When a developer's resources are limited, the desire to save money at each stage of video creation is perfectly understandable. We'll tell you what stages it doesn't pay to economize on, and suggest other ways to make creating your video less expensive.
Certain stages of the video creation process may seem of negligible importance, but when you try to cut costs on them, you either wind up with a video of noticeably lower quality, or else you end up complicating and delaying the project. What's more, omitting these stages ultimately will not save you significant time or money. Here are the stages we're referring to.
5 things it doesn't pay to skimp on
The Script. Forego the script and piece the video together on the fly, intuitively? A daring approach, to be sure, but not a very rational one. A video without a script is like a project without terms of reference. To avoid endless reworkings in the process and a garbled end result, give the script your utmost attention. First decide what exactly you want to convey to the viewer. Then think about what visual media you'll employ to bring your idea to life, and coordinate each of your ideas with the resources at your disposal, whether live gameplay or the game's source graphics. Develop your theme consistently, proceeding logically from one idea to the next. If you plan for the video to include voice-over, refine how the text of the narration is formulated.
If you've never written a script, you may bog down a bit at this stage. We realize this is no easy task, and it requires some fairly specific qualifications. That's why here at Alconost we never ask the client to write the script independently. Instead, we ask the client to answer several questions about the planned video, and to describe their wishes for it. We take care of the rest ourselves. We examine the input, get to know the game, and write the script; all the client has to do is provide their feedback. Naturally, when approving the script the client can make adjustments or request any desired changes. There's no additional charge for the script; it's included by default in the cost of the video.
Quality translation. If your native language is English, but you need a video in a foreign language — German, for example — hire an English-speaking translator whose native language is German. Ask them to translate text box inscriptions, CTAs, and the voiceover text. Don't count on machine translation or on the abilities of non-native speakers of German. A native speaker will not make unpardonable errors or produce stylistic wrinkles that you yourself would never notice — but that your target audience will pick up on immediately.
Ultimately, the price difference is negligible. 30 seconds of voiceover, plus inscriptions for four or five text boxes and a CTA, is roughly no more than 600 characters. To have a native speaker translate them from English into German will run about $12 — at least, that's the cost at Nitro, our professional online translation service. Naturally, prices vary from one language to the next. Translating the same amount of text into Spanish, for example, would cost around $7, into Chinese — less than $9, and into Japanese — around $16. Regardless, the amounts are low enough that it makes little sense to skimp on them.
Voice-over by a native speaker. If you want to save money, better to do without narration in the video altogether than to have voice-over done by a non-native speaker. If voice-over for your video is a must (sometimes the narrator's voice is a "load-bearing element" of the video), choose a narrator who is a native speaker of the target language. When possible, have the voice actor you've chosen vetted by another native speaker — for example, the translator.
Here at Alconost, our own translators — native speakers of over 70 languages — help us vet the narrators. In our experience, the vetting stage is a must. There have been instances when native speakers have noticed that the potential narrator had an accent, problems with diction, or an unnatural reading style, which we ourselves, not being native speakers, were simply unable to identify. No matter how much the voice itself appealed to us, in these instances we continue our search until we find the ideal option.
Regarding when a game video requires narration and when it can be omitted, we discussed the issue in this article.
Storyboarding. This is a question of saving time, rather than money. Can you shorten the production cycle by tossing out the storyboarding stage? For very simple videos with gameplay visuals, yes, you can. Even here, however, you should develop a visual style: for text boxes, come up with a design and typeface; for the closing screen, think through the composition, embellishing it with the game logo, store badges, and a CTA. The most convenient method is to create and certify these elements while they are static, to decrease the number of iterations during animation.
Storyboarding is especially important for videos with animated graphics (more on that below), as it is at this stage that isolated assets combine into cohesive scenes. If while preparing your materials you forget to include certain art in the source archive, at the storyboarding stage this error is easily pinpointed and corrected. And if the archive of materials turns out to contain the wrong character or location version, again, it is quicker and simpler to notice and correct this during storyboarding than for the animator to spend a dozen hours animating the wrong character or the wrong location version.
Sound design. The fact that 85% of Facebook users watch videos with no sound is a serious argument in favor of foregoing music and sound effects in your video. On YouTube, however, most people watch videos with sound enabled: the number of those who turn off the sound for advertising videos on YouTube varies between 35% and 40%, depending on the country.
As we see it, whether or not the user watches the video with sound is their affair. The creator's job is to make the video ideal in both cases. For those who watch with no sound, text boxes will prove helpful (we designed them at the storyboarding stage, remember?), while for those who leave sound enabled, the video should include sound design.
The cost of a standard license for stock tracks generally does not exceed $50, although attractive tunes can also be found for $15-20. Once again, these are not expensive enough for it to make sense to skimp on them.
It's worth mentioning that the purchased track will have to be edited to match the duration of the animation, while key on-screen actions should be emphasized with sound effects. Sure, it's a little extra work, but with us it's included in the cost of the video.
If you make a video on your own, you may need the help of a sound engineer at this stage. One possible option would be to try reaching out to the composer who wrote the soundtrack for your game: the task of adding a musical track and sound effects to your video shouldn't take them much time at all.
