Think of these seven questions as something like choosing between left and right at a junction in a maze where retracing your steps or backtracking isn’t really an option. Why? Because the way you answer these pivotal questions now will determine both how your video will turn out and how you will work on it going forward - not to mention your video's future as a marketing tool.
So, you've got a great game ready for launch and now you need a promotional video for it? Well, first off - kudos on the accomplishment! After all that creative brainstorming and dashing out of ideas running the gamut, it's now decision time. At this juncture, there are a few questions which you should consider and try to answer as early on as possible, before you get buried in the video production process.
1. Trailer or teaser?
We could hold forth at length on the difference between these two genres, but we'll spare you and give you our short-take on the deets.
A trailer is a video that gives the viewer an idea about game mechanics and core features. A trailer is a sort of distilled knowledge-base about a game - think of an experienced gamer explaining to a newbie what exactly to expect after installing or signing up.
"Explore the game world map, fight monsters, upgrade your equipment - and join other gamers in multiplayer to win prizes." This is the standard barebones script of a trailer - adapted, of course, to the features and genre of a particular game. But you get the idea.
In a teaser, on the other hand, gameplay may make up just a tiny percentage of screen time - or even be entirely absent. The plot of a teaser video is not built around gameplay or game features, but rather focuses on the emotion that players should feel when they play your game, to get the most excitement and pleasure out of it. A teaser gives the viewer an "entry point" into your game's universe, priming your viewer to experience the gist of your game even before he or she installs it. A teaser "sells" the game to the viewer using intrigue rather than features, appealing to the viewers' curiosity and drawing them in with what you leave out as much as what you actually say.
It's not easy to choose between the two options, but here's a rule of thumb that may help: if you plan to put your video in the App Store, a trailer stands a better chance of passing moderator review. The App Store has a set of recommendations for videos; a trailer fits these better.
Consider a teaser if you are planning to significantly improve the gaming experience or change the key visual elements of the game, be it the UI or the main maps/levels. Even if some of the game's "guts" change, while the spirit and atmosphere remain the same, you can continue to use the teaser for marketing purposes, say, on a website or Google Play, without confusing users with visual discrepancies between the video and the actual gameplay.
Of course, we wouldn't be being completely frank if we said the boundary between the two genres was a clear and fixed line. Combining elements of both trailers and teasers in a single preview can yield a pretty bang-up video. Take for example the video for Altar: War of Gods: at its heart a trailer, but with an opening scene more reminiscent of a teaser: a voice-over narrative of the game universe backstory accompanied by video with some motion graphics.
Settling on one of the two genres will influence at the outset how you conceive of the type of final video you want.
2. Gameplay captures or rendered footage?
This question, albeit a more mundane and practical matter than the previous one, bears repeating to yourself as you work on your script. When you're coming up with specific actions and events for each scene of the video, ask yourself: would actual gameplay footage be able to tell the story the way you've imagined it? And if not, do you have enough resources to simulate the gameplay specifically for the video?
The thought that you have to fit your script to the assets and resources that you have to bring your ideas to life should be readily apparent as you read through this article, and it's a rather sobering consideration when you're thinking about a blockbuster script for a standout video for your pretty stellar game.
The rush and thrill of the creative process, flights of fantasy and your desire to make your storyline as attention-grabbing as possible might distract you from the hard reality of the fact that you're going to likely have to face up to certain objective limitations. At least the menial, ever-present details such as deadline and budget constraints.
Let's say you want to start your video off with a dramatic cutscene where two rival armies are clashing on a particular map or level. But after considering your actual gameplay, you realize the start of the battle doesn't convey the emotional impact or deliver the visceral punch of the action for players who've never played the game before. In order to get the impact across to viewers, you need to zoom in on certain units, then switch to "first-person" perspective and pan the camera up to capture a sky blotted out by enemies hurtling toward the viewer. If you can't do this directly in the game build, you will need to model these elements specifically for your video.
In certain cases you can create scenes directly in your game engine by building a location, objects, lighting and camera path. In other cases you may be able to create the setting and environment from graphic assets and animate the scenes directly in the source video file. Either way, it's going to take a lot more time than recording gameplay from the existing game build.
