Live Action Game Trailers: Sketchy Advertising and Exploited Emotions

Live Action Game Trailers: Sketchy Advertising and Exploited Emotions

The below video is a trailer for the recently-released game Prototype 2.

Have you seen this shit? More and more we’ve been seeing big games opt for extravagant live action commercials for their TV spots. Rather than trying to sell you the game based on, you know, the gameplay, many publishers have decided that this would somehow be a more accurate representation of what you’ll be buying. I have to admit, some of them are pretty damn cool. Sometimes they end up looking better than a lot of actual movies. But it’s gotten to a point where things have started getting out of hand.

As marketing budgets have increased, a general shift toward more cinematic-heavy advertisement has become pretty apparent. People are being sold products with minimal exposure to what they are actually like. It’s not false advertising exactly, but it’s shifty behavior at least on the industry’s part. Would you advertise your movie by putting on a rock opera version of it? As amusing as that might be, it would probably leave some people a little confused or let down after going to see the real thing. A game is something that you are primarily meant to play, not watch, or so I’ve been led to believe. If you want to sell me a movie, show me some highlights of the best parts, the parts that I’m going to be most excited to see. When I buy a new game, chances are I didn’t buy it because I can’t wait to see some more of that one cutscene.

TV advertisements are an important part of any successful marketing campaign of course, and they’ve become more and more useful as a tool to sell to potential customers as gaming has become more mainstream. Competing with movie trailers, which are often big and flashy, there’s certainly a lot of pressure to produce commercials that will catch your eye, but this can be done without resorting to just aping movies. It’s pretty bad when the only way I can tell that the commercial I’m watching is for a video game is that five second logo flash at the very end.

As I see these strange, out of place sensibilities show up all over the place, I get a sneaking suspicion about where they come from. Sometimes I wonder if the people behind these commercials would rather be working in some other medium. Are games becoming more like movies because the games industry has become the official dumping ground for failed Hollywood types? After all this crazy growth and innovation we’ve seen in recent times, do games really garner no more respect than Syfy Channel movies of the week?

Nintendo gets it right… most of the time anyway. Look at the recent TV spot for Kid Icarus: Uprising. You’ve got a short bit of cinematic to serve as the eye catcher, then into, and stay with me on this, REAL LIVE ACTUAL GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE! Boss fights, rail shooting segments, all sorts of cool special effects, and this is all stuff that you will actually see if you buy the game they’ve just shown you. They’re even nice enough to show you a 3DS so you know what you’d need to play it. In a little over thirty seconds I have a rough idea of what this game is about and whether or not it is something that will appeal to me. If I want more information, I’ll probably think to hit the internet.

Trying to sell a game based on anything other than its gameplay suggests that you don’t consider it the strong point of what you are selling, that you have to throw up something big, distracting and tangentially related to make people pay attention. Showing no gameplay footage whatsoever leaves someone unacquainted with the game in question with nothing to go on other than the emotions evoked by that commercial, and the people who make these things know this. Using Johnny Cash in that Prototype 2 commercial screams “you should feel sad now”; it’s cheating. Without relying on that music the trailer fails to produce any sort of feeling in the viewer. The shots are weird, the cuts are chaotic, the acting is cheesy, the choice of actors to play Alex Mercer is… questionable, and the effects turn cartoonish by the end. Set that trailer to Yakety Sax and suddenly you’re laughing your ass off.

Now excuse me while I go draft some lyrics for my rock opera version of Avengers. Shit’s gonna blow your mind.

  1. Hayden Eddings says:

    “Have you seen this shit?”

    I like how you write.

  2. That Skyrim trailer would’ve done the game justice if they showed all the women/children running up to and punching the dragon.

  3. AusAskar says:

    Halo’s live action shorts often serve as story set up and in-universe fleshing out of elements occurring before or alongside the game rather than the game itself. I agree that using these live action shorts as a substitute for showing a lackluster game is quite deceptive, underhanded and shouldn’t be on. But I’ve got no problem in them being used in a concerted marketing campaign alongside gameplay trailers which can be easily accessed by potential buyers (this may be due to personal bias however because I quite enjoy seeing videogames in the flesh and Halo’s ancillary fiction in general).

