With the new releases of 2012, there have been a lot made, but what makes a good trailer?

I’m looking back on a few of the trailers of 2012, and considering what makes a good one. Trailers are usually, it seems, a combination of several elements, but which are the really important ones? In fantasy and role-playing games, there are usually fairly strong elements of the story involved in trailers, so, for example, Guild Wars 2’s trailer featured the rise of the dormant dragons and their return to Tyria.

World of Warcraft’s trailer for Mists of Pandaria took a rather different direction from past efforts, shying away from the usual super-villain approach and choosing instead to focus on the Horde and Alliance conflict and the discovery of the new continent and race. Was this a good decision? Is it necessary to reveal the grand mastermind behind the story arc of the game in the opening trailer? Or is a little mystery better?

Aside from story, what else is vital to a good trailer? Do you want to see gameplay footage, or are you happy for game developers to focus on amping up the CGI to create dramatic scenes. If you’ve purchased games on the strength of the trailer without looking into the gameplay footage, have you ever felt cheated by the CGI overemphasizing the graphical quality of the game? Certainly, anyone who bought WoW based on the Mists of Pandaria trailer, or any before that for that matter, would potentially be disappointed. Or do you take a more cynical approach and assume that trailers never reflect the reality of a game?

As I discuss more extensively in the video, do landscapes serve any greater purpose than showing off a graphics engine? Are you excited to see the landscape previews to get a sense of the feel of a game’s world? And what of these elements are vital to a good trailer? Or, what have I missed that is a key ingredient? I discuss character options in the video, along with some other elements of advertising that do and don’t appeal, but I’d love to get your opinions. Do leave a comment below!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1596374948 Rene Hansen

    personally  I look for actual game play, preferably against a challenging opponent such as a boss,BAM or at least a higher level mob. CGI trailers are all well and good but they always leave me with the feeling that there is something they do not want me to know, in other words if i don’t get to see it for myself ill assume it is bad.

  • donmuerte


  • http://twitter.com/exegete46 Exe Gete

    Personally, I think that a beautiful CGI trailer is a great thing.  Show me your grand idea of how the game world (environment) would look if it could.  But I also agree that a big baddy with a good reason to hate them (story) is important.  Show me Deathwing or Arthas.  Heck, for MoP, give me a Sha.  Something to get angry at and want to learn why we’re killing it.  

    In the same breath, however, I feel that releasing gameplay footage is also important.  For example, the gameplay footage from Wildstar has me hyped up for that game, even though the initial trailer felt a little lack-luster.  However, I think that gameplay footage in an initial trailer isn’t the best idea.  People will nit-pick.  Imagine a Titan trailer with gameplay footage:  I can hear the “It’s a WoW re-skin” comments from here.

    So for me, the trailer perks are environment, story and boss.  And the best trailer would be released with a link to YouTube to go see the gameplay footage.

    — Exegete

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747725054 Carlos Navarretti

    To me it depends. If it’s a game that already is a huge hit, a Cinematic trailer that continues the story of the game works perfectly. If it’s a game I have never seen or know anything about it, it HAS to have gameplay in it to lure me into playing it. If they simply have a link to a youtube channel with gameplay and I have never seen or cared about the game, I am definitely not even clicking that link to go find out if I like the gameplay. Too many games out there and story alone definitely does not captures my attention anymore. To me it all boils down to gameplay. If it’s good, I’ll get hyped, if it’s bad I’ll forget about the game and if I don’t see anything I forget about it as well until the time they show something. 

  • balen arenas

    I love a good CGI trailer. Now I’m smart enough to realize that they are in no way indicative of how the game actually is, but I just like watching them.

    Anything made from Blur Studios is gold to watch. And Blizzard is top notch with their trailers as well (although I felt that the MOP one was a bit off the mark, technically great but the actual content was off the mark).

    • http://twitter.com/dularr Dularr

      The opening cinematic get significantly more airtime then later trailers that included Mist of Pandaria game play.  I’ve only seen the cinematic video in their national advertising. 

  • Ravenstorm

    Game footage is important. The initial GW2 ‘Our time is now’ trailer got immense critisism because there was almost no ingame footage. The ‘Bless’ ttrailer for example has lots of it, and shows combat graphics by which you can derive certain play actions and also ofcourse the amount of detail from the graphics themselves. When ingame graphics approach CGI standard then the devs can switch from storybase to actionbase scenes in their trailer.

    For me, the greatest start trailers explain the game graphics engine with ingame actions whilst showing the world and lore, preferably with ingame graphics, since that’s the platform you’ll be immersing yourself in. After that, any CGI showing off is just cherries on top.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miguel-Crespo/501398647 Miguel Crespo

    final fantasy xiv end of an era Trailer was one of the best trailers I ever seen this year

  • http://twitter.com/wut_iz !wut_iz

    Purely CGI cutscenes should really be left just for cutscenes, trailers are meant to sell the game, which is by proxy an interactive means of story telling.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RWIT5R23ILQZE2UU55R2ERBP2E Michael

    A trailer should show snips of gameplay, and have music that really sets the tone for the game. Also there should be no spoilers whatsoever in a trailer.

