Let's talk about video game trailers


A few hours ago, Blizzard dropped this as promo for Battle for Azeroth, and it got me thinking:

What, to you, makes an effective game trailer/advertisement/“world building” piece? Do you want a cinematic? Gameplay-only? Animations like this?

What are some of your favourite trailers, or other promo material for games?

The Battle for Azeroth stuff has tapped into a well of nostalgia I haven’t felt for Blizzard games in years – I first played WC2 when I was 5, twenty-two years ago – and they’ve done a hell of a job of re-engaging interest. So, as a last question… if a game you fell out of wanted you back, how would they need to present it to get you back?


Cinematic stuff can be troublesome because it can sometimes put an image of a game in your head that is completely different from what the game ends up doing or even plans to do–as was discussed with the Dead Island trailer in Waypoint Radio.

These days, I actually prefer not to see something until there’s some gameplay. I need a game to sell me based on the cool stuff I’m going to be doing in it, and moments I could encounter.

As an audio person, I also have to add that the trend of mood-switching pop song covers for trailers is so bad. I don’t know if they’re all chasing Mad World or what because that was over 10 years ago, but it worked exactly once!


Oh yeah, definitely. I vastly prefer when soundtracks in the trailers are from the game itself, rather than repurposed.

I think cinematic and artsy trailers can be great, though, as long as there is also gameplay stuff to be seen. It’s all about what’s being shown; if a company is only showing one side of things, I usually take it to mean they’re hiding something.


Can’t discuss strong trailers without referencing Atomic Heart, which does a really good job of merging those cinematic shots and gameplay shots in a way that emphasizes its atmosphere and obscures that its gameplay looks like a very typical Bioshock-y FPS.

But my personal favorite has to be Breath of the Wild’s first trailer. I still remember watching it something like nine months before that game even came out and being legitimately overcome with feeling. It just does such a good job at conveying the sense of scale at work in that game and its sense of adventure and mystery, especially from how perfectly the music is tied to every cut and shot.

Edit: also, not technically a trailer, but Dragons is what sold me entirely on Overwatch, to the point where I installed Windows on my Macbook to be able to play it.


It’s not listed anymore, but this trailer for I Get This Call Every Day always made me smile.


Halo 3 ODSTs live action trailer remains one of my favorites despite showing no gameplay. I just really like the short story they tell, the way it looks, and fuck that music is so good.


I think in something established getting a cool cinematic trailer just to set the themes is great but if it’s a new ip then extremely Jerry Maguire voice show me the gameplay.


Okay but what about the original Super Smash Bros. trailer with the Nintendo mascots frolicking followed by them fighting each other? One that definitely always comes to mind.


I can’t stop watching the DMC5 trailer yall. Great balance between cutscenes and gameplay, with the latter being very clear and understandable. A lot of trailers will hard cut between like 2 seconds of gameplay and use custom cameras so much you can’t actually tell what’s going on. None of that here. Full clear shots of combos and shit. Good Stuff. And the whole thing is basically a music video for an absolute banger. Belting.


I kinda feel the opposite about the “cinematic” vs gameplay divide, in that I much prefer watching a well-crafted tone piece than being shown curated gameplay. Neither are usually indicative of the experience that I’ll get playing the game because even the latter is produced in a way to show a game in its best light. There’s still absolutely a craft in it (Derek Lieu is excellent at editing gameplay footage together for video game trailers) but if I wanted to watch something that informed me about how a game ticks, I’d much rather just watch a stream or a quick look.

CG trailers are about a premise. They’re about selling you on the idea of a game and less whatever shape the actual thing takes by launch. Sometimes that means they can be misleading, like the Dead Island trailer, but in those instances I also find them interesting as a window into how the earliest concepts of a project can get spun out in a number of different ways, or how certain ideas can be dropped in the process of developing a game.

At the end of the day it’s all marketing so some amount of cynicism is deserved, but I do enjoy seeing artists from these CG studios having fun with the ideas developers present them. To give an example, I’ve always enjoyed the work that goes into the CG Assassin’s Creed trailers:


While this is true, there have been some notable examples of Gameplay based trailers leaving people feeling like they were mislead. Plenty of folks would point to the original trailer of Watchdogs, or some of the No Man’s Sky trailers. Honestly I’m still wary of gameplay trailers ever since gameplay trailers got me excited for Brink.


My favourite type of trailer mixes cutscenes and gameplay in a well edited way, showing off stuff you might expect in the game and keeping it vague enough to be interesting, the trailers for Metal Gear Solid V (the one below especially) does this impeccably in my opinion; Kojima makes trailers that are a joy to sort of pick apart and speculate on, while giving you enough to get a sense of the game.
While ultimately MGSV was a disappointment story-wise, the trailers did a good job of making me want to see more and get my hands on it.
The swelling score helps a lot by making this trailer, as well.

[This is the “Red Band” trailer so they have some gnarly torturey stuff in the beginning FYI]


This trailer for GTA IV’s Ballad of Gay Tony sparked my love for Roxette. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK5xAtCXVf0


I guess they hired some college interns for this one? Don’t get me wrong, the drawn art part is nice but…that animation. I thought this would get those WoW hooks back in me but the opposite happened. If you are a company with so much money that you could insulate and soundproof your studio by stuffing twenty dollar bills into every empty space in the walls and still turn a healthy profit, maybe you should invest in a beautifully drawn, lovingly animated film.

Compare this to the animated shorts and trailers they do for Overwatch. COMPLETE different amount of investment and resources, but the result is worth it. I rewatch the OW videos all the time because they’re so well designed and snappy and colorful.

This trailer honestly I think was meant for hardcore fans only. The shots of swords stabbed in the ground and women looking contemplative is doing nothing for me.


The animation style is consistent with what they did for the past two expansions, so I think they’re trying to do a “Warcraft style animatic” type thing at this point. But it’s definitely aiming at hardcore fans - the entire trailer is alluding to events from Warcraft 3’s expansion, which came out 15 years ago. Blizzard’s being Blizzard, really.