Indie game video basics for teasers, trailers and gifs

One of the most powerful assets in video game marketing is the use of videos. Seems intuitive, no? It’s in the freaking name of the hobby.

Here’s how to put the video back into video games for your marketing efforts.

Please note: this is NOT a guide on the technical aspect of actual video creation – we tend to leave that up to the videographers either on-staff or who we contract in to help with this piece of the marketing puzzle.

Some of the basics for all types of video

When we’re talking about video, here’s what we’re meaning:

  • Teaser: a very short trailer that’s 15-60 seconds that can be released way in advance of a game’s launch – it offers very little in terms of plot, characters or gameplay. Teasers are hype machines.
  • Trailer: a short video that’s between 1-3 minutes long and may feature gameplay and more substance about an upcoming game. Trailers include logistical details (like the release date, price, where to find the game, actual footage, etc.)
  • Gameplay Footage: actual shots of the game usually produced near launch or after launch.
  • Gifs: a bitmap image (with the file extension .gif) that’s animated and compressed in order to reduce transfer time.

The biggest things most studios overlook are the length, using gameplay footage, planning ahead and including a call-to-action (CTA).

Length

Keep it simple, stupid. Keep it short. It’s going to be more work than you realize – creating a 15-60 second teaser or a 60-second trailer can take days, potentially weeks, and a lot more footage than just those seconds that will be included.

Gameplay Footage

Use actual footage. The games industry is already notorious for bullshots in marketing and for using overly optimized video clips in gameplay trailers.

This means trying to pull together your video content pretty late in the game (once the game is close to finalized), which can make it a rush, unless you…

Plan ahead

This means following a brief checklist:

  • Identify a videographer either internally or externally up to this task
  • Sync your marketing planning with your production planning and milestones
  • Storyboard – teasers are short and you want to focus on one emotion. Trailers, however, have a pretty set structure (see the next section for that)

Include a CTA

Uscreen has a great overview for the general structures that trailers follow in video games as well as the movie industry,

Unlike teasers, trailers follow a specific and generally unvarying structure:

  • The hook: This makes the audience sit up and pay attention
  • The premise: A brief section that gives viewers necessary context and fleshes out the “who, what, when, where, and why”
  • The twist: Something that complicates the premise and heightens the stakes
  • The montage: This part tends to be faster and higher-energy, which leads to…
  • The peak: This is the most dramatic, interesting, surprising, and/or emotional part of the trailer
  • The CTA: This brief conclusion channels the peak’s momentum into tells the audience what to do

What we care about most as marketers is that CTA. You need to tell your audience either a) where they can get more information or ideally, b) how they can purchase your product.

And a few other things

  • Sound is important. Don’t forget to have something that goes along with the visuals of the story being showcased in the video and make sure it’s not distracting. And that you legally have rights to use that music for commercial purposes – that’s a bit one too.
  • Be descriptive of your trailer. Make sure you fill in that description for the channels you’re putting it on, whether it’s YouTube or Facebook or Vimeo or anywhere else. You want to include that CTA in the description too and any additional info that a prospective buyer/gamer wants to know about it. Especially YouTube tags.
  • Be respectful of the specifications required from the different channels. Steam’s specs have certain requirements (1920×1080 resolution in .mov, .wmv or .mp4 container files, for example) – when you select your distribution channels, make sure you know what your specs need to be. Oculus, for example, has a 30 second minimum and 2 minute maximum for game trailers.
  • Here’s another great resource for more technical advice on tools to select (and it reiterates a few points made here).

A note about gifs

Gifs are funky. They’re like tiny, mini trailers. They need to be 5-20 seconds tops – think about the content that was produced eons ago for Vine (RIP).

I love gifs. There’s a tremendous opportunity for game studios to take advantage of gifs in their marketing plans (as of 2020 – maybe this will become saturated in a year or two).

Gifs have become the new teaser (and sometimes trailer) format.

Untitled Goose Game wouldn’t necessarily be where it is now without that gif in 2018 posted by a fellow gamedev and put it in the records as one of the most upvoted threads in r/gaming (sitting at 125,000 upvotes – the gif itself having 5 million views)

Just two weeks ago a developer highlighted their VR development tools with example gifs and one of them is currently sitting at 146,000 upvotes with 3.7 million views:

There’s also this classic of Pigeon Simulator 2019:

And it’s not necessarily up to the game developer to create these assets. Another thread that’s at the top of r/gaming is featuring a part of South Park: The Fractured But Whole by someone who has nothing to do with the studio – they just loved the feature that shows how the difficult setting changes with the color of one’s skin in-game:

 

All I’m saying is consider gifs in your marketing video asset list. They don’t need sound, they’re easily shared on all sorts of media (and they’re great social media fodder, period).