  • Demi_God

    A good trailer makes you want to play the game, as simple as that.

    The MoP trailer, didn’t make me want to play WoW.  Instead I felt the need to go watch Kung Fu Panda the movie. 

  • Supercoven

    sexy mole near cleavage

    wait.. what. did you say something? where am i

  • Depravity

    Badass CGI. And possibly tits.

  • http://twitter.com/moosewithaj john nuyen

    With Micheal on Game play , Let me see game play, maybe a side short interviews with designers. I’ve given up on newer games only showing cinematic clips. If I wanted that i’d watch a movie on Netflix.

  • http://twitter.com/NaamahNeko Anna

    Since this is basically a “man the MoP trailer is weird…and others” article…

    The reason it didn’t really ring true for people this time around was its format.  What MoP really needed was a montage style introduction like the original and Burning Crusade formats. This was a new world, and players really needed to get an idea what was going on behind it.

    Instead, like many other areas of MoP, Blizzard seems to feel that what made Wrath of the Lich King so successful was the way it was marketed, not any reason related to game design (a similar problem plagued Cataclysm). But the reason that worked so well in Wrath (as I recall I agree with Lore on this one, it was the best trailer) was because the previous two games (and a lot of classic WoW) had been focused on the antics of Arthas.  Arthas had the gravitas that could command a movie-style trailer, and it established the eerie mood of Northrend. And the narration was perfectly crafted, you can see how much work must have been put into Terenas’ script.

    Cataclysm…would have been nice to have a BC style trailer, but the destruction of the world was a good way to deal with it. Deathwing was somewhat less known, but he still had enough personality and presence in the extended universe to keep attention.  But…MoP? Two guys we know nothing about get their party crashed by a panda who may or may not be Chen.  The guy from that one obnoxious mission that most of us probably didn’t complete naturally.  And the dialogue…what nonsense.  It’s not actual wisdom, it’s Hollywood racist wisdom, the kind of thing some guy who’s never left California thinks Chinese people would say. And above all that, it’s boring.  Insert a peter griffin “shallow and pedantic” as to the moral of the voice over.

    In a word: Lazy.

  • Deadnstien

    It depends on the game and how old it is and how familiar I already am with the franchise.

    If it is a new game or franchise I want to see and hear the basic premise of the story and who is involved. The original WoW trailer did this well, and I’ll go out on a limb here and say the original Warhammer Online one did it a little better. They both showed most of the races and the fact that they belonged to factions that were at war with each other. They didn’t need that big bad guy.

    Now for expansions to games I have played I prefer them to focus on what is changing with the game and I think WoW again does this well. They shifted from the Horde/Alliance conflict to the world ending threats that the x-pac introduces. Even MoP did it well. There is no world ending threat but they still showed us what was changing, just in a more subtle way that I think was sadly lost on a great number of people (you really need to be an historical kung-fu movie fan to appreciate it to it’s fullest).

    As for other elements like  game play and in game footage I honestly thing that is a lazy cop out. A proper trailer should be a cinematic introduction to the game, like the opening credits in a movie. When done well it gets you excited for the game, even if it isn’t indicative to the game it’self. In game footage and game play should be left for advertising and year long prerelease hype machine.

  • tawnos42

    Really prefer the CGI for a cinematic.  One thing I think is important is the music/sound – both were awesome with the first 3 cinematics (and really culminated with the wotlk trailer).  It was a mediocre at best part of the cata and mop cinematics.

    Part of it also is just the story – some players want pandas and pokemon, some want a Cormac McCarthy novel.  The last two expansions have veered more towards the former (thinking of the T13 ending especially for cata) whereas the first three were closer to the latter end of the spectrum.  I think for most of WoW’s playerbase the more dramatic storylines just make for a better basis for a good cinematic.

  • Divalicious_Diva

    I like to see in-game visuals,music,action. Cinematic are cool but they don’t show you “the game”,  the actual product they are selling. I would never buy a game based on a cinematic trailer.

  • http://twitter.com/zerconi Samuli Rauatmaa

    I definitely want to see gameplay footage including important mechanics, nice music and some story sprinkled in there.

  • Maurice Reimann

    Trailers should, ideally, show what the game is actually about. The League of Legends trailers (original and dominion) are absolutely best for that. They don’t contain any gameplay, but unlike the star wars trailers they consist of basically 100% stuff that ACTUALLY HAPPENS.  

    While the SWTOR ones were cool short films, they were literally just hype-bait with barely any connection to actual ingame events.

    Also, you may want to have the high-point of your trailer at the end. Imagine if the D3 trailer began with the 3D stuff and then ended in monster footage (not necessarily the historical stuff that it begins with now). The game’s blizzcon reveal was unbelievably good because the high point were the last five seconds, when they finally showed something that allowed the audience to identify D3, and the entire room cheered SO HARD.  The trailer now just kind of… ends.

  • http://twitter.com/GaryStoleMyPony GaryStoleMyPony

    What excites me? What do I like to see? More Olivia!

    • Mythaniel

      I got a fevah’!  And the only prescription is moah’ Olivia!