Video Game Marketing: Creating Game Trailers

Video Game Marketing: Creating Game Trailers

Hyping up a video game via marketing is a slow, steady process. First comes the announcement, then comes the trailer, followed by dozens of supporting advertising and promotional activities. For any game in development though, that first trailer is a crucial showcase for your marketing efforts: It’s where viewers get their first real idea of how a video game moves, works, and aims to engage the player. A good trailer can also stoke excitement for a game if its hype has cooled since the initial announcement.

Game trailers have also grown increasingly and enormously important to video game marketing since the dawn of streaming video. Static screenshots and textual descriptions in a magazine just don’t cut it anymore: We have to observe the animal in motion to get a sense of its distinct characteristics. THQ Global Brand Manager Bryce Yang believes that solid preview trailers are more important than ever, especially for a game that offers strong visual appeal, like recent wrestling title WWE All-Stars.

“I think video trailers are the best way to sell a video game,” Yang told The [A] List Daily in an April interview. “Screenshots show still imagery of the game, but until you see it in full motion, you don’t get the full scope, especially for games like this. [Our games] WWE Legends and WWE Superstars do exaggerated moves, and you have to see them in motion to appreciate it.”

While the directorial practices that THQ exercised for its trailers aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach to game advertising, the company still has a pretty firm grasp on what makes a good trailer. Specifically, the trailers for WWE All-Stars show off a lot of the game’s wrestling action, but there’s a special focus on the game’s roster: After all, the title combines the “old” generation of WWE wrestlers (or WWF, if you like) with the new one. A potential player who doesn’t follow the WWE now but well-remembers Macho Man, Hulk Hogan, and Andre the Giant from their childhood will pay special attention when those wrestlers of old strut across the screen.

Building a good game trailer takes tremendous effort, expertise, and some luck, but there are five basic rules that can help a game trailer blaze across social media and burrow into the hearts and memories of viewers:

Consider the Target Audience: Going back to the WWE All-Stars trailer, THQ’s video combines shots of yesterday’s wrestlers with modern-day counterparts. This is a decent strategy that catches the attention of old and new wrestling fans alike. The WWE All-Stars trailer also shows its hand pretty quickly and cuts to the chase in seconds: It’s a wrestling game, it combines history with current events, and it’s big and loud. THQ’s trailer gets to the point, and it gets the job done. It doesn’t hide any surprises, but it doesn’t need to; it exists to woo wrestling fans, as anyone who’s been forever disinterested in the WWE won’t find anything appealing about a trailer for a wrestling game, regardless of what that trailer contains.

Highlight New Features in the Gameplay Footage: If the game being advertised is a sequel, fans are going to be interested in the story–but more than that, they’re going to want to know about cool new features that will be bestowed upon the game’s characters. Consider the hype surrounding Super Mario 3DS: Even with mere screenshots, the Internet was buzzing over the shadowy hint of the raccoon suit’s possible return.

Choose Background Music Carefully: A game trailer or commercial coupled with the right kind of music can make for a very powerful symbiotic relationship. This is especially true for licensed music. “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant brings to mind Borderlands. Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” is still associated with Gears of War, a game that was released years ago. “Beyond the Sea” by Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence still brings to mind BioShock (perhaps to the chagrin of anyone who grew up in the ’50s).

Market and Promote Through Online and Social Channels: What good is a game trailer if it gets buried under an avalanche of cat videos on YouTube (not that we don’t enjoy the odd hairball)? Facebook and Twitter are excellent ways to help get a video out in the open, especially for smaller iPhone-based games. But most of all, give people a reason to share these videos: Either by revealing exclusive new features and characters, or tying reward-based incentives to sharing, e.g. each pass-along counts as a “vote” towards your cover star or the sequel’s preferred art style.

If You Can Pull It Off, Go For Emotion: The trailer for Dead Island turned “just another zombie-killing game” into something much more intriguing. Of course, the trailer for Dead Island also flies against everything we’ve already said about the benefits of “getting to the point” and whatnot; instead, it takes its time and slowly weaves its web. The viewer has little idea of what’s going on until the very end. This is a bold tactic, but an effective one that’s definitely worth considering for a new property in a crowded genre, though it can be a risky gamble.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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