Playing mind games
Anytime there's an upcoming game, we're going to get slick trailers and hot demos assaulting our eyeballs. Developers are ready to show us their moves. They know how excited we are, and want to give us all theyve gotreally, they do. Unfortunately, in the shiny world of advertising, sometimes communication breaks down and trailers end up being a liiiiiittle bit different from the finished product. And that does not happy fans make.
To be fair, dear players, its your fault too--putting too much stock in whats really just a peek at a games rough draft. This year, dont let yourself succumb to the disappointment! Just remember these seven ways trailers accidentally mislead us, promising things their games dont have, and youll be just fine. Play the skeptic, and youll never be let down! Probably.
Manufacture emotion that isnt a part of the game
Appeal to emotion is one of the most effective marketing strategies ever, because it saves advertisers from having to offer anything specific to grab their customers attention. Just put footage of people hugging to some sad violins and bam, the product sells itself. Used to advertise everything from life insurance to lackluster summer movies, its no surprise that the gaming industry utilizes it to full effect. The downside is that unless the game has some genuine emotion at its core, this kind of trailer can be immediately misleading, getting players excited about an impactful story that the devs never intended to create.
Notable offenders: I'd be remiss to forget the infamously soul-shattering trailer for Dead Island (which advertised a pretty straight-forward zombie kill-a-thon with little tear-jerking), and they didnt pull back much for the Dead Island: Riptide trailer. Lets just say theres a loving couple and a suicide pact involved and, spoiler alert, they never appear in the main game. Gears of War had a few of these, too--as did Halo. Dear lord.
Introduce a game thats not ready to be shown yet
We get it, really: in an industry as fast-paced as gaming, devs have to show off their wares well before theyve really decided what their game is going to be. That often means the story isnt completely fleshed out, the characters still need work, and the final product is going to evolve before it hits store shelves. Chances are these parts of the game wont get out of development unscathed, and sometimes changes are so dramatic that the characters become completely different people and storylines pull a hard U-turn. As a result, any fan who expects the people and places they saw in the trailer to appear untouched in the game is in for a world of disappointment.
Notable offenders: Over a year after its release, BioShock Infinite still gets reamed for how vastly it departed from its first demo trailer, since Elizabeths character is completely different and none of the events in the trailer happen in the game. Many Fallout fans were also disappointed to see that the bustling New Vegas hinted at in the games teaser trailer, which would have been the first city we see that survived the cataclysm, didnt stick around.
Include features that are still in testing and might not make the final product
That point about how much things change for a game between demo and release? Goes double (triple, quadruple, quintup--) for anything related to gameplay. When demo-time rolls around, many devs are still hammering out exactly how the game will play, and are probably only as far as the testing stage. A lot can happen during that harrowing process, like finding out some aspects of the game confuse players too much, or certain components dont interact well, or that one really kick-ass move everyone loved completely breaks the game. All of these have the potential to see major changes or total removal, with fans feeling like the devs didnt deliver what they promised. Chill everyone--it was probably for the best.
Notable offenders: Team Fortress 2 fans were pumped for RED and BLU cooperative play after the Mann vs. Machine trailer, only to find that BLU was entirely AI. This was because the co-op was too confusing for play-testers, not because Valve wanted to ruin everyones day. Also, Dragon Age players sadly cant use the epic move shown off in Dragon Age IIs announcement trailer.
Promise moments that dont actually happen
The primary purpose of game trailers is to generate hype, with true exhibition coming in second. You want guns the size of a small country? You got it! An epic battle between Characters X and Y? Sure thing! A hero saving the day from aliens and cult leaders and also Nazis? Theres not enough space in your think-box for this much heroism! Unfortunately the trailers sometimes skirt the line of whats actually in the game as a result, and fans throw up their hands in frustration when that stuff never appears at all. So unless you see that one cool part of the game in gameplay itself, then--wait, no, nevermind. See previous slide.
Notable offenders: Arkham Asylum leaned heavily on Harley Quinn for one of its trailers and implied there would be a fight with her, only for her to get tossed around in a cutscene when the moment came. And yes, we know Elizabeth isnt almost hanged like she was in Infinites TV spot. We. Know.
Make the main cast look excessively badass
Theres a reason many advertisers focus on badassery when developing trailers: its a simple way to generate buzz that is virtually guaranteed to work. Show a clip of your protagonist flying through a window, kicking a guy in the face and saying a catchy slogan, and the studio will be swimming in pre-orders. Whether the character can or would actually do that is irrelevant, because damn does it look cool! Unfortunately this can lead to confusion and anger from fans when the character cant pull off half the things shown in the trailer. Even when shes just more nuanced than Generic Badass #497, some fans will find it irritating when they dont get exactly what it says on the tin.
Notable offenders: Throw a dart at YouTube and youll mess up your screen, but youll also probably hit a trailer that does this. Final Fantasy. Mass Effect. Left 4 Dead. Every single Assassins Creed trailer. I guess if it aint broke...
Use different art styles for the trailer than whats in the game
Switching art styles from trailer to game is one of the more benign problems on this list, but some players take plenty of issue with it anyway. Due to the popularity of photo-realistic graphics and the fact that many developers outsource their advertising, a lot of game trailers end up featuring film-quality graphics that are designed by a totally different staff than those working on the game. As a result, the difference between the look of the trailer and the game can be dramatic, and even when both styles look fine the comparison to the trailers better quality can leave many fans feeling sour.
Notable offenders: One of the biggest complaints about Dishonored was that the oil-painting art style didnt perfectly replicate the CGI of its trailer, which many fans found jarring. Even current-gen games like Watch Dogs get flack for not perfectly resembling their trailers, which makes you wonder if those crying foul have touched anything older than a PS3. And then there's that Killzone 2 reveal actually, I don't want to talk about that one.
Apply willful misdirection
Most of the tactics listed here are unintentionally misleading, the result of fan expectations for games that are still subject to change. Then theres the Kojima theory of trailer-making: mess with fans as much as possible and fill their heads with lies. While intentional misdirection is uncommon, it does happen, and usually as a way of masking game elements that would otherwise spoil a big twist. It can also allow developers to try something new without their audience pre-emptively panning it, getting players to actually test that innovative mechanic or controlling this new character before deciding its RUINING THE SERIES FOREVER FML. Yeah, its a little annoying, but who doesnt like a nice surprise now and again?
Notable offenders: Metal. Gear. Solid. The series has seen trailers that hid the identity of main characters, not to mention plot points and character backstories. Assassin's Creed 3 also did a good job of this, bait-and-switching in a brilliant way.
Keep your eyes open
There we have it: the biggest deceptions you can expect to see at this years E3, so any changes that come along during the other 361 days of the year dont upset you nearly as much. Now you can experience all the excitement of before without the crushing disappointment, and isnt that so much better?
And yes, that last slide was about purposeful misdirection rather than accidental misleading, butwell, I intentionally misled you. Trust no one, not even me.
If you want more--and there will always be more--check out The most anticipated games of E3 2014, 9 major changes that have happened since last E3, and Who kept their E3 2013 promises? And, to drown your sorrows, check out E3 2014: The official companion drinking game.