CGI Trailers: The Ideal Moment to Drop Trailers for Your Campaign

July 27, 2023
#CGI Digest

There’s a subtle art to knowing when to drop any type of trailer between your initial announcement and the game’s launch. Leave it too long between your announcement and the launch window and people start talking, wondering why there’s been no updates and hype falls; try to release too many and you can give away too much (not to mention the funds you’d need for such a large number of CGI [computer generated imagery] trailers). It’s a balancing act, and as a team with solid foundations in working with both upcoming and established game titles, we’re going to break down how to craft a great launch campaign and the balance of trailers, teasers and timing.

Creating a Great Launch Campaign

Game launch campaigns are multifaceted and it’s important to understand all the avenues that comprise most, if not all, game launch campaigns. For AAA releases with huge marketing budgets all of these will likely be used, but for smaller studios and indie devs, it’s important to pick and choose the ones that will give you the most traction and return for your investment (i.e., for an indie dev working on their first project shouldn’t expect to have the biggest booth at E3).

PR: PR, or public relations, is a key tool that can be used to get people talking about your game. This can be anything from sending out a press release to media outlets to sending out press kits or handling an interview to publishing a trailer. However, to many this is an old-fashioned approach and isn’t considered very effective. To truly get the most from PR, you need something that catches the attention of media outlets whether it’s the announcement of a well-known and established game director is working on the project or your upcoming title is truly unique.

Media: As touched upon above, getting key information about your game and future plans to media outlets is a great way of getting publicity. The release of a new trailer can be picked up on by various games journalists, so you may get some natural traction without doing much out of the ordinary in certain circumstances.

Content Creators, Letsplayers and Bloggers: One of the most natural ways to get your name out there which has really boomed in the last few years is through influencers. Getting the right people playing your game can be a more effective (and cost-effective) avenue to get people interested in your game. While some of these are paid advertisements, some games have gained huge popularity from a single content creator playing the game. A perfect example of this is the ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ series and how it blew up with various YouTubers, like Markiplier and PewDiePie, playing it.

SMM: Social media presence gets more and more important with each year that passes. At the beginning of the social media revolution, people were able to launch products well with little understanding of how it all worked, but nowadays, it’s a science. You need to understand what works on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, etc. and understand that it’s a holy grail that can work on all social platforms without any adjustments.

Digital Storefront Features: This can come in both natural and paid formats. Natural features would be being one of the top-selling, the most pre-ordered, the coming-up-for-release or the most recently launched games, so the title may be highlighted in the list or will be featured on the first line of games that a player would see. Additionally, this could include earned media, which would grant you advertising spaces you’d normally pay for. The other possibility would be paid advertisements in the digital storefronts, bringing more eyes to your game with a huge advertising banner or a spotlight feature.

Events and Conferences: E3, gamescom, Tokyo Game Show, The Game Awards, these are huge events in the gaming calendar. Hundreds of thousands of gamers watch the showcases at these events every year, all the gaming media outlets, as well as YouTubers, livestream their reactions to the reveals (if you want to see just how big these reveals can be, just look at any reaction to the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII Remake at E3 2015). Get your game (and flashy trailer) on one of these stages and the engagement and interest will come naturally. Additionally, if you do decide to have a booth at an event, you need to carefully consider how you’ll get people to come to you: A big stage presence? Enticing visuals and on-stage activities? A showpiece that no one can ignore? The choice is yours.

Which leads us on perfectly to the next possibility…

Partnerships: Working together with a publisher can also help you gain traction, such as being part of a video game conference showcase, such as those used by Devolver Digital, PlayStation and Xbox. This will give a smaller game a huge amount of exposure that is unlikely to be possible with other avenues. Partnerships don’t necessarily have to be just with companies, you can always team up with celebrities and influencers. And if you’ve got a kick-ass title, you might even get influential people backing and talking about your project as they believe in what you’re doing! However, this isn’t a common occurrence, so don’t expect to have celebs knocking down your door.

So now we’ve broken down what can make up a launch campaign, now we can delve into the types of trailers that are out there, what they could be best used for and some examples.

Types of Trailers

It can be confusing with the different and varied types of trailers that can be involved in a single campaign, so we’ll break them down for you.

