They say Sega started it in 1982 with the Zaxxon game trailer. In the world of dots and blocks for the design of video games, they announced a far more exciting experience where the player could enjoy a third-person viewpoint.
People knew Sega and its games, but by the time they saw the glow in the eyes of the person playing the Zaxxon, it was clear they needed to get their hands on that game.
Video game trailers are one of your most powerful marketing assets. In fact, videos were the #1 way consumers discovered a brand they later purchased from. Game developers make the game, and studios make them known by creating audience-friendly videos.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a trailer is worth a thousand screenshots.”
Taylor Kurosaki, cinematic production lead @ Naughty Dog
Before we move on, you might be interested in a related article where we’ve analyzed some of the best and worst video game trailers of all time.
Now, gaming is now an industry bigger than Hollywood and music combined. For those who need more introduction, let’s look at this chart of game statistics & facts before going into how to make video game trailers:
Game trailers: Deception or fair promotion?
Video game trailers are said to show the game “better than it really is.” While there have been cases that do back this (like the notorious 2002 MGS2 trailer we’ll never forget), let’s understand why the quality of these videos is superior to the game itself.
When you think about it, it makes sense why game companies do it. For their first trailer, they need something beautiful that grabs attention because there’s not much else to show in the video.
Game makers, AAA publishers, in particular, spend a LOT of money and hire a ton of people to make something big and eventually sell many copies.
So, not only do they need to start early with their video marketing, they might get creative and create a story world around the characters’ backgrounds or any other compelling content that draws in eyeballs before releasing their gameplay videos. This can, at times, turn out to be something different than what the videos boast.
In one of our most exciting projects, for example, we created a daring, stylized trailer for Cross The Ages. Their product was a trading card game full of fights to the death between players with different abilities, and the trailer focused on each character’s power and color in these battles.
Moreover, consider this: Today’s gaming consoles have the ability to process games of exceptionally high quality, but rendering a video with superior visuals requires a render farm; dozens of powerful systems, something that makes even the strongest consoles tap out.
To see examples of some of the best and worst video game trailers of all time, make sure to read our best vs. worst analysis.
What assets do you need before the game trailer production stage?
If you wish to create a game trailer on your own, this is a list of some of the materials you may need from an in-development game:
- In-game cutscenes, dialogue scenes, cinematics
- Game art and concept art
- Logos and fonts
- In-game sound effects
- Music and/or soundtrack
- Sprites (for 2D animations)
- 3D models
- Layered files (.psd)
Criteria to consider for video game trailers
Gameplay, story, and features displayed with live-action footage or animation are all content people want and need to see to get to know your game. The right balance of these can produce a very potent, attention-grabbing video game trailer.
Aim for Content Variety
To keep players’ attention, your video should include a variety of visuals. These are some of the content to consider:
Animation: Animation’s found its place in the game trailer world and keeps progressing. Some publishers order a custom animation to be made just for their game trailer. Like in the case of Hades’ trailer, we see an animated sequence before being introduced to the gameplay.
Live-action: Not a very common style for game trailers, but sometimes it can help your trailer stand out. A good example would be Hotline Miami’s launch trailer. Its creators released gameplay and other trailers, but for a low-budget game, live-action gave it a whole new feel.
Voice-over: You can effectively convey your game’s plot by combining a compelling voiceover soundtrack with a cutscene, gameplay, or animation. They fill in a lot of blanks and reveal more about what’s going on. Rockstar Games is known to use voice-overs for many of its releases. For Max Payne 3, for example, they used the protagonist’s voice to narrate the plot.
Text: Your trailer can serve to highlight or reinforce particular game themes by using a few teaser phrases here and there. In Afterparty’s launch trailer, we see a good amount of information about the game via texts than appear on the screen.
As the marketing process for a game begins, different trailers are released at different times. Coupled with the right message, they can make a great impression. Some publishers try to represent the whole game as a package, while others point at certain features. This includes, but is not limited to, story, gameplay, combat, maps, characters, and multiplayer campaigns.
🎮Bonus gamer tip
Whether it’s video game trailers, animated movies, series, or commercial videos, you’re still making a video that needs fantastic storytelling, memorable characters, humor, and stunning visuals that attracts the audience and conveys the desired message.
Announcement trailers, teasers, reveals, gameplay trailers and accolade trailers should each be released in relation to the development cycle of your game.