  4. “That Skyrim trailer would’ve done the game justice if they showed all the women/children running up to and punching the dragon.”

  5. Hoyo says:

    I think its the very nature of advertisement to mislead you in some sense lol I mean if you see a trailer for a movie, just because the scenes used in the trailer might work for you, its no way any indication of the rest of the film. Marketting and stuff.. thats just how hype works.

    How about those Deus Ex: Human Revolution live action trailers though? They didn’t really try to convey any kind of action or gameplay, but rather the themes of the story.

  6. Thomas says:

    Ironically, the CoD trailer is the least dishonest. Firstly, because everyone who is going to buy it pretty much knows what CoD is about, so they don’t need to be reminded. Secondly, it’s about the emotions you feel playing the game which is a fair tact to take in a commercial. Things like soap, shampoo, makeup, perfume, etc are sold the same way. Also, it accurately depicts how long it takes to master CoD.

    @Hoyo, marketing is actually not about deception most of the time. If you engage in that you lose customer trust and confidence and even if you make one sale you are less likely to sell them again. Action movies don’t get marketed as paced dramas, romantic comedies don’t get marketed as thillers, etc.

  7. Christopher LaBoissonniere says:

    I cannot agree more with this. I think it has to do with developers trying to make their games into movies– not games. It’s down a similar path. If the game is going to be a movie, why shouldn’t the trailer be made in the same manner that a movie’s is? I’m not liking this trend. If they want to make movies, they should do just that: make movies, stop making games.

  8. Vincent says:

    The FEAR 3 trailers had about equal amounts of live-action and gameplay footage. I found it worked fairly well, because very nearly all the things you see the actors do in the live footage are things you can do in the game. It was still a bit silly, but this particular case seems to have been thought through more thoroughly than average.

  9. Ricky Alvarez says:

    Whenever I see a live-action trailer, or a trailer made of CGI, I skip through the video until there is actual engine-rendered gameplay. If there isn’t any, I simply X out.

    Last time this happened was Dishonored. Unsurprisingly, the actual Dishonored game looks like Bioshock on the PS2, and the gameplay appears to consist of “stab everything blood dark and mature” set to an inappropriate tune, a cinematographic technique that was tired back in 1984 when A Nightmare on Elm Street came out.

    I can’t wait for the live action Mass Effect 4 trailer, featuring “Patty Cake”.

  10. Sekundarliterat says:

    A good game speaks for itself, so there wouldn’t be any advertisement necessary. Before you buy, you go to and listen around (I’ll buy Darksiders because of an article here) or an other trustful site where people with the same taste are to be found. Before I watch a movie, I first go to, to avoid a disappointment. I don’t get the mind of people who buy a game because they see the cover, or they’ve seen a trailer. They must have too much money.
    It’s the same for all kinds of products.

    But game trailers with real people don’t seem worse to me than any other advertisement. It’s the same nonsense as making a trailer with better graphics than in the actual game. To me it’s a standard manipulation.

    @Thomas – I agree with CoD, you’ll know what to expect – because since MW1 it’s one copy after an other.
    The emotions are fairly boredom at the linear singleplayer and frustration for the stupid enemies and cliché story.

  11. VietDiuDo says:

    Gaming community are dying….The more it is heading toward mainstream, the more deluded it will be. You see the only people that would actually care about gameplay would just be US, old gamers that actually care about getting their money worth…or finding the right company to be devoted fans to. To mainstream/casual gamers, they don’t give a shit. The reason why they don’t care about gameplay footage and rather see the shit smear live-action clip is because they expected the game to be the SAME FUCKING GAME THEY BOUGHT last month. Nobody give a damn about gameplay anymore, slowly games are all becoming generic copy of each other. The age of game is dying.

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