Teaser: Short and to the point. A teaser can be used to do everything to tease the viewer: whether it can reveal a release date window (or the more generic “coming soon”), the addition of a new character or the return of a fan favourite in the case of a sequel, or something that’s just so big it breaks the internet while not really giving anything away. As a rule of thumb, it doesn’t offer much information in terms of plot or gameplay, and they can last 30 seconds or less. While normally released shortly after the announcement, they can also be used to stir up hype and get people talking leading up to the release of a game.

Example: Cyberpunk 2077 – Official E3 2019 Cinematic Trailer

Announcement Trailer: This will likely be the first time (officially, as games are now leaked more often or a sequel is expected) that a studio, developer or publisher acknowledges they are working on a title. These types of trailers can be CGI, gameplay, or a mix and show little or a lot. And sometimes they even are given the privilege of being labelled a “world premiere”.

Reveal Trailer: Pretty much the same as an announcement trailer, but often won’t have any concrete details like launch window. These can be used as fan service to show gamers that they’re already working on a new project or a sequel, but it’s too early to show too much off just yet.

Example: The Last of Us Part II Reveal Trailer at PlayStation Experience 2016 [better with the audience reaction in our opinion; it’s crazy what a Firefly symbol and the Naughty Dog logo can do]

Release Date Trailer: A sort of “announcement trailer” or “reveal trailer”, it's self-evident what a release date trailer is. Sometimes game devs and publishers don’t have a release date in mind (or they don’t want to announce too early, even if they have a date they’re aiming for) when they announce or reveal the game, and so they decide to create a trailer which will tell players when they should be expecting the game to launch. With so many delays these days, we might see these trailers become more common, but right now they’re not a regular occurrence.

Example: TUNIC Release Date Trailer | Game Awards 2021

Launch Trailer: This trailer does what it says on the tin: it’s a trailer that drops around the launch window of a game (normally between the two weeks before release and the launch day). This would typically be used to remind people that the game will soon be coming out (or is already out) and is available on this platform on this day, but if you pre-order now, you can get X, Y and Z. Oh, and maybe there’s also a special/limited/collector’s edition to show off, too.

Example: Red Dead Redemption Official Launch Trailer

Gameplay Trailer: This type of trailer focuses on what players can expect when they get their hands on the game. It uses in-game footage and shows the gunplay for a first-person shooter, the car handling for a racing title or the dynamic movement of an athlete in a sports title. What is shown in a gameplay trailer should be representative of the game (although that’s not always true, and we’ll talk about that a bit later on); those that are not generally get the ire of gamers.

Example: Control – Official Gameplay Trailer

Cinematic Trailers: The opposite of a gameplay trailer, these are CG trailers and may show scenes from the game, but aren’t focused on showing the level of realism of the final product. Cinematic trailers are a great way of getting people engrossed in the story, the locale, a character’s predicament, or the general feeling of the setting, such as Night City (‘Cyberpunk 2077’), Rapture (‘Bioshock’) or the USG Ishimura (‘Dead Space’). And most recently, these trailers have been used by game devs to showcase their newest characters coming to the game (in games like ‘Overwatch’ and ‘Apex Legends’). Honestly, some of these character-specific videos are more like short CGI films rather than trailers; yes, they really are that epic!

This type of trailer can feature all manner of CGI elements: CGI special effects, CGI characters, CGI creatures. The world is your oyster with a cinematic trailer.

Example: Far Cry 6 – Official Reveal Trailer

Narrative Trailer: Sometimes known as a “Story Trailer”. This is a video which focuses mainly on the narrative element of the game. We need to understand what’s going on in the game from this trailer or the plight of the protagonist or antagonist. Maybe, the answer to the question of “Why should we care what’s going on?” should be provided to the viewer in this video. Get viewers invested in the story and they’ll be left wanting more.

