Press Start: What’s The Deal With Game Adverts?

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It’s no secret that the game industry likes its lies. Chances are most of you don’t see them as lies; I didn’t always see them that way.

I am speaking, of course, about game adverts. Adverts can be pretty easily put on a scale of how representative they are of the gameplay. The sad part of this is that one end of the scale will have almost every game advert ever on it, and it’s not the good end.

I first started taking a note of this in the middle of last year because my dad questioned me about an advert on TV. I, along with most other gamers, don’t bat an eye at trailers that don’t graphically or stylistically look like their games. The phrase “Not Game Footage” is probably the most seen sentence in games, just after “The micro-transactions are cosmetics only, so it’s fine”.

My father, however, was very confused by this premise when he saw an ad on TV. He couldn’t understand how it was acceptable for companies to sell a product by not showing you the product. Those were his words and they really hit me in a way that made me think, ‘that’s a damn good point’.

So for the second half of 2016 I made a list of game adverts that aired on TV and what form they took. It was mainly for my own curiosity, I hadn’t planned to write something like this. However Destiny 2 is currently floating around the TV airwaves with, I think, 4 different completely unrepresentative trailers. That gave me all the spite I needed to do this.

So in this list I found four general types of game trailers. The first is the gameplay footage advert. Last year I saw Forza Horizon 3 open an advert with “All In-Game Footage” and Watch_Dogs 2 with “Gameplay with additional angles and transitions”. Both these trailers were a near seizure inducing mess of jump cuts and camera angles that would be unplayable but are ‘dramatic’.

The Watch_Dogs 2 disclaimer may be accurate about what the trailer was, but it also sums up the issue with these trailers. Why are there additional angles and transitions? Is it a misguided attempt to make the game look more interesting? Are they worried their game is boring and people won’t buy it if it doesn’t look like a Michael Bay movie? If so, why did they make a game they feel is boring? Games shouldn’t need generic ads of dramatic camera angles and awkward jump cuts to sell their value.

The second type is an interesting one because it can be done right or wrong. The only example of it that appeared in 2016 was Mafia 3, and they got it right. I speak of the in-engine trailer. Truth be told I’m not 100% that the trailer I saw was in-engine. Its disclaimer read “Not Actual Gameplay”, but it looked in-engine to me so I’m counting it. This trailer consists of snippets of various cutscenes from the game. So right off the bat it contains something from the game, as it is in the game. Well done, 2K Games. These types of trailers don’t really have to worry about selling the gameplay part of the game. They’re generally focused on being narrative trailers, and that’s fine.

That only works, however, when the cutscenes are of plot-related matters and characters. If the advert is a 30 second cutscene of some mad action that looks ten times cooler than the gameplay, there’s a problem. Never mind asking why that cutscene is used as an advert, why is it in the game at all? Having characters be capable of wildly different things in cutscenes versus in the gameplay is an argument for another day however.

The third category of trailer is the live action trailer, and perhaps oddly, I generally don’t have an issue with these. The reason for that is what they try to accomplish. The goals of most live action trailers are not to make a viewer think that what they’re watching looks cool. It’s to parade out famous faces. It’s a form of sponsorship almost; take last year’s only example. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare featured Game of Thrones actor Kit Harrington. As such the advert for the game had his face front and centre. The only thing this trailer was trying to do is say; “This game has that famous guy you know, so you should get it”. Alright, fine, whatever. It’s a celebrity endorsement, moving on.

We come to the final category, and the worst. I’m sure that even though I haven’t mentioned it yet some of you knew it was coming. It is, of course, the CGI trailer. CGI trailers couldn’t do a worse job of transparently selling the product in most cases. I’m honestly not going to go through how CGI trailers are unrepresentative and are dubious sales tactics. Instead what I’m going to do is show you one, if after it you feel that I’m in the wrong? Well then, there is nothing either of us could say to sway the other.

Final Fantasy XV wasn’t the only offender of this category last year, though that trailer might be the worst of them. Eight other games aired fully CGI trailers that didn’t even slightly inform possible consumers what the game they were being sold was like. Among these eight there are some big hitters, Doom and Overwatch being but two. However two of the most annoying were Forza Horizon 3 and Mafia 3. Two games which aired ads that I don’t rank as problematic as CGI trailers both also aired CGI trailers.

Though they are at different levels the types of trailers mentioned here can only be called what they are, lies. Yet they are all that are aired on TV to sell video games to the general public. To me, this is a shame, and I look forward to the day when I might see an advert aired on TV that shows a game as a game.

David Savage

I write words, sometimes they fit together and actually mean something. I'm sure it'll happen eventually.

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