Don't be afraid to part with your bang-up script ideas that look super on paper if making them a reality turns out on closer consideration to be too time-consuming or expensive.
It would be far worse if you have a fantastic script that you have to completely rehash on the fly after production has already started due to objective time and budget limitations.
But don't let that hold you back - just make sure you don't lose sight of reality when you begin your creative search at the script-writing stage.
3. Go long or short?
Think of where you plan on featuring your finished video. For example, if your trailer is destined for the App Store, it needs to be between 15 and 30 seconds long: those are the rules of the platform. Advertising platforms may also have their own length restrictions.
But such restrictions don't prevent you from telling your audience a longer story. Your video can, after all, have several versions: for example, a long version for your website and Google Play, and a short-play version for the App Store and advertising platforms.
If you need several versions of your video, try to come up with a flexible starting-point script from which you can exclude a few scenes without undermining the logical flow and cohesiveness of your storyline.
The same approach goes if you need, for example, a 30-second video for the App Store and a 15-second version for advertising platforms.
When figuring out the length of your scenes, use the length of your spoken voice-over text as a reference. For example, the natural tempo of speech in English is around 140 words per minute. If you need a 6-second scene, you'll be able to throw in a maximum of 14 spoken words. Or better yet, go with less, and leave time for logical pauses and transitions between scenes. Ten words for six seconds should probably do the trick.
Keep in mind how much action you plan to have going on on-screen in each scene in order to stake out the timing of your video. For example, if you want to focus attention on five in-game inventory items, you'll need at least five seconds - and when you factor in transitions between scenes, the total comes out to a full six. If you need to make the scene a bit shorter, think about showcasing fewer elements or items. This way you give the viewer more time to focus on each item.
4. With or without voiceover?
We've already mentioned that the length of the voiceover can be used to gauge the length of your video. But, does that mean your video HAS to have spoken narration?
Not having a voiceover is certainly an option worth considering.
Ideally, your trailer or teaser should be easy to understand and follow even without the sound on. On-screen text boxes or captions, for example, can help the audience follow the storyline.
Still, some ideas and storylines are hard to convey fully using visuals alone. For example, if your cinematic script involves character flash-backs, dreams, and fears juxtaposed on-screen with snippets from his or her life "here and now" - voice acting can significantly complement your story line, conveying not only facts, but also a character's inner feelings or attitude. Tone of voice speaks volumes, after all.
The voice narration in Metropolis: Lux Obscura is delivered in the first person. The main character speaks to viewers about himself, illuminating certain events in his life. His intonation captures a wide range of emotions: a steely, tough edge which seems to crack a bit in some places, a sense of being doomed to a vicious circle, and appeals to the viewer's sympathy coupled with a certain bravado and slight boastfulness. When taken as a whole, the effect is to give the story a certain depth and ambiguity, leaving room for the viewer to wonder or come to their own interpretation. If the video had no voiceover, it could easily come across as a series of unrelated scenes and events, leaving the viewer with fewer cues to place themselves in the character's shoes for the short span of your game videopreview.
On the other hand, if you want to grab the viewer's attention with something other than storytelling - say, illustrating and showcasing game content - or if you plan to evoke a gut-level emotional effect using a musical score and sound effects, your video may be just fine without voice acting. Take the video for Taonga: The Island Farm for example: the action is fast-paced, and the major-key soundtrack echoes the energetic cinematic sequencing, while on-screen text recounts key gameplay features. Everything gets communicated without any narration.
If you're ok going either way and you don't know whether to include a narrated voiceover, it's always a better idea to play safe and include one (and then if you want you can later turn the narration off) than to change your mind later the day before your video's big release. It's no easy task to add voiceover to a finished video, as the footage and voice timing may not align. It's much more practical to sync your video footage with the narration than to stretch and shrink voice audio to match the length of your animation.
5. "Native" in-game music or another background track?
If you decide to use game music as the background track for your video, you should consider whether the tempo and mood of the music matches the story you want to tell with your video.
Ambient music from a particular map or stage can be very unobtrusive. This works great for the game itself - the music doesn't really grate on the player's nerves, and so can run hours on end without driving the player nuts. But it's not so great for a gripping, cinematic video.
