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Opinion: The Problem With ‘Teaser’ Trailers

As games coverage increasingly moved online, publishers realised that video was a powerful marketing tool for their releases. Ideally, videos help buyers make a purchasing decision. They provide things like an overview of features, a few minutes of the game in motion or an indication of the tone of the title.
Of course these trailers are always designed to present the game in the best possible light but, there’s at least a possibility of gleaning some useful information from them. There is, however, a special sub-set of videos whose purpose is nothing more than shallow hype generation, specifically designed to tell the viewer nothing about the game in question.

Publishers: please, please stop releasing ‘teaser’ trailers.

Cinematic Ambitions

High on the list of teaser-crimes is a game trailer that wishes it were a film trailer. X-Men Destiny, announced last October at New York’s ComicCon, introduced itself to us as if it were an animated movie.

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What did we learn from those 54 incredible seconds? That an X-Men game will have X-Men in it and that somebody (at either Silicon Knights or Activision) would rather do film trailers over videogame trailers. Whoever put this video together couldn’t even be bothered to tell us what platforms the game would be available on (even now, four months later, we still don’t know).
Perhaps the trailer’s creators didn’t know which systems the game was planned for but, if that was the case, perhaps it was a little early to be publicising the game at all.

There’s only one reason to release a trailer like this; getting it plastered across gaming sites in hope of a bit of cheap hype. It informs us of nothing – unless you believe ‘this game exists’ has some kind of inherent value.

Brand Recognition / The Sequel Effect

It takes a special kind of hubris to film 40 seconds of a game’s title and add cheap and cheerful static filters over the top, but that’s exactly what EA thought we wanted to see of Battlefield 3. Apparently, once you’ve built up enough goodwill with previous titles, you can release a trailer that does nothing but mention the existence of a sequel.

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 went down well enough here at IncGamers, but not so well that this recent, quarter-arsed trailer is in any way acceptable. “Battlefield 3” it says, proudly. “Yes, and?” is our reply. “Battlefield … 3?” it asks again, more meekly. “Do better” is our response.

The teaser for Mass Effect 3, shown at the Video Game Awards in December, at least tried a little harder. It had moving images and everything…
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Here, we learned that Big Ben (and, by extension, probably Earth’s London, England) is messed up and only Shepard can save the day. Again, there’s not much substance here except a head-nod towards the fanbase that says ‘yes, we have indeed taken the extraordinary step of making another game in our successful Mass Effect series, do keep being surprised.’
It has a serious case of ‘Cinematic Ambitions’, and relies on us being so excited at seeing the name Mass Effect again that we’ll be satisfied by the lack of almost anything else of note.
This type of dog-whistle advertising is marketing at its most insidious.

Videogame history is peppered with disappointing sequels. The quality of a previous title in no way guarantees a quality follow-up (an issue compounded by the fact that sequels are often handled by a different developer). It demeans us as gamers that publishers think all they need to do to make us take notice is dangle a series’ name in front of our face. Yet that is exactly what they do, time and again.

But, our developer is famous…

When it was revealed that Square Enix would be teaming up with Obsidian to release Dungeon Siege III, it seemed like a pretty neat combination. Square Enix could put together some fancy CGI sequences and Obsidian could bring the kind of excellent writing that made Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol such joys to play.

Our first glimpse of this winning duo in action was, well …

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Square provided lingering shots of a manky old tree, while Obsidian’s unusually plodding script is read out by a man who sounds like he’s suffering from a severe, post-burrito gas attack. Worse, a good chunk of the running time is taken up with reminders that Obsidian have made some videogames. We all know that, but thanks anyway.
(Here’s some advertising for ya, our Dungeon Siege III preview is right here! – Ed.)

An Advert For An Advert

The absolute worst? Releasing a short advert that advertises an upcoming advert. This is by far the biggest teaser-crime anybody, anywhere can commit. It perpetuates the myth that certain adverts are some kind of ‘event,’ rather than a shameless attempt to sell something to someone.

No big surprise that Activision have no qualms about engaging in this kind of practise.

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Wow, you mean I have another chance to see some sweaty, CGI military guys doing sweaty, military stuff at a later date? And it’ll tell me nothing about the actual game? Cancel all my appointments.

The Exception

There’s always one, isn’t there?

You could perhaps argue that Techland’s recent Dead Island trailer isn’t really a teaser; after all, it was first announced all the way back in 2007. Still, despite how long we’ve known of the game’s existence, the recent video is almost certainly the first glimpse many will have had of Dead Island (developer Techland doesn’t tend to get much buzz).

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No actual gameplay, definite Cinematic Ambitions, no platforms mentioned… but damn, it actually works. Perhaps it works because it breaks so many rules. It’s fairly lengthy, happy to take its time to tell a short, bleak tale about one family’s holiday gone terribly wrong. To actually follow the narrative, you need to pay attention and piece the story together piece by piece.
It’s an unusually thoughtful approach for this sort of thing, crediting the viewers as having enough intelligence to figure everything out; standardised irritating, cheap horror effects, replaced by relatively sedate pacing and a downbeat tune.

The trailer spread rapidly around the internet, across every gaming site of note, gaining favourable attention from almost all who viewed it. This is a teaser done right. A game announced four years ago is now in the public consciousness, with a trailer that demonstrates an encouraging level of ambition.

Games sites (including this one) need to take a certain amount of responsibility for the teaser trailer becoming so ubiquitous. Publishers know that sites are eager for hits and will post almost anything pertaining to a major release. And yes, IncGamers posted all of the above videos as news items.
Marketing teams push the teasers, but game sites like ours accept them with open arms. We in the games media need to do a little better (as journalistic gatekeepers) to resist the flow of hype-inflating, content-free trailers. We must make value judgements about what is really worth posting as ‘news.’

What would help us all out immensely, though, would be for publishers to simply stop producing this rubbish.
Eager for more opinions? Read our ‘Dead Space 2 Is Not Survival Horror’ editorial here.

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