Example: Watch Dogs – Story Trailer

The Perfect Moment for Trailers

As we mentioned earlier, there’s a subtle art of knowing when to drop a trailer of any type. And, unfortunately, it’s exactly that: an art. It’s not a science. There are a lot of external factors outside of your control that might impact your trailer’s reception or engagement. However, by understanding what type of trailer to use and where and when, you can have a greater chance of succeeding. To us, the best practice would be:

But one thing we will add is understanding your own game’s internal roadmap is key: announcing too early can definitely cause problems down the line. Additionally, you won’t want to release your key eye-catching trailer at the same time as a major gaming event (E3, The Game Awards, etc.) unless you’re part of it, as your trailer is likely to be lost in a sea of event-related articles. It’s also particularly important to understand the market you’re appealing to or targeting with a trailer as each region has its own intricacies.

We’ve spoken a lot about the methodology behind trailers and campaigns, but it’s time to look at real examples and what made these trailers so good or what went wrong with them. We’ve divided them into two categories: Best Examples and Cases to Study.

Best Examples

Gears of War Mad World

Launching a new IP is hard but trying to do it on a console that’s only been out a year is even harder. That’s what the guys at Epic Games did and created a console-exclusive that’s almost as synonymous with Xbox as Halo. Gears of War. One of the most iconic trailers of all time, the hauntingly brilliant rendition of ‘Mad World’ sums up the worlds we see protagonist Marcus Fenix in the midst of.

A side note: The ‘Tomorrow’ trailer for ‘Gears of War 4’ used a similar tactic: a haunting cover (this time of ‘The Sound of Silence’) that plays as we see the horrors of the world. However, this time, the hero’s (James Fenix) running away is spliced with footage of him running as a boy while playing with his parents.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Official Launch Trailer

Kicking off with a brief explanation of the Tiny Tina’s imaginary world as she and her friends play Bunkers & Badasses (the Borderlands version of Dungeons & Dragons) and descending into sheer chaos, this trailer perfectly sums up the #ChaoticGreat nature of the game. After the packshot, we are reminded again that this is just a figment of Tina’s imagination, and her Games Mastership has led to this mayhem. Plus, the use of Babymetal’s ‘Megitsune’ is just chef’s kiss. Side note: the reveal trailer also used Babymetal, but this time it was ‘Gimme Chocolate’.

Halo 3 Believe Ad

Sometimes you can let the visuals do all the talking. A relatively unique trailer, there’s no spoken lines, and just one word: “BELIEVE”. The trailer shows the battle landscape as a diorama; we see both sides of the conflict and we end on Master Chief looking to be in a down-and-out situation. But the plasma grenade he’s palming lights up, and Master Chief becomes animated. A simple, but effective campaign.

The Last of Us Part II Launch Trailer

“I’m gonna find… and I’m gonna kill… every… last… one of them”. Does any more need to be said by Ellie? We think not. This is the perfect example of showing enough, but not too much: we see new characters, we see Ellie, we see Joel.

Bioshock Infinite – ‘Beast of America’ Gameplay Trailer

The trailer opens with a line to get people hooked: “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt, that was the deal.” That’s all we know going into this, and the trailer starts with a peaceful, utopian locale. That’s when it cuts to black, the song kicks in and we see the rug is pulled from under us quite literally and the world starts spinning. Showing quick snippets, we get to see what we should expect from this game.

Cases to Study

Killzone 2 E3 2005 Trailer

This is a prime example of showing something that’s too good to be true. The difference here is a PlayStation rep claimed that it was “running real-time on PlayStation 3”. Alas, it was pre-rendered.

Cyberpunk 2077 – Official Gameplay Trailer (2020)

Due to the recentness of this trailer, most people will remember it. It turns out the Night City and experience players got wasn’t as good as what was shown in this trailer. And we know the rest of the story…

This is also a great example of when we mention the knowing of when to drop a trailer; the game was announced in 2012 but didn’t release until 2020. Unfortunately, the length of time resulted in the hype growing so big that it was unlikely it was ever going to meet expectations.

Dead Island: Official Announcement Trailer

And let’s finish on this one. This is one of the most famous bait-n-switch trailers of all time; and what makes it even worse, the amount of hype that came from this was huge. It’s a great cinematic trailer, but… well, just look at the final product that was released.

At PLAYSENSE, we can help as CG cinematics really our bread and butter and we have a combined experience of centuries. Additionally, as a full-service agency focused specifically on the games industry, we can take you even further by helping with strategy & creative, planning, content production and much more!

Take a look at what’ve done before and see what we can do for you.


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