to entice you. In the majority of cases trailers setup scenes that make you think are major events in the movie. Only after watching the film you realize you were “duped” by an action flash that was really nothing more than a dream sequence in the full length.

  • @Silvertemplar: Yeah the DC trailer released with perfect timing. They’re invoking feelings and creating an atmosphere with that trailer that will not in any way exist in-game.

    @Omali: Exactly my point.

  • @Omali

    I’m not so sure. Many of those folks will not play on PvP servers and/or rarely if ever set foot in an arena/BG. The most casual of the casual crowd are often content just leveling multiple classes and fooling around with the fluff like the seemingly monthly events, collecting mounts, or whatever.

    What the twitchy Korean kids are doing have no bearing on any of that.

    Take my father-in-law for example, he plays on my PvP server and has done so for almost 2 years now. He is so bad I could probably kill him out in the open world if I had both my hands tied behind my back and had to use my nose to peck at the keyboard. But now he is about to ding his second level 80 and has a couple of alts anywhere from the teens to the fifties in level. He has never set in foot in a BG or arena and never done any raiding. In fact, I’m also pretty sure he hasn’t done more than handful of 5 mans without me. Despite the occasional ganking out in the open world, he still loves the game and has no intention of uninstalling anytime soon.

    I think many of the “hardcore” or “semi-hardcore” player base forgets that for every “Kingslayer” there are like 5 or more “Altoholics.”

  • In most cases the game developers themselves don’t make the trailers… so they shouldn’t get praised for it.

  • Marketing stopped being about informing about products as soon as they discovered the power of the “emotional hook”.

    Modern advertising isn’t about providing the customer with a detailed or realistic impression of a product.

    It’s about making the customer associate a very powerful positive emotion with the product.

    As I watched that Starcraft 2 trailer, all I could feel and think was “How awesome and epic does all this look and feel!”

    That’s the hook. You make people feel something and they’ll all over each other to buy your product.

    I get where you’re coming from though. I suppose it boils down to “buyer beware”. It’s up to each of us to fully research a product before we purchase it, less be left dealing with the consequences.

  • @Anon,

    Thats true, and its one of the reasons I despise marketing in general right now. Its less about proving to you that this product is worth having and more about TRICKING you into thinking this product is worth having. Generally speaking, if its advertised on TV I try to avoid it just on principle at this point. (Just in general not related to gaming only). There are exceptions, but honestly not very many.

  • “Warhammer Online Cinematic Trailer – It’s a beautiful trailer. But it’s epic for the sake of being epic. There’s nothing in here that matches what the actual game was like”

    First point, yes it is beautiful.

    Second point, if memory serves, of the player classes shown… Bright Wizard, Squig Herder, Shadow Warrior, Marauder, Black Orc and Sorceress the only part not to make it into the game was the dual wield for the Shadow Warriors for balance reasons.

    Sure it’s done far more beautifully than in the game itself, but as the first commenter states, Squig Battle armor is in there (I loved mine), Bright Wizards clicking their fingers for fire was in there, turrets… It was all there.

  • Love good trailers. I’d say the very first trailer I saw for World of Warcraft made my gameplay more enjoyable. And they are great for getting people to resubscribe.

    OT: Have you guys tried World of Tanks yet? It seems to be fairly easy to get a Beta key. As someone that’s generally not all that crazy about PvP, I’m having fun with this one.