I love watching game and film trailers. I find it easy to get excited about cool things that I want to play and get involved with. Over the last couple weeks trailers abound for some of the biggest releases in 2013 and this has got me thinking recently about why I get excited over some trailers and not others.

The type of trailer that really sells me a film just doesn't work as well for a game. When I see a film trailer with explosions, exciting characters/story and cool special effects I get excited about the story I'm going to be told. If a video game trailer features the same things I am always asking the question "what am I doing during all this?".

I think the difference lies primarily in the viewer's understanding of their role within the game/film being represented. I go to a James Bond film to be told a story about James Bond. If I play a James Bond game I expect to play a role in the James Bond world. In a film I'm a passive participant I don't expect or want my actions or opinions to affect the story.

I recently watched a trailer for Zeno Clash 2 (link). This, for me, was how to make a good game trailer. I loved the original Zeno Clash and there were three things in this trailer that immediately grabbed my attention.

  1. I saw gameplay. I find that pre-rendered cinematics are less useful than a written description of the game. I can get a cool idea of what is going on but I'm no closer to understanding why I want to play it. Not only that, but this part of the trailer can be entirely outsourced and it doesn't even tell me what the team will be capable of.
  2. It hinted at the mechanics and what agency I might have within the game. I saw the character holding a map; I saw skill points and other interesting mechanics. I don't need the trailer to show me exactly how the game works in minute detail I just want to know that there is more and that I'm going to be a part of it.
  3. I got a sense of scale and coolness. Okay this is a bit flimsy and very individual but this would be the part of a trailer that could be done by a normal film trailer. This is often the only component that a video game trailer gets right. This part can be pre-rendered and really it should just sell me the epicness, weirdness or whatever the underlying emotions the game designer wants me to have about the product.

Too often I see a game trailer that shows the character doing something amazing and I read about it only to find out that it was only a cutscene or quick time event and most of my time will be spent walking down a long corridor or hiding under a chest-high wall. It's like being given the script to an awesome play and then being told that you'll be playing the tree.