Cinematic Game Trailers – Do They Work?

It seems like many of the highly hyped games are producing very high quality cinematic trailers to help get people excited for their upcoming releases.  For the most part, I do enjoy these trailers but I’m starting to wonder what they really tell us about the games themselves and are they doing more harm then good.  It seems like many of these trailers are given lots of room to expand on what is possible in the game such that they look cooler and tell a better story.  Even from a purely graphical nature these trailers are incredibly misleading as the games never look as good as what they can show cinematically.

The trailer that touched this off for me was the recent DC Universe Online trailer from Comic-Con (which is very cool btw), but I see Star Wars the Old Republic as one of the biggest culprits.  I’m sure there are others doing this exact same thing, but SWTOR sticks out for me mainly because of the effect these trailers have had on my interest for the game.  I know many like myself were absolutely floored when the Deceived trailer hit and then were even more in awe with the recent Hope trailer.  In case you haven’t seen them, check them out here:

Some REALLY cool stuff and they get me really excited about this game.  But there are quite a few things that you know just aren’t or can’t happen in a game, for instance, using your hands to block a light-saber.  Also, all along we’ve been hearing the SWTOR is all about Story and will be a completely different game-play style from all other MMOs without the traditional group dynamics, which these trailers reinforce.  But, for all they’ve shown in the trailers it really doesn’t tell us much about the actual game.

That is until they released the Multiplayer Demo @ E3 that shows us actual gameplay and some of the group dynamics.  This was possibly the most disappointing video I’ve seen in a long time as not only did it look nothing like the trailers (not that I expected it to) but the gameplay is exactly like any other MMO with the traditional tank, healer, and DPS roles.  Now when I look back at the trailers, I don’t even connect them with SWTOR I just see them as some cool Star Wars videos because they are so far removed from what the game actually looks and plays like.  With all the money spent on these trailers by the game companies, couldn’t there be a balance somewhere to put some of that into the game as opposed to something which is arguably un-related?

Maybe the core of my real question is can too much hype be a bad thing?  It seemed to really hurt a number of titles like Vanguard, Age of Conan, and Warhammer Online to name a few and all these new cool trailers are just amping up the expectations.  With such high expectations, the level of potential disappointment continues to grow such that for many there’s no way players will be able to enjoy the game as they’ll keep wishing it was more like the trailer they saw.

For me, I have pretty much stopped following SWTOR other then reading headlines from various bloggers, and at this point I”m not even sure I will play it.  The one piece that might change my mind is the pricing model – if it is a traditional MMO subscription I’m pretty confident that I won’t play it.  But if they do some sort of hybrid model or something different then I might be more willing to check it out.

To wrap up, is it better to show a trailer along the lines of what Turbine did for their recent Mirkwood launch:

which is shot using only footage from actual game-play, or use a cinematic version that your game will never live up to?  Or does it come down to the surrounding messaging to portray the trailers as what they are – cool videos loosely based on the game they’re tied to?

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8 responses to “Cinematic Game Trailers – Do They Work?

  1. I have a very bad feeling with SWTOR. The first thing is that it seems to become rather generic despite Bioware yelling story story story fully voiced all the time, but let me focus on the trailers:

    This has nothing to do with how the game looks or plays. Maybe they should finally make another Star Wars movie in a more non-comic Clone Wars style.

    SWTOR is unlike many other upcoming games graphically VERY bland. Heck, even the odd graphics style of Dragon Age or Mass Effect 2 are more eye candy.
    Putting this in contrast to the highres trailers is highly dangerous. It will people show something entirely different.

    And even if people are dumb as hell and excited about trailers, the high hopes they project into the trailer is almost guaranteed to backfire given the huge gameplay and visual difference between SWTOR footage and video.

    Is it not fascinating how much the few gameplay videos of SWTOR almost got forgotten in favor of the high res videos? There are some by now, after all.

    • It will be interesting to see if they put any finishing polish on the visuals for SWTOR – I mean we still are almost a year off from it actually launching 🙂

  2. I’d like to use StarCraft 2’s use of pre-release cinematics as an example of good use. First, you already have a previous game that gives you some expectation of what you’re gonna get in the sequel, even before we found out anything about 2. Second, they Blizzard released a cinematic announcing the game – but followed that with gameplay videos. Finally, closer to launch, they released another cinematic as one last push. We know what we’re getting and the pre-rendered cinematics reinforce our excitement.

    If you don’t know what you’re getting when you’re watching the cinematics, this could cause the very harm you’re talking about. The audience needs to have the proper expectations so the cinematics can fuel those expectations, not override them or fool you into thinking you’re getting something your not.

    • Yeah, that does sound like a good combination – I will admit I’m not a Starcraft fan so I really haven’t been paying that much attention to it.

      As for SWTOR – maybe it doesn’t matter what they do since so many will follow and play purely because it is Star Wars.

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  4. Tadgo of Landroval

    I’d rather see actual game play. The cinematic trailers are really cool to see but they tell me nothing about the game play. Save the cinematics for when I’ve bought the game and you want to give me back story and cut scenes. I guess I’ve seen too many games that don’t live up to the trailers.

  5. I agree with Tadgo.
    As a gamer myself, I always rely on gameplay trailers to determine whether the game is a buy or not. Except for the recently revealed Bioshock Infinite trailer was a guilty pleasure. I’m now eagerly awaiting to see what the developers can come up with in the third installment 😛

    I still agree that a lot of them don’t live up in the end and may spoil the gaming experience. I guess they are done to satisfy the cinematic or cg geeks?
    If you go to, you can actually see there are plenty of these examples and its interesting to see how the numbers of these trailers increased over the years since 06.

    I do feel however, that we are getting closer to the point where games are looking almost as cinematic as they are potrayed in the trailers. Like Uncharted 2? Or Enslaved maybe? It’s one of those that does a good job matching the cinematic scenes closely to ingame graphics. I can’t really tell much of a difference.

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