When Do Game Trailers Make or Break a Game? A Closer Look at the Best & Worst

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Time and again, we impatiently waited to get a glimpse of our favorite video games and decide if the upcoming release was going to be awesome or not.

Sometimes, a game was revealed out of the blue, and the announcement trailer took us by surprise.

Whether the purpose of a video game trailer was to reveal the next installment of our favorite franchise or we just found them visually fascinating, the impact of video game trailers was undeniable and the hype crawled into our bodies!

Indie and AAA game developers have learned that without the right video marketing schemes and entertaining trailers, their chances of selling games significantly decline. To make sure the trailers stood out, they did what they did for the same result in their games; eliciting emotion.

Trailers play an important role in preparing us for something awesome that’s about to come. According to MarTech survey, 63% of people said they consider video content for games very important, with more than half adding they had plans to increase their video content budget.

In this blog about the impact of video game trailers, Dream Farm Studios’ Production team and I will do a case study of some of the worst video game trailers and then check out amazing ones that hit the right note and created enough momentum to make people buy the game.

How do we create a killer video game trailer again?

Before getting into our lists of best and worst game trailers, let’s take a look back at our guide about How to Make Winning Video Game Trailers, where we offer some essential tips to help you make killer video game trailers. In our eyes, good and memorable ones have followed some or all of these:

  1. Starting with force!
  2. Including the gameplay
  3. Avoiding too many intro shots
  4. Saving similarities for the end
  5. Keeping it brief
  6. Watching out for visual overload!
  7. Choosing the right music
  8. Ditching random texts
  9. Adding sound effects
  10. Including call-to-action

Now, as we gamers have all the time in the world to wait for the GTA 6 trailer, let’s analyze why some failed and others succeeded.

⚠ To stick to the topic of the impact of game trailers, we’ll focus only on the TRAILER of each game, and not the game itself. They might contain a cool edit of in-game footage or an enticing story written just for the trailer. The ultimate goal has always been to make us want to play them.

When game trailers destroy expectations

Starfield – Official Gameplay Reveal

We love Bethesda not for the quality or gameplay, but for the unique RPG and interactive experience it brings us. However, their highly-anticipated game didn’t impress us much with their official gameplay reveal.

Not only is there an obvious frame rate issue in combat scenes (something that’s expected to have been fixed, at least in the video game trailer!), there doesn’t seem to be anything interesting to explore on most of the planets. Plus, the shooting seems really dull and unrealistic.

🎞Trailer house tip

The trailer is just as important as the game. If your audience spot errors or bugs in the video, they’ll lose confidence in your game.

As a fan, I was initially excited to see how they intended to bring everything that’s good about Skyrim and Fallout to space, but this Starfield trailer doesn’t bring much to the table except for a city worth exploring and compelling people to meet and accept quests from.

Life of Black Tiger – Preview Trailer

If I were to write a blog on “Everything not to do with a game trailer”, this would be it. Sure, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare may be the most-disliked game trailer of all time, but at least it’s because it showed a game nobody wanted, not because it looked horrible.

Let’s start with the music. A soothing piano is playing while a black tiger’s ripping people and other animals open. Great.

Then, there’s the quality. The game itself looks so bad, and showcasing its horrible mechanics isn’t helping. Honestly, I’m not even sure a good trailer could’ve covered it.

Over to the story, and we’ve got nothing. Apparently, all this tiger does is travel the land and hunt prey to stay alive. I’m not sure why people would be excited to play as this tiger.

Mighty No. 9 – Masterclass Trailer 

Let me come out and just say it. I straight up hate the narration. I’m thinking you do too.

Many players look for a cool game where they can perform combo moves, absorb their enemies’ powers, and level up, but this is no way to advertise it.

The game doesn’t look bad, and we really like how the gameplay shifts to the cutscenes of the characters, so I can’t say they got it all wrong.

Worst of all is the anime joke, which has probably drawn away some audience who were interested in this game but were also anime fans.

🎞Trailer house tip

Unless you want to cumulate unnecessary criticism, don’t take a jab at any individuals or groups in your game trailer. Focus on what’s great about your game and keep it at that.

But other than steroids for narration, this trailer has the issue of visual overload. There’s too much going on, I don’t know which special effect to focus on.

F.E.A.R 3 – Point Man trailer

It’s very sad when you squander your chances of promoting a good game with cheap edits and reckless sound effects.

A few seconds into this low-quality, 80s-like action movie, we realize that it also features the gameplay, which looks mediocre.

The only good thing about this video is that the creators stayed true to the game’s overall style through their music and color choices.

When game trailers build expectations

Deliver Us Mars – Gameplay Trailer

As a supporter of indie game developers, we’ve decided to kick things off with a decent trailer from Deliver Us Mars.

Gear up as we’re about to go on a purposeful Mars exploration mission!

Thankfully, the makers avoided using too many intro shots and went straight to the point by telling us what the mission is and showing the game’s environment without revealing too much. We won’t be playing with the most insane graphics, but that’s totally ok because the game looks fine as it is.

The gameplay looks sophisticated enough, with a good range of things like driving, climbing, and swimming to complete delicate tasks.

There were no unnecessary shots, the edits and music were spot on, the footage hits the beat as often as it can, and we’re left with a mysterious question in the end: What do you expect to find on Mars?

All of this made us believe this trailer is enough to make indie game lovers hit the “Buy” button on Steam.

Hotline Miami – Launch Trailer

As awesome as your game really is, sometimes, you need to broaden people’s imagination of what you’re offering and enhance the impact of video game trailers.

With this trailer, the creators said: If our game was real, this is kind of what it would’ve looked like.

With obvious inspiration from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, a man parks his car and gets on the elevator to take care of “business”.

He wears one of the masks in the game and his baseball and outfit get bloodier as he travels from floor to floor. To top things off, he’s shown carrying a woman out of the elevator.

He’s a hero.

Another point worth mentioning is that the game’s positive reviews are included in the trailer, and thanks to the call-to-action in the end, we know where to go from there.

Diablo IV – Rogue Announcement Trailer 

This is a very good example of combining cinematics with gameplay.

Blizzard’s hellacious action-RPG saga has never looked better, but there’s a reason why we didn’t go crazy over it.

Not to say it’s a bad thing, but this video targets people who are already fans. The viewer needs to sit through the dialogue between the Rogue and the priest for quite some time before being shown the gameplay. I had a very vague recollection of the Diablo series and almost closed the video at one point because I didn’t understand what was being talked about.

All in all, we loved the conversation, the colors, and especially, the shift to gameplay.

Magnificent work Blizzard.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – Official Gameplay Video

“There is this HUGE world with impeccable detail, from swamps to mountains and beautiful forests, where you can live your life as an outlaw by doing hundreds of things! On top of that, your choices alter the game. What else could you possibly want?”

Even though Rockstar is notorious for its 101 trailers, they are great at conveying a feeling that ‘there’s no limit to what you can do in an absolutely beautiful world’.

I’m sure most people were sold after seeing the reveal trailer, but after this, fans just couldn’t wait to get their hands on RDR2.

The Walking Dead – Grant’s Trailer 

The Walking Dead game trailer for Grant’s character is a good example of smart storytelling. We see action-packed, bloody trailers for zombie games all the time, but we were offered something different here.

A chill, badass grandpa is having a monologue with a zombie (An awesome job was made, by the way, with the camera angle to keep the zombie’s presence a secret at first)! We may never be in a car with a zombie in the game or need to know Grant’s background, but creative trailers like these feed our imagination and really get us hyped for what’s coming.

🎞Trailer house tip

Script is very important. No beautiful image can carry the weight of a badly-written script in your video game trailer.

After telling the story of his granddaughter to the dead soul, who’s dying for a bite, Grant shoots it in the head and reclines on the car seat. More zombies come and flank the car, but Grant seems unbothered.

The video closes with charging music and then we get a release date and the game’s website.

Halo 3 – Believe Trailer 

In an ambitious approach, the creators took a risk by creating a monument of the survival of our species with motionless soldiers, shed blood and sweat in battle.

To make this happen, the induction scans from the marines in the battle were taken from the United Nations Space Command records. More interestingly, each piece of armor was shaped by hand, colored, and put on the battlefield to tell a story of humanity on the brink.

And when it seems all hope is lost, Master’s helmet visor lightens up and he raises his head.

We would’ve appreciated more camera movement and a rise & fall, but the screams, explosions, gunshots, and roars in this video give us goosebumps even now for a game that came out years ago.

So, yes. We believed.

Dead Island – Announce Trailer 

What a great way to tell an impeccable story backward with moving music and great visuals.

Only if this wasn’t one of the most misleading trailers of all time…

But most agree on its greatness as an individual piece of content. Praise goes especially to those who directed it and didn’t lose our attention for a second.

As far as zombie games go, this rewind is the best trailer we’ve ever seen.

Mass Effect 3 – Take Earth Back Cinematic Trailer

Instead of starting the trailer with vicious aliens and bloodshed, the creators surprised us by showing a girl happily playing with a spaceship in a blooming field. Soon enough though, we’re re-introduced to hair-raising creatures in a few cinematic combat shots.

Only if all of this was happening far from the little girl. What really taps into our feelings is that she, like everyone else, is caught up in this invasion.

We then see Captain Shepard picking up the ruins of the toy spaceship in a now-destroyed field and zealously fighting off aliens with the generic, yet inspiring words “Take Back Earth” displayed on the screen.

Finally, we’re told when the game’s coming out and where we can download the demo. Nice CTA.

Deus EX: Human Revolution – Cinematic Trailer 

When I first saw the opening scenes of the trailer, I wondered: Why involve The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and the myth of Icarus in a game that takes place in the transhumanist era? But then I remembered that the game was heavily inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci and Rembrandt. Not only that, starting the trailer with familiar shots paves the way for gathering a larger audience.

The trailer doesn’t waste any shots and plants a seed of the “aug” story, urging the viewers to find the answer to their question(s) by playing the game.

🎞Trailer house tip

Without proper direction, a game trailer may seem like merely a series of rendered shots & cutscenes aimlessly put next to each other. Hideo Kojima’s edits are exceptions in this regard.

The black & gold color palette of the game (also inspired by renaissance paintings) is carefully used in the promotional content as Adam Jensen and other characters’ voices guide the trailer.

We’re sure it’s become apparent to anyone who’s played the game that its developers are absolutely fond of video games. The creators of this cinematic masterpiece gladly support this love.

Overwatch – “The Last Bastion” Animated Short

Next to the announcement and reveal trailers, Overwatch made a smart move of post-release promotion. A series of short animations told us the stories of the game’s most beloved characters that stood out from the campaign.

The quality of each one is as good as a Pixar movie and each scene is made with sheer detail. My colleagues at Art Direction & Production wouldn’t stop talking about this trailer after I showed it to them.

From the time Bastion wakes up in the woods to when he’s mesmerized by a euphonious bird, it’s beauty after beauty in the story of a robot with some “human” in him and the ability to make decisions.

Correct. This trailer is technically different from the ones we’ve viewed so far because they were all released BEFORE the game. Still, Blizzard has prevailed in expanding the players’ imagination and building expectations with its short animated movies.

We hope we’ve given you a better understanding of the impact of video game trailers with our analysis. There are undoubtedly more awesome trailers out there. What else would you add to our good trailers list? Tell us in the comments! 

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Allen Rafiee

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!

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