Unveiling a new game, especially a sequel to a highly anticipated one, feels different at game venues, even though trailers are watched mostly online. With tens of thousands of attendees from the gaming community each year, E3 offers an irreplaceable experience. Some of the other events include The Game Awards, Gamescom, and Tokyo Game Show trailers.
10 tips to make greater video game trailers
Before taking note of some of the most practical tips that can really help your trailers take a better turn, let us be the first ones to tell you that there are exceptions. Depending on the type of trailer you’re making, and where you are with the marketing strategy, these tips can be slightly modified. However, knowing them won’t hurt.
1. Start with force!
When making a TV commercial or a trailer of any kind, remember that the first 8 seconds of your video is the most important part.
It’s what either keeps or drives off the viewer. So, make sure you offer something special, maybe even your best.
2. Include the gameplay
While telling everyone, “look how beautiful this game is,” you need to partly reveal the gameplay early on. Take a look at Armed Fantasia’s trailer to see how it’s done.
Most gamers make their decisions based on genre, and if their questions about how the player interacts with the world and advances the game aren’t answered, they’re most probably going for a safer, more familiar option.
🎮Bonus gamer tip
You don’t have to reveal every technical specs and detail of the gameplay in the beginning. Players want to find out most of them when they play the game.
3. Avoid too many intro shots
So you watch a trailer and see a bunch of logos and shots of the playing environment. You say to yourself, “this game could be anything from a puzzle game to a third-person shooter.”
This is bad.
As we said, today’s viewer wants to know how the gameplay is in the first few seconds. Showering them with less important content from the beginning will guarantee a fast skip to another video.
In case you feel the need for a longer intro with multiple shots, try to include something meaningful from the game. In other words, choose shots with elements of the game that make a change throughout the story or could be interacted with.
4. Save similarities for the end
Your game is special, and this is why people should play it. Right?
Inevitably, your product will share various similarities with others. The wise thing to do would be to show what makes it unique First and THEN put the common features on display.
5. Keep it brief
It’s great how you’ve done all of the above and kept the audience intrigued so far. Now, try to sum everything up without taking too much of their time. Many viewers will skip the video if it’s longer than two minutes unless they’re absolutely interested or have been previously engaged.
🎮Bonus gamer tip
There will be drastic viewer decay if your Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating is longer than 2 seconds at the beginning of the video!
6. Watch out for visual overload!
After making the video, sit back and ask yourself: Am I showing way too much?
While taking care of the attention-grabbing aspects of the video game trailer, don’t hurt the viewers’ eyes with too many effects, glitches, and texts.
Also, dropping too much content in one video can damage your marketing efforts. Build up hype and gradually work your way up to reveal more and more about your game and increase video length.
You’ll learn more in the next section.
7. Choose the right music
The music of your game trailer can add a lot of excitement and tell the audience how they should feel about the game. In some cases, good music can even mask the editing flaws. Different genres call for different music.
But one thing’s for sure: Do NOT use looped music.
If the trailer has flat music that repeats, the viewer will feel like things aren’t going anywhere, and consequently, they’ll be bored. For example, action and adventure games usually go for dynamic music with rises and falls, not bland, monotonous tunes.
8. Forget random texts
There are things that help the viewer understand the game you’re developing better (and quicker). The rest? Throw them away.
There’s no need to showcase every bit of dialogue. People are watching the video to learn about the game, not put the pieces together and make sense of whatever you want to tell them. So, only include character- and story-related texts for a clearer narration.
9. Add sound effects
Game trailers without any sound effects usually don’t account for good ones. They add excitement to the video and quickly open the door to a new set of emotions.
10. Include call-to-action
Great video, check.
Enthusiastic gamers, check.
Successful views, check.
Awesome! Just where to go from here?
Not knowing what to do after watching a video is one of the worst feelings ever. Give the viewers something. Your game’s release date, the platforms it’ll be available on, whether there’ll be a next trailer,…
🎮Bonus gamer tip
A call-to-action (CTA) normally comes at the end, prompting the viewer to take the desired action. Having one can define the next step your fans may take.
Different types of game trailers (by release order)
Given the high number of games, publishers use different names for game trailers. For the sake of this article, we’ve included a rather wide variety. No one, however, can identify one single approach.
For instance, an announcement trailer is normally super shot (about 30 seconds) and shies from revealing too much. This can, however, change based on the publisher’s goals, budget, and marketing plans.
We’ll explain on the way.
Hello, world. We are company X, and we’re making a game titled Y.
