If you look at the history of the movie trailer, it’s pretty clear that the primary purpose of this creation was advertising.
According to Paramount executive Lou Harris, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times of October 25, 1966, the first trailer was screened at Rye Beach, a New York-area amusement park, in 1912:
One of the concessions hung up a white sheet and showed the serial “The Adventures of Kathlyn.” At the end of the reel Kathlyn was thrown in the lion’s den. After this “trailed” a piece of film asking Does she escape the lion’s pit? See next week’s thrilling chapter! Hence, the word “trailer,” an advertisement for a coming picture. (citation)
But is the modern video game trailer serving this same purpose, or does it accomplish something else entirely?
During television commercials, (or sometimes during pre-previews in the movie theater) you can see snippets about Mr. T throwing Night Elf Mohawk Grenades and how the new Modern Warfare game is somehow different than its predecessors, but these bits are truly the exception on where a majority of the advertising for new games take place. For example, when was the last time you saw a TV spot designating the release of a new Fallout game? Bio Shock? Borderlands? Star Wars? Yet, when games of this notoriety are released, thousands of gamers line up for the midnight release all across the country (or globe.) How did they find out? Most likely, within the medium for which they are purchasing the game (XBOX Live, PSN, Steam, or for the more dedicated fans, through company blogs and press releases) – NOT through traditional film advertising means. So not only is the target audience for a game different than film, but the medium for which it is designed is also different. Yet, the trailer remains… Why?
With this example , and a menacing picture of Kerrigan staring you down, its easy to see how important the trailer is to Blizzard in their effort to convince you to shell out another $59.99 for this expansion. But when you think about it, you had to actively look up this site and see this ad in the home page slideshow in order to find this… That’s a lot of work/attention that you had to commit to Blizzard before you even saw the trailer. What about one of the means where you don’t have to work as hard..?
So, for this example, I was just browsing through the Steam Store and thought I would look at this title (theoretically, I personally am already sold) but what’s curious is that the most important piece of information on this page (as dictated by the laws of web design in that the most important information is placed towards the top left of the screen) is the trailer. In fact, on Steam, the option to automatically play whatever advertisements/videos they have for this game, is the default setting — so you don’t have to work/click any more to learn about this title. So this avenue seems to be a bit more about trying to advertise this title to you and get you to purchase it, rather than giving you more information about something you’re already interested in.
But when you see a “trailer” like the one below, does this really encourage you to check out the “Coming Attraction?” Do you want to go purchase this game, or wait anxiously until its release? Or do you want to go home and rethink your life, instead of playing another bout of Left 4 Dead?
Or what about this one? Do you feel covered in Skag blood or the uncontrollable urge to meet Scooter’s sister Ellie?
(Sorry, need a minute to recover from the awesome)
But, I digest. These trailers obviously took serious amounts of work to put together and showcase many exciting pieces of the “coming attraction” but my question is, are these meant as advertisements (public notices or acts of making known) or isn’t the user already sold/made aware/notified of this game’s existence by the time he or she watches the trailer?
By landing on the YouTube page, Steam page, or company website, you are immediately made aware at least, or, at most, moved toward a decision of liking or not liking this title. By watching the trailer you are cashing in a quantity of your interest in this title to find out more about it, until you play it for yourself. But while you are watching this trailer, you are in a “borderland” space, where you are already invested in the game enough to give your time/attention/internet currency back to the company, but do not yet have the actual product; you are neither unaware and unattached to the product, nor in ownership of the product which is being featured.
So what is their purpose? Why are they here? Why do I (as a gamer) love these things so much? Maybe it’s because these things are so damn beautiful in their own right– I am attracted to them as much as I am a favorite song or desktop-background-worthy-JPG. Maybe it’s because I was thinking about firing up Flash to start working on a new ePoem, but had to close out Steam first and before I could close it, one click led to another and, I was absolutely floored by the above Prototype 2 trailer. Maybe it’s because these game design firms are sponsoring digital art in-between attempts to survive in a capitalist system, and these little 2 minute clips are unsung heroes in modern netpoetics.
And just in case you didn’t get the idea that I’m a total Borderlands fan boy, please, consider the following with a healthy dose of testosterone and a substantial side of sarcasm and dark humor: