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How to create effective Video Game Trailers

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February 23, 2023
Riad is the product manager of Codecks. He is also the co-founder of indie games company Maschinen-Mensch and still believes that Street Fighter 2 is the most beautiful video game ever created. Coincidentally he also believes that Codecks is the best project management tool for game developers. Apparently he has been creating video games for over 14 years now and considers himself a productivity nerd: scrum, kanban, extreme programming, waterfall, seinfeld. He has tried it all.
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Creating a great video game trailer can be a daunting task, but it’s an essential part of promoting your game and generating interest from potential players. A well-crafted trailer does not only need to grab the player’s attention, but even more importantly, makes them understand what they are getting.

Here are five advanced tips to make sure that your game trailer does not only look nice, but actually makes players want to buy your game.

1. Don’t waste time on long pre-rolls

People’s attention spans are short, and they want to see your game right away. Don’t make them sit through a long sequence of random company logos at the beginning of your trailer. Sometimes new game studios might show a lot of logos in the hope of emulating expensive Hollywood blockbuster trailers, but aim instead to jump right into your game and show off what makes it unique.

Random Pre-Roll Game Logos

If you’re a super-star game studio already and your brand carries a ton of reputation, then congrats(!) and feel free to put your logo at the start of the logo. For most studios it is better to have the logo somewhere at the end of the video.

Try to keep the total trailer length under two minutes if possible. If you have a lot of content to show, consider creating multiple trailers or a longer “extended cut” version for interested viewers.

2. Feature in-game UI in your trailer

Your trailer should effectively communicate what your game is all about. Showing in-game UI is a great way to do that. It helps viewers understand what they’re getting and what genre your game falls under. Keep in mind: Communication is the most important job of your trailer.

3. Focus on gameplay

Some games have multiple trailers: one for gameplay, one for narrative/cinematic. If you only create one, make sure it is the one about gameplay. Unless you’re tying into a well-recognized IP, your players won’t know the world that your game is set in and will have little pre-existing emotional investment in watching a long cinematic.

Make sure to show each main gameplay system at least once. Again, this not only helps communicate the type of mechanics that the players will engage with, but it will also show off the game’s scope that you’ve carefully created for them.

One interesting and fairly underused idea is also to communicate what your game is by explicitly stating what it is NOT. See this Islanders trailer for an example of specifically countering wrong assumptions that players might have:

4. End with a call-to-action

The last frame of your trailer should end on a call-to-action. Don’t make the mistake of fading to black or adding random post-credits scenes. If the video app automatically stops on the last frame, you want it to show your call-to-action, not a black frame.

Make sure to only use one call to action, so that there is no ambiguity on what interested players should be doing right after watching the trailer. If you already have Steam page, it is a good idea to ask them to wishlist your game right away. (How to design your Steam store page.)

5. Add voice-over

Renowned filmmaker Christopher Nolan, despite some criticisms about the audibility of his sound design, once shared a piece of wisdom about sound that, that we can steal for our game trailer.

In the early days of his filmmaking career, when working on the movie ‘Following’, Nolan was constrained by a tight budget. However, instead of seeing this as a limitation, he saw it as an opportunity for innovation. Nolan opted to begin the movie with several minutes of voice-over.

Good quality voice-over, surprisingly, can be achieved even with limited resources. By starting ‘Following’ with this high-quality sound, Nolan effectively created an illusion of a high-budget production, at least for the initial moments before other elements revealed the film’s modest means.

Now, let’s pivot to the gaming industry. This strategy Nolan used is severely underutilized, especially concerning voice. While it might be challenging for smaller teams to match the graphical prowess of AAA games, they can very much level the playing field when it comes to voice acting. Even more so for a video game trailer.

Taking my experience with “Curious Expedition 1” as an example, integrating voice talent significantly improved the perceived production quality of the game. The return on investment, in terms of the overall enhancement to the game experience, was unparalleled.

This short recording of a professional voice actor into our Curious Expedition 1 trailer cost us less than $100, but elevates the trailer A LOT:

You may also experiment with collaborating with streamers and using their footage in your trailer, or even using player audio. This Eve Online trailer is my favorite example of using actual player voices:

On its own this trailer is actually not a great example, since it breaks a lot of rules laid out here, but considering this is probably the 30th trailer created by the Eve team it works wonderfully by focusing on a specific aspect of their game.

In conclusion, creating a great video game trailer takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to creating a trailer that effectively communicates what your game is all about and generates interest from potential players. Good luck!

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