This is basically what you need to say in your reveal trailer, together with the genre of your game and how it’s unique.
In other words, you’re making the customer aware of your product. The goal is to get as many people hyped about the game as possible by giving them a clear yet simple look at the gameplay (and, of course, the game itself).
So far, you’ve made people know of the great game you’re making.
Great. Now, what do they need in order to consider your game and not the other thousands from the same genre?
Announce trailers offer a more specific view of the game’s story and gameplay. A minimal call-to-action (CTA) and a release date are also standard content for this type of trailer.
One thing you should know is that the number of people who were initially interested could drop after they view this trailer, as they might learn they’re not into your game as much as they thought they were.
But don’t worry. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this population likely wouldn’t have bothered with your genre anyway (it’s not personal then!).
Keeping the audience’s attention is probably the hardest part of this journey. Our advice is to try and make a balance between giving the audience more info about the game, just not too much, unless you want to blow your shot with your upcoming trailers.
How much detail has your audience seen until now? Too much? Too little? Enough?
Only you, the maker of the trailer, have the answers. Potential customers with lingering questions might need just need to see a little more (or too much) to come to a final decision. 101 trailers, a behind-the-scenes look, or a feature gameplay video could get you to your goals at this stage.
Gameplay feature trailer
Upcoming releases with robust and diverse gameplay can show off different sides of it that include specific occasions in gameplay feature trailers. Certain levels and locations, the character’s reaction to different situations, a part of the story, unjamming a weapon, or driving a car in a wounded condition,… can all be shown in this type of video.
Hogwart’s Legacy has extensive gameplay and could reveal different aspects of it in more than one trailer. Aside from releasing standard gameplay trailers, they focused on the customization of gear, magical creatures, and the Room of Requirement in a separate video.
“Explore a big land/interact with hundreds of strangers/earn money and buy property/unlock new armors/take girls on a date/…”.
As you can tell, 101 trailers give you the opportunity to give a thorough walkthrough of what you’ll explain in a game. They’re a big reveal and answer many questions.
Many gamers are familiar with the Hitman series. For those who had played the first installments and drifted apart in the following years they were wondering how what the 2016 game would be like. Does it stay true to the classic stealth mode? How big are the environments? Are there still multiple ways to assassinate their targets? Well, Hitman’s 101 trailer perfectly answers every question and leaves fans yearning to play the game and carry out more assassination with 47.
BTS trailers give an in-depth view of the game and its development. They can feature interviews with the producers and artists, actors/voice actors while taking the hardcore fans and developers on a ‘how all of this was made’ journey.
A good example would be the BTS trailer for The Last of Us part II.
Here it is, your first final shot!
This could either make or break the customer base you’ve established so far.
Some launch trailers sum up everything you’ve shown in the previous videos or reveal a more flashy side of your game. Briefly said, it’s that extra push to reinforce people’s decision to buy your game.
Which approach should you choose?
Again, it depends on the amount of information you’ve shown up to this point. Do you think a 101 will satisfy their curiosity? Or maybe just an overview?
From now on, what you’ll be making will be used to serve those who are enthusiastic about your game and will definitely buy it.
Update, accolades & DLC trailers are the best examples that apply.
Showing love and appreciation to those that’ve come this far will turn them into die-hard fans. So, don’t pass up on this stage!
This is the part where you say: “See how great our game is? Just look at all the thumbs-ups and 10/10s! Everyone’s loving, and so should you! (I didn’t want to use the words brag or flex).”
Remember when Elding Ring came out, and people wouldn’t stop talking about how critically acclaimed it was?
Accolades trailers are great for further earning your fans’ trust. If the critics and experienced game enthusiasts love it, others will most definitely do too.
Show how your fan base can keep enjoying the game thanks to new goodies (levels, characters, weapons, maps, etc.) that await them in the downloadable content!
Those who were already playing Fallout 4 (and had finished most of the quests and had nothing to do) resumed their adventures in new parts of the Commonwealth, Far Harbor, and Nuka-World, not to mention more workshops and cool items.
Just remember, the gaming industry is busy, and there are thousands of games that make the news. Producing a game trailer (no matter how good) and uploading it on your Youtube channel doesn’t mean you’re done. There’s got to be a powerful marketing strategy, a professional script, and stunning visuals backing up your efforts unless you want the video to get lost in the industry’s hectic world.