These, then, are the five stages that aren't worth skimping on. What's left? Strangely enough, the animation itself. A given idea can be conveyed by different visual means. And since compiling animation is the most labor-intensive stage of creating a video, when optimizing expenses it makes sense to consider this particular stage.
How to save on the video sequence
Naturally, videos with 3D or CGI (computer-generated imagery) look impressive, but when your budget is limited it makes more sense to explore other options.
Option 1: Video with animated graphics in 2D
An example of this type of video is the game trailer for Wild West: Steampunk Alliances.
Here's when it makes sense to consider this particular option:
You need a video that will not lose relevance in the foreseeable future — for example, if at the time of the video's release or shortly thereafter the actual features will look different than they do at the time of the video's production.
You're planning to show the video to viewers from various countries and you want to simplify the process of adapting the video for foreign markets.
You don't need a trailer for a store, but rather a teaser or advertising video with an interesting theme, which requires more than just gameplay video.
In order to simplify bringing this option to life, come up with a selection of graphic files ahead of time that you plan to use in the video. Follow the script and compile your assets for each scene, leaving no details out. In the archive, for each scene don't forget to include a high-resolution background image, the proper characters from the proper angles, location elements, and other gameplay objects.
If your source files are in PSD format, make sure your files are layered. This is particularly important if the video should include character animation. When a character is a single-layer subject, animating their movements is a difficult proposition. But when all the phalanges of their fingers, forearms, neck, lips, eyes, brows, etc. are separate elements, it is far easier for the animator to make the character smile, scowl, or clench their hands into fists.
Here's another example of a video with animated graphics: a teaser for the game Heroes of War Magic.
As we see, game graphics created with animation in mind can serve as a basis for effective teasers to promote a game on advertising platforms or social networks. Additionally, this type of video does not depend on how game features actually look, and can be easily adapted to foreign markets.
However, if you decide to use this kind of video on the game page in an app store, there's no guarantee that a video with animated graphics will pass the App Store's moderation.
Option 2: Combining gameplay and animated scenes
Animating graphics, even in 2D, is a fairly laborious affair — especially when it comes to character animation or highly detailed environments. But it's entirely possible that your video's subject matter does not require compiling all the scenes from source graphics. It may be possible to convey part of the ideas using gameplay scenes, which can be used to break up the animated video sequence. When properly employed, this approach will not compromise the video's visual cohesiveness. For example, watch the trailer for the game Bubble Illusion: part of its scenes are animated graphics, and part are actual gameplay.
You can even combine gameplay and graphics in a single scene. For example, in the video for the game Mahjong Village, the playing field with tiles is recorded gameplay, while the animated background in the distance, the fortress with the lighted windows, and the sunny village are animated graphics.
If you're on a limited budget, use as much actual gameplay as possible, resorting to animated graphics only when absolutely necessary — for example, when an aspect of the game simply cannot be conveyed by captured gameplay. Examples of this might include features such as quests, which in the recorded gameplay will appear too drawn out or too detail-heavy. Just imagine the dialog windows when accepting, questing, and completing: the viewer will have little interest in learning about the specific scenario or in reading the mission description. It's best to describe this game feature schematically or symbolically, conveying the idea figuratively, and this is where animated graphics are your friend.
Option 3: Gameplay video
The most economical option is to record gameplay, select the best fragments, and set the captured video to the rhythm of the music.
For this option to work, carefully check whether the gameplay depicts what you envisioned in the script. If you want to get by with minimal expense, your video has to show what is already in the game, without embellishments such as custom unit placement or changes to the UI. For example, if you have a space shooter and you want the video to depict a spectacular scene of a spaceship flying over an aerial armada of opponents, the game must already include this animation. If it has not yet been created, it can of course be made specifically for the video, using the game's source graphics. But this will cost more than a gameplay montage. So if cost-cutting is your priority, try to use only animations your game already contains.
If your video includes voice-over, any gameplay montage must be synced to it. That is, the video sequence must be matched to the narrator, not vice versa. This will allow you to keep the voice-over to a natural pace and avoid a situation where the video sequence has moved on to the next scene while the narrator is still reading the text for the one preceding. In general, when a video contains speech, it is the speech that determines how long each scene lasts.
An example of this approach is the video for the game One Life Story.
To keep the gameplay video from appearing monotonous or from bogging down, don't be afraid to speed up the recorded fragments a little, switch from one to the next, or even show several fragments on screen at once. We employed this approach in the video for the game Taonga: Tropical Farm.
However, even in these videos, which employ gameplay to the max, animated graphics could not be avoided altogether. For example, the closing screen in both videos was not recorded gameplay, but animated static graphics. Your video is bound to include at least one such scene, so keep this in mind when assessing the labor cost of creating the video.
The question of how much time and energy making an in-house video could cost a game development studio is one we addressed in detail in this article. In general, we're of the opinion that creating videos is not exactly what game developers typically do. Although it's a fascinating process, it can end up taking considerable time, without producing the result you were hoping for. Nevertheless, if you plan to create your video on your own, we hope this article helps you determine your priorities in the productive process.
If you end up deciding to outsource your game video, here are seven recommendations that will help you get the video you wanted, with a minimal number of iterations.