If your video has fast-paced action and scene-changes, chases, battles, and victories, you'll need a music track that meshes with the flow of the onscreen action: a driving, gripping rising tempo, several intense, bombastic moments, and then a triumphant final chord.
The best way to go is to have the composer who worked on the musical score for your game create the soundtrack for the video. Another option that works quite nicely is to pick out stock background music. If you're ok using royalty free content, you'll have your pick of thousands of potential tracks that could be a great fit for your video.
A small hint: when sorting through stock music libraries, look for tracks that are pegged to specific dramatic elements: intro, rising action, climax, falling action. When your animation is ready, add your purchased track so that scenes with different emotional loading line up with the right soundtrack snippets.
But whatever track you use, custom-made or stock, select it before you begin editing and sequencing footage, so you can arrange your motion graphics and animation to match the track's BPM. Music is, after all, part of the internal structure of your video. So that your scenes dance to the music, so to speak, use a metronome with sequencing and assembling your animation. For example, bring in key elements and change scenes on a stressed beat. Imagine that the "Play Now" button isn't just hanging in the video frame, but zooms toward the screen right on the stressed beat, and then recedes away from the viewer an unstressed beat. This makes your game video look like an organic and streamlined production where the action, storyline and music all are telling the same story in their own expressively-varied ways.
6. Do the video in-house or outsource?
Making a video is a creative and wildly absorbing process. If your team isn't too busy and can devote as much work time as it likes to your video, making your trailer or teaser in house could become your studio's most engrossing and memorable task for the quarter - or maybe even year. Besides that, your copywriter, game designer, illustrator and animator can try their hand in some new roles. And although creating an advertisement video isn't standard fare for a game development studio, the break from the ordinary could give your team a new burst of creative inspiration.
On the other hand, the fact that video production is such an atypical undertaking for a game studio means that it could all just as well go the other way and become a burden which you can't quite bring yourself to abandon but still aren't sure quite how to finish. Creating a video in the end is a project; and to complete any project you need knowledge and skills - but also the ability to see the details without losing sight of the big picture.
If you don't have a strict deadline and your team would be on board for the idea of expanding their skill sets, you might be ok tackling the video yourself, and whatever you end up with when all is said done will have in any case been a positive experience.
Even if you sink a colossal chunk of time into it with rather modest results, your studio will have gained experience which it can leverage the next time around.
If you're thinking about creating your video in-house in order to save money or time, however, think again. Try to come up with a rough estimate of how many work hours your team will put in cranking out the video, calculate the salary costs for those hours, and compare that number to how much you'd need to pay to outsource the video production. You may be surprised to learn which option would save you more money.
7. Stick with just English or localize?
If your game has multiple localizations, the decision to make a video in each language seems pretty logical. This is particularly the case for games that are placed on Steam, because Steam allows you to display a specific language version of the video depending on user settings.
When it comes down to it, “localizing a video” and “making the video understandable to an audience from another country” are not actually synonyms. Full localization of a video is much more than translating all the text captions.
It also means re-shooting gameplay footage to capture the UI in a different language and then re-recording the voiceover with a native speaker of that language. Even badges like Get it on Google Play, which are often displayed at the end of mobile games videos, have official versions in different languages, and it makes sense to adapt them to different language versions. After full localization, a game trailer or teaser will look as if it was originally created in the target language.
If you're still not sure whether you need to localize your video (and if yes, in what languages), leave yourself some wiggle room. In other words, make the original video in a way that makes it easier to localize later. For example, turn off the UI when capturing gameplay footage, and if necessary do the same thing with character names or pop-up text messages. Don't "hard-stitch" text in your video which will be difficult to edit: use font sets instead of custom drawing captions and boxed text. And if your video has a narrated voiceover, consider pauses between lines and avoid having your voice actor read too quickly in the original version. This way you have a better chance that the voice audio for the translated text will fit the timing of the original video sequence.
The good news is that there are no wrong turns or dead ends in this maze. We hope that we've helped shed some light on what you'll find down each path and illustrated how decisions made early on in the process will affect the end result.