Focusing mostly on ‘visual’ improvements, update trailers show what’s changed in the new version of the game and (sometimes) how it compares to a next-gen console. CD Projekt Red recently released the PS5 version of the Witcher 3. The game looked beautiful before, but now, it looks even more impressive on the latest Sony gaming console.
3 ways to make video game trailers
Do it yourself: You and your team must have a great set of skills next to game development to consider creating trailers for your upcoming video game. Realistically, it would be very difficult to do so unless you’re experienced in promoting your game trailer.
Hire an editor: Freelance editors are ready for hire on websites such as Craigslist, Fiverr, and Upwork. Our advice is to only work with those you 100% trust. But there’s still the risk of guaranteed quality and lack of marketing strategy behind the videos.
Go to a video production company: Production companies who’ve partnered with well-known companies and delivered respectable work for them should be okay to work with. They’re consistent with the output and guarantee high quality. Due to their big size, they have specialists in animation, motion design, editing, storyboarding, special effects, choosing soundtracks, etc. So, even though they charge more, the outcome will be of higher quality and more strategic.
Finding the right studio for your project
We’ve learned in this article that making a video game trailer is not a piece of cake. While it may seem possible or even fun that your game development studio could make the trailer by itself, think again.
If you get a ballpark figure of the cost and time, you’ll realize it’s wise to leave the production to the experts. Plus, as many “good” game trailers have proved to us, good isn’t enough. Despite the 4% rise of indie games in the U.S. from 2021 to 2022, indie game makers need to be heard in a market where they already have many odds against them.
The gaming industry relies on two things: hype and money. Game trailers are a combination of both. With thousands of other game developers racing for gamers’ attention, it’s crucial you know your audience to produce unique, audience-friendly videos that incite curiosity and release them at the right time.
They can be dramatized, but in the end, they must meet expectations. From a player’s perspective, this is the most important aspect of game development.
Finally, look at it from a non-buyers perspective and ask yourself: Is this video fun and engaging to watch?
Video game trailer FAQs
In this part, we’ve included some of the most frequently asked questions about video game trailers. These could be ‘questions to ask before you start making your video game trailer.
Trailer videos set the grounds for a successful release. They get the player ready for what’s on the way audibly and visually and promise a fantastic experience.
Firstly, systems that render highly-realistic videos are far more advanced and stronger than gaming hardware. Hence the unbelievably higher quality. Secondly, to create hype for a game that’ll take years to create, publishers usually release several trailers to make fans curious and onboard to purchase their game once it’s out. Building hype around something in-development may call for exaggeration. Most people know that cinematic trailers don’t show the actual footage of the game, and if their expectations are eventually met, they’ll buy the game.
Yes. You can’t post video game trailers of publishers to get views, likes, and make money without their permission. For more information, read here.
Depending on your video marketing stage, your budget, the type of your game, the length of your trailer can be a few seconds or as long as a short movie! Consult your trailer house and see what they recommend.
The price of a video game trailer depends on many things. The length and style of your trailer, number of animated sequences, disposability of assets, and quality would make out the price. You can contact our sales team for free consultation and receive a quote.
Indie game developers usually sum everything up with one or two trailers, while AAA games opt for greater numbers. If your game has a lot to offer, and is unique is some ways, you may want to reveal different aspects of it in a sequenced manner with multiple trailers.
According to a MarTech survey, video content is of very high importance to 63% of gamers. There are other ways to create buzz for your future release; Getting reviews from players, writing blogs and being featured on popular websites and journals, making a simple, decent website, using influencers, creating social media ads, collecting positive reviews from professionals and gaming websites and magazines, uploading videos on your YouTube channel.
Depending on the game, the budget, and the quality, the production of a game trailer can take from one week up to months. Sometimes, the trailer needs edits after the initial product is shown to the client, hence more production time. Consult your trailer production company and agree on a deadline. Note that serious edits and changes will result in a change in deadlines.
For a group of expert editors and animators with plenty of time and assets on their hands, it’s possible to create a decent game trailer. However, a lot of the staff will be occupied with the production of the video, which could disturb the game development process. Trailer studios, on the other hand, do this exceptionally. They have enough manpower to take the weight off the developers’ shoulders and meet deadlines while ensuring the quality meets their expectations.
Allen is the Senior blog writer at Dream Farm Studios. In the five years he has been writing for startups and big companies, he challenged himself to learn all he could about digital marketing and finally became a key member of the Marcom team. When he's not doing all of that, you can find him teaching different languages, learning new recipes, and watching cool documentaries about, well, anything!