Game trailers are marketing exercises designed to get the hype started for a new title. They give players a glimpse at the world the developers are trying to create for them, and provide a first platform for criticism. While the initial idea of trailers may seem fair, frequently they are used with dishonesty by the marketing teams putting them out. “Watch Dogs”, a game with an interesting concept of being a hacker fighting society, was savaged by players upon release because the final game had nothing near the graphical fidelity of what was promised in the trailer. A far more egregious example comes from Gearbox Software’s “Aliens: Colonial Marines”, where not only did the graphics in the trailer not match, but neither did gameplay. Gearbox defended this practice as offering a “vertical slice” of gameplay, and did little more than name-call those upset by the game, which was nearly everyone who played it. Why do games have trailers though?
While it is a valid point that, as an interactive medium, games should have demos that allow the player to experience a small portion of the game, rather than the trailers often associated with films. This is a flawed argument, as it misses how these two marketing exercises serve very different purposes. A demo requires the development team to either spend a great deal of time to create a working level in the game far ahead of release, when the game could still change substantially, or release a completed package very near to release, when it could actually cost the game sales (Source: Extra Credits). A trailer, on the other hand, which does not require interactivity, can be put together almost completely by a marketing department, allowing the devs to keep their focus where it belongs: on the game itself. While this can lead to some obvious missteps, the simple business fact is that trailers make far more economic sense to produce. They generate the excitement needed pre launch, and while they don’t capture everything perfectly, often they do an adequate job of communicating what a game is about. If they didn’t, the market would have abandoned them a very long time ago.
There are a few objectives that a good trailer has to meet. Firstly, it has to give the players a good idea of what to expect in game. This is actually a more complicated task than simply running a screen capturing program to grab a few minutes of gameplay. In order to do this, a trailer has to be honest, but has to, in as few minutes as possible, show what is unique about the game. A trailer showing four minutes of sandbox exploration or cover based shooting can’t do this. These are mechanics that gamers are already familiar with, so all they communicate is that the game us just more of what the market already has. It has to be honest about graphics and gameplay, barring changes and evolution in development. It would actually be advantageous for a trailer to have a slight graphical downgrade from the final product, as this will generate positive press and player experience. These are designed to showcase a new product, so honesty really is key. Nobody likes to feel cheated, so it is always better to under deliver on the trailer and make up for it with a better product. With this in mind, let’s talk about two trailers for upcoming games today.
First on the table is “Vestige of the Past” by Fineway Studios, a game set to enter Early Access on Steam in Spring of this year. Simply put, this trailer is an absolute mess. The backing music doesn’t fit the tone with what is happening on screen, and neither, it seems, does what is happening on screen. The trailer jumps between totally disconnected snippets of game footage, and this looks to be a textbook game that has no idea what it wants to do. Like many independent games, this one has definitely jumped with both feet onto the crafting/survival gameplay bandwagon. At times the game seriously reminds me of “7 Days to Die” minus zombies, and is the only time I have ever thought that a lack of zombies hurt a game. While the game looks decently put together, I have no expectations of this title. The trailer has generated this reaction almost universally, which shows that these are not merely personal gripes. While I hope every game I hear of or see will be good, I’m expecting a vapid, boring experience tailored to Steam’s refund policy. On top of that, all of the gameplay shown in the trailer appears to be things that scores of games have already done and better. With that, let’s move on to our second victim.
This is a trailer released for “Dauntless” by Phoenix Labs, another independent title, this one slated for the last quarter of 2017. First of all, the entire trailer appears to be in the game engine, showing the engine and mechanics rather well. The graphics are unimpressive, and the animations feel stiff, but these are often things that are tightened near to release, so they earn a pass for now. The troubling thing is that the game looks very similar to a “Monster Hunter” title, but again, a pass is earned, this time by the platform. “Monster Hunter” games have always been console or handheld exclusive, and “Dauntless” appears to be targeting the PC market exclusively. The trailer gives a great first impression of the title, and makes me far more interested than “Vestige of the Past”‘s trailer ever did.
Let’s close on the elephant in the room. “Dauntless” will be a free to play game with microtransactions. I am at this point documented to have a hard-line stance against both of these models, but I am always open to be proven wrong. I am far more open to smaller, independent projects using this model to essentially give gamers a free sample. Furthermore, Phoenix Land has already gone on record about these, stating they will be cosmetic and temporary items only. It remains to be seen how these will affect game balance, but for what it’s worth, this appears to be a game which is already a complete experience for free, with the additional content adding to it, rather than sections of gameplay being held to ransom, or the game being completely broken by pay-to-win mechanics. I am, therefore cautiously optimistic for this title, but will hold off adding to hype before I see it first hand.