Watching Previews: A Guide

Previews are made to generate hype. This has always been the case, and indeed will always be the case. If you’ve been playing for awhile, then you know that previews cannot be blindly trusted; not even previews that mostly feature gameplay. Still, they’re hard to ignore. Getting excited for a game you’re looking forward is a large part of the fun of being a video game enthusiast after all. So if previews are untrustworthy and research doesn’t inspire that same excitement, then what is a gamer to do? The answer is actually rather straight forward: just get smart about how you watch game previews.

Video game previews are made to get you interested in buying the game. They’re a marketing tool after all. However, just because you let yourself get excited doesn’t mean that you have to buy into it. It’s just a matter of being aware of what the trailer is doing and how it’s doing it. Today we’re going to take a look at two concept trailers, one truthful and one not so much, so that you can get an idea of how to their roots. That said, let’s jump on in so that you can start enjoying previews without buying into the hype!

(video from YouTube user: GamesradarTrailers)

The very first BioShock trailer has often been praised and well-regarded as exactly what a video game preview should be. It’s interesting and gives and honest view of what the game is about. However, let’s put that aside for now and examine what is going on in this trailer.

What we’re shown: 

In this first trailer, we’re shown all of the important pieces of BioShock. We’re introduced to Rapture and given a short look at the environment we would be playing in. We’re introduced to Andrew Ryan and the ideas that enabled the circumstances that create the environment for the game. We’re shown what kind of place Rapture will be: a lawless place with no sense of morality. We’re introduced to the three main NPC types and the dynamic between them: Splicer, Big Daddy, and Little Sister. The Splicer wants to hurt the Little Sister, The Big Daddy is there to protect her, and the Little Sister trusts the Big Daddy. Finally, we’re shown that there will be combat and given an idea of what it will look like: there will be guns, you’ll have strange abilities to use, and the combat will be fast and frantic rather than slow and methodical.

What’s the tone:

The trailer gives off a tone of desperation and cynicism, due both to the opening narration and the encounter we witness between the doomed Splicer and the Big Daddies. It’s mostly delivered indirectly, leaving it for us to determine as the encounter plays out. It’s true to both this trailer as a whole and the scene shown therein. It’s a small thing, but important nonetheless.

What this trailer did:

Basically, this trailer was meant to inform. It gave us all the necessary information needed to understand what kind of game it aimed to be. It showed us the where, the who, the what, and the how of BioShock. All the important questions are answered, so this sort of trailer could be considered to be useful information. Of course here and now we know that to be absolutely true, but I’d say it works even on its own merits.

(video from YouTube user: IGN)

Yes, our next example is the famously disappointing Dead Island announcement trailer. Concept trailers are often excused from scrutiny since they’re supposedly only there to set a tone for the game and give potential players a window into what the game is about. I agree that concept trailers are perfectly valid as preview material. After all, the BioShock trailer we just examined was a concept trailer, and it did a great job of telling us what to expect. However, this Dead Island preview is considered to be disappointing at the very least, so it’s probably doing something different. Let’s take a look and see what’s up.

What we’re shown:

Not all that much I’m afraid. Where the BioShock trailer was rich in information, this one is severely lacking. We’re shown the location…kinda. It’s an unnamed hotel in a tropical environment. We’re shown that the enemy is going to be zombies and that they’re the ferocious fast zombie instead of the classic shuffling zombie. We’re shown that there will be combat because that one guy happened to have a fire axe. That’s really it. We don’t know the cause, we don’t know the why, we have almost no idea of how combat will work, or even if there’s a story here. This is a trailer that raises many more questions about the game than it answers.

What’s the tone:

It’s sad. That’s really it. It tries to be poignant with the juxtaposition of slow, melancholy music played over a scene of intense violence, but it just makes the viewer feel sad. We see these people, this once happy family, die a horrible death at the hands of a zombie horde. As a whole the trailer works, but the music certainly doesn’t fit the tone that would have been inspired by what we see: that being one of desperation and fear.

What this trailer did:

All it did was create a buzz to get the game’s name out there. It wasn’t informative, and it created expectations that the game never intended to to fulfill. The contrast between the action and the sad music was kind of the point, but it only worked because we knew the two didn’t go together. We knew that the music and editing didn’t fit the action, so it created an expectation for that feeling to be delivered in either the game’s story or in the gameplay objectives. The game did neither of those, so this trailer ultimately became the poster child of disappointing trailers.  It was careful not to show combat nor give any clue to what the game was about. That way we would only have our expectations of what we thought it was going to be until the game either launched or we got more information. (In fact, the game might have been better received if the second trailer had gotten more attention, as it’s much more informative than this. Take a look.

In the end it’s all about information. If a trailer leaves you with important questions unanswered, then you shouldn’t use it as part of your decision to buy. This applies to gameplay trailers and demos too. If you only see one narrow slice of the game, such as a small combat encounter or one zone and one map, then that should raise questions. If you leave with questions, you need to ask yourself why those questions weren’t answered and carry that forward as you do the rest of your research. Do this; breakdown the trailers and examine what they’re telling you, and you’ll find yourself able to enjoy them without getting swept away by them!

How do you think we should approach video game previews? Are their any preview that you found easy to dissect, or perhaps found yourself wrapped up in regardless?

Featured image is promotional art for BioShock.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. renxkyoko says:

    If it’s a totally new game, then the second video lacks the necessary info , but if it’s part of a series, like God of War 2, 3, or 4, I don’t even need to see the preview.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Good point. I hadn’t considered how this would apply to sequels. One would already know how the game should work if it’s a sequel (provided that you were around for the previous game, that is).


  2. cary says:

    I’ve become pretty cynical towards game trailers and previews. I find that either they aren’t informative enough or they don’t represent the final product. So the most any game trailer is going to get from me is “that game looks nice/awful/indifferent.” Nowadays, if I’m really interested in a game, I’m more likely to hold judgement until the *gameplay* trailers or previews are released.

    I do like how you’ve set up this guide, though. Because with so many games being made available these days, it can be tough to keep track of the distinguishing factors between trailers. I guess developers have to walk a fine line between showing too much to too little. Gotta get people interested as much as keep them guessing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hatm0nster says:

      True. It is a fine line to walk, but I’d say as long as they’re not revealing the actual plot, then there shouldn’t be much issue with what’s shown in a trailer.

      In regard to gameplay previews, the problem there is that one has no idea how representative of the game they’ll be (just like teaser trailers). The early previews for Destiny come to mind here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. duckofindeed says:

    I rarely ever see video game previews anymore, since I don’t watch much TV (and if I do, it’s Netflix), but when I do see them, I don’t usually give them much thought. I think part of my distrust comes from the many movie trailers that motivated me to watch a movie in the past, only for me to find that the movie shown in the trailer was completely different from the real thing. Trailers often can be dishonest, plus it’s just two minutes or so out of a far longer product, so it can’t possibly tell us enough.

    Now I make my decisions based on reviews, the Reception section of the game’s Wikipedia page, and gameplay videos. This has saved me from many bad games (and bad movies), including Sonic Boom. Shudder… Anyway, this was a really interesting post. I liked the comparison between the successful trailer and the unsuccessful one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Yeah, trailers rarely contribute information that ends up being useful when deciding whether or not you want to buy a game. They are fun to watch though. It’s just a matter of looking at them in a way that keeps the fun of the trailer from